Living With Your Grown-up Children on Mother’s Day…

one black cat washing another

Mewsette has to lean WAY down for Mimi to clean her up around the ears.

Well, I did enjoy having children until I moved here and saw the light—with a little help from my human mom, of course—but they always went away when I was done with them. Now it appears I’m stuck living with them for the rest of our lives. Sometimes they are so needy…

Of course, at other times, children are a comfort, and I couldn’t imagine my life without these four. Perhaps I now understand why humans tend to keep their children around for such a long time, and why they keep coming back.

Remember, you’re never too big for a little touch-up from your mom, but you can also use a little help from your children.

Happy Mother’s Day to all who are mothers!

one black cat washing another

Mewsette returns the favor.

As the mother of all those kittens, and saved from a life of reproduction, Mimi has a few things to say about the benefits and drawbacks of being a feline mother. Read Mimi’s annual Mother’s Day address“Mimi, on “Mother’s Day”.

Mimi, on “Mother’s Day”

photo of black cat in the sun

Mimi on Mother's Day

Mimi’s annual Mother’s Day address

Sì, Mi chiamano Mimì, …

That’s my famous self-introduction, “Yes, they always call me Mimi…” Or, rather, that of the character after whom my rescue mom named me, the female lead in the Puccini opera La Boheme, the day I entered her household, forever.

Note that the accent is on the second syllable, in the French way.

Ha! I knew nothing of Puccini or opera before I came to this house, though I did lead quite the Bohemian lifestyle with many boyfriends and many adventures and assignations, inspiring my name, resulting in something like 24 kittens…hence the topic of my article today. I not only celebrate my own motherhood, but my adoption by my human mom, an event that changed both of our lives as motherhood will do even without the act of giving birth.

Participating in a university study…for Mother’s Day?

photo of black cat in bed covers

Lucy Helps to Make the Bed, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

First, she and I are going to embark on a very special Mother’s Day project including myself and all my kittens we’ve kept in touch with. We’ll all be participating in a study!

My human mom wrote an article about how she came to know me and ultimately adopt me in an article, A Nice, Nice Kitty. In that article you’ll read about a kitten named Lucy* from my second or third litter of kittens who my mom ended up adopting after finding good homes for the other kittens in that litter.

I didn’t live here yet, but Lucy was the kitten who was responsible for me joining this household. Lucy unfortunately had a disease called feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP, and no matter how much my mom loved her and cared for her, Lucy died at only 15 months old. My mom saw me carrying another litter of kittens in my belly—in fact, my last litter—and for many good reasons you can read about in the article mentioned above decided to take me into her house.

And for the sake of Lucy, who died so young, and for moms like my human mom, who suffer such sadness at the loss of kittens and cats of any age to this disease, we’ll be participating in a study of FIP at the University of California at Davis. We’ve just downloaded our forms and contacted the other kittens’ people, and we’ll write more about this as all of us do our cheek swabs and fill out our forms. (I’m still researching other kittens and family members before I send in the entire family tree, and discovered that the little clip of Lucy’s fur didn’t provide the right DNA for the test.~Bernadette)

I loved being a mother, but I’m such a lucky kitty now

I can’t believe I’ve gone from a loose little street cat to a happy, healthy and socially-conscious kitty participating in a university study! Unlike Mimi from La Boheme, I have gone on to live happily ever after, as should every kitty, and dog and bunny and bird and all the other animals who love to live with humans.

photo of black cat on sidewalk

Big Daddy comes for Mimi (actually coming to the door)!

But as for motherhood…I can’t deny it, I loved having kittens. I carefully chose the fathers, usually the two handsome black cats from Fifth Avenue, one tall and slender and silly and the other stockier and serious despite the little white spot on his chest, ensuring that all my children would be the same lustrous black as their parents with a mix of other physical and personality traits, and most were. Unfortunately, I loved my children so much that I also didn’t realize the world didn’t need more perfect little black kittens.

Motherhood is not for every kitty—not for most kitties!

close up photo of a black cat

Mimi tells her story

I’ve written an article listing 30 reasons why cats like me should be spayed—in fact, why all cats should be spayed except perhaps those lucky few whose people will monitor their activity and prepare for the proper adoption of the offspring.

Much as I loved being a mother I’m glad I’m spayed and can’t have any more kittens because I never realized how simply fun and enjoyable every day could be for a cat who was spayed and in a good home. Humans really recognize the royal nature of cats and enjoy indulging our every whim and we should really give them the opportunity to do that!

kittens in cat bed

The best I could do!

I’d like to tell you about the kittens I gave birth to in April 2006 including Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal, and their humans, and the July 2007 litter—the Big Four, who most people who’ve been reading this blog know all too well. What mother doesn’t like to see her children become famous and successful?

Of course Lucy stayed here, and is gone but never forgotten. I see by reading mom’s e-mails that Charlotte, Angus and Donal, wish me a happy Mother’s Day, and I was so glad to see the happy photos of them come over.

She had helped to find homes for them, and she kept in touch with the people who adopted them, before she even really knew me. I like that about her, as much as I like the fact that she took me to be spayed.

blakc cat with rainbows

Lucy with rainbows in doorway.

*Bernadette says: I was very surprised, when I researched the libretto for La Boheme, that the next line in Mimi’s aria is, but my real name is Lucia.” The kitten I lost to FIP, and as Mimi tells you, the reason she came here, was named “Lucy”. As I moved Mimi and her babies from the box into the cage in the spare bedroom, I felt the strongest sense that Lucy was in the room with us, in fact turning around to look at the door, which was closed, but I had pictured it open with Lucy standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the sun on the landing. She had only been gone three weeks, it wouldn’t be unusual that I would forget she was gone in a distracted moment, but the way Mimi settled in, and the way she looked at me in that moment, I knew it wasn’t because I had forgotten. I never sensed Lucy again after that, nor felt that deep pang of loss, though those poor kittens and Mimi had to endure frequent hugs and kisses for months until I felt secure again. You’ll learn a little more about Lucy in upcoming articles, especially as we discuss FIP.

Pretty Little Mimi

photo of black cat by door

Little Mimi in the Sun

Little Mimi is just incredibly pretty. In part it’s her petite build, and in a photo it’s hard to get perspective on how tiny she is; unless you have some idea the size of my door, this photo really doesn’t do it.

In other part it’s her quiet nature, her subdued personality. She has tiny, tiny paws and pads soundlessly around the house, fits herself into small spaces and generally doesn’t ask for much, which is why it’s so funny when she suddenly scrabbles for a grip on the floor and races around the house with a tail like a paper clip, or follows me insistently, head-bumping me, rubbing and angling a look up at me as she presses her head against my hip, completely endearing.

Here she sits in the warm sun on a frosty morning, perhaps thinking that in years past she would have been out in that frost instead of basking in the sun by the door.

I’m sure we all have these moments when we look at one of our animal companions and suddenly realize how much we simply love them. I took in Mimi for a logical purpose, to get her off the streets, to help learn more about FIP, to help me with my grief at losing Lucy, and I got Little Mimi in the bargain.

The Little Flower

black cat with pink impatiens

Mimi with impatiens.

Mimi enjoys the warm sunshine inside while the impatiens bloom outside in the windowbox.

I saw her in the window as I walked up to my house and snapped a few photos. The bright pink and green and the bits of blue sky reflected with Mimi’s black fur and green eyes almost look springlike, yet it was the last sunny autumn afternoon. The frost has taken the impatiens but Mimi will still enjoy her sunny windowsill. Mimi is always my little flower.

I really love the way a photo taken through a window can look like a collage with the interior objects and the exterior reflections mingling at will. Photographing into windows is tricky, especially double-pane windows caught at an angle as was this one because, even faintly, it doubles the image, and in close-up even the thickness of the glass blurs whatever is behind the window; old wavy glass is even less predictable and more interesting.

Catching the subject inside, Mimi, without her being obscured by reflections on the outside of the window, but catching the reflections on the glass around her meant creeping all around and leaning at odd angles until she appeared framed in reflections with a few bright flowers in actuality and reflected.

I Really Do Fit in This Box

Photo of cat in envelopes box

I Really Do Fit in This Box

Not even little Mimi fits in the envelopes box I keep at my desk for catching small items like disks and memo pads. And she can’t even be very comfortable partially balanced on the edge and on three paws down inside, but she is determined. I don’t mind because otherwise she wants to sleep on the papers I’m working with, and will not take “no” for an answer.

Mimi is drawn to any container that might hold her, be it drawer, cupboard, basket or box, she has to try it on for size. I have to be careful to watch for her before I close anything! I’m accustomed to this vigilance with kittens, and even though I’ve had others interested in boxes and bags and such Mimi is the first adult cat I’ve lived with who so insistently needs to get inside every container. But then, she’s only 6.5 lbs., and she’s really a kitten at heart, living out her kittenhood now after bearing so many litters.

Mimi on Mimi’s Day

black cat sleeping in the sun

Mimi Speckled

Because today is Mimi’s Day, the day she joined my household, I’m featuring a photo of her.

Rather than a photo that shows her quiet delicate beauty, I chose one that reminds both her and me that she’s no longer an outdoor cat, battling the elements, birthing kittens and risking her life. She’s just a happy housecat, sleeping in the sun with that fool of a human who follows her around with a camera. I get the feeling she’s loving every moment of it.

It’s also the day her children joined my household, but they’ve had enough attention lately.

Meet Lucy!

illustration of black cat on colored background

Meet Lucy!

The most exceptional kitten the world has ever known!

No, I haven’t added a kitten to my household of nine adults! But there is definitely a story, in more ways than one, behind this illustration.

Those stories contain both intense joy and overwhelming sorrow; they contain an unexpected loss of a kitten after the loss of many others, which led to the welcoming of Mimi and the Fantastic Four, and a promise to that kitten that I’d honor her brief existence with joy and love.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug

This illustration is one of many I’m planning for a little illustrated book of the life of a kitten, featuring Lucy, who will always be the most exceptional kitten! As I watched her grow, even before I knew she’d stay with me, at least for a while, I began intensely visualizing the slender little black kitten with the tail that curled in a perfect circle going about her busy kitten day of throwing throw rugs, tossing toss pillows and unrolling her favorite ball of purple yarn all over the house, all in front of colorful patterned backgrounds.

I created this sketch intending to continue with others, but the time just wasn’t right until now.

How Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four are related

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

July 10 was the third anniversary of Lucy’s passing from effects of effusive FIP, so I spent the day thinking about her, writing about her, and working on this illustration.

Mimi is Lucy’s mom, but then belonged to a neighbor and was about to give birth again that July. I decided right then that Mimi and her new babies had to come to my house; I know this was suggested by Lucy, in her transition. I checked on the possible dangers to my household of further transmission of FIP—they’d already been exposed—and asked Mimi’s owner if she would just give me the mom instead of only the kittens. They were born on July 25 and arrived here July 28, 2007. (Yes, at the end of the month we’ll be celebrating a massive four-cat birthday!)

No one else has developed FIP, Mimi and the kids are still here providing love and inspiration, and it’s time I followed through with my promise to Lucy.

So this week, beginning with this article, I’ll be writing about the book I’d planned and the illustrations, about Lucy as my beloved kitten, about her mom Mimi and half-siblings the Fabulous Four, and about FIP and the study we are participating in.

Just the beginning: how Lucy came to me

photo of two cats

Stanley and Moses, old friends

In 2006, I had a house full of senior cats—my youngest was Kelly, who was then about 13, and I hadn’t had a kitten in the house for any length of time for several years. But because my four oldest seniors were requiring more care and attention I decided to even forgo the occasional rescue or foster to make sure I had the emotional and financial means to care for my old friends. Raising a kitten was out of the question.

Then the neighbor across the street said her cat Maia had had another litter of kittens, and could I help her find homes (again, third litter in two years…). I made her promise to get Maia, a petite and quiet solid black cat with pale yellow eyes who roamed my backyard wildlife habitat, spayed and consider keeping her indoors. We made arrangements for the procedure, and I e-mailed descriptions of the kittens to friends.

Very young Charlotte, Angus and Donal.

Three of the kittens were claimed right away, while the fourth kitten had no takers. I really didn’t feel I had the time or space to spend on an eight-week-old kitten, but it was June and all the shelters were full, plus the kitten was black and black kittens and cats have such a difficult time being adopted…well, if I couldn’t raise a little kitten after over 20 years of rescuing and fostering cats, I might as well just retire completely.

I was NOT going to keep this kitten, but in the back of my mind I kept remembering my guilty thoughts at what cats might come to me after I lost my seniors; never considering that I’d simply reduce my household, I knew the universe would continue bringing me cats.

Are You Looking at Me? pastel painting of Kublai Khan © B.E. Kazmarski

I had had a beloved black cat years before, and I wanted to share my space with one again… I really wanted a little black cat who I’d name Lucy. And here she was. I tried plenty of other names on her, then just blurting out nonsense syllables to see what sounds she responded to. When I said “Lucy” in the middle of a string of rhyming syllables, she looked at me, surprised.

The rest of the household

I had lost cats in the past, but endured the loss of most of my household in a short period of time. Between February 2006 to January 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, one to cancer, one to kidney failure, the other two just to old age. Stanley and Moses were the last two of the ones who had been with me from those earliest days and seen me begin my career as an artist; Moses at 19 was the first loss of the four in February 2006, and Stanley, the last loss of the four in January, 2007, was with me for 21 years and came to me as an adult, so he had to be 23 or older. Cream, Peaches’ sister, succumbed to kidney failure in March, 2006, and Sophie’s vocal problems turned out to be cancer after all, and I lost her in November, 2006.

It was right in the middle of these losses that the tiny, energetic feline diva arrived in mid-May, 2006.

In the next installment I’ll describe Lucy’s first year—my joy at having a cat from kittenhood, a rarity for me—and all the silly things she did that inspired the story.

This is the first installment of my story about Lucy, the Most Exceptional Kitten the World has Ever Known, including Meet Lucy, Lucy Inspires a Book. and Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight.