[Written, obviously, yesterday and for Mothers' Day.]
My day began as best it might, given untoward circumstances, with a flurry of phone calls from all those much too various time zones which I magically inhabit.
Child first, as should be. Exhausted pobrecito, understandably. The Fair City demands much of its residents of a Saturday night, but the Morrison? Goodness, we really are growing up [though I should imagine the evening might have ended at Fibbers].
Then others, friends, some who have claimed me [or I, they, one never knows – the laying claim of heart and home always so mysterious] as mama or friend or cohort ever after. The joys of maternal certitude have never been limited to biological imperative.
Which brings me to someone who has been, and often is, on my mind:
Once upon a time, in my most favoured city, we were blessed with a multitude, an endlessly swarming extended family of felines. At least 30, sometimes more, all of whom would drop in at least once a day, demanding to be fed. Our yard was uncommonly large, and I thought the unbroken vistas allowed them some sense of safety.
Anyone who has ever lived in Barcelona knows these tribes, more or less circumscribed by block and family ties.
They came in gaggles, and there was similarity within each gaggle, of age, color and even temperament. We came to identify them as the “cousins,” the “uncles,” “the mean ones,” and so forth.
One amongst them was heavy with child, and we kept special eye on her, inviting her in when we could and making sure she received more than her fair share.
And one day she didn’t appear. Then another and another, and so we assumed she had given happy birth and was tending her babies. But we worried about where she was dining.
Then, softly at first, the unmistakable low mewling sounds emanating from somewhere. Just on the other side of the high back garden fence, perhaps. Sad, lonely, unrequited murmurs.
My son, who even then was more than a foot taller than I [and equally unable to ignore the pleas], jury-rigged a chair, a stool, precarious ladder to scale the fence and climb over, peeking into a tiny shed and finding the source. Then, day by day, hour by hour, he somehow managed to introduce saucers of milk, the softest of foods, quiet reassurances of sustenance.
Then, a few weeks later, one bright afternoon, there appeared a caravan of tiny kittens, picking their way carefully across the top of the fence. There were 5 – four of them the typical black and white. But in the lead, Chiquita.
He – yes, he, as it turned out – equally diminutive, and surely a sibling, but odd gene out with his distinctive Siamese coat – was two steps ahead of the others, firmly in the lead.
Cannon fodder, we thought.
Not valor, strength or wisdom, but cannon fodder, self-imposed out of some innate necessity. If unknown - and everything was unknown for them - danger were to appear, then Chiquita would take the hit.
And so he raised them well. Bringing them to our back door several times a day for the very special stash of tinned food kept only for the “babies.” Later bringing them to “play” with our house cat [a surprise gift of sort from some other children], a massive, ungainly, dim Persian. The “babies” were the same age as silly Bedivere, but a fifth his size.
Chiquita taught them to rush the silly one, pouncing from under table, knocking him over on his back, and, I swear, giggling as they watched his feet foolishly tread air, his girth rendering him incapable of rolling over.
He loved the attention, the “babies” felt duly empowered and Chiquita could rest for just a moment.
So, yes, maternal certitude is thrust upon one, does not allow for hesitation or nuance and is certainly not limited to biological imperative. And there are some who live in a state of such self-absorbed certitude that their universe of one will never have to fear such visitation.
As for cannon fodder - in this particular tale at least – Chiquita took it upon herself to provide cover and lesson for her babies/siblings. I am sure there are universes where the circumstance might have been reversed, untutored babies thrust into unknown [or not] minefields.
But, all things considered, I would rather not consider such universe.