Talking about babies makes me twitchy. It’s because I’m unqualified to speak about trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, birthing, or mothering. I was 43 when I got married. At that point in life, math and biology (not my best subjects) had conspired to discourage free-ranging my ovaries: Do you really want to be the 60-year-old mother of a teen? Really?
Now I am 53 and I find myself gushing and tearful whenever I’m around babies. It feels biological, like an un-entitled grandmotherliness. To be honest, it pisses me off. I went through this before, when my friends started having kids and I was still single.
I tell the universe (or God, whatever): Yes, I wanted to have babies once, OK? But I didn’t have them. Can you let it go now?
Talking about not having babies leads to uncomfortable conversations about how I could still adopt or become a volunteer in a school or offer to babysit. If I had intended to do any of those things, I would have done them by now. So, all of this compressed, grandmotherly tenderness, having no place to go, leaves me vulnerable to the rest of the animal kingdom. Every caged elephant, lion or baby rhino, every abused dog or injured hamster, plucks at my heart like every cello and violin in Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
I am grateful for Scout, who I have written about previously. She is the kitten I found on Compromise Street last summer, infected eyes and lungs, mewing loudly, utterly alone. I picked her up and carried her home. Her eyes were so severely infected, the vet had to remove them two months later. Where her eyes should be are little dimples; her face is all nose now and it is the sweetest cat nose ever.
We have routines we follow every day, like mother and child. In the morning, it is the shampoo bottle game. An empty plastic bottle sits on the tub’s edge. I say, “You know where it is.” She stands on her hind legs and pushes it off the ledge with her front paws, listens to it hit the tub and roll down to the drain. We do it again and again until she is satisfied.
In the afternoon, she waits by the back door for outside playtime. She chases the stick that I drag along the grass, or chases me as I make Grassman noises, dragging my feet. She hears everything. She wants to stay outside for the rest of the day and takes measured bunny hops to evade me as I attempt to pick her up and carry her back in the house.
Yesterday, I tried to imagine her world and walked in the yard with my eyes closed. I could feel the sun on my skin and the dry, lumpy grass at my feet, and the wind blowing from the southwest. I stopped, worried that I would step on her.
Most nights, I wake up at 4:30 to her kneading and headbonking, and then I fall back asleep. It’s the least I can do for her, this wakefulness, when all day long she rescues me from myself.