365 Days of Kittens 2.0

A year ago today, we were unexpectedly blessed by two new kittens, Sooty and Sweep, also known as “the beans.” And what a year it’s been.

Last spring, my Mum and I were toying with the idea of a last round of kittens before we had our younger two cats spayed. The experience of raising kittens had always been such a positive one and we liked the idea of doing it one more time. Of the two cats, we thought Mouse would be the better choice and so we had Tiger spayed but left Mouse to wander. But a couple of months later, my mental health plummeted and the idea of getting attached to kittens only to have to let them go just felt too much so we took Mouse to the vet for the pre-spay check up. The vet was happy with that but said she could probably do with losing a little bit of weight. I did wonder if she was pregnant but the vet categorically disagreed and explained the spaying process to us again.

Less than a week later, my Mum and I came home from a family dinner to find Mouse pacing on the doormat just inside the front door. As soon as she saw us, she started yowling and headed upstairs, pausing every few steps to make sure I was following. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure but it was exactly the same behaviour that Lucy had displayed when she had her two litters of kittens. So I followed Mouse up to my room where she curled up in the cat bed and within a couple of hours, our two little black furballs were born. Girls was my guess and I was right.

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So that was a bit of a shock.

But, of course, they were gorgeous and I was immediately in love. Unfortunately, Mouse wasn’t the natural mother that Lucy had been to her and her sister. She’d curl around them, feed them, and clean them, but then she’d get up and leave them for fairly considerable periods of time. And since kittens can’t regulate their own body temperatures, I was worried, even though it was summer and the weather was very warm. So we had to take somewhat drastic measures: I set up camp on the floor next to the cat bed and every time Mouse went to leave, I turned her around and nudged her back inside. Most of the time, she simply climbed back in and curled up with them; it was like she just didn’t know that that was what she was supposed to do but with a bit of encouragement, she started to get the idea. I stayed there for two weeks until I was confident that she didn’t need my direction although I didn’t stray far, just in case.

To make matters more complicated, we were in the middle of a heatwave and I was worried about them all overheating (we even ended up at the emergency vet at one point). Mouse – a very fluffy cat – did have to leave from time to time, just to stretch out and cool down, although she had by that point gotten the hang of things and didn’t leave the kittens for long. I struggle with the heat and so we’d just bought a pretty expensive fan but we ended up mostly using it to keep the general room temperature down. It was a stressful balancing act.

The arrival of the kittens also changed the general cat dynamic in the house, as well as my relationship with them. The living room (where we’d moved the bed with the kittens – it was easier to manage the temperature in there and still allowed me to work while I kept vigil) had always been the central hub of the house, where we all – cats included – hung out. But suddenly Lucy and Tiger were nowhere to be found and since I was on kitten watch, I barely saw them. That was quite upsetting as I was used to Lucy always sticking close and Tiger constantly climbing all over me. I missed them. I just had to hope that things would return to normal once the kittens went to their new home (the plan my Mum and I had discussed and felt comfortable with, especially if they could go to the same home).

Then Mouse started trying to move the kittens out of the bed, into different corners of the living room. It would have been cute if she didn’t keep trying to stash them in potentially problematic hidey-holes: amongst the wires behind the TV, behind the sofa… She even got one of them half way down the stairs a couple of times. That wasn’t exactly ideal. In the end, we managed to compromise – yes, I was compromising with my cat… I built her a new nest under the TV, carefully covering all of the wires with a blanket and then another in the crate we still had from the last litter.

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The best part of having kittens is when they open their eyes and started stumbling around, exploring and playing clumsily. They’re so in the moment, all of their focus on what they’re doing. It’s so mindful and so calming to watch. And their innocence is just good for the soul. There’s something magical about knowing that you’re giving these open, trusting little creatures the best possible start in life, giving them as much love and attention and care as you can.

While I do kind of love the idea of having a big litter of kittens running around, there’s something really special about just having two. They were partners in crime, always  snuggled up together, playing together, or getting into trouble together. They were constantly getting stuck in ridiculous places, no doubt due to their boundless curiosity. There was one particularly memorable incident where I scraped up my arm, forcing it behind the bookshelf to retrieve one of them when she got trapped behind it. How she got behind it in the first place I have no idea. Safely rescued, she shook herself off and was off playing with her sister, no worse for wear.

We did end up naming them, for ourselves at least. It wasn’t like we could refer to them by colour since they were both ‘the black one.’ So they became Sooty and Sweep (I’d always wanted to do matching names – even if it was just going to be for a little while and just for me), Sweep being the fluffier of the two. Due to their birth order, it should really be Sweep and Sooty but oh well. You can’t win ’em all.

(In the second photo, they’re watching the TV.)

Mouse has slowly become a really good mother and to this day (spoiler alert: we kept them, as the title suggests), she’s still very close to them, especially Sweep. We often find the two of them cleaning each other or curled up together. It’s very cute. She’s close to Sooty too but more often than not, Sooty snuggles up with me. They’re both very people friendly cats, inquisitive about new people, obliging when we want affection, and downright cuddly when they want affection. They have really lovely characters, both of them.

Lucy and Tiger eventually stopped avoiding them, curiously checking them out. Sooty and Sweep were very enthusiastic, always wanting to play or snuggle. The older cats were more reserved but after a while, they formed a little pack: we call them our pride of cats. Now they eat together, play together, and contently share the cat tree.

Lucy and Tiger also returned to their normal behaviour. Lucy spends her days stretched out on what she considers ‘her’ chair, hanging out with me while I work or write or practice, and Tiger, while fairly independent, comes to lie on me every day, sometimes multiple times. That always makes me really smile-y; I’d missed that.

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They weren’t quite old enough to go to new homes when my mental health suddenly plummeted, my depression dropping to new gut-wrenching levels and my anxiety through the roof: sometimes it was so bad that I could barely speak. And in the middle of that, I started my Masters and started the release cycle of my first EP, both of which were incredibly stressful. But the kittens helped in a way nothing else did or could, their mindful behaviour very soothing.

As I said, we hadn’t intended to keep them but with the stress I was under, Mum was happy to leave the process of finding them a new home until I felt a bit more settled and emotionally stable. But I continued to struggle – having meltdowns almost everyday, leaving me physically and emotionally drained – and it turned into a landmine of its own. The thought of them going was physically painful and I couldn’t bear to bring up the subject, knowing that the conversation would just cause yet another meltdown. And with the amount I was having, I was desperate to avoid actively causing them.

Weeks after they originally would’ve gone, me and Mum had had a few brief conversations about the situation and how difficult and overwhelming I was finding it (on top of everything else) and we realised that, somehow, the decision had made itself. We were keeping them. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed with relief and Mum held me until I was all cried out. I was exhausted but a weight had been lifted and during this awful period where everything felt wrong, something finally felt right. I don’t think either of us have regretted it for a moment (well, except maybe when it seemed to take Sooty forever to transition from using the litter box to the garden).

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I’ve loved every second with our pride of cats but they’ve truly been a life saver during this pandemic, one of the very few things that have helped with my mental health, helped calm (or at least manage) my overwhelming fears; cuddling or stroking them, even just watching them, can pull me out of an anxiety spiral. They’re completely unaware of the pandemic, of the bigger picture, and when I get lost in my panic, watching them exist in their own little world – waiting for their next meal, chasing bugs in the garden, stretching out on the cat tree, or demanding my attention – helps me rein in all the ‘what if’s and reestablish a sense of perspective. As much as possible anyway.

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And now they’re a year old. I kind of can’t believe it. Somehow it’s simultaneously flown by and been the longest year of my life. But as I said, I’ve loved every moment with them. My family of cats is one of the most precious things to me and the addition of Sooty and Sweep has been a true, if unexpected, gift.

(One second a day of Sooty and Sweep’s first year.)

Escapril Poetry Challenge 2020

A while back, I discovered the ‘Escapril’ poetry challenge, organised by writer Savannah Brown. For every day in April, there’s a poetry prompt that can be used in whatever way inspires you. You then post the piece you’ve written on social media. I’d been eagerly awaiting it for what felt like ages because I’d been really excited to get into writing poetry again (prompts or briefs often help me when I’m out of practice at something), even if it did land in the same month as the deadline of my most recent university assessment.

Here are this year’s prompts:

I didn’t manage a poem everyday (especially while working on my essay) and very quickly, I realised that I didn’t want to post them online until I’d had more time to develop them, edit them, and just make sure that they were good enough to share. I didn’t want to put a piece of work out into the world that I wasn’t confident in.

I have to admit that I’ve been struggling to be creative since the pandemic started and we went into lockdown, something I know a lot of people are dealing with. I read that long term fear and stress affect your brain, making it difficult to find inspiration and be creative – I don’t know about you but having a scientific reason for why I’m struggling so much definitely helped, even if it hasn’t actually solved the problem. Knowing why at least reassured me that my brain hadn’t just stopped working for no reason, that presumably it will start functioning again at some point. So I just have to be patient with myself, as hard as that may be. I’m a lot less patient with myself than with others, as it turns out.

Anyway, the month and the challenge are now over. As I said, I didn’t manage to write a poem everyday but I did manage to write something for most of the prompts and I really enjoyed writing in this format again, despite struggling with all things creative. Since I didn’t post anything during the challenge, I thought I’d share a few here that I’m pleased with or can see potential in…

2. GROWTH/DECAY

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6. OBSESSION

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12. SUBMERGED IN WATER

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17. GRIEF

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18. HOW DID THE SKY LOOK?

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24. BLACK HOLE

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So I hope you enjoyed these, that they’re not too obscure or clunky. As I said, I’m out of practice at writing poetry. It has a very different feel to writing songs and it’s definitely different to writing essays, the two forms of writing I’ve been doing over the last few months. So, yeah, I hope they’re okay. I hope you like them.

Have you taken up any new hobbies or skills since the lockdown? Or revisited old ones?

A Very Late 25th Birthday Post

Last year, I wrote a post around my birthday about adding some rules to the celebration, mainly to make the experience more enjoyable and more memorable: do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy. For my twenty fourth birthday, I ran my dog’s hydrotherapy session and bought myself a typewriter. It was really special so I thought I’d do it again this year… I’m just very late. Last September, my mental health was awful and I’d just started my Masters so my birthday wasn’t the first thing on my mind. A lot of the celebrations got delayed; I only got one of my birthday presents a couple of weeks ago. But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that it matters, that it feels special.

So here are the results of the rules for my 25th birthday…

Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

On Sunday 8th March, I saw Halsey at the O2 Arena and she was absolutely incredible, as I knew she would be. Back when I booked the tickets, I knew I would want to see her again. As I’ve said before, “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” So after booking the London tickets, I talked to my Mum about seeing Halsey again, despite the fact that the closest possible show was in Dublin. We’d talked about taking a short trip – a few days somewhere – to celebrate my 25th birthday and up until now, I haven’t been able to think of somewhere I wanted to go (we’d thought about a few extra days in America but it clashes with university stuff this year) or do until now. So we planned our little trip to Dublin, trying to miss as little uni time as possible. And I’m really glad we did because she, Halsey, has since said that she plans not to tour for an indefinite period of time after this. So taking this extra opportunity to see her before that  happens became very important to me.

As I said, she was incredible in London – it was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen – but I want to focus on the Dublin show (on the 10th March), as that was my birthday trip. And besides, the London show being special doesn’t make the Dublin show less special. It was just special in different ways.

The arena wasn’t hugely well organised and the disabled area didn’t have a great view – Halsey has such beautiful images on the screens behind her that it was frustrating to have a significant section of it blocked by the lighting rig, etc. So it wasn’t ideal but being able to sit and still see is always such a relief. After the London show where I couldn’t get a disabled ticket and ended up having to stand to see (I’m still not used to being ‘disabled’ or ‘partially disabled’ – I’m not sure what the right term is for someone with Autism, mental health problems, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue is – so I do keep trying to tough it out, which often turns out to be a bad idea). That caused terrible leg pain that’s ongoing. So sitting down for the show was a huge, huge relief, even if we weren’t in a great position.

The show was amazing. Halsey is an incredible performer and some of the highlights for me were ‘Castle,’ ‘Forever… (Is A Long Time),’ ‘3am,’ ‘100 Letters (Acoustic),’ ‘Is There Somewhere,’ ‘Graveyard,’ ‘929,’ ‘Ashley,’ and ‘Gasoline.’ I could list all of them really because each performance was so powerful and so full of passion and electric energy. The vocals, the band, the backgrounds, the platforms hanging from the ceiling… they were all SO GOOD. She gives everything to every song, to every aspect of the show. And as much as I love all of that, the part I love the most is the way she talks to the crowd. It’s so honest and sincere and special and somehow she makes it feel like the concert is a secret between you and her. I don’t know how she does it. But I’m in awe.

It was a really special birthday present and I’m really grateful. We had barely any time in Dublin but the point of going was the concert and the concert was amazing. Halsey and her music are so special to me and her shows are so special to me but this show – these two shows – have been the most special. Turning twenty five was really scary and stressful for me and so, to celebrate that milestone – and celebrate coping with it – with someone who actually shares the same birthday as me… well, that was extra special.

Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.

I was browsing through a vintage jewellery shop recently, just looking really, because I’d seen some jewellery in the window that might work for a music video. I didn’t find anything for the video but I found this ring that I just fell in love with (and another similar one that I also loved). It’s not a colour I’d normally choose and it was a bit expensive when I’m about to go on several trips but I took a couple of weeks to think about it and even went back several times to look at it. But eventually I decided that I really, truly loved this one so I decided to buy it.

It’s a little bit big and probably needs to be resized slightly but I’ve been wearing it around the house ever since because I’m just in love with it. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to wear it out during the day. I’m so happy with it and my choice to buy it.

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So it was a very late birthday celebration – almost six months late – but they were really good celebrations. I just wasn’t ready or capable at the time. I like to think that they showed up when I was ready. So maybe I’m ready to be twenty five now. Or maybe not. But I sure as hell celebrated it.