This Christmas, everyone in my family got presents that they enjoyed. The best, however, was undoubtedly my brother's surprise gift: he has a kitten.
The kitty was a surprise to me, too. I came home on Wednesday, December 21st--the winter solstice. I learned later that Mom and Dad had taken Blake out for cocoa the day before and told him they were going to let him pick out a kitten at the animal shelter. They went and looked at a bunch that day, then decided to go again the next day and make their final decision. Of course, I was coming back that day too.
When I arrived, weary from getting up at four (Ohio time) or one (Washington time) in the morning, I had no idea that plans were afoot. Mom and Blake met me at the airport and took me home. We had a good conversation over lunch. Then the two of them took off, ostensibly to get Blake shoes and a haircut. Still unsuspecting, I went for a walk and then took a shower; I was tired but not sleepy, and as a great sage once said, "I didn't sleep, but I took a shower, and that's the same thing." (By "great sage" I mean my friend Noah, and by "once," I mean after an all-nighter during reading period.)
Mom and Blake were back by the time I emerged, feeling much livelier. I saw Blake sitting in a chair and walked over to examine the haircut he'd supposedly gotten. His hair didn't look much different . . . As I got closer, I noticed the tiny black bundle of fur in his lap, which he was gazing at in a mixture of pride, affection, and aw(e).
We've adopted adult cats in the past, but never a kitten before. This was also our first male cat. (It took us all a while to stop referring to him as "her." Dad still does sometimes, a week later!) The kitten was, surprisingly, not alarmed or anxious at all, at being in a new place. The other cats had run off and hidden under furniture for a while. Not this one! He was curled up in Blake's arms and purring to beat the band. It's amazing how loudly such a tiny kitty can purr.
He seemed to be both mellow and excitable: mellow in that he didn't stress out easily (he had meowed exactly once on the car ride home, according to Blake), and excitable in that he is a very confident kitten. Everything is new and interesting. He was particularly interested in the tree.
His name is Solstice. The name was Blake's decision, because this is Blake's cat. Our first cat, Squeaky, was really mine--I was the primary owner, she slept on my bed, I played with her. She was around long before Blake was. Piper, the cat we got five years ago, is more of a family cat. She sleeps on my bed, too, but that's more because of the bed than anything to do with me; she thinks it's hers. Piper is a bit standoffish, though--not nearly as affectionate as Squeaky was. Blake loves Piper and works hard to get her to be sweet, but the most Piper will do is sit on someone's lap for a while. She doesn't cuddle. Mom and Dad thought Blake deserved a cat who was willing to snuggle with him. All I can say is that he picked a great one: Solstice is charming!
The name is because of the day of his adoption, the winter solstice. It also works nicely with his coloring: he's entirely black, perfect for a cat named after the longest night of the year.
I don't know if anyone had more fun than Solstice on Christmas morning. We were putting all of our wrapping paper in a grocery bag to be taken out to the recycling bin later. Solstice scrambled into it and lurked there for a while. There were periods of silence, then ominous rustling, as though the bag were possessed. Then a small black paw would shoot out, or an ear would become visible as he attacked the wrapping paper. It was adorable, but we were afraid he'd go to sleep in there and we'd end up recycling him, so we dumped all the wrapping paper out. This was even more exciting. Solstice dashed madly through the pile, accepting as his sacred duty the task of pouncing each scrap of colorful paper into submission.
Of course, after such rambunctious shenanigans, Solstice was exhausted. He can be entirely full of energy, but when he relaxes, we have to check if he's breathing. Once, reading by the fire, I heard Mom say dryly, "It's too bad he's so tense." I looked over. Solstice was asleep on her lap, his head and one leg dangling off the edge of her chair into space, utterly blissful. If he was any less tense, he'd be a liquid.
It took Solstice a while to get used to our floors. They are wooden and very slippery. For the first few days, he'd start off walking across a room and his hind legs would suddenly slip sideways out from under him. Now, though, he has it down and has even turned the slipperiness to his advantage when we're playing with his laser toy. He'll chase the little red dot of the laser down a hallway until we suddenly reverse its direction; he will skid, pivot, and end up crouching down facing back the way he came, ready to charge again. (He occasionally careens into walls, but not when he's chasing things, so this might be intentional.)
He is remarkably silent for someone so lively--aside from purring, he almost never makes a peep. The only exception is when he's hungry, or when one of us goes near the broom cupboard where his food is kept. Then he utters the cutest little "mew"s I've ever heard. (See hastily drawn cartoon for evidence.)
Piper is rather wary of the new arrival, hissing at him when he gets too close. Here is where his irrepressible spirit is something of a nuisance--he won't take a hint. He's not hostile at all, just curious and playful; all she wants is to be left alone. We're hoping they'll find a middle ground soon.
Once I saw him bound over to her sideways, like a crab. It's difficult to describe this motion: he just hopped over in three quick jumps, always keeping his broad side toward her. Then, of course, she hissed and he scrambled away again. I have no idea what he was trying to accomplish.
Another danger in their interactions lies in Piper's current appearance. Normally, she is a very hairy cat, with a mane like a lion. This leads to problems--when her mane gets too long, she can't wash it properly; the fur around her legs gets matted; she sheds a lot. She does not take kindly to being combed, however (I didn't know cats could growl until I tried grooming her). So last summer, in desperation, Mom took her to a professional groomer who shaved her. This worked so well that she did it again about a month ago. She looks very different when shorn. With her mane gone, she looks less like a lion from the front, but the groomer leaves her fur long at the tip of the tail, so her back looks lionish instead. (See second hastily drawn cartoon.)
The only problem with this is that from the back, from a kitten's perspective, this lion-tail looks like a most enticing toy. I don't think Solstice has actually pounced on it yet, but I definitely caught him crouched down and eyeing it, rump wiggling in gleeful anticipation.
He gets up to some crazy things. One time, unsure of where he was, Blake, Mom, and I were searching Mom and Dad's bedroom. I was looking under the bed when I heard a slight thump and an exclamation from Mom. It appears Solstice had suddenly dropped out of the sky right next to her. Either he was suddenly beamed down from the mothership, or he had jumped off of the nearby bookcase or the top shelf of the closet. We're not sure how he could have gotten to either of those places.
There are many more kitten anecdotes I could tell, but I'm going to leave you with pictures instead.
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November 30, 2023