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Mama Meow!: A shoutout to mothers everywhere, including the feline ones like Kali, pictured above with her six little kittens.

Take the Word 'Mother' and Run With It

In which a cat and a diarist inspire an authentic Mother's Day ode

By Sarah Phelan

Local diarist and Corralitos resident Ray Zager dropped by the office last week to talk about diary keeping--and Mother's Day. Zager, who has the second largest diary collection in the nation (1,500 diaries and counting), showed me his latest assignment for members of the Watsonville Diary Club: "Take the word MOTHER and run with it. Before you write about Mother, think about the word, it's as large and as high as the heavens that hold us. What mother, yours, your mother's mother, your common ancestor: or is it the mother rat, or cow, or horse? They give milk to their young and to us in cartons and bottle."

His assignment struck a nerve, and I went home, pulled out my diary, and wrote about one mother I've recently encountered up close and personal--my cat Kali. Written on the occasion of her first birthday, which fell two weeks after she become a mother of six, I hope what follows inspires readers, not only to keep a diary, but to honor and revere mothers everywhere, especially mothers who are not their own.

APRIL 28, 2005: So, Kali, my cat, is a teenage mom, being not quite a year old when she delivered six squalling kittens in my bedroom closet. It was a planned pregnancy, in that I haven't got her fixed. I thought it'd be cool for her to have kittens on the farm, where we've been living for two years, but then my landlady gave us notice, leading to the following conversation with my prospective landlord:

Me: You know how I said we had two cats? One of them is pregnant.
Landlord: So, just how many kittens can cats have?
Me: (Gulp) Up to, er, 12, according to the Internet.

Miraculously, the landlord didn't have kittens himself over this news, and, that settled, my concern shifted to Kali. She'd taken to supplementing her diet with a daily dose of rodent--a freshly caught mouse, vole or gopher, of which there were plenty in the nearby field and barn.

Sensing from Kali's appetites--the feline equivalent of pickle and popcorn cravings, perhaps?--and her increasingly awkward gait that her delivery date couldn't be far off, I told her, just two days before the move, "If you need a midwife, I'm available after 6pm and on weekends."

I spent the day wondering what kind of mom she'd be. Would she care for her litter, or eat/kill them, as I've heard cats can do when upset. I didn't have to wait long to get my first set of answers. That night, when I returned from work, Kali was panting at the top of the stairs, her eyes asking for moral support. And so began a three-hour odyssey in which Kali delivered three sets of twins, at regular intervals, exhibiting all the proverbial, yet mind-blowing instincts for which animal mothers are renowned.

Find the darkest, warmest safest space to create a nest? Check.

Gnaw through six umbilical cords? Check. Ingest three placentas? Check. Nurse newborn sextuplets moments after delivery? Check.

For my part, I was honored to be there to witness the first kitten's head crowning, a black bubble that got bigger and bigger, then slipped out of Kali's body, a squalling slick of black, already on the move and in search of mother's milk. These mother-kitten instincts reminded me of Ray Zager's diary entry on "Mother," which he shared with his Watsonville diary-writing class a while back. Wrote Zager, "My mother fed me, breast, nipple, suck. The suck was built in. it came from antiquity--maybe several millions years ago. Well, I must do it. Put that nipple in my mouth. Mother and child, Mother the feeder and me, I take all."

As I watch Kali's growing brood take more and more of her energy, space and time, I'm glad I'm there to give her what all mothers need the most--attention and care. I give ear massages, neck rubs and extra morsels of food. My return from work is the signal she can leave the nest, because she knows I'll safely kitten sit. (I count kittens, make notes on who's doing what, who has stripes, who has spots, whose eyes are opening first.) And when it was time to move, I built a tailormade moving box, in which she and the kittens rode, maharaja-style, from home to home, where they occupy my new bedroom closet as if nothing had changed!

My experience with Kali reminds me how awesome mothers are, how we owe them more than we can possibly imagine, how they know stuff we should ask about before it's too late, like, What time was I born? How long was the labor? What was my first word? What did I love to do?

So, this Mother's Day, honor your mother, or someone else's, in whatever way will please them most. The future of the planet is in their hands.


The Watsonville Diary Club meets at the Watsonville Public Library, 310 Union St. Call 831.728.6040. Mother's Day is May 8. Be Kind to Animals Week is May 8-15.

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From the May 4-11, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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