I Really Want Kittens

I have always wanted kittens.  A litter of tiny kittens I could watch grow from birth through kitten-hood.  I want to see the tiny babies born, licked clean by their momma, and then nursed.  I want to see their ears open, their eyes open, and watch them take wobbly first steps.  I want to have kittens chewing on my fingers, crawling up my leg and sitting on my shoulder.

I am a responsible pet owner.  I spay and neuter my cats just like I’m supposed to.  I think letting your cats have kittens is irresponsible, but I really want kittens.

My daughter wants kittens.  We sit together and watch the Animal Planet show Too Cute, and we marvel over the tiny furry babies.  We coo as they take first steps.  We laugh when the fluffy ones get their first bath and become wet and sad looking.  She asks me, “Mom, why can’t our cats have kittens?”  I tell her that our cats had surgery and they can’t have kittens, but I want kittens too.

Our last cat we adopted from the shelter was a foster cat.  A seed was planted.  A lovely woman I met at the shelter had my kitten at her house, and had cared for the tiny kitten until she’d grown “big enough.”

I found the program.  I signed up.  I went to training.  I was interviewed.  I went to more training.  My house was inspected.  Finally I got the e-mail that I was an approved foster parent.  If I could get to the shelter within the hour I could bring home kittens.

My daughter and I had discussed the perfect number of kittens.  Three: one for each human in our house.  We wanted them to be fluffy.  We wanted a momma and her kittens.  No, we just wanted kittens.  We wanted them to like our other cat.  We wanted them to love us.  We discussed how we’d have to give them back when they were 8 weeks old and 2 pounds.  That would be hard, but we could do it.  We dreamed about our kittens together.

We did not discuss the other side of fostering, but I learned.  Kittens die.  Kittens get horrible diseases.  During my interview I heard about an entire dead litter.  Kitten after kitten inexplicably dying.  It had only happened once, my interviewee assured me.  Pan Luke she said, but I didn’t know what that meant.  I heard about ringworm that infected your entire house and sounded like lice on steroids.  That had only happened once my interviewee assured me.  There were terrible things that could happen, but I really wanted kittens.

We came home with three tiny fluffs.  They were four weeks old and black head to toe.  They were exactly what we dreamed.  Two tiny boys and one big girl.  We laughed at the mistake we made at the beginning assuming that the aggressive big one was male and the small one we named Tiny was a girl.

Tiny had a purr inversely proportional to his size.  Holding him would start a motor in his chest that could be heard across the room.  His sister Adventure would purr, but not as big.  His brother Blackie had a quiet rumble that you could feel but not hear.  They all had personalities and we fell hard and fast.

Something wasn’t right with Tiny.  He ate less each day while his brother and sister got bigger.  He’d climb onto you and sit and purr but wouldn’t drink and wouldn’t play.  Five days after we got him I took him in.  I knew something was wrong.  They tested him and said the horrible words: panleuk, not Pan Luke.  He was going to die.

He sat on my shoulder while they filled out paperwork.  Someone mentioned the other cats in the litter.  Tiny just sat while I said I’d take any litter mates that weren’t sick.  The kittens had to be quarantined for two weeks.  They might as well all be together at my house.  They brought the two litter mates in.  One more time I heard panleuk.  There were five kittens in the litter and two died.  I brought three home, but not the same three I brought from home.

I watched my daughter when I told her, “Tiny died.”  She crumpled in a way I’ve never seen before.  This grief was bigger than any she’d ever felt.  I watched her and for the first time saw her feel sadness the way I feel sadness.  She tried to stand tall, but all she wanted to do was curl up and sob.  We are too proud to show that grief, but we feel it, and you can see it as our head drops and shoulders slump.

It took us four days to name the new cat.  Finally he became Sneaker because of his ability to escape.  As if the name had attracted the attention of unknown spirits the next morning he was lethargic and had lost weight.  I took my daughter to school and we both worried silently.

At home alone I went to the kittens.  I held all three and sobbed.  Alone the tears fell and the cries become audible.  How could I have done this to my family?  How could I have done this to myself?  I wanted kittens.  I didn’t want dead kittens.  What kind of person does this to herself and her family?  All three kittens purred in my arms as I wiped my tears and snot from their soft fur.  Then I e-mailed the shelter and made an appointment.

“It’s negative.” she said looking at the test.  He was sick, but he wasn’t dying.  Or if he is dying it’s of something else.  I’m instructed to give him a huge shot of fluid under his skin twice a day.  Gleefully I box up the same three kittens and take home the needles and fluid.

He spent the day next to my heart in my jacket.  It wasn’t fair for me to keep my distance because I was hurt by his brother.  I wanted kittens.  His warmth and motor kept me company through spreadsheets and graphs and conference calls.

“You are such a good person.”

“I am moved by your dedication.”

“You are an amazing person and foster parent!”

“Thank you.” I reply, but inside I know I just really want kittens.

I Love Spellcheck

I’m just going to say it.  I love spellcheck.  I love that I know that spellcheck is spelled spellcheck and not spell check or spell-check because spellcheck doesn’t get a red underlined wiggly.  (Note, spell check and spell-check also don’t, so that means all three of them are right, right?)  I can’t spell.  Have never been able to spell.  Have been known to spell so poorly that when I right click on the red squiggly line it has no suggestions for me.  Buerocratic is one of my favorites.  You know the act of beuorocracy?  Why can’t spell check get what I’m trying to say?  Burocracy?  Whatever, “dumb organizational rules” gets no red wiggly line, but sometimes gets frowny faces from my boss.  (Frowney?  Frowning.  Who knew frowny wasn’t a word?)

Today spellcheck taught me two new things.  Would you like to learn them too?  if so read on!

1.  Those tiny green cabbages are Brussels sprouts.  Brussels like the country with a big B.  I had no idea.  Wikipedia tells me The Brussels sprout has long been popular in Brussels, Belgium, and may have originated and gained its name there.  I always thought they were brussel sprouts.  Thank you spellcheck!

2.  The plural of eucalyptus (had to use the squiggly line to spell that one) is eucalypti.  I have never thought of eucalyptus as something having a plural.  I use eucalyptus oil when I have a chest cold to keep me from coughing all night.  I suppose it is harvested from a grove of eucalypti?  Or say that you spill many bottles of oil at Whole Foods.  Have you caused a eucalypti cleanup on aisle ten?

Now rejoice all of you at your new found smartness due to my inability to spell.  Wonder how the Afthead is ever going to realize her literary dreams when she is baffled by spelling, verb tense and comma usage.  I’m already picturing the day my novel goes to an editor.  “Well, she can’t use a comma to save her life and she’s got the past, present and future all mixed up in a single paragraph.  At least she can spell.”

Heck yeah, I can spell.  Thanks spellcheck!

A Quiet Frustrated Rant

Open any news site today and you’ll see reports on two different theater shootings.  The Holmes trial is in the sentencing phase, just miles from where I live.  The Houser shooting happened less than a week ago.  These two events have me ranting in a quiet anguished way.  Three factors make these events personal to me: proximity, gun control, and mental health.


July 19, 2012 I flew home from a work trip.  It was late.  I drove home, and from the highway I could see the Aurora movie theater where less than three hours later James Holmes would open fire during The Dark Knight Rises.  I was right there.  Holmes could have passed me on the road as he made his way to start killing.

This February my family and I stopped at a great restaurant in Lafayette, GA while driving from New Orleans to Houston on Mardi Gras Day.  I made the mistake of ordering barbecued shrimp, forgetting that they come with the heads still intact.  After beheading my lunch I enjoyed my meal just blocks from where John Houser opened fire in a movie theater and killed two women and himself on July 23, 2015.

There is something about proximity that makes horror real.  I was there.  I can picture both of these places.  I have swam in meets at Arapahoe High School and have friends who went to Columbine.  It makes me wonder, are each of us one step away from knowing a victim or knowing a shooter?

Gun Control:

I want there to be an easy solution to this problem.  I want some politician to stand up and say, “That’s it!  No more guns in this country, at all, ever.”  Except I don’t.  I am solidly torn on gun control.  I grew up with guns in my house.  I learned how to shoot, I learned to respect guns, and I fondly remember the hours I spent watching my dad and grandpa reload after target practice.  I enjoyed target practice.  If I walked into a gun shop today the smell of it would bring back happy memories.

My dad hunted.  As a child hunting put meat on his family’s table.  I don’t hunt and never have, but I can tell you that nothing will teach you to respect a weapon like watching your uncle and dad gut and skin a deer they have killed.  I have never questioned what a gun can do to a living creature.  I don’t like play guns.  We weren’t allowed to watch violent movies or play violent video games as kids.  We were taught to respect guns to the point that I still feel a little weird pointing a Nerf water gun at my daughter and spraying her.

There are people who believe they need guns for personal protection.  There are so many guns out there already that we can’t make them go away.  I can’t round up every kid in the country and teach them the power of a gun, install new morals, and make them respect weapons.  The problem seems insurmountable especially when there seems to be no middle ground.

Mental Illness:

The other thing Holmes and Houser had in common was a history of mental illness.  So there should be an easy solution there.  We just need to take care of the mentally ill in this country and we won’t have anymore mass shootings.  Well, let me tell that it is not an easy problem to solve either.  I’ve got close personal experience with mental illness in my family: depression and bipolar disorder have wreaked havoc on the Aftheads and extended Aftheads.  I can tell you that even when mentally ill people want help it can be next to impossible for them to get it, or for their families to get it for them.  There aren’t enough doctors, there is horrible stigma, the meds are expensive and can make people worse instead of better.

I’m obsessed with the news filtering in about Houser because it is all so true.  I’m not surprised by the loophole in the law that allowed him to buy a gun.  The rights of mentally ill people are slippery.  Even if someone is a danger to themselves and others, there is a limit to what you can do to get them help.  In the end, they are people and you can’t just go around limiting people’s rights, even if the people who love them are begging for help.  I’m not surprised by his brother’s comments that the shooting wasn’t a surprise, and his words resonate with a truth that only some unlucky families get to experience.  The kind of sick his brother was will rip apart families for a lifetime.  I’ve seen it happen.  Eventually you have to pick between your own life, your own family, your own safety and caring for the guy who just might end up being a shooter.  With little to no help, no support, and no power what is a family to do?  The problem is so big it seems hopeless.

The Solution:

This is a hard problem, and you do not make hard problems go away by ignoring them or doing nothing.  I know that.  We all know that.  So, we have to start a conversation that’s going to make everyone uncomfortable.  We are going to have to talk about guns killing people and we might slip up and talk about crazy people and we might end up with a solution that limits some rights.  This will all piss people off, but isn’t it okay to piss people off to make sure that there is never again a room of dead first graders?  (I’ll admit, as the mom of a daughter who just graduated first grade Sandy Hook is a horror story has a closer proximity than I can even comprehend.)

My favorite article about this topic is from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King.  It’s called Guns, and it’s worth the $0.99 to read it on your Kindle or $2.99 to listen to on Audible.  I have both versions.  Know that if you buy it you are supporting the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  You might not be into such a charity, or Stephen King, so I’ll highlight his three measures to curb gun violence:

“Comprehensive and universal background checks.

Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds.

Ban the sale of assault weapons.”

These seem so reasonable to me, and such a good start. Yes, people can still die if you have a gun that has a clip that holds ten rounds, but Holmes couldn’t have done what he did without assault weapons.  Sure, people can still steal guns or buy guns for their family members, but Houser couldn’t have bought a gun with stricter background checks.  King doesn’t provide a road-map for solving the mental health issues in this country, but he does ensure that when someone has a history of going to dark places they can’t buy weapons.  That’s a start and we need a start.  If there is a chance that someone is going to use a gun to kill another human being, isn’t it worth it to limit that freedom to make sure that we don’t end up being a country where every single person either knows a shooter or a victim?  Can we start taking some steps to solve the  hard problem before the next tragedy?

In gratitude, Afthead style.

Thanks to Kathy for pointing out my forehead faux pas in my gratitude post.  Let’s try gratitude again, afthead style.

Thank you for bravery.

Thank you for this lake.

Thank you for these friends.

Thank you for adventures.

Thank you for this family.

Thank you for this life.

Only one forehead in the bunch of afthead memories from our vacation at my happy place this year.

Thank you for readers and for this blog. My heart is full.

Blogging Challenge – Likes and Dislikes

One of my new favorite blogs, A Funny Thing Happened When I was Learning Myself, asked that I participate in a challenge listing ten things I love and then things I hate.  I love lists, and am so excited to participate; thanks for the opportunity.  Without further ado, here is my list.

  1. Hate kale, love iceberg lettuce – I hate trendy vegetables and I hate kale the most of them all.  Who really likes that slimy bitter leaf?  I was at a party a couple of years ago and immediately defriended the people who exclaimed, “Oh yay, kale salad” when it arrived late with someone I’m no longer friends with.  Yuck.  Also, kale will give you thallium poisoning so I’m avoiding it.  Iceberg lettuce though?   I’ll eat that stuff any day:  plain, on a sandwich, or in a salad.  It’s crispy, refreshing, uncool, lacking nutrition, and doesn’t taste like weeds.  (I also hate dressing, which  makes iceberg that much better and kale that much worse.)
  2. Hate movies, love books – I’ll almost never see a movie if there is a book option.  I love getting the whole story with the pictures in my own head.  I’ve been known to see movies made from books (notably the whole Harry Potter series and Schindler’s List) but mostly I steer clear from the movie version.   Time Traveler’s Wife?  That’s a forever book to me and I’ll cry every time I read or listen to it.   I don’t need some director and actors to ruin it for me.
  3. Hate nonfiction, love fiction – The only nonfiction in my bookshelf are cookbooks and knitting books and parenting books that make me a better parent by sitting on my shelf.  Otherwise I can’t really take nonfiction.  Even if it’s compelling, the story will degrade into minutia I really don’t care about at some point and I feel obligated to read all the details.  My one exception is Sarah Vowell’s A Partly Cloudy Patriot.
  4. Hate Lord of the Rings, love Harry Potter – I gotta admit, I love fantasy books.  However, that third Lord of the Rings book is deadly to me.  About the fourth time Aragorn changed his name and all those dead kings showed up I stopped caring.  I loved the Ents, but other than that I can leave that series.  However, muggles, snitches, wizards, and Hogworts?  Well that’s pure bliss.  So much that I collect the books in many languages and formats.
  5. Hate dogs, love cats – I’m unamerican but I’ve always loved cats  and found dogs to be a bit smelly, drooly and destructive.
  6. Hate scrapbooking, love knitting – Scrapbooking is tedious, time consuming, and boring.  However, turning tiny loops of yarn into hats, scarves, mittens, and sweaters is amazing.
  7. Hate cycling, love running – Before the small Afthead turned up I actually used to do triathlons.  I will probably never do one again because my road bike got stolen, and I really don’t want to replace it because then I’d have to ride the damn thing:  stupid butt hurting two wheeled torture device that made me dig gravel out of my flesh.  That said, I will do another marathon someday.  I love running.
  8. Hate quinoa, love white rice – Okay another food thing here.  I’m against eating a grain that is indigenous to poverty stricken South America so I can have protein and they cannot have protein.  I can get protein any which-way in my diet.  I don’t need to steal it from people who don’t have a grocery store within walking distance.  White rice is delicious though, especially covered with protein laden sesame chicken.
  9. Hate school food debates, love energy usage debates – My career is focused around energy usage and how to minimize how much petroleum we use, energy we use, and greenhouse gasses we emit by using energy.  I’m happy to talk to you about what car you should buy, what fuel you should use in it, and what kind of windows you should get.  I’ll bore you to tears on the topic and eventually point out lots of ways you can feel bad about your lifestyle and energy usage if you hang out with me long enough.  However, I do not care what is in school lunches.  (See 8 and 1 for examples of my lack of food coolness.)  My kid will eat hot lunch when it is chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs or quesadillas so bring on those options and I won’t have to make lunch!  Jamie Oliver is annoying and I don’t care what he says.
  10. Hate coffee, love Diet Dr Pepper.  My whole life people have been telling me to “wait until high school,” “wait until college,” or “wait until you start working” and coffee will no longer taste like swill.  All those people are wrong.  Coffee smells amazing and tastes terrible.  It always will.  Diet Dr Pepper though?  That’s the nectar of the gods.  And when the damn Jamie-Oliver-loving creep from work asks me if I want to know how my drink of choice is going to kill me I will continue to tell him “NO!”  I have one vice, and it is a fizzy chemical bottle of joy.

Now, I invite the following blogs to participate in this super fun challenge.  Tell me ten things you love and hate.