Hello Kittens

This is Day Five with our new kittens, Percy (black) and Henry (tabby) and I’m already forcibly reminded of those early days with a newborn baby, though with a few notable exceptions.kittens1

One similarity is the clearing up of poo. Thankfully Percy and Henry are pretty well trained, but their arrival chez nous was rather complicated by the fact that Percy had had a little accident in the cat carrier on the way here. He’s a very fluffy kitten, with quite long hair, and it took ten minutes of my friend holding him over the sink while I attacked him with baby wipes to get him clean. Possibly she was marginally less wriggly, and definitely less fluffy,  but it was very reminiscent of my husband and I trying to change our 8 week old daughter’s very dirty nappy in an old-fashioned train toilet with no changing table. The difference, of course, is that at 10 weeks old the kittens are litter trained bar the odd accident, and it took me three years to get my daughter to that stage.

Another similarity is the struggle to give medicine to a small animate being who doesn’t want to take it. We had to give our kittens three doses of worming medicine on three consecutive days. Day One I cheerfully grabbed a kitten, grabbed the syringe, and then realised I had no free hand with which to open mouth, and, in fact, that one hand was proving grossly inadequate to restrain a kitten who had clearly got the idea he wasn’t going to like this. We tried again when my husband got home, and dose one was (eventually) successfully given. Day Two was even more problematic. I stupidly let my husband toddle off to work at 7.30am, forgetting that he had an evening event and wouldn’t be home before 11pm (way after my bedtime), and the kittens hadn’t yet had their daily dose. I tried to draft Anna in to help me, but frankly (and, arguably, predictably) she was about as much use as a chocolate teapot, because every time the kitten wriggled she just let go. A cat-owning friend who also has children at Anna’s school volunteered (translation: was guilt-tripped) to come home with me to help, and embarrassingly she was the one who got scratched. I felt very bad. This morning, Day Three, husband tried to make good his escape with an airy ‘see you tonight, darling’, but I was ready for him. Deploying tactics similar to those used on the kittens I prevented him leaving until the third (and thankfully final) dose had been administered. It was him who got scratched today. Not by me, I hasten to add. I’ve now been advised by another cat-owning friend that wrapping a towel around is the best way to contain them, and I will definitely try that in future. On the cats, rather than my husband that is.Percy

The third similarity I’ve noticed is probably just me, but, as when Anna was a baby, I keep panicking that the kittens have stopped breathing. They’re still very small and so need a lot of sleep, and they seem to sleep so deeply, and breathe so shallowly that I start to panic, and find myself lying next to them, hand on back to try and feel breathing, or hear signs of life. I know. It is just me.

The final similarity is cost. Thankfully we have a free at the point of need NHS which takes care of a baby’s health needs, whereas kittens have to be expensively treated at the vet’s. However, medical care aside, one of the things I remember about being pregnant is that when someone tells you you need a piece of kit – cot, pram, sling, high chair, bouncy chair – without much questioning you simply hand over your credit card, only to result in shock-induced early labour when the bill finally comes through. Same with the kittens. The vet told me they needed flea treatment, worming, vaccinations, specially formulated kitten food etc etc, and it all seemed eminently reasonable. Until I saw the bottom line. Eek. A baby might actually be cheaper, at least I could breastfeed them.

Other similarities are more akin to looking after a toddler than a newborn – insatiable curiosity, determination to make a beeline for the one thing you don’t want them to have, manic jealousy of any animate or inanimate object they feel is getting too much of your attention. The kittens are constantly trying to bat my hands away from the laptop, just as Anna used to do.

The biggest difference is that you don’t have to get up several times a night to feed and comfort kittens. I was worried about leaving them on their own at night, but as my husband has a cat allergy and so we’re keeping them out of the bedroom, there wasn’t any real alternative. And they seem fine. They have the run of the kitchen and dining room, with their bed (as yet unslept in, they prefer our furniture of course), litter tray, food and water and seem perfectly happy with that. Henry

And they’re utterly adorable. They always sleep curled up together, which is incredibly endearing, and when they’re awake they either go completely crazy chasing each other’s tails, which is also very cute, or they’re mega affectionate, and climb on to my lap for cuddles and strokes, purring like mini steam engines. Last night I had what is perhaps the ultimate comfort experience as I sat, in my pyjamas, eating a bowl of homemade chilli, watching Great British Bake Off, with two sleeping kittens on my lap. Autumn evening bliss.

Lost in Margate

This has been very much a week of two halves – summer’s last fling, and the definite beginnings of autumn.

At the start of the week, Anna and I had a couple of days in Margate, on the Kent coast, with my parents. Despite the fact that the weather very firmly decided to treat us to a preview of its Autumn/Winter Collection – complete with lashing rain, howling winds and distinctly chilly temperatures – we managed to have a lovely time. Some elements of the trip had a distinctly deja vu element to them, as I re-lived childhood holidays, eating a ‘car picnic’ to escape the driving rain, or sitting in the back seat of the car listening to my parents puzzling over the OS map, with maybe a little companionable bickering. The only difference was that instead of my baby brother (29 this week!) sitting next to me, it was my own baby.

We got hopelessly lost finding the hotel (famous last words – “It’s right next to the station, and that’s sure to be signposted…),but Anna was utterly unfazed by that or the weather, sitting contentedly in her car seat with an Usborne activity book to look at while we drove round in circles  trying in vain to distinguish grey sea from grey sky. When we finally found the hotel she was then in positive ecstasies at the never-before-experienced treat of watching CBeebies, with mummy, in a double bed. When the rain cleared slightly she and Granddad set off to explore, and came back to tell me and my mum about all the interesting things she’d seen. We ate dinner in the hotel, Anna  insisting on ordering her own food in a very grown-up little way, and then enjoying herself hugely when her sausage and mash arrived with its own miniature gravy boat. At one point it seemed as though everything in the restaurant was going to get a liberal covering of gravy, but she was happy.

One of the reasons for going to Margate in the first place was that my mum really wanted to visit the new(ish) Turner Contemporary Gallery there. The exhibition at the moment is on Curiosity, and, although not in any way aimed at children, Anna actually seemed to get a lot out of it, particularly enjoying examining some Leonardo da Vinci papers with a magnifying glass. To be fair, I think it was the magnifying glass which was the main attraction, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Miraculously the sun even came for long enough for Anna, in her wellies, to get a little while on the beach in neighbouring Broadstairs with what she grandly calls her Corsican Sand Set (or bucket and spade bought in Corsica).

Then, thanks to the high speed rail line from Kent, just a couple hours after leaving the beach we were back in London segueing dramatically from the last of the lovely summer to the start of the school year and Anna’s formal education.

She started yesterday lunchtime, and although it’s very early days so far, seems to be taking to it like a duck to water. My husband took the day off work, ostensibly for Anna’s sake, but actually I suspect to hold my hand and try to avert any incipient nervous breakdown. When we picked her up we decided to go for a celebratory milkshake at a local cafe. She talked incessantly all the way there, paused for just long enough to slurp her banana shake, and the started again pretty much nonstop until bedtime. Being a thoroughly modern child she also insisted on sending text messages to Nanna, Granddad and Granny to let them know how she’d got on. When we took her in this morning she left without a backward glance.

I can’t say I’m managing the transition with quite as much ease as she is. I’m very lucky to have a fledgling career as a writer, and  finishing my second book to focus on, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the last four and a half years as a stay-at-home mum has been the best thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t feel entirely ready to leave this stage behind. Watch this space to see how I get on…