My Feline Family

I felt having a baby was a natural process, like growing old -- you didn't have to plan for grey hair and wrinkles for them to appear.
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Woman with cat relaxing on a chaise lounge on a summer day.
Woman with cat relaxing on a chaise lounge on a summer day.

It's a quiet, palely sunny afternoon, just the sort where I'm drawn to the flora of my backyard. I lounge on my lawn chair while Hank and Clementine contentedly sprawl along the weathered bench, and Rudy dangles his head from the wooden chair as he stretches for the tall bits of grass the lawnmower missed. Not a bad life, I think. Though I do wonder how it might be different if rather than three (admittedly beloved) cats, I was spending the afternoon with three (most likely also beloved) children. Which, given my rather profound fondness for kids, makes me further wonder how I ended up here -- 50 and childless. It was certainly never part of the plan. Though, if I'm honest, the plan was a little loose.

I suppose initially it went like this: Move to New York City. Become successful photographer. Get married. Have kids. It was a plan without a timeline, but in your twenties your timeline is basically "it'll happen."

I did move to Manhattan. I was not successful with my photography. I did get married.
My husband and I both wanted children. And like me, he assumed they would miraculously appear when the timing was right. We even named them. Buster Moses if he was a boy, because that was a very good name for a jazz drummer and we'd decided that's what he'd be. And Lulu Jane or Mathilda Clementine if she was a girl, because those were happy names and we wanted her to be pleased with her life. But like a lot of couples in our twenties, we were focused on our careers and just when we should have actually been trying to get serious about making the kid thing happen, the marriage fell apart.

In my thirties, now single, I didn't envision myself as forever childless. I was still young. Even when my niece was born -- tiny and funny, with enormous brown eyes -- and I fell in love with her, the biological clock didn't start ticking. I felt having a baby was a natural process, like growing old -- you didn't have to plan for grey hair and wrinkles for them to appear. Though my child didn't appear, I did begin to borrow children. By now many of friends had kids. And what wondrous kids they were! Adam and Eva. Elliott and Cassidy. Henry and Annabel. I walked them to school. Attended countless guitar recitals, dance performances and birthday parties. I babysat. I changed diapers. I created adventures in the park. I listened to stories about imaginary friends and helped invent a few new ones. I traveled with them. Held them when they cried. Did my best to make them laugh. Baked cakes with them. Volunteered on school outings. Ran errands with them. Nursed them when they were sick. Took them out to movies and dinner. Bought them clothes. Had sleepovers. Nurtured their hopes and dreams. And as they grew older, I did my best to help them navigate the joys and disappointments of life.

My early forties were devoted to a series of affairs with younger men and having a child together was never a goal. My borrowed children remained in my life and the closer we grew the more our bond delayed the acknowledgement that I didn't yet have children of my own. In my mid-forties I moved to Michigan and complications around an old head injury kicked in and my health collapsed. Which brings me back to being 50 and hanging out with my cats.

There were possible clues leading up to this moment. For instance, from the day I was born, I hated dolls. I hated all their accoutrements too: doll carriages, doll cribs, doll diapers, doll bottles, doll clothes, doll sounds. While other little girls cooed over, fed and changed the diapers of their plastic babies, sang them songs and took them for walks and baked them cookies in their Betty Crocker ovens, I relegated mine to the basement. Naturally, this disturbed my parents. But soon enough they figured out that while small fake humans gave me the creeps, stuffed animals delighted me. By the time I was 6 or 7, I was mother to at least 50 bears, monkeys, pigs, squirrels and mice, amongst others, all of whom, I insisted, must sleep in my single bed with me.

The parallel between my life some 45 odd years ago and my life now both fascinates and surprises me. At times, it makes me sad. And I wonder if I was predisposed to end up with a feline family rather than a human one. Or if the instinctual choices I made as a child, influenced my trajectory as an adult. Or if I missed the clear warning that I needed a better plan. If I'm honest, somewhere inside of me I still believe I'll have children. Adoption? Marry into them? Miraculous conception? But until that moment arrives, on a day like this, in my backyard with my glorious kitties, I think, not a bad life.

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