I’m willing to accept that there may be such a thing as being too alert to your cat. So let me state that right off.

However, the last few days with Cleo and the kittens have been utterly fascinating, and make me realise (all over again) how all animals have to negotiate — whether instinctively or deliberately — the development and independence of their offspring. How we may think one thing, but encourage another. How we may wave goodbye and then burst into tears. Etc.

Here’s the thing: two nights ago I was up for four hours trying to settle the kittens with Cleo. She had suddenly taken it into her head that they needed moving. They weren’t safe. Perhaps it was simply that the other basket was too small — which it was. They were like sardines in there.

Anyway, that evening I twice came to the door of the playroom to find her next to a baby with a wet scruff. I deduced (!) that she was trying to move them, and if the scratching UNDER our bed earlier had been anything to go by, she was planning to take them there, where they could not be even slightly contained… Sigh. So I shut the door. At 4am she would not be quiet. She called and called and called and called. She got out and ate. Came back and called. Searched and searched for someplace to put them.

Sigh. I was struck by an idea. I righted a box we had in the room, put a blue blanket in it, and moved the kittens in. I know she likes the blanket. The kittens were HUNGRY. She climbed in and fed. Phew, I thought. Went back to bed. 5am.

Within the hour she was crying again, clearly trying to tell me something. She was out of the box. She didn’t like it. She kept looking from the kittens to me and back again, like do something!

I had another idea. It was an open box, though a table ran along 2 feet above it. I knew, for some reason, that she wanted more privacy. So I took another fleece, and pegged it to the table (under the guinea pig cage, mind you…stay with me), and draped it like a tent around the box.

Hmm….she checked it out. She quite liked it. She purred. She climbed in. And the deed was done.

Now, what’s been interesting from this is that the move to the bigger box meant that for another day the kittens didn’t venture out. They had more room, and maybe didn’t need to. They kind of poked their heads out of the end, then most of the time Cleo would make noises and literally yank them back: your bottom needs cleaning. Etc.

She wasn’t ready for them to go. And they probably weren’t quite ready to go.

Because last evening and today, she’s done something completely different. She has gone into the room and called them OUT of the box. It’s hysterical. Their little heads poke out and they fight to get out of the box, getting stuck, and they tumble around her. She bats them a bit, bites their ears, lets them suckle a little. They stagger about quite happily and explore. After a few minutes, she stands up and walks into the box. And gradually they follow her in, and everyone settles down.

It’s so simple. She knew what was best. She really did. She knew that if she had someplace different for them, they wouldn’t keep wandering out of the box and getting a bit lost before she thought they were ready. She knew when they were strong enough, and encouraged them to get going, to play.

Wow. When the children were little, I always made decisions about ‘what next’ based on what I would call my gut instinct. But I didn’t know that it probably really is instinct, in the flesh. It’s a real, palpable and despite our evolution, necessary thing which pushes us forward, helps development and survival. At each turn — sending my eight year old to get a cup of water from the counter, sending my eleven year old up the hill to buy some bread… or even standing in front of our one year old (we’ve all done it!) holding out our arms (that’s right, walk to mummy) — at each turn, something could go horribly wrong. You dream about everything that could go wrong. Like I’ve seen in Cleo’s eyes — they’ve gone too far! make them come back! But you know it’s your job to say hey come out here. The world is good. The world is full of new things. There’s a bit of it that might be dangerous, yes, and sometimes stuff happens. Don’t I just know that stuff happens. Better to learn to walk and run and play.

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