The lessons of Cookie on life, kids, parents

This article was originally published in North County News.

I feel like a genetic engineer. The thought was simple: Put Cookie, my black-and-white cat, with Domino, another black-and-white cat, and have a litter of feline Dalmatians!

Cookie, as in Oreo cookie, was mostly black with a white stomach and paws. Domino sported several black dots on his mostly white coat. What a handsome couple they made!

I grew up with cats. One calico give birth to seven kittens in my bottom dresser drawer as I looked on. I’ve never forgotten it. I wanted my children to have as much of that experience as possible, hoping they could witness a birth, too. But I knew that was highly unlikely.

After several consultations with a local vet, we made a date for Domino to have a sleepover with Cookie. Since both were inside cats, we gave them their own private room and twenty-four hours alone. We hoped for the best and waited.

The vet said Cookie would either go into heat again, or she was pregnant. Sixty-eight days later, five days after her “due date,” she gave birth.

I told the children that Cookie would probably disappear one day, finding a safe and hidden place to deliver her litter. She would probably find a tiny soft spot tucked away from the noise and our other cat, Inky. Eventually, she would come out to eat and we would notice her pregnant paunch missing. If we were lucky, we may find the litter. I warned them not to touch Cookie or the kittens. Mother cats can become aggressively protective of their young.

I was wrong on all my predictions. At 3 p.m. one Saturday afternoon, my visiting sister, Rachel, and I were chatting in my bedroom. She was snacking on homemade vegetable soup and stopped cold with her spoon suspended in mid-air.

“Becky, Cookie is having her kittens!” she whispered.

“Where?” I stammered.

“In the foyer. Right now!” she gasped.

I jumped up and transferred from the bed into my wheelchair. Finding only one footplate, I jammed it on while crossing one leg on top of the other and wheeling madly for the door. Rachel swears I was airborne on that move.

As I reached the doorway, I heard a pained meow and peered around just in time to see Cookie stretch out and contract. Within seconds, Snowball was born. Cookie had her own “Odd Ball” of 102 Dalmatians fame. He was pure white – not a speck of black. He came out screaming, desperately searching for warm milk that only his mother could provide.

Cookie kept busy _ birthing, cleaning, nursing and birthing some more.

Sprawled out in our hardwood foyer in front of God and everybody, she labored. Rachel knelt down beside her and stroked her head. Cookie began to purr. We quietly called the kids to come in and observe this wondrous happening. They tiptoed in, perching all around as Rachel tenderly talked and touched this trusting mom. Aunt Inky, a stunned spectator, was gently ushered into another room.

Amazingly, I found the video camera and taped the births of Domino II and III, spitting images of their dad. Then Cookie’s labor slowed. The rhythmic contractions subsided as Cookie began to wail in intense pain. Rachel slid a beach towel under her, as we all cooed to Cookie what a good job she was doing.

Suddenly, with a fierce meow and gigantic spasm, Cookie II bolted out.

“Mom, he’s breech!” Brittany, my fourteen-year-old cried.

And he was. White feet first, this little guy backed his way into life, traumatizing his mom and the natural order of things.

His lethargy scared us, as it took Cookie a moment to recover from the pain and resume her duties to stimulate his life. But she recovered, nurturing that little fella just like the rest of the litter. Soon his lethargy was replaced with a hearty appetite and competitive spirit to find a choice location to feed.

And Cookie purred some more. We moved her to a large box with soft towels and blankets and left her to enjoy her babies.

As I watched Cookie deliver those precious kittens into this world, I wondered about the lessons of Cookie II’s birth. Literally and figuratively, children often “back their way into life,” traumatizing both parents and our perceived “natural order” of things.

With strong-willed kids, special needs children, and those who thrive on testing limits (I have all of the above – and love them dearly), we often parent a child much unlike ourselves in circumstances much different from our experience and expectation.

And we recover. We find our footing on new territory and focus on the task at hand, as Cookie did, resuming our duty to stimulate their life.