Taming the Wild Gingers

28 11 2012

Wild Human Ginger, carefully planning the acts of rogue freedom she will carry out when she masters the use of thumbs.

Evanny today, at the pediatrician’s, impressed both her doctor and her nurse, not with her health (although neither had any complaints, and in fact her doctor checked over her stats, gave me a raised eyebrow– “still breastfeeding?” “yep.” “no supplements?” “nope.” –followed by a grin, and said “good job!”) but with the strength and duration of her anger. Little piglet screamed throughout today’s visit, despite the fact that the vaccinations came at the end, and she’s a baby, so it’s not like she knew they were coming. (And I don’t think she was picking up tension from me, either, because the part I was most worried about–stripping her and then getting into a huge diaper mess when I only had one spare with me, and then to look/feel stupid about going out in public on only day 3 of the Great Cloth Adventure, was over early and was painless: no mess, and the nurse complemented her on her lovely lavender bumGenius. The nurse also made us take off her clothes, and made her lie on the cold table to be weighed and measured (and I think got her height measurement totally wrong, b/c she was so busy kicking in anger–I’ll have to tape-measure her later and see what we get), and thus set off the angry baby alarm, and let me remind you: when this baby gets angry, everybody is going to hear about it. Dr. Morriseau’s professional opinion about this was a jibe about her hair color (which is a good sign, I think; it means she still has enough hair left for people to jibe about it). She was a little sad, though; “usually,” she said, “I can make them smile at this age, but that’s obviously not going to happen today. Does she smile?”

Of course she smiles. She’s not evil. She’s just a bit feral. They are wild creatures, after all, babies. If you’ve never seen one go after a nipple, you have no idea. We were going to make a little video, and never did, and now seem to have lost our chance (her attacks, now, are more based on using leg-strength to thrust her whole body upwards, trying to drag the nipple with her as she goes), but she used to curl up her nose in this itty-bitty werewolf snarl and shake her head at it, for all in the world like a dog shaking the life out of a toy he/she is pretending is a chipmunk (and thus, I assume, like a real predator shaking the life out of a real chipmunk), and you only have to see her mad to understand that this is not a tame, docile cute-little-munchkin–she might be cute, but she’s a wild thing. And like all good wild things, she makes her own choices about things like when and where she’d like to take a nap (only on my or Matt’s body, and never during adult meals, when people wish to use hands for things like forks and knives).

Wild Feline Ginger, during his porch-captivity (the last time he was still enough in a bright enough space to take his picture) dreaming of freedom and believing in an eternal summer.

So there’s that one wild ginger, the one I gave birth to. And there’s another one living in our basement. The ceiling of our basement, to be exact, in a hollow between the rafters, where they stick out just a little over the foundation, creating a perfect cat-den: it’s about 2 cats wide, 1 1/2 cats tall, and runs the length of the house, with its access-hole in the center, so he can hide in either direction, under the kitchen by the vent when he wants to spy on us and under the far side of the dining room when he’d like peace and quiet (although the kitchen-vent side is much, much warmer!) The basement ginger, “Beorn the ceiling cat,” was, if you missed the story, a feral kitten living in our back woods and coming into our yard every few days, then every day, then several times a day, and finally staying to haunt the perimeter. We encouraged this progression by feeding and talking to him, although I’m pretty sure he was much more moved by the feeding than the talking-to; usually, still, if I talk, he bolts, but he usually does that even if I keep quiet. The feral kitten, who I was then calling Tiny Thing, was kind of breaking our hearts, being a ridiculously cute white-faced, pink-nosed orange tabby, and being very tiny, and we knew, and knew he didn’t know, that winter was coming, so we trapped him. And by “we” in that sentence I mean me and my mom, during the first week of Evanny’s life, because having one new responsibility–and new feral creature–in the house wasn’t enough, and because the hijinks of trying to trap a feral kitten are exactly what every woman should be doing when her doctor tells her to get lots of rest a week after giving birth. Long story (and it was) short, we caught him, installed him in the back porch, took him in to the vet’s a day or two later for a check-up, kept him quarantined on the back porch for 2 weeks for a potential respiratory infection, and fed him and talked to him every day while he was there, both by going out to visit (grown-up humans only) and by watching him, and performing for him, through the glass of the window that leads out onto the porch (cats and small humans). We thought we were socializing him by doing this. When we were inside, he would come to the glass and meow, seeming to carry on conversations with either people or cats, or sit up on the table and watch us move around. When we went outside, he would hide, but after a while hid less dramatically, and started to come out to eat food offerings while we were still there. He wouldn’t let anyone approach him when he was out of the box we’d given him to sleep in, but if he was in the box already, he would not run out if approached; instead, he’d lie in the back and allow petting, albeit nervously.

This is how I know that his kitten-fur and the baby-hair at the back of Evanny’s head–the mullet part that hasn’t fallen out–are not only the same color, but are the same suede-soft texture.

When I took him back to the vet to clear him for house-inclusion, he even allowed me to hold him while she gave him his shots–much like I was holding my human-ginger for her shots today, except that he buried his head in my arm, and she threw hers back to scream in protest. So I thought I was bringing home for release a shy but interested-in-socialization cat who was on the road to being tamed. Drugged from the shots, he spent the first day sleeping sadly wedged between boards in the leftover-scraps-from-projects woodpile. And then he disappeared, and it took us a few more days to discover the den; I’ve been taking his food and water to the windowsill he uses to get up to it ever since.

There was one day he fooled us by being up in the house–but that was a day we’d been upstairs sleeping in late, and were quiet, and he thought we were gone. We thought it was the beginning of a trend, but it wasn’t.

Then a trend did begin–for a week or two, I was up every morning between 4 and 6 pumping (wild human ginger would sleep for 5 hours and only visit one stool at the bar upon awakening, before falling back asleep, so I would bottle the other meal’s worth for later so Caleb or Matt could feed her too), and the cats would follow me down wanting to be fed, and because the house was quiet, the wild feline ginger came up to see what was going on, and ate some of Gustav’s food, which he seemed fine with sharing. I was safe, see; I was stapled to a machine on the far side of the room and couldn’t move to menace him. After that, I started putting a bowl of food by the stairs when I fed the other two, and he would come up and take furtive bites before dashing back down again. Picabo hasn’t been helping; she’s been a bit of a bully, not only trying to hog his bowl with her bulk in the way, but chasing him back down the stairs. Fortunately, although he’s shy and retiring and never, ever fights back, he does tend to come back, so when she gets bored of chasing him, I can put out a little more food. There was actually a day last week when I had all three cats eating out of their own bowls at the same time–a major feat, considering that Picabo is a thief who’s supposed to be on a restricted diet but won’t behave, Gustav is an equal opportunity garbage disposal who thinks her dry diet food is awesome (he’ll also eat the dog food if pressed by an imaginary sense of starvation, so we know his taste is unreliable), and the two of them had worked out some sort of cat-code for eating half of their own food, waiting until my hands were tied, and then orchestrating a switch, stopping in the middle of the room for a hand-off sniff of each others’ whiskers. Only Gustav was allowed to approach the wild one, though; The second Picabo took a step towards him, or anyone else in the house moved, or I took a breath, Beorn-the-ceiling cat would dart down the stairs and disappear.

So I have two wild gingers in need of taming–a human rage-baby who I’m sure is cranky because she doesn’t get enough sleep, since she won’t go to bed in a staying capacity until sometime between 10:30 and midnight (she’s decided that the hours between 8 and 11 are the best time for bright-eyed wakey-baby) and she WON’T TAKE NAPS longer than 10 or 15 minutes here or there, usually the minutes after she falls asleep nursing, and an almost invisible little cat who prefers the safety of a cold basement to the warmth of the rest of the house, probably because the humans trapped him (not once, but three times–as twice we’ve stuffed him into a box to take to the vet’s, a journey that will likely never be repeated EVER, because you can’t catch a cat who lives in the ceiling, and this creature is fast–it only ever worked at all because he was in a very small space and could be chased into the box we wanted him in) and are big and loud and might eat him at any moment (we try showing him, often, how very much we don’t eat the other cats, but he’s not convinced.

So this week, since I was taking on the major project of starting to work with cloth diapers, I thought it was also a good time start taking serious steps toward taming the wild gingers. For Evanny, this means it’s time to teach her to nap. For Beorn (named by Matt, after the shape-changer in LOTR) and the other cats, this means it’s time to learn to eat meals, instead of grazing–this is also a measure to try to cut Picabo off from eating all the other cat food, since there’s no point in buying diet food to try to improve the health of your fat cat if she keeps eating everybody else’s food anyway. Folk in this house are getting schedules, dammit!

Well, okay, the cats are getting schedules. The baby is going to be started off with the more fundamental skills-practice of learning to go to sleep (rather than being tricked into sleep by being rocked and patted or stuffed with milk until she’s unconscious).

This morning, Picabo had her food set out in the dining room, where she was then locked in to eat it–and locked out of access to everyone else’s. Gustav and Beorn were given food in the kitchen, Beorn at the top of the stairs (where he can see it from his spying deck behind the door, where he’s still technically in the basement and therefore safe) and Gustav in his usual place by the counter, where he can see Beorn and vice versa, since they’re friends (I call Beorn when I put food out; if he doesn’t appear, Gustav will go down into the basement, and then up into the ceiling, to fetch him), and everybody was allowed to eat as much as they wanted (i.e. the two I could see wandered off downstairs, and the locked-up one was complaining to be let out). Then I took away their not-empty bowls and let them whine all day. Tonight, while we’re prepping dinner, they will get the same treatment. And in a few days, hopefully they will have learned to finish the bowls because that’s it ’til 12 hours later. But the best part was that because Picabo was locked up, Beorn not only ate his food, he came out past the door into the actual kitchen, and when Gustav came around the corner to say hello, he tossed his tail up in the air like a normal, happy cat does in greeting, and then they took a tour of the room together. He may never greet a human like that, because he’s a wild thing, but there clearly is some measure of socializing and acclimatizing going on here.

This morning, sometime after the cat experiment, when the baby was on my shoulder doing her tired crying thing (because she didn’t go back to sleep after eating at 5, throwing our whole morning off completely, I decided to walk her into her own room, put her down in her own crib, and just let her hang out being tired and cranky for a few minutes, because there were a few things I wanted to get done in her room. She watched her mobile for a while as usual, and then started to fuss and look away from it. Usually this is a wind-up for crying, so I went over to check on her, and found a baby who looked so tired that instead of picking her up, I turned the mobile off and just put a hand on her chest to see what would happen. She turned her head away from the mobile, closed her eyes, and went to sleep. And stayed that way for an entire 35 minutes, definitely an after-getting-up record (sometimes she’ll sleep way longer between 5am and 2nd breakfast, but that’s because she’s secretly a teenager, and she isn’t actually getting up then, just eating and rolling back over, you know, to recover from staying up ’til almost midnight screwing around on the internet with all of her friends). Then, after our pediatrician visit, when she was tired and grizzly and unhappy again, we went back into her room, changed her diaper, put her down in the crib, turned her music on and her lights off, and she fell asleep again with me there to keep her company. This time it only lasted for about 20 minutes until she woke and started to cry, but she was also starting to feel the effects of the shots; I think on a feeling-normal day, that might have been a cry that would have burned itself out and led into being put back down for more napping, but as abused as she’d been in the morning, I didn’t think today the time for pushing our luck. Because there were 2 naps today–IN HER OWN BED. And lo but it was miraculous. Plus, during the second of those naps, when I was heating up a little lunch for me to eat (crazy thought, that), Beorn the basement cat came back up to hover at the kitchen door, even though it was daytime, not o-dark-thirty in the morning, and he stayed around for a good fifteen of the minutes, accepting tiny treats on a Tupperware lid and daring himself (but not quite taking the dare, every time) to take one from my hands. It’s a lot to ask of a very shy cat. And sleeping alone in a giant crib in a huge empty room is a lot to ask of a Very Small Animal, but Piglet is practicing, and I am very, very proud today of everybody’s progress.

Of course, because I’ve been overly educated, I can’t help feeling a bit like my insistence that these gingers should be tamed at all is imperialistic and colonial–what’s wrong with the wildness they were born with, after all? Who says a baby shouldn’t stay awake all day and be cranky if she darn well pleases? And why shouldn’t a wild cat choose to take up residence in the ceiling and stay there if he wants to? (Now that it’s started snowing, most of my guilt for making him live in the house at all is fading away–when it was sunny and gorgeous out, I felt like a real jerk about it, but I know he’s getting the better end of the deal now, even if he does spend all his time in a dark hole, never chasing a single window sunbeam.) On some level, I guess it is, and has to be, that sort of “I know better” situation. Beorn’s too young to know about winter–he really doesn’t know that outside wasn’t going to stay as lovely as he remembers it. And Evanny, of course, is a baby. She-who-doesn’t-nap has no idea how much better she might like the world if she were better rested–she doesn’t know, yet, that resting can be a choice, or that days have hours and patterns and that using some of them for sleep can improve the parts left awake. So it’s my job, at least in her case, to teach her this stuff, and then if she chooses not to use it later, we can suffer for each others’ choices like every other family everywhere. Beorn, it seems, has become more Gustav’s job, although I do and will continue to make efforts to help bring him out of his cave and into the house to enjoy the other pleasures it offers. I hope to see him enjoy a sunbeam sometime, or relax by a fire, or watch the snow fall from a soft perch on the warm side of the window, although I don’t expect that he will ever be anybody’s lap-cat; he is, after all, a wild thing. And Evanny, well, while I’m hoping naps will help, I’m sure that she’ll have plenty of rage left when she learns the language to articulate it, and will continue to be a very wild ginger throughout the carnival of her upbringing. So if I’m imperial in my attempts at taming, you still needn’t worry too much about the natives; I’m never going to be very good at it.




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