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Erica Munro: Raising kittens is proving more stressful than bringing up kids

Hector and Flora have been spreading their wings and exploring the outdoors
Hector and Flora have been spreading their wings and exploring the outdoors

The kittens, Hector and Flora, have been in our lives for almost five months now. We adore them.

They love tennis on TV. They steal butter. They thunder out from hidey-holes at the shake of a bag of Dreamies. They jump into sheets being folded for ironing. They balance on tiny things. They climb trees to terrifying heights and hug skinny branches like koalas. They sleep where and when they choose, all over the house, turning up in drawers, in beds, in the laundry basket, the log basket, on top of my precious record collection – anywhere deemed cosy by cats.

Hector, smooth as a leopard seal, will be curled in a soft ball, slightly resembling a baked potato, it has to be said, purring like a moped when stroked. Flora, my cashmere cloud, will likely be arranged somewhere high – a chair or sideboard – all hairy feet and lustrous whiskers, dreaming of chicken.

They took their own sweet time to show us much affection, mind. We had to learn the hard way to let them come to us, rather than chasing them down, needily, to smother them with unwanted cuddles. There’s nothing our kittens disdain more than a huge human, crouched, emitting desperate pspspsps noises; nonsense like that is invariably rewarded by the sight of a furry bottom and fluffy tail, swishing away in the other direction.

Ever apologised to a cat?

It’s a cruel twist of pet ownership that, just as we began to build a decent amount of trust, just as the nose boops and leg rubs began to happen voluntarily, we had to take them to the vets to be sliced up – neutered and microchipped, which felt like a betrayal of the highest order and a cruel undoing of our weeks and weeks of calculated wheedling. Ever apologised to a cat for a cat hysterectomy? Or a cat vasectomy? It’s awkward. What about consent?

You can’t pin an adventurous kitten down

But it had to be done. They’re siblings; enough said. Dropping them off for their surgery, it took a huge effort not to clutch the vet’s arm and implore her not to let my babies die on the operating table. Thankfully, the procedures went fine.

Afterwards, neither kitten realised that “recuperation” meant “rest”. How we winced as they barrelled around. I’ve had three caesareans and there’s no way I’d have thrown myself off the kitchen island on day one of post-op, let alone hopped up there in the first place, but Flora – little shaved tummy and all – is made of stronger stuff.

We’ll never relax again

It’s like raising children, only with cats. Just as I cheered my daughter’s first word (“tractor”), recently I applauded Flora’s (“meow”). My protective instinct feels just as strong – perhaps, dare I say it – even stronger? I mean, with children, you get to give them 20-odd years of training before they’re out on their own, which allows plenty time to instil a homing instinct and basic road sense.

I have kittens; newly released into the world and tiny animals, though brimming with instinct, are not programmed in stealth technology

Hector and Flora are now cleared to venture outside and it’s horrible. For me, that is. They love it. Our back door now boasts a cat flap which we had to programme to the microchips embedded in their necks, entailing a stressful pantomime of jamming Hector’s head under the sensor to register him, before pressing the “add cat” button and repeating the ordeal for Flora. They were raging.

A rare moment of peace

And then there’s the new car. Like most people, I’d prefer it if the planet didn’t go up in flames and am keen to contribute to the effort of ensuring it doesn’t happen. We decided that electric vehicles were the way forward and so, a couple of weeks ago, we got one of our own. It’s lovely. It’s shiny. But it’s silent. Now, I don’t know about you but if I’m driving home and my cats are outside, I’d like them to know that I’m coming.

I want huge, throaty engine roars. But no. This thing’s a U-boat. It skulks up the drive, whispers round the corner and comes to rest like a butterfly. I have kittens; newly released into the world and tiny animals, though brimming with instinct, are not programmed in stealth technology. I wasn’t kidding when I said the new car should’ve been fitted with a noisy soundtrack – a marching band, maybe, or hooves.

We’ll never relax again. Our children spread their wings and flew. Our kittens spread theirs, and stayed close. We owe it to them to look after them in their tender independence but, right now, I want to get rid of the ghost car and lock the sodding cat flap, with my babies safe indoors.

Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor

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