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Increasing in wisdom and stature

Thursday took us to the vet for a well-kitten visit: follow-up distemper shot, advice about trimming his claws, and information about this newly intense nursing behavior. He's teething, I was told. She showed me his pink gums and where a fang is being pushed out.

Since he was weaned before I took him, it's less likely to be nursing behavior per se, even if it seems like nursing and has a comfort component for him. It does for me, too. I was gone for nine hours on Wednesday, afraid that when I got home, my kitten would be bouncing off the walls, ready to claw me into a sieve just from nervous energy. He wasn't. He burst into tumultuous and ragged purrs when I walked in the door and latched onto my hand and wouldn't be dissuaded.

Women sometimes feel sexual pleasure when they nurse their infants. It should come as no surprise, but it's hard to talk about it. Our society can barely tolerate the notion, and certain disapproval engenders shamed silence. I understand this mix of pleasure and shame on a more visceral level now. It flatters me that my kitten treats me like source of comfort, purrs and kneads and suckles as if I really am his mother now. And that pleasure shames me, in part because I feel like this is a situation I have forced on him. Who knows what's in his mind and how it got there? I soak up the attentions of this energetic growing animal that has no other options, flattering myself that it's me me me that he loves.

We came back from the vet to an apartment getting more oppressive by the hour in the un-San Francisco heat, into the 90s and no, it wasn't OK because it was a dry heat. Hot weather makes it easy to feel sorry for a tiny creature that is covered with hair. The kitten moved from spot to spot in the apartment, stretching out to maximize his surface area. As the day dragged on, company trumped comfort, and he came back and snoozed near me, even braved my lap a few times rather than shelter alone in a cool closet.

In the late afternoon, I ran a bath for myself. I came out of the bathroom to finish one or two things. I heard a sploosh and a few other watery sounds, and then an utterly waterlogged kitten came trotting out of the bathroom. I swept him up in a towel and blotted him while he finished grooming. It's now a weekly ritual for us. He shouldn't be soaked that often, but as long he doesn't have a long bath every time, his fur and skin should be fine. A friend says now he knows that if he jumps in the tub, he gets snuggled in a towel, but I think he's just playing a game of chicken with himself, and his imperfect coordination achieves an unfortunate synergy with the smoothness of the edge of the bathtub.

That bit of excitement aside, it was a quiet afternoon for us. I had a severe allergy attack, which caused my eye to swell shut and prompted me to load up on antihistamines. It turned out to be a good day to get him a drowsy-making shot; he mostly lolled in the afternoon, toward in the interior of the building, where the apartment is coolest, and I was able to sleep off the antihistamines in peace.

I've continued to have more peace. Friday was another hot day, and this time the kitten was warring internally between a desire to bat his toys all over the apartment and a need to stretch out completely flat on the cool enamel of the bathtub. He managed to bounce around ocassionally during the day, banking off me on his laps around the apartment.

Years of adult cats without claws did spoil me, but the trimmed claws are a marvel. I can't think why I didn't ask for a demonstration when I took him to the vet the first time. As he bats and banks, I find the touch of his paws unbelievably soft and realize that he has been retracting them, perhaps from the moment he was able. They've just been so long and sharp so suddenly that he tagged me regularly.

He seems to look more adult with every day, and even though I know it's just the heat, the last couple of days of quiet lounging have filled me with happy anticipation about his adulthood. He is becoming more weighty, too, more substantial in my hand as I scoop him up from the floor. He weighs easily twice what he did when I got him, and he is growing out of the abrupt kitten-shifts between crazed and sacked out and into the more languid and attitude-ridden poses of the adult.

Size matters. He's big enough to jump to the bathroom sink in one leap now; the kitchen counters aren't far behind. He's more coordinated on the edge of the tub, but there's more to coordinate, and slips are a little more common in this middle stage -- that is, I feel certain that they will become less common soon. His weight alone makes some of his routine more difficult. He rockets up the surfboard, but if he tries to steady himself with his claws on the way down, he's liable to stick and somersault over them. So he's taken to sliding down, springing onto the bed from about halfway. He really is a surfer now, choosing the perfect moment to end his ride and pop back over the shoulder of the wave.

He is a shoulder surfer, too, clambering up to get a better view, get access to the spider plant, or just get a ride to another part of the apartment. It's more fun if I'm standing, but I don't have to be. When I wake up in the morning now, he's snoozing on the pillow beside me, perched on my shoulder, his forehead pressed against my temple.

August 10, 2002