When we first moved to Arkansas, we lived in a small trailer on 32 acres of woodland. The people who sold us the home gave us two young cats. “You’ll need them. There’s mice,” they said. We happily named them Casseopia and Andromeda, for constellations in the night sky. We were nothing if not big thinkers.
Having little money, we did not spay our furry felines, so they both soon fell pregnant. We made them a small hut in the yard to get out of the weather and they gave birth to a passel of kittens.
We had no TV reception and had moved to the country for the simple pleasures, so the kittens became our entertainment. The mommy cats nursed and groomed, the kittens bounded about, pouncing and play fighting.
A new mother myself, I was fascinated by these other mothers. The two cats soon displayed very different mothering styles. Andromeda was happy to nurse any of the babies, licking and grooming them as they fed. Cassie, however, was more eager to wean, and began to swat the babies when they came to her.
Moreover, she began to disappear into the woods. She returned with semi-alive mice and small birds. I watched as she released them near the kittens, watching them play-hunt and attack. Then off she’d go again. I decided she was the working mom, out in the wider world, hunting and teaching the children to fend for themselves. Andromeda stayed at home, happily nursing and watching over the babies.
At the time, my own young child was my source of constant delight and joy. I reveled in every achievement, each opening of her mind to the world of our woodsy home. We baked and drew and sang and gardened. I loved it all.
My sister, who lived in the city, had a baby around the same time as me. She returned to work soon after her baby was born. At first it was hard for me not to judge her. How could she leave her infant with someone else? Think of all she was missing!
But as I watched the cats, I began to evolve my thinking. One cat was clearly a stay-at-home mom like me. The other cat was a working mom. Each seemed pretty happy with their roles. That made it easier for me to be less judgmental of my sister or other women who wanted to pursue any path she chose for herself. If the animals have it sorted, then we can too.