I’ve always been a cat lover. It started long ago when my four-year old self woke to find the family cat having kittens– in my bed, under my covers! A series of family pets including dogs, cats and horses followed; the cats were always my favorite for their silent and fluffy unconditional love to an often lonely little girl.
In college, my beloved Tasha chose me as hers by climbing up my pant leg and forcing her kittenly affections on my cheek. We had seventeen years together including several moves and many relationships. Tasha used to run and hide from all my boyfriends until my husband came along. I’m convinced she was waiting for the “right one” to come along before she finally succumbed to old age and kidney failure in my arms in the middle of the night mere weeks before my wedding.
Shortly after the wedding, my heart still ached with the loss of my Tasha and I wanted to find another cat to love. I was so sure it would be a boy because, well, no other female cat could possibly replace Tasha in my affections. Turns out I was both wrong and right and ended up with not one cat but two — a boy, Rascal, and a girl, Pandora.
Pandora was a feral rescue cat we adopted when she was about four months old. She was, and still is, an incredibly affectionate girl who loved nothing more than snuggling on my lap. When I was pregnant with Nik, she would lie on top of my belly and rest her head against my heart. I was on bed rest during my first trimester, so there was lots of bonding time between Pandora and me. In hindsight, I think she was bonding with the baby growing in my belly, too. Though, in typical cat fashion, I suspect she was telegraphing messages of “I rule the castle and don’t you forget it, peanut!”
Nik was born three months early. The devastation of coming home from the hospital without my baby, the worry and waiting for the other shoe to drop because he was so fragile and his health so precarious, was made bearable by Pandora’s faithful and patient love. As I sat on the sofa, night after night, sobbing uncontrollably, she would silently nudge her head into my before wiggling her way onto my lap. It didn’t take long before she would drape herself over my shoulder –offering herself up as a giant furry tissue to catch the torrents of my grief.
When Nik came home from the hospital, seven months later, Pandora immediately bonded with him. Nonetheless, I had to constantly monitor her; being a slightly anxious kitty, she had a habit of indiscriminately chewing through things. Like the lamp cord she chewed through on one of the many days I spent at the hospital with Nik. I was worried she would try to bite through the oxygen tubing which trailed around the house, keeping Nik breathing freely. To my wonder, she never tried; it’s as if she knew that Nik needed her to watch over him.
When Nik napped, Pandora would circle a few times and lie down facing him. When he was awake, despite his inability to do more than sit in his bouncy chair or lay on a blanket, she would sit across the room watching warily. She kept her daily vigil faithfully and slept outside his room each night.
Shortly after we moved back east, when Nik was about fifteen months old and no longer on oxygen, the routine was pretty much the same. No matter where in the house Nik was, Pandora was almost always somewhere she could keep watch over him. Nik wasn’t yet sitting or even rolling over so she stayed relatively close. Because she wasn’t allowed to sleep in our room (Niksdad has allergies) and she wasn’t allowed in Nik’s room for fear she would get into the crib with him, Pandora continued to keep her silent vigil outside Nik’s bedroom door each night. When we went into Nik’s room to start the pump for his overnight feeds, Pandora would accompany me into the room and rub against my ankles until I picked her up. “See, girl, our baby is fine. He’s sleeping. Go lie down now.” And off she would go to wait in the hall.
I always thought she would have made an excellent mama cat.
The sounds of frantic meows at my bedroom door woke me from my already light sleep. “Pandora,” I moaned, “shut up! You’ll wake the baby!” I hissed and threw a shoe at the door in an attempt to scare her away. To no avail. Her meows became louder and more insistent. I got out of bed and threw the door open to shoo her away. She swatted at my leg and head butted my ankle and continued to howl. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure it out.
I picked her up to soothe her but she jumped out of my arms and darted to Nik’s door, pawing and meowing. Annoyed now, I scooped her up and shushed her. “Fine, you want to see the baby? He’s sleeping. He’s fine.”
When I opened the door, my heart stopped. I remember suddenly screaming as if the house were on fire.
Nik had not ever been able to roll over independently; it was an emerging skill we were working on and he could only roll in one direction. In his sleep, he must have rolled numerous times: the feeding tube was wound completely around his neck. The increasing tension on the tubing had pulled the pump stand over so far that it lay precariously perched on the very corner of the crib. One more turn or a slight bump would have sent it falling to the floor, tightening the tubing around Nik’s neck. Nik was asleep through all of this; he didn’t make a sound. I wouldn’t have heard anything through the baby monitor which sat next to my pillow. Were it not for Pandora’s utterly uncharacteristic howling in the middle of the night, we would have never known there was anything wrong until it was too late.
Guardian angels come in many incarnations. Nik’s has the softest fur and the sweetest meow.
Obviously, that was the end of Nik’s unattended nighttime feedings, but Pandora continues to keep her vigil to this day. During the years in which Nik woke screaming in pain every night, Pandora was always right there at my feet, waiting until all was calm and I would hold her over the crib to stroke her gently and show her that our baby was okay. Even now, she waits outside his bedroom door until he has gone to sleep.