in which an unexpected phase II is revealed

Posted on: January 17, 2015

Unlike Oola, my previous cat Mokie was very easily affectionate. Mokie had lived in several different homes before finally finding her way to me; one might assume that the likely response to being passed around so often would be for a cat to become standoffish, and I assume one would assume this because it is, in fact, the assumption I made. Which is why I was surprised when, at bedtime on her very first night with me, Mokie comfortably curled herself at the foot of the bed, right by my feet.

This, as I said, was unexpected. Certainly, Mokie was obligated to spend the night in the room with me, as that’s where her litter box and food were, but I had anticipated an apparently unnecessary need for privacy on her part and purchased a small cat bed, placed as far from my bed as possible. I kept the cat bed for several months, thinking that it might be nice for Mokie to have options, but she made it quite clear that she had no interest in a small and cozy cat bed when there was a big-girl bed she could sleep on. And when I say “made it clear,” I of course mean that she peed on the cat bed and I had to throw it out.

Mokie never peed on the big-girl bed, although it was her preferred place to cough up hairballs, which is another story for another time, although I may have perhaps already shared that one at a previous time? Regardless. Mokie slept on the bed with me from the outset, which I thought was very sweet. In her gently needy way, Mokie would be persistently close by, but she wasn’t so needy that she needed to be any more than close by.

Or so I thought. Because, what I eventually realized was that Mokie was only sleeping down on the end of the bed because she didn’t quite know me yet. And I discovered this when, after several months together, Mokie began making her way up the bed in the evening and sleeping on the pillow. The same pillow I was sleeping on! She stretched out right above my head, a furry, affectionate hat keeping my head warm in the winter months.

This, clearly, was something special. Not only was there now trust between myself and Mokie – trust, I should make clear, I had no idea wasn’t there before – but, even while closing the distance between, Mokie still managed to sleep in such a way that my own physical presence was completely unimpeded. Increased affection, without increasing demand; surely, of what one could expect from a cat, this was the apex.

But it wasn’t, as I discovered several months later when Mokie began wriggling her way under the blankets. Her true goal all along, it turns out, was to curl up in a little furry gray ball right next to my stomach. The business of sleeping by my head or my feet, both of which had seemed like such achievements and ends in and of themselves, turned out to be nothing more than pit stops along her way; now that we had been together for almost a year, Mokie could finally trust me enough to put herself in a position where we were close but not touching, yet carried a risk that I might crush her if I rolled over during the night.

From that perspective, I felt a little silly for thinking that Mokie’s initial presence on the bed had meant anything at all. And, even if I’d actually preferred it when she slept on my pillow (so warm and out of the way!), I understood that this, at last, meant that Mokie felt at home. Which is really what counted.

Oola, of course, is different. Because it’s winter, Oola will now sleep on the bed. Unlike Mokie, she will actually plant herself right on top of my legs. But, also unlike Mokie, she will stay decidedly on top of the blankets, regardless of how much I encourage her underwise. Which, honestly, is okay – I do like to wake up and discover a kitten sleeping on me – but, especially when it’s cold outside, I think it would be great if she were comfortable coming under the blankets, at least for warmth. And also for affection.

But that’s not the kind of kitten Oola is. Which, as previously mentioned, is something people tend to find sad, that an utterly untrusting Mokie offered just about the same level of affection as an Oola who trusts no one but me, but, as previously mentioned, those people are weak and their cats are probably terrible. What I realized early on with Oola is that you have to play the long game. A game, as I learned from Mokie, that is a persistent campaign of affection, gentle correction, and reward, and that only one of us needs to realize is being played. A game in which, today, I came from yoga to discover I scored a major point from my opponent :

Sleeping kitten. Still fierce.

Sleeping kitten. Still fierce.

That’s right – Oola is now sleeping on my pillow. Sure, I’m not in the bed, but I’m still counting it as a victory. Peace in our time, and, more importantly, one day Oola under the covers. Today, we’re one step closer.


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