What started as a harmless birthday experience turned into a decade-long commitment for our family. Little would I know that in making that commitment, I would be gifted with lessons on learning what love truly is and how to love unconditionally back. 

In December, my oldest son anxiously awaited his 8th birthday. His mind darted from idea to idea as he attempted to figure out the surprises we had in store for him. I could visibly see his brain cranking through each option, and yet, I was sworn to secrecy. You see, in our family, we do birthdays big. When a birthday arrives, each kid gets a day fully dedicated to them, filled with special experiences that my husband and I will share with them and them only. It’s become an expectation to top the year prior, and so far, there have been no let downs. 

One year, my oldest son toured the airport tower and watched as they directed flight take-offs and landings. Another year we coordinated a “meet your local superheroes” by working with the police and fire departments in our community to give him a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what it takes to save lives. 

This year, we had big plans — we were going to take him on his first flight ever. We had a pilot secured to fly him around the city for an hour. But I had to that morning, for our worst nightmare came true. The clouds were too dense to fly, and an hour before we were supposed to take off, our unique experience was off the table. We had to scramble to rethink the entire day. Quickly, we populated our time with a trip to the Mega-Cavern and a confirmed appointment at the Purrfect Day Café. That, accompanied by a surprise dinner outing with friends and a sleep over, would surely make for a special birthday. 

If you ask my son what his favorite part of the day was, he will tell you, with no hesitation, that it was the hour he spent with the kitties — well, one kitty in particular. We had no intentions on adopting a new family member, but when I saw my son’s eyes lock with the orange tabby’s, I knew we were doomed. Our 14-year-old cat was destined for a new brother, no questions asked. 

Timmy is his name and sweetness is his game. Seriously, he is the calmest and most purposeful kitten I’ve met yet. And over the last month and a half that he’s joined our family, I’ve found myself learning a great deal on how to love the people around me … all because one sweet, little kitty has loved my family with every ounce of him. What can you learn from a kitten? Apparently, a lot.

Don’t be afraid of getting close. Literally. 

My other cat, Baby, is a cuddler, or so I thought. She prefers to sit on the back of the couch near me when watching TV and before I got married, she would spend her evenings sleeping on the pillow next to me in bed. She was always close, but not too close. 

Timmy, on the other hand, redefined the definition of closeness. The first night we let him sleep in our bedroom, he hopped up on our bed and flung himself into the bend of my stomach. Then, when that wasn’t comfortable anymore, he laid in the space where my legs met. I refused to move, afraid to startle him, but it was him who ended up startling me in the wee hours of the morning. 

I awoke feeling like I was being stared at. And, I was. Literally. I opened my eyes to a kitten merely inches from my face, his eyes dilated to the point where his golden irises weren’t visible. I closed my eyes back, thinking if I ignored him, he would be less creepy. But then a gentle paw touched my eye lid, and I realized he was actually mesmerized by my eye lashes, thinking they were new toys for him to play with. 

Over the weeks, he found his places of comfort (starting to leave my lashes alone) and they all include him being as close to me as possible. To some, this would be annoying, but for me, it’s reminded me of the importance of connectedness and the importance of touch. As we drift off to sleep each night, I have no question that we are buddies. 

Always be there, even if someone tries to keep you away. 

Now the majority of our family welcomed Timmy with open arms, but our other feline wasn’t quite sure. Baby Cat, as we affectionally call our 15-pounder, has been an only pet child her whole life. She’s not used to sharing any of us, but definitely not used to sharing me. We were a family when I had no one else. Before I was married … before I had three kids … it was just me and Baby. Together, we welcomed guests in our home … a husband into our lives … and three children home from the hospital. We have always done everything together, me and her. 

While Timmy vies for her attention, all she likes to give to him is a hateful hiss. I get it; it’s normal. But a few days ago, I was reminded that when love is at the forefront, nothing can — or should — keep you away. 

We had had a rough week. All of us. Our youngest child had been having some difficulties in school and it was taking a toll on our family as a whole. We were exhausted. We were confused and frustrated. And I had cried more tears than I knew my ducts could produce. Once my husband and I got all of the kids in bed that evening, I laid on our bed, perplexed on how to tackle life. I hid under a blanket and prayed for a guidebook to parenting, which I knew didn’t exist. 

It happened so quickly that I almost overlooked it. I was preoccupied with other worries that I didn’t notice Baby finding her place within arm’s reach of me on the bed. This was typical behavior for her, though, as she has been through everything with me … good and bad. In the thick of my miscarriage years ago, she never left my side, and that’s been her motto since. 

Timmy, though, seemed more about play than about support. Or so I thought. There, sitting on my bed, were two cats. One close enough. The other on my lap. Each staring at me as the tears streamed down my face. Each worried. Each willing to put aside their differences to love me when I needed their love the most. 

Sometimes you speak the most when you say nothing at all. 

Just this morning my oldest son and I were contemplating what our cats would say if they could speak. Would their voices be deep or light and flighty? Would they complain all the time or relish in the beauty of the moment? I told him that I sure would appreciate knowing what they were thinking, but the truth is that I do know what they are thinking without them ever saying a word. 

Whether you are a cat or a dog person, you will likely agree that when you peer into your pet’s eyes, you can almost read the story they are trying to tell you. With a nose nudge, I know that it’s time to rub their cheeks. Or a lick reminds me that maybe I still have some lunch on my fingers. A purr sooths me, as it lets me know that they, too, are relaxed and happy. No words are spoken and yet their voice is loud and clear.

Who knew that one little kitty and her big sister cat would teach me the true essence of love? That it requires your willingness to get out of your comfort zone to be close — physically and emotionally. That it requires you to look past differences and tolerate others, even when you don’t want to. And that listening is the best way to show that you love someone. For it speaks louder than any words you can say. 

During this month dedicated to love, take a lesson from our new kitty, Timmy. And maybe you will not only find ways to love others more, but be more open to being loved yourself. 

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