While the Airstream sits dormant, we completely switch gears and concentrate on the elements of a traditional suburban life. Well, at least a few of them. Because we come and go frequently, we can’t participate in many of the common preoccupations that require a continuing presence. I haven’t joined a gym or auditioned for a dramatic production, nor have I enrolled in any classes at the university or joined the board of the local home owners association.
To tell the truth, I’m glad for that. A good friend just confessed that (being a good natured person who wants to make the world a better place) he recently accepted committee or leadership roles in three different organizations and now has little time for himself. One of those commitments is for a three year sentence, um, I mean “term”. I don’t mind getting involved in things, but I’ve got a business to run too.
Also, it bothers some locals when they discover our odd nomadic ways. A local club co-opted me to their board of directors a couple of years ago, and my frequent & long absences quickly became the topic of some discussion. I don’t want to be a distraction, so I resigned after a year. Even our neighbors who have known us for years still occasionally wrestle with the fact that we might at any moment vanish for weeks or months. It seems to be unsettling.
So there are only three local activities we maintain long-term: orthodontia (just me now, as Emma got her braces off a month ago), karate class for our future black belt, and volunteering at the local Humane Society.
Eleanor and Emma volunteer because Emma has long wanted a pet. We haven’t been able to find one that could keep up with our travels, and not die of heat stroke when we are boondocking in a national park somewhere that doesn’t have hookups and doesn’t allow pets on the trails. Dog, cat, rat, snake, various birds and reptiles—all have been evaluated and found wanting. So in compensation for being such terrible parents, we came up with the idea of volunteering to foster kittens for the local Humane Society.
This is ideal, because we only have to commit to a pet for a few weeks at most, and then it goes back to be adopted. It’s a great opportunity to teach Emma the rewards of volunteerism and also to experience the responsibility of taking care of a fellow creature. We’ve fattened up and socialized kittens so that they are adoptable, we’ve visited quarantined cats so they don’t go crazy waiting to be let out of their cage, and most recently Eleanor and Emma took on four very young kittens that required bottle feeding.
You see, this is “kitten season” in Tucson. It’s the time when litter after litter of kittens is dropped off at the Humane Society, often without mothers. When they are very young, they have to be fed by syringe or bottle every two hours, around the clock. As you might guess, there is a very limited pool of people who are willing to do this, and so the staff is stretched to find foster homes for all those kittens.
Last Friday we got a call from a desperate staffer who had run down the list of volunteers and was on her penultimate phone number when she reached Eleanor. By that evening we had four little mewlers in the house, each requiring feeding, burping, and assistance with bodily functions. Those of you who had colicky babies can easily recall the sleep-deprivation that results. It’s the same with kittens, except they cry quietly enough that Daddy can sleep through it.
The feeding process for all four kittens, including clean-up, took about 45 minutes, which means you have just 1 hour 15 minutes before the timer goes off and it’s time to get out of bed and do it all over again. I helped with one or two of the feedings and realized that motherhood is not for me. But I think I knew that already from the experience when Emma was a sleepless creature herself.
I thought by the end of the weekend we’d thoroughly hate the little buggers, but I underestimated the cute factor. This is nature’s way of preventing us from eating our children, I think. When they really got a rhythm going on that bottle of milk, their little ears would start to flap in time with swallowing, making the grey kittens look like cute fuzzy Dumbos with tiger faces. Then, with a big beard of milk on their faces, they’d collapse gratefully into a “milk coma,” lying atop their litter mates in the box.
Emma’s technique was praised by the local Society volunteer coordinator and I’m told a picture of her “perfect” bottle-feeding position will be part of the training program for future bottle-feeding volunteers.
We couldn’t keep the kittens as long as we’d like, because homeschooling and other critical daily functions were just not feasible around the kittens’ schedule, but at least we had them for three days and bought the staff a little time to find them a longer-term home. I would like to think that Emma learned something about the realities of babies, too.
We have about a month before we need to saddle up again. In those weeks, if we can snag a few kittens who aren’t bottle-feeding, we will. It feels like having furry foster children is now a fundamental part of our “home base” experience, and we may as want get the full benefit of it while we have the opportunity. Soon the Airstream will be rolling and when it does, this aspect of our life will go back on hold until next fall.