We moved in November, and I was due to have my second child in the beginning of February. Our friends Debbie and Steve, who had traveled across the country with us, were living in Portland, so we quickly reconnected with them. It was wonderful to have them around. Debbie agreed to come over for the birth to support Jessie during that time. She was also going to help out afterwards but ended up not being able to get the time off from work. Amber and I were still estranged, so Paul and I started trying to make new friends. I also started collecting things I would need for our household and for our new child. Because we were newcomers, there would be no baby shower or hand-me-downs. There also wasn’t much time left, so I had to be creative and move fast.
When we first moved in, the house itself was a mess. It looked as though the previous tenants had pets that they didn’t monitor very well. They also hadn’t cleared out the debris from their move, so we had our hands full. When we made the original deal, they told us they’d like to leave us their cat. They didn’t think he would make the move well. We both loved cats and had them as pets before, so of course we agreed. Leon was the biggest cat I’d seen up to that point. He was slate gray, scarred and feisty but was great with Jessie. He would let her pick him up and carry him around with his hind legs hopping along behind. He never hissed or scratched her, and we grew to love him. However, initially, we weren’t so sure.
Once we got the house all cleaned up, we realized that the major mess was mostly due to Leon, that huge gray tomcat who refused to use a litter box. I’ve always been very good at training cats, but this cat was stubborn. Finally, I insisted that he live outdoors for a while until he could learn his manners. He was not happy about that and always tried to sneak in. One middle of the night, we heard the sound of repeated banging in the bathroom. We ran in just in time to see a final head bump by Leon as the bathroom window broke and he jumped through sitting there meowing at us. We called the previous tenants, who we thought were his owners to come take him back and found out that he had originally come with the house, and they were never able to break him of the habit of shitting in the house. Funny that they forgot to mention that little detail. We replaced the window, kept him outside during the day and in a box at night. We learned to ignore the howling, and he eventually learned to go outside when he needed to. He would meow at the side of the bed, usually in the middle of the night, to be let out – most of the time. I have to confess that there was one night, when our power went out due to a transformer, when Paul lost it. We’d heard a huge pop, and Paul went around with a flashlight to investigate. Much to his astonishment, he stepped in a fresh pile of cat shit and slid across the floor, landing in it on his back. I got up just in time to see him drop kick the cat out the front door. That was the last cat mess we had to deal with. Leon finally learned.
Leon was not always home, though. He would frequently disappear for days and days at a time. One day, Jessie and I were taking a walk when we saw him at another house. He came running over, purring and rubbing against our legs. We wondered what he was doing so far away. An older woman came out and started calling to him … by a different name. He looked up at us, gave a short meow and ran to her, purring and rubbing against her legs. I went over and asked her about our cat. She insisted that he was her cat. We soon discovered that Leon had three other homes that he visited regularly. Each of us had wondered where he disappeared to so often, and now the mystery was solved. He’d figured out how to game the system. I often wondered why he put up with my insistence that he obey the rules of the house, but apparently the house was his because when we eventually moved, he disappeared and stayed behind. Our neighbors told us that he came back soon afterwards and moved in with the new tenants.
There must have been something about that house because not long afterwards, we got a cute little white puppy that we named Cola. We weren’t going to make the same mistake as we had with Topaz and checked her feet. This was going to be a small dog. She was small alright but was nippy and barked a lot. She was also very difficult to house train. Paul insisted that we get fish, too. And of course, a fish tank had to have snails to clean the sides. Before long, we had a tank full of snails and no fish, but the sides were free of algae. Now, here I was 8-months pregnant with a 3-year old, a street-wise tomcat, an obnoxious little puppy that liked to nip at our heels and a stinky fish tank so full of snails you could hardly see anything else. Paul was working long hours, so I was mostly on my own. This was no longer my dream home, and I spent a lot of time outside in the yard or going on adventures with Jessie.
Finally, on February 4th, I went into labor. Everything was arranged. I had support for Jessie while I was in labor, three midwives, and Paul and Debbie both had arranged for time off from work. With their help, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty! I had carried higher than I had with Jessie, and my ribs were very bruised from all the kicking during my last month of pregnancy. My legs were also swollen, and I could barely walk. At the last minute, Debbie’s boss decided not to give her any time off, so she was only around in the evenings. Paul’s boss also decided that he could get time off for my labor and delivery but no time after the birth. On February 5th, when I was still in labor, his boss accused him of scamming him and sent a co-worker over to check up on him. In the wee hours of February 6th, after 10-hours of transitional labor and the midwives threatening to take me to the hospital, I finally birthed my son. Justin had been facing in the wrong direction and eventually turned around while in the birth canal. I was exhausted and was facing being alone with my two children and my still badly bruised ribs while my support team went back to their jobs.
One fascinating part of my labor was when Jessie would not go to bed the night Justin was born. She was crying that she wanted to see her brother be born, but it had been many late nights, and she was exhausted. Debbie couldn’t console her, so I went in to see what I could do. Although I was in full-blown labor at this point, my labor stopped completely while I comforted and sang to her. It started back up again as soon as she was fully asleep. We had promised that we would wake her when it was time, which we did. I’ll never forget the look on her face as she stroked my brow and told me, “I know it’s hard work, Mama, but you can do it.” She was awed by her brother’s birth and insisted that she had helped. She certainly did.
Now, it was my turn to be exhausted. I was facing caring for a toddler and a newborn on my own. There was no meal train, no friends stopping by, no rest for me, just business as usual. That next morning, Paul set out a breakfast for Jessie that she could get herself and bring into the bedroom so I could try to rest. She finished up and brought her dishes back to the kitchen, grabbing books and puzzles that we could enjoy together. Just then, Justin woke up and started to cry. “I’ll get him,” she said. “No, please don’t. He’s still too little,” I replied, struggling to get up as quickly as I could as she raced for the cradle whisking him up and out and dropping him onto the floor. Uh-oh, I knew I was going to have my hands full.