If she didn’t find a way to bond with her teenage daughter soon, she worried she might never be close to her.
Eight o’clock on a May morning, and Micah, my 17-year-old daughter, had already retreated to our bonus room upstairs. It had been her makeshift eleventh-grade classroom ever since schools had moved to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
From the kitchen, I listened for the sound of her tapping on her laptop or her and her classmates talking in their Google Meet sessions with their teachers. Nothing. I resisted the urge to check on her. Way too often for my liking, Micah was texting friends and commenting on their Snapchat and Instagram posts about the fun they were having together. My husband and I felt safer erring on the side of caution. We’d barely left the house for 10 weeks straight.
“Mom, everyone is hanging out today!” Micah’s voice echoed from upstairs. “Why can’t I?”
I trudged up the stairs. Micah was lying on the floor wearing pajama bottoms and a hoodie, her laptop, school iPad and cell phone in front of her.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I have no one I can be with. I can’t wait until I’m 18 and can do what I want.”
We’d had this conversation before. Still, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. I was sick of isolating too. Even though Micah and I were home together more than we had been in years, we might as well have been living in separate worlds.
“Wanna watch Netflix later?” I asked. “Bake some cookies?”
“No, thanks.” Micah shook her head, as if the idea of doing something together was beyond lame.
“In a few weeks you’ll be going to sports camp,” I added. “That’s something you can look forward to.”
I closed the door. I was used to Micah’s rejection, but it still stung. Teenage independence is healthy, but I worried if I didn’t find a way to bond with my girl soon, I might never be close with her again. She’d be 18 in the fall and had already convinced herself she didn’t need me anymore. Maybe she was right. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to reach her.
That evening, I logged onto Facebook and saw a friend’s children playing with their new kitten. My mind went back to when I was in high school and our family moved. It was hard making friends. Mom surprised me with an eight-week-old gray tabby that I named Miss Muffet. Having a kitten to love and train brightened my days and got me through that difficult, lonely time.
Micah’s sports camp was a month long, not a good time to take on a pet. As cautious as we were being, I was committed to her going to camp. Campers were required to quarantine two weeks before arriving. The protocol and regulations made me feel safe sending her.
The second weekend in June, I dropped her off. That Monday, June 15, I began praying for our relationship. God, change our hearts. Help Micah and me grow closer.
Within two weeks, the camp closed due to a coronavirus outbreak. Micah had mild symptoms and tested positive. She quarantined upstairs in the bonus room. I left her meals on a tray near the bottom step. I only saw her from six feet away. I couldn’t hug her. I felt her drifting further and further away.
More than three weeks later, Micah finally tested negative. We celebrated with dinner at the kitchen table together. I made her favorite—chicken tenders and mashed potatoes. I couldn’t wait to hear all about camp.
As soon as we sat down, she said, “When can I hang with my friends?”
My heart sank. We’ve been separated for weeks and all she cares about is being with her friends. I needed some way to make being home more fun for her.
“You want to get a kitten?” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about them.
“Oh, my gosh! Yes!” she exclaimed. “I want an orange tabby. A male!”
A male orange tabby? Where did that come from? I chuckled as Micah rushed to her room after dinner and began making a list of names.
The next morning, I called shelters and rescue groups. No one had any kittens, let alone a male orange tabby. I’d gotten Micah excited over nothing.
Desperate, I posted on Facebook. A friend from church commented. Her cousin had a litter. Micah and I masked up and drove across town.
There were four kittens, two orange and two gray. Micah sat on the floor and tried to coax the more rambunctious orange male to come to her but he squiggled under a desk. The other one waited in front of her, tail curled around his body as if to say, “Hello! What about me?”
Micah picked him up. He started purring. “This is the one I want,” she said, smiling.
In the car, Micah nuzzled the kitten under her chin. I’d never seen such a tender look in her eyes. She posted selfies on Instagram as I drove to the pet supply store. Normally embarrassed to shop with me, she cradled the kitten and walked by my side down the aisles.
“I’m naming him Ron.” She said his red-orange coloring reminded her of two characters named Ron, from the Harry Potter movies and the sitcom Parks and Recreation.
Micah carried Ron into the house. I brought in the supplies and toys, and put them on the staircase. I headed to the kitchen to make dinner.
“Mom, aren’t you going to help me?”
I tried not to look surprised. I followed her upstairs and held Ron while she scurried about the bonus room kitten-proofing everything. She vacuumed, secured cords and stuck babyproof plugs in all the electrical outlets. Breakables or small objects were put away. Who knew she could be so meticulous?
Micah filled food and water bowls and poured kitty litter into the box. She set up a nylon play tunnel.
“I’ve got to get dinner ready,” I said.
“Mom, can I eat up here?” she asked. “I don’t want to leave him.”
I brought her dinner on a tray like I did when she was quarantined. “Will you stay and play with him while I eat?” she asked.
All these months Micah had made it clear the bonus room was her turf and I wasn’t welcome. Now, as she ate, I played peek-a-boo, the kitten waiting at one end of the nylon tunnel, eager to rush at my face when I looked through the other end. We couldn’t stop laughing at his antics.
“Oh, my gosh. That reminds me when our cabin went caving….” Micah launched into a story from camp, without my having to pry for information.
We spent the next five hours petting and playing with the kitten. Micah talked freely. The only time she picked up her phone was to take photos of Ron.
After the little guy ate, I suggested she put him in the litter box so he’d learn where to find it. “He needs you to teach him,” I told her.
A quiet knowing came over me. Just like the kitten needed training, so did Micah. She might be a legal adult in a few months, but my daughter still needed me. It was up to me to be creative—to find ways to continue teaching and reaching her.
The next morning, I was about to make Ron’s first veterinarian appointment when I realized I’d forgotten to ask when the litter was born. I sent the owner a text. She responded: “Eight weeks old as of yesterday—born June 15.”
A shiver ran down my spine. June 15, the Monday after Micah left for camp. The day I began praying for our relationship.
More than a year later, Micah and I still bond over Ron. We play with him together and laugh and talk. I thought getting a kitten would help my daughter feel connected and needed. Only God knew that the male orange tabby Micah wanted would do the same for me.