Weighing 770 grams and smaller than a bag of sugar, we nevertheless have big hopes for the effect Octavia might have on the household.
It would be fair to say that, as parents, these have been our hardest weeks so far. (I mean in life. Not in Italy.) I was going to write ‘challenging’, but I’m not so fond of that word; it dilutes experiences, in the manner of modern day school reports, sometimes so euphemistic that they border on pointless. Yes, the children’s behaviour – and particularly P.’s – has been ‘challenging’, but it’s more salient to say that it has left us feeling despairing, lost, fearful, terrible, exhausted… The details of the behaviour are less important than the reasons for it; the ways we try to find to cope with it and how it leaves me feeling as Mamma. Wrung out.
All those words and feelings that we might not dare admit.
Self doubt has been chipping quietly away at days replete with golden sunshine, crawling in and disturbing the beauty of the mountain’s crisp autumnal beauty. Why have we come here? What precisely is the point of this experience? Why exactly did we choose to disrupt our comfortable, comforting existence in the South East of England, where we had friends on tap, family ready to help out and our own British rural idyll: a green village, a lane filled with friends, a small village school in which our children knew everyone by name?
Rationally, we know that this has to be the hardest stage: though quick to adapt to change, children nevertheless need time and support to get them through that change. So, in between struggling, crying and reaching for a glass or several of vino rosso, Tom and I have been trying to think about ways to help them – and us – cope with starting school and settle into a calmer space.
Octavia is Strategy 1 in ‘Operation Settle the Children’. I hasten to add that finding another cat was inevitable. Once a cat owner, always a cat owner. Coming home to a house senza gatto to look out for and look after has been hollow, uncomfortable and disorientating. I am not ready to replace my Zephyr cat, but the household was ready for something to love.
Tom and I thought again about what Zephyr had meant to the children: a connection to our life in the UK; a physical reality linking them to our house there; a still point in their turning world. We considered the timing of his loss: only five days before school started, at the end of our summer of discovery, just as Reality was kicking in. Recently, P. took Tom to ‘talk to’ Zephyr by his pear tree. Later that day, after spinning out with sparks flying, Peter finally succumbed to cuddles and cried and cried for Zephyr. It clarified that Zephyr had become symbolic; he had linked our life here with our home there; to P., losing him felt like cutting out that previous life.
Although Octavia cannot be a panacea to our current situation, given the inevitability of another cat joining our family, we decided that it was worth finding one sooner, rather than later.
When we saw her, the runt of the litter, smaller by half than her brothers; grey and white with big green eyes, she could have had our name written on her. Finding a name for her proved another matter: four heads came up with suggestions, from the ridiculous, ‘Pane’, to the obvious ‘Grigio’ to the confusing – she was Quintina for 24 hours, but when yet another member of the extended family queried this, asking if she’d been part of a litter of five, Tom was finally persuaded to agree to my, ahem, our, first suggestion, apt at least for the month in which she came to us. Octavia she is.
The long term effect on the children remains to be seen, of course. For now, I can report that the children dote on her, rushing to gather her up after school, cuddling up in bed with her cradled gently on their laps in the morning and planning to spend their pocket money on kitten teddies for her to play with. Our evenings have been a little calmer, morning rages have reduced to one in three. We are far from feeling over the worst of it, but now at least, when everything gets to much, we can all go and cuddle the cat. It’s hard to stay cross with a little kitten purring for attention.