I asked for advice, looked at the cost, considered the obstacles, and finally decided to bring it up with Matt.
"No," he responded flatly, "the last thing we need is more responsibility right now."
And in a way he was right, so I dropped it for the night. But in a way I felt he was wrong, and so I brought it up again the next night.
"What if we kept the cat in the basement?" I suggested. "I could clean it up and fix a nice place for the cat. Then it wouldn't ruin our furniture or shed all over our things, and the allergens would be confined to one place if Hannah should have a reaction to it. Plus, … it might catch the squirrels down there."
We have been plauged with an infestation of pine squirrels ever since we moved into this house four years ago. They come into the house through the basement via holes they chew around the old window frames. Then they climb into the walls and even the attic. We have trapped and either killed or relocated eight squirrels and yet, with both pine and walnut trees surrounding the house, more squirrels are always lined up to fill the vacancy.
I think it was the suggestion that having a cat in the basement might finally, finally solve our squirrel problem that peaked Matt's interest most. He said he'd think about it.
After a few quiet moments I concluded my case with, "When was the last time Emma asked for something?"
We both said nothing for a long while because neither of us could remember anything Emma had really wanted before.
Hannah wants things with her whole entire heart at least once a week. Hannah begs loudly, weeps bitterly, rejoices with every fiber of her being, and often has "the worst day ever" and "the best day ever" on the same day. But Emma is the wallflower of the family. She quietly blends into the background of every day life in our house. Sometimes she tries to pipe up only to be out-shouted by four siblings, and I see her face drop and her sentence trail off into thin air because she knows it's no use to keep speaking.
Ever since Emma could toddle she has followed Hannah: going where Hannah goes, saying the phrases Hannah says, playing what Hannah coerces her to play, preferring what Hannah convinces her to prefer. She has tried to assert her independence before, but Hannah is usually very quick to keep her colonialized sister believing that she is happier under the benevolent leadership of such a wise sister as herself.
So when Emma, of her own accord, latched her whole little heart on this cat and dared to whisper, "I wish we could keep her." I just decided that maybe we had better move heaven and earth to make it happen. And after a few days' thought Matt agreed.
I looked through the humane society's website searching for that special cat and realized that the one Emma loved was not Lila after all. Lila was the name of the cage-mate to Emma's cat, who was named Liana. She was 2 1/2 years old and had been brought in as a stray the previous December. She had been in that cage in that noisy, smelly room for ten months. It was time to make a home for her.
I spent two days deep-cleaning our basement: throwing away things I realized I'd never use again, taking piles of boxes to Goodwill, sweeping and sweeping again nooks and crannies that hadn't seen a broom in forty years. The kids just thought I'd decided it was time to clean.
That Saturday morning, four days after Emma and Liana had met we told the kids that Mommy and Daddy were taking Emma out on a date and we dropped the rest of the crew at Grandma's. When Matt and I were alone with Emma in the van we told her that we thought she might like to show Daddy the cat she had seen. We didn't tell her that we were considering adopting the cat until we could see how they would interact. The staff put Liana in a meet-and-greet room with us where Liana was obviously spooked at first, and understandably so. But patient Emma sat so quietly and talked so sweetly that Liana finally made her way over and began to play with the toys Emma offered. We knew then that things would be OK.
"Emma," I asked, "Do you know why we came to see Liana today?"
Emma had been listening as we talked with the staff about the potential adoption and her eyes brightened. Grinning sheepishly she ventured, "Because we might adopt her?"
"Would you like to adopt Liana?" Matt asked.
Emma smiled brightly and nodded. And so we applied to adopt Liana, but we would have to wait a few days to pick her up.
When we got back to Grandma's house we let Emma gather the other kids and make the announcement. "We went to the humane society," she said, "and we're going to adopt Liana!"
The other kids looked confused. They knew that wasn't right. Silly Emma, they thought. But looking to me, I nodded my head in confirmation.
"What?!" Hannah said. "You're letting us have a cat?! What?!! Really?? This is the best day of my life!"
The next few days were filled with hair-raising anticipation. We went on a kid-led shopping spree for cat supplies and spent hours arranging everything just-so in the basement. We hoped to bring Liana home on Monday but there had been a pile of adoption applications turned in just before ours and we ended up having to wait until Wednesday before everything was in place. The girls had a dreadful time waiting, but we filled the evening by wrapping yarn and sewing carpet scraps around poles in the basement so Liana would have a nice place to sharpen her claws. We even building a cat tower together. "I like working together," Hannah said. "She's going to be so happy here."
Matt happened to be off work the day we finally adopted Liana. All the kids were spilling over with excitement when we picked her up,
and when we introduced her to her new home.
Liana was nervous, but made her way methodically around the basement, smelling all the smells, locating her food and water, and meeting the people. She eventually hid under a shelf and we let her stay there while the girls took turns quietly reading a book in the basement and waiting for her to come out. After several hours she ventured out and began to relax around us. Then the fun began.
She spent most of the rest of the day playing with the kids and following us around like a puppy, even coming when we called. No one wanted to leave her in the basement and go to their beds that night, but we told them they would have plenty of time to play again tomorrow.
After Matt tucked the kids in, I heard a sound in the basement like a box falling underneath me. Liana had not left the ground the entire day--no jumping on chairs, counters, or anything--so I was surprised to hear some activity.
I went down to investigate and called Liana's name, but there was no response. She had been coming running to us before so this was really odd. I stopped the dryer so I could listen and called her again. I heard two very faint meows and then nothing again. I looked and looked and looked like I have never looked through that basement before. That cat was nowhere. I even opened the two doors to the canning cellars which were used as storage rooms and were locked and peeked inside them, but couldn't see her in any of our boxes. She was nowhere! She wasn't answering me any more either. I went upstairs and told Matt. He came down very worried right away because this was so unlike her. Just then the furnace kicked on and we both got really scared.
Our furnace is a huge, cast-iron cauldron from the 40's. Tucked in a corner behind the furnace and the water heater was a heat vent. I got a light and laid on the ground and found a cat-sized opening in the bottom of the vent that I hadn't known was there: one end led into the furnace and one end into the chimney. Matt ran and shut the furnace off. We opened the door and looked inside with our hearts pounding. She wasn't in there--thank heavens. We ran outside and looked at the chimney. No cat out there.
We went back to the basement confounded, but somewhat relieved and called her again and again. As I was crawling on the floor looking under boxes again I thought I heard purring. The canning cellar door was purring at me! I opened it up and Liana jumped out and attacked me with love and cuddles. We just about cried with relief. It took us a good five minutes to figure out that Liana had jumped up on a workbench, then up on a window sill, then onto the ledge under the rafters and walked on that ledge behind a shelf, over the wall to the canning cellar room and had jumped onto the pile of boxes in the other room, which was the noise I heard, where she was trapped. Why I didn't see her the first time I opened the door, I have no idea, she must have been behind boxes.
We wired mesh over the opening in the heating vent right away, glad that we had found that. While we were doing that Liana disappeared again! This time she had found that we had left the door at the top of the stairs open and she was exploring our living room.
We took her to the basement where she refused to leave our sides and we realized she had been looking for a way to get up to her people upstairs when she fell into the canning cellar room. She wanted to be with us. I asked Matt if he wanted to sleep in the basement. He went and got Naomi and Hannah (Emma was already asleep), who were more than thrilled to do that job. They bedded down with sleeping bags, giggling hysterically as Liana pounced on their toes under the covers. Liana stretched out beside them contentedly when we shut the lights off.
From what I heard neither Liana nor the girls got much sleep that night. Liana was too excited to finally be in a home with people and toys and adventures to be had, and the girls were too excited to finally have cat to play with. Everyone was so tired the next day that Liana had to learn to sleep in the basement herself after that.
Liana has been in our family for six weeks now and we have never regretted adopting her. The girls visit her first thing when they wake up. They find her sitting happily in her window, watching the squirrels play outside--where they belong. She hasn't caught a squirrel yet, but her mere presence has been enough to deter them. At first we heard them in the walls less often and now it has been weeks since they've ventured inside.
All the kids have enjoyed hours of playing with the cat and the girls have all had hours of snuggling her. She loves to jump in their laps and lay there purring while they stroke her and sing to her or read her books.
And while Liana is certainly not exclusively Emma's cat, Emma has had a few special moments of bonding with her that have been priceless to witness.
I don't think Emma could have picked a better cat, and I think we have many happy years of cuddling ahead.