JustAnswer PixelPaws and Effect
A preschool-age white girl strokes a long-haired black cat.

This isn’t me in the photo, but it’s reflective of many moments of time with my mother as a young child. Photo by Chewy on Unsplash

Mother’s day has been a kind of painful holiday since my mother died four years ago. I still sometimes heave a wistful sigh when I think about calling her for our usual Sunday conversation. Our relationship wasn’t always the easiest; there were ways we failed to understand one another at a really fundamental level. Combine that with alcoholism and the accompanying craziness, and you can probably understand why I didn’t feel safe sharing my heart with her for many years.

I feel really fortunate that I had a chance to rebuild my relationship with my mother before she died. I learned a lot about her and her childhood in our weekly phone conversations, and one day she said the one thing I had no idea how much I’d been yearning to hear from her: “I love you and I’m proud of you.” Thanks, Mom. Those words mean more to me than anything else you’ve ever told me.

Well, Mom, I love you and I’m proud of you, too. You were a woman in a male-dominated profession back in the Mad Men era, you escaped an abusive marriage before there were any battered women’s shelters anywhere in Maine, and were able to provide for your kids afterwards. and when the economy was crap and you couldn’t find a job to save your life, you decided you’d rather start your own business than have to kiss corporate ass.

That business, a metaphysical shop located in a small town in coastal Maine, really was her career. She wasn’t just selling stuff, she was sharing her knowledge, providing a safe space for weirdos of all generations, and being a mentor for teenagers exploring alternative spiritual paths (and she kept them out of a lot of trouble in doing so!).

But what I’m really most proud of about my mother is that from a very early age, she had a love for animals unlike anyone else in her family, and she passed that love on to me.

A white woman with auburn hair sits next to a little blonde-haired white girl in a yellow romper. The woman is holding a photo. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to love getting my hands dirty.

This is Mom and me in 1972. The construction site is the barn on the property my parents bought when they moved from NYC to Maine in 1967. In January of 1971, the house on the land burned to the ground and we barely escaped with our lives. My father, a carpenter, decided to convert the barn into a house.

She never needed to use any words to teach me this love of animals–and, in fact, of all living beings. She just set the example and I quickly found myself being her little helper.Thanks, Mom!

We had plate glass windows in the living room of the barn home my father was converting in the photo above, and every once in a while I’d be sitting in the living room reading or coloring or playing with a toy and I’d hear a THUNK!

That thunk was a bird flying into the window at full speed.

My mother would hear it, too, and she’d get a shoe box she had stored nearby, just in case this happened. Mom and I would carefully and quietly walk around the windows until we found the dazed bird. She’d pluck a bunch of grass and put it in the shoe box, then gently lift the bird into it. She’d bring it into the greenhouse and the two of us would talk quietly while the bird recovered. She’d tell me what kind of bird it was, what sex it was (most birds are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males look different from females), and she’d tell me if it was an adult or a juvenile. And once the bird started acting like it was ready to fly off, we brought the shoe box back outside and let it go.

I also loved helping Mom in the garden. We’d plant seeds together, and she let me weed around plants that looked very different from the grasses and weeds around them. Sometimes when Mom shoveled up some dirt, there would be a couple of earthworms in it. I was, of course, curious, and picked one up to examine it. “Earthworms are good,” Mom told me. “They make the soil better for the plants.”

Thanks, Mom, for all those afternoons of bird watching and gardening.

When a bee or wasp got into the house, Mom would take a thin piece of cardboard and a drinking glass, slide the cardboard under the insect while putting the glass over it, it and take it outside. I still do that to this very day. She did this with spiders, too, but we lived in a converted barn that was full of … barn spiders! The result for me was that unlike many people socialized as girls and women, I was never afraid of spiders, bugs, snakes, worms, or anything like that. Thanks, Mom!

The town we lived in was next to a city where a chicken processing plant was located. One day Mom was driving back home from that city when she saw a bedraggled white chicken by the side of the road. It looked like the ones trucked in by the hundreds to be slaughtered at the factory. Instead of bringing this chicken back to the factory, she took her home, gave her some grain, and named her SuperChicken because she had escaped from certain death.

A white woman and a white Standard Poodle sit on the doorstep of a NYC bungalow.

Mom’s first “my very own” animal companion was Sheep, a Standard Poodle. This photo was taken about a year before my parents moved to Maine. Unfortunately, Sheep died in the fire I mentioned above, along with a black cat whose name I can’t recall.

I think Mom was probably more of a dog person at first: her very first animal friend was a Standard Poodle named Sheep, and during my childhood I can recall having dogs more often than we had cats.

It took a while for my empathy function to come online because autism, I guess? But when it did, I fell hard for cats.

The first cat I fell in love with was Maddy Gold. She was a black cat with white whiskers and a small white dot on her chest, and she’d been living with a friend of my mother’s. Mom took her in because she was having trouble getting along with the other cats in the house where she lived.

Maddy was terrified when she arrived at our home, and she refused to come out from under the couch for days. But little 12-year-old me got an idea: Maybe I can lure her out with a can of cat food! So I opened a can of the stinkiest tuna ever to be found, pushed it partway under the couch, and moved it toward the edge, little by little, until Maddy emerged, looking kind of stressed. I sat on the floor and gradually pulled the can toward me, just a few inches at a time, until she was close enough to touch. When I did, she jerked her head back, startled. She thought about running away, but instead she curled up in my lap, purring.

But Maddy was not a well kitty, something I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t notice that she’d been losing weight, but my mother did, and she took Maddy to the vet. Mom found out poor Maddy was full of cancer, and there was nothing that could be done, so Mom did the humane thing and had Maddy euthanized. She told me she cried as the vet prepared the shot. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she told Dr. Andrews. “I don’t even like this cat!”

But your daughter loved her, and you knew that.

Thanks, Mom, for caring about a cat in need, even if you didn’t understand her as well as you’ve understood other cats.

A white woman in her early 60s sits in a bed. A Siamese cat is next to her and a black and white "cow kitty" is at her feet.

My mother enjoys a quiet Sunday morning with her two rescue cats, Tinka (the Siamese next to her) and Rosabelle (the “cow kitty” at the foot of the bed).

Mom never turned away an animal in need. Even if she only had two dimes to rub together, she’d gladly split those dimes one more way so that everyone could be safe and fed. Maddy wasn’t the first and she wasn’t the last.

One day in the early 2000s, one of Mom’s friends told her about this Siamese cat that needed a home. It seemed that the cat, who was purchased by a backyard breeder, had been left outside to fend for herself when that “breeder” decided they were done with their “business.” Worse, this cat was front declawed and not spayed!

When Mom told me about this cat, I was just as appalled as she was. How could anyone in good conscience kick a declawed cat, with no defenses against predators, out of the house? And without spaying her!

“Mom, I’ll pay to have her spayed if you want to bring her home,” I said.

And soon, this cat, now named Tinka Belle, or Tinka for short, was part of Mom’s household. That’s her in the photo above–the Siamese cat next to her left arm.

A white, female-presenting person with glasses holds three kittens between their hands--two black and white and one brown tabby and white. Thanks, Mom, for actually taking my advice!

Rosabelle was another feline waif in need saved by my mother. She showed up on my mother’s doorstep, very pregnant and very hungry. Mom took her in and worked with the local animal shelter to foster them and find homes for them. This is me holding her three kittens when they were maybe 2-3 weeks old.

A few years later, my mother went outside to water her plants and met a white cat with black spots–we call that a “cow kitty” in Maine, because their white coats with black spots resemble Holstein cows. It was immediately apparent to her that this cat was very, very pregnant! Well, there was no way Mom was going to make a cat have her kittens on the Mean Streets of a Small Coastal City, so she got the cat’s attention with a bowl of Tinka’s kibble.

She was a very hungry girl and ate it all up pretty quickly! And it wasn’t long before Rosie was inside, getting to know Tinka. The local animal shelter worked with her so she could foster the cats. Mom said she’d adopt Rosie, but she wanted to find homes for the kittens … and she’d need a little help with Rosie’s spay.

Thanks, Mom, for setting the example I live by to this very day: If there’s a cat in need, and you have any way of making it possible for that cat to have a better life, say yes!

And that’s how this guy came into my life.

An orange tabby cat sits on the lowest shelf of a cat tree.

This guy became part of the Paws and Effect family on May 10, 2024. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to trust the universe. He came with the name Tangerine, but I think he’s more of a … (see below). Photo by JaneA Kelley

Meet Wallace T. Abercrombie, Esq., formerly known as Tangerine (that’s what the T stands for). This kitty came to me by way of a private adoption from a friend. The whole story isn’t mine to tell publicly, but trust me, this was a really important adoption.

I managed to keep my household at two cats for almost four years, and I really didn’t intend to bring another cat into my home. But when my friend said he was looking for a home for one of his cats, I got the biggest intuitive YES I’ve gotten in a very long time. So I ended up making the 2-hour drive from Seattle to Centralia to meet my friend and the cat on Friday. This taught me that there is literally never a good time of day to go southbound on I-5. Fortunately, heading back north was much less of a hassle.

Wallace is set up in his own room now. I converted my 1-bedroom apartment to a studio with an office so he could have space to chill out and be kept away from Bella and Tara until he’s cleared of anything contagious. I’m having some challenges getting him to eat, which is a problem because he’s quite overweight and I don’t want him to get hepatic lipidosis.

He’s eating small amounts of kibble if I put it right in front of him. At my volunteer shift at the cat rescue this morning, I brought home a couple of syringes for syringe-feeding him and some really stinky canned food that the cat care team uses when they can’t get shelter cats interested in eating.

But my god, is this cat the nicest, sweetest, most polite little creature ever? Yes, he is!

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me that all of life is sacred and deserving of understanding and respect.

I wish a joyous Mother’s Day to all you human moms, cat moms, dog moms, bird moms, reptile moms, and universal mothers. If your mother is still alive and you’re on good terms with her, don’t miss the chance to learn everything you can from her. Even as adults, there’s stuff we can learn from our mothers. For those of you who don’t have a good relationship with your mother, I hope that you are learning how to mother yourself so you can get the mother you always deserved.