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“Unfit Mother of the Year” by Susan Law Corpany

Years ago I did a book signing with an author on whom the title “Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days” had been bestowed. (It is from said honored mother that I learned that the phrase represented by the initials MOTY is copyrighted and that the national organization takes copyright infringes very seriously. My hope is that they are too busy busting ten-year-old kids who wrote it in crayon on a Mother’s Day card to get around to me, but I can’t take any chances.) She had written a book about motherhood. I had also written a book about motherhood. They are very different books because we are very different mothers.

People began to approach the table. Her: “I was (insert year) Utah Young Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days.” Me: (cue inner monologue) I got nothin’. People all flocked to her side of the table.

A few minutes later, I was desperate to lure some of the people to my side of the table. Her: “I was (insert year) Utah Young Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days.” Me: “I, too, have written a book about motherhood, even though I was once turned down by the local animal shelter when I tried to adopt a kitten.” Success!

The world needs us both. We need ideals of perfection so we have something for which to strive. But when we fall short, as we inevitably do, we desperately need someone who tells us it is okay to be imperfect. I have taken the low road, preferring to be the person who is willing to share her imperfections because, well, that perfection thing just looks too dang hard.

About the Kitten

My son was four. I did not need a flattened frog or a bygone goldfish to teach him about death, because his father had died in an accident before he was a year old. He had learned about death along with learning his ABCs. I did my best to answer his questions when they came up. On a visit to the cemetery, which I called “the remembering place,” he posed a question. “Mom, is this where my dad is buried?” “How do you know about being buried?” “Ben across the street found a dead bird and I helped him bury it.” “Yes, this is where your dad is buried.” “Did people walk by and look at him before they buried him?” “Yes, it’s called a viewing.” “I sure hope he looked better than that bird!”

When we had lost two cats in a row to drivers who came around our blind curve a little too fast, I was upset that my young son had to experience further loss. In fact, I was more upset than he was. After the second cat funeral, I heard him say to a neighborhood friend. “And if your cat dies, you can bury it in our yard for only a dollar.” I guess learning about death early in life gives you a matter-of-fact approach to the whole thing. We replaced Snagglepuss with two little kittens from a “free to a good home” advertisement. That way if we lost one, we still had one left to love–the heir and the spare, as they say. We set up their feeding dishes and a comfy cat bed in a corner of the garage. Grover and Clover stayed close to home, and close to each other. I always checked their corner before backing out of the garage to make sure they were both there. I had started back to college to finish my degree. I had already dropped my son off at the neighborhood preschool and was in a rush to be on time for my first class. That was the day I forgot to check for both kittens before I backed up. They were always together I told myself, and if I had seen one, the other was surely nearby.

“So we’re going to start with Steven here and have everyone tell us your name and something about yourself,” the professor said. “I’m Susan, and I just ran over my son’s kitten.”

It was what defined me that day. I didn’t know that it would continue to define me. If I am ever nominated for “Mother of the Time Period Lasting 365 Days,” I’m sure it will surface in my file. Racked with guilt, I determined I was going to replace the kitten. I stopped at all cardboard “free kitten” signs, but my little boy wanted a kitty the same size as dear departed Clover. Finally we ended up at the local animal shelter. There we found a little striped tiger kitty that was the spitting image of Clover and exactly the right size. Bingo!

“Why do you want to adopt a kitten today?” the lady asked. Before I could answer, my son piped up. “All our cats got runned over.” “We live on kind of a blind corner. You know how cats are. They roam.” “Have you considered keeping them inside?” “Yes, we’ve been keeping them in the garage now.” “That’s where my mom runned over one of them,” my son added. “I see.” Her arched eyebrows told me this was not going to be as easy as I thought. She left and conferred with a colleague and returned momentarily. “I’m sorry, but with your record, I’m afraid we can’t in good conscience entrust you with one of our animals.” It was a low point in my life. Being a single parent is tough, and after that when I had a bad day, there it was, that reminder that the local animal shelter would not even give me a baby kitten to raise. Let the record show that we kept Grover alive long enough for him to die of old age. He is buried in the backyard with all the others. And when your cat dies, you can bury him in our backyard for only a dollar.

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