Being a caretaker requires time, vigilance, and patience.

Last weekend my husband and I took in four foster kittens at our house.

It has been almost six months now since our old, beloved cats both died of cancer just a few weeks apart. We knew we needed some space and time to grieve before getting new pets, and this spring we started to feel ready for that.

We have a friend visiting in early June who is severely allergic to cats, so on Friday we decided to pop into our local Humane Society to inquire about short-term assignments for fostering during “kitten season.”

Next thing we knew, we were headed home with a box full of kittens.

The shelter had received 40 kittens that day, who all needed foster homes to help get them ready to be adopted.

Our four were a special needs bunch: they all had respiratory infections and eye infections, so they needed some extra care and  attention. The Humane Society provided us with antibiotics, eye cream, kitten food, and a special milk supplement and wished us luck.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had kittens, and we had forgotten how much attention they require, especially these little ones who needed medicine and were covered in fleas and weren’t litter trained yet.

The weekend was a blur of bathing them and everything they encountered.

And we hit a tragic bump early on, when the runt of the litter, who had been the most sickly, died suddenly on Sunday. We have been assured by the Humane Society and several folks we know who have fostered kittens that we did all we could, and that this is par for the course, but it was still really, really difficult.

I’m glad to report that the other kittens have come a long way. We have conquered all but a few fleas, the kittens now know where to go to the bathroom (Hallelujah!), and they have ravenous appetites and lots of playful energy, signs that they are feeling much better.

All of this has been a reminder of how much effort it takes to be a caretaker, especially for those who are vulnerable.

Taking care of others is time-consuming. It is often inconvenient. It requires vigilance and patience and observation. Sometimes it gets messy. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, it can be heartbreaking, due to forces outside our control.

When we devote ourselves to another – whether that is an aging parent or a child or a student or a friend or a tiny kitten – we link ourselves to their well-being in a way that makes us vulnerable as well. When they are suffering, we feel that pain. When they are doing well, we rejoice.

This is the big picture of mentoring that is really difficult to explain on the front end, but that all of you have intuitively understood and embraced with your whole hearts.

There isn’t a day that goes by where Chris and I aren’t grateful for and admiring of your dedication to taking care of your youth and each other.

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