My Semi-Feral Children, Part II: Caitlin (or how Trouble came to visit in the first place)


Caitlin in South Africa.


Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Last Friday, Terry and I dropped Caitlin at O’Hare with a one-way ticket in her hand and a three-month itinerary that will take her through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. As I write, it’s after midnight in Hanoi–and 97 degrees! By the time you read this, she will probably be kayaking in Ha Long Bay. Wow.

As a toddler, Caitlin was good at getting what she wanted on her own by climbing out of cribs, up chairs, onto cars…. At fourteen months, I found her on top of a baby gate that blocked a flight of stairs down to a concrete basement floor. She was balancing on her belly and rocking back and forth like one of those silly red drinking birds, trusting momentum was her friend. I grabbed her and rushed her to her crib–shutting the door behind me for good measure–then sunk to the kitchen floor and cried. When I was done, I knew the only rational thing to do was make sure she got damn good at climbing. I’ve been holding my breath ever since.

In High School, she participated in the practically-mandatory exchange program to Wales (my “big” school trip was Milwaukee!). She also paid her own way to visit a friend in France. Caitlin Having Fun in Cape TownIn college, a Peace Studies program took her to South Africa, where–reportedly for fun–she went shark cage diving (she took this picture) and jumped off a bridge!

On our much tamer annual trek to Spring Green, I have waited patiently on the wraparound porch of Global View and watched generations of swallows teach their little ones to fly as Caitlin wandered 20150621_112706-1 through the shop, running her fingers over every Balinese carving and Batik print owner Marion Nelson has collected.

It shouldn’t surprise me Caitlin would someday fly to the other side of the world. Yet, here I am, holding my breath again, waiting for her to come home and take Trouble back to their lives with the Casa community, only thirty minutes away.

Motherhood itself took me by surprise. I approached it somewhat reluctantly–careful to tuck my identity into other spaces, other titles–at least, I thought that’s what I was doing. The truth is, raising Liam and Caitlin has been the most humbling and profoundly rewarding experience of my life.

The thing about being a parent no one ever tells you is that every step is a good-bye. If you’re not putting your children on a plane to Hanoi or helping them fit their saxophone into the trunk of a car, you’re dropping them off at a dorm, or realizing–too late–that you’ve already said goodbye to them climbing onto your lap or asking for a song at bedtime.

I remember camping with them one night at Yellowstone years ago. All four of us were in the same tent, side by side under a nylon dome. I was the last to fall asleep and listened to them drop off, one by one. Sometimes, I close my eyes and think of that night–the cadence of their breathing almost but not quite matching–and try to tell myself they are never really far away.

Caitlin in Japan

Safe on the ground in Japan, en route to Hanoi.


My Semi-Feral Children, Part I: Liam (or, how Lady came to visit in the first place)

Holy Sheboygan, Playing Loud (2)Someone asked me recently how I raised Liam to be so creative, as if I had something to do with it–as if I had designed preschool activities or dinnertime conversations that led to Liam being…Liam. But when your fifth-grader comes home with an instrument he’s never touched before (in this case, a bassoon), puts it together and jumps into Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” you know you have nothing to do with your children’s gifts. The best thing to do is to stay out of their way.

Not that it was easy!

Liam doesn’t think outside the box, he lives outside the box–and loudly! As a child, he would tie a scarf around his neck, climb up on the arm of the couch, and declare himself Opera Man. In school, he worked best while singing or standing beside his desk, moving to whatever music was playing in his head. This didn’t always go over well.

“Tour starts todaaaay!!!”

In the early grades, we considered it a good year when the inevitable call from the teacher took two weeks. His famously cross third-grade teacher was concerned he had developmental problems because he had written a wonderful story about time-travelling cowboys in space who somehow ended up saving the day by skiing down a mountain. She slapped it onto a desk in front of Terry and I and said “This doesn’t even make sense”

Then, in the summer of his fifth-grade year, he wrote a symphony for twenty-one instruments in three movements and everyone went, “oooohhh.”

I’m not particularly fond of labels, but unlocking Liam’s ability to compose music with a simple computer game we gave him for Christmas changed his entire school experience–and therefore his life. Parent-teacher conferences weren’t brutal anymore. He had advocates to help deal with other famously cross teachers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every quirk of every child (and every adult) were treated as a gift?

Long story short, when my son isn’t back-packing through Bulgaria or Washington State, living in community in upstate New York, or bouncing from farm to farm to soak up sustainable farming, woodworking, building greenhouses, planting orchards, or managing volunteers, he is living on a bus as part of Holy Sheboygan! who just announced they’re playing Summerfest! (Shameless plug here, or go straight to their latest album, Three!)

Unless, of course, he is touring and performing solo:

You can follow Liam’s solo work here, or catch his latest album here.

Meanwhile, Terry and I believe we are much too quiet for Lady. As a kitten, she grew up surrounded by rehearsals and performances and sprawling “family” meals: a real-life wild rumpus. When Holy Sheboygan! played a special house concert here recently, she tried to climb into the bass in the middle of their set!

But she is here for now, waiting for Liam and Sarah to move back into a cat-friendly apartment and a life lived out loud.

Staying put: for Liam–and Lady–that will be a new adventure!

Trouble Arrives!


The first thing I noticed about Trouble when he got here last Friday is that he’s a BIG cat! He’s twice Lady’s size, and although twelve pounds is average for domestics, it’s the largest cat we’ve ever had in the house. When he jumps from perch to perch on the second floor, it sounds as though an adolescent oak has been felled.

Trouble also assumes everything exists for his enjoyment. While Lady tip-toed into our house, creeping around the edges and hiding in the basement, Trouble was eating Lady’s food and stretching out in “her” window in no time.

He arrived while Lady was outside, so he could check out the house in peace for awhile. But Lady wasn’t gone long, and when she came back, it turned out she remembered him from Christmas.

Lady and Trouble 2

Within seconds, Trouble was locked in a bedroom so Lady could adjust to his scent. Neither of them was happy. They held these positions for hours.


Trouble reaching out from underneath a bedroom door.


Lady on guard at the other end of the hallway.

Months earlier, before we even knew Cat Boarding Houses existed, much less that we would become one, Terry had given his blessing to a mother/daughter getaway on Father’s Day weekend. So while we were enjoying the American Players Theatre‘s productions of Pride and Prejudice and Streetcar NameWisconsin River, near Arena, 6.19.15d Desire, Terry was struggling to get two angry cats into two separate rooms. While we were paddling the Wisconsin (thank you, Wisconsin Canoe Company) Terry and Trouble were watching out the front window in horror as Lady taught them the sound a distressed baby bunny makes. Happy Father’s Day!

Gruesome as it was, it would be wise for Trouble to pay attention to Lady’s demonstration of strength.  She’s a killer–a fact some of my neighbors celebrate while others…well…more on that later.

But Lady is also half Trouble’s size and has gone back to hiding in the basement. When we got home, I found her there when I went to do laundry. She demanded to be picked up, then sat in my arms for a far-and-away record of fifteen minutes before I had to put her down and get back to work.

It’s true that she does most of the hissing and growling and swiping in the house…but I’ve seen Trouble hide gleefully around a corner when he heard her tags jingling up the stairs. Little angel. Pfft!

Trouble Napping

So here we are. Terry and I have only recently learned to embrace empty-nesting and have a long list of things we want to explore together, but we’ve already canceled one trip. Our town’s 4th of July fireworks go off outside our front window and we’d like to make sure no animals are harmed in the making of that particular weekend.


So where are my cat-loving, semi-feral children while we’re watching Trouble and Lady? More on that next time!

Introducing Trouble

This is Trouble.


Actually, this is Trouble after chewing through our daughter Caitlin’s computer cord, seen here after being operated on with duct tape.


While Lady was intentionally raised outdoors, Caitlin tried hard to convert her stray kitten into an indoor cat. The effort cost her a pair of winter boots, some favorite sweaters, and the good will of a few roommates before a vet proclaimed that Trouble needs to roam.

Trouble is a big black Tom with the highest pitched cat voice I have ever heard (think Rosie Perez on helium). He is fond of lifting up one paw to neighbors, as though it’s hurt, in order to get food or attention. When Lady wants to communicate her displeasure with humans, she rakes her claws across something they care about–a couch, or an ankle. Trouble has the same ability to zero in on cherished items; he just pees on things instead.


Trouble trying to keep Caitlin from going to work.

A while back I pointed out to my daughter that she had been working since high school and could use a break. I was picturing a month in the British Isles, where our roots run deep and they speak our language–or France, where she speaks theirs.

Somehow this led to us putting her on a plane to Hanoi next week with a one-way ticket in her hand, a wide-open, multi-country itinerary, and Trouble waiting for us back home.

Clearly, I have raised semi-feral children.

Trouble and Lady did meet once before over the holidays, when all great family throw-downs take place. We did everything books, blogs, and friends advised. We introduced them through closed doors. We allowed them out of separate rooms one at a time so they could adjust to each other’s smell. We placed them side by side in travel cages to chat. (I’m not fluent in cat, but I’m pretty sure this was a disaster.)

The end result was that Lady hid in the basement for Trouble’s entire visit while he bounced around gleefully looking for her. When he did find her, 20141227_115702 (2)his favorite thing to do was sneak up from behind and tap her playfully with his paw. For a cat, he does a remarkable impression of Odie.

Last night, for maybe the third time in six months, Lady sought me out and curled up at my side, stretching out one paw to touch me while she slept. It’s taken a lot of time and patience on all our parts, but we have become part of her small circle of trusted humans. I stayed up later than I should have to sit with her, worried she might banish herself to the basement yet again until Caitlin returns from some yet-to-be-found location on some yet-to-be-determined date and whisks Trouble away.

For now it’s time to get ready for the inevitable arrival.

Tune in next week to see how we survived Our Brilliant Weekend Plan!

Introducing Lady


Meet Lady, a three year-old black-and-tan tabby who belongs to our son Liam, and his girlfriend, Sarah. Lady came to stay with us in January when Liam and Sarah were unable to find cat-friendly housing. She was raised by musicians–loud, twenty-something musicians who gave her free reign over home, yard, and city. Lady has a reputation for killing baby bunnies and enjoying them in full view of Holy Sheboygan! concerts and roaming up to seven miles away from home, until the police had to bring her home.

My husband Terry and I were happy to help the kids out, but we have never had an outdoor cat. Our dear Sly, who we lost the day after New Year’s, 2014, was happy as an indoor cat. Buddha Sly Key ChainWe put a candle in tuna for him on his birthday and suffered all kinds of muscle-cramps to allow him to sit in our laps for hours. His purr was loud enough to fill a room. Recently, Terry built a deck on our house that Sly assumed was his. Since his days of jumping off decks and climbing down trees were over, and we were new empty-nesters, the three of us enjoyed many hours together on his “catio.”

But Lady was not happy as an indoor cat. I have no interest in the indoor/outdoor debate except to say that we tried. For months, we tried. Beyond seeing us as the enemy and attacking us at every opportunity, Lady was literally climbing the walls. She scaled walls. She scaled curtains. She scaled antique furniture. Once I found her hanging from a small window near our basement ceiling, a feat which required four-foot vertical20150411_153018-1 leap!

We took this picture the day we decided to let her go outside and have peacefully coexisted ever since. As part of our happy truce, we have removed all things breakable or shreddable. For Lady’s part, she comes in every night and begrudgingly tolerates not going out again until morning. Most mornings she waits until a polite two minutes before our alarm is set to go off before demanding to be let out again. Her purr is so quiet that we have to hold her right up to our ears to hear it–but it does exist. Once in a while she sits on our laps for a bit and even allows us to pet her.

In addition, she has adjusted to her catio. Sometimes, if she know20150524_183339 (2)s I’m looking, she will stare at a chair with no cushion until I get one out. It’s taken six months, but I believe Lady has finally settled in and become content with her surroundings.

Which brings us to the catastrophic event planned for tomorrow:

Introducing Trouble!