Friday, February 23, 2024
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From the Archives: Nursing in Color, 2007

black cat nursing black kittens
Mimi nursing the “Curious Quartet” as I called them at first, wearing their war paint on one ear so I could tell them apart.

Sì, Mi chiamano Mimì, …

“That’s my famous self-introduction, ‘Yes, they always call me Mimi…’,” says Mimi, who was, after much deliberation, named for the female lead in the Puccini opera La Boheme because it is my favorite opera, and I’d recently seen a Metropolitan Opera simulcast and was again caught up in the melodrama of the lovers in the Bohemian section of Paris, and the little wayward mama cat and her kittens now in my care.

But that wasn’t my first choice, and in the end their names wandered to characters in the opera, concepts relating to the opera, and to the color-coded kittens you see above. When you see my daily sketches you’ll notice that I use these colors, as well, more on that below.

Mimi’s name was originally Maia, which I liked, but we both felt she needed a new name for her new life—and then there was the naming of a litter of kittens, and it’s easiest if everyone’s names are somehow related. After fostering many kitten families and using up lots of favorite names, I came down to using logical sets, like the seasons, or presidents or the main characters in a novel or a movie. My original choice for this family began as days of the week:

  • Monday = Mimi
  • Tuesday = Jelly Bean
  • Wednesday = Mr. Sunshine
  • Thursday = Giuseppe
  • Friday = Mewsette

Then they logically migrated to:

  • Monday = Maia = Moon or Luna, for her feminine qualities and her lovely crescent moon eyes
  • Tuesday = Jelly Bean = Tyr for whom Tuesday is named, well, he was kind of the leftover of the god/demigod set
  • Wednesday = Mr. Sunshine = Odin, for whom Wednesday is named, suitable for his personality
  • Thursday = Giuseppe = Thor, for whom Thursday is named, also suitable for his personality and size
  • Friday = Mewsette = Freya, for whom Friday is named, Mewsette seemed a wonderful Freya

But even though their prospective names seemed to fit so perfectly and I adored the thought of a family of black cats named after gods and goddesses, in the first two weeks the names just would not stay with me no matter how hard I tried to remember and even posted notes on the cage for myself. Again from experience, I knew this meant no matter how much I wanted these to be their names, they just weren’t right.

I also got the sense Mimi not only did not like the name I’d chosen for her or any variation, but she really liked the name “Mimi” and it suits her perfectly. She’s the mom, and she’s the boss of all this so from that point their names became characters in or related to the opera, and evolved from there to the names they have today.

About those colors and their names

I color-coded three of their ears because I couldn’t tell them apart and for the sake of their health I needed to. Kittens often develop conditions and all too quickly they are ill and it’s passed around. If I had to tell my veterinarian about symptoms I’d seen, I’d have to know them apart. This was especially critical because of the awareness of FIP in their half-sister Lucy, though nothing concrete ever developed in these guys.

I arbitrarily chose the colors: red for Mewsette, green for Giuseppe and yellow for Mr. Sunshine, or Luciano as he was then called; Bean was blue until I realized I could see his white bits nearly all the time. I began the paint when they were about two weeks old when the water-based tempera paint lasted on their ears for a couple of days, until they reached about seven weeks when it didn’t last even a full day from bathing themselves and each other and Mimi bathing them and their level of activity, and I swear they began to grow so quickly they just burst the paint off as their ears grew. The one thing that was a concern and might have been a symptom of FIP was that they were all very small for kittens, not underweight for their size, and certainly active and developing at a normal rate, but just tiny. Lucy was tiny too. But then, Mimi is a very small cat as well—knowing how small she is from photos here, you can see how small those four kittens were lined up along her little belly. She also hit the wall with nursing for a few days when they were about three weeks old, as they are here, and I began to help weaning them with formula and canned food. At about seven weeks they began to grow so fast you could almost hear them grow, and all was well.

Giuseppe actually got his name from his color—Giuseppe Verdi, or Joe Green (famous Pittsburgh Steelers player) if you’re not speaking Italian, and since Verdi also composed operas, though not the one in question, that worked fine.

Mr. Sunshine was actually Marcello, the male second lead in La Boheme, until he reached about four weeks old and I decided he had Lucy’s eyes; when I looked at him, I looked at Lucy. Being a boy, I called him Luciano. In time I caught myself singing “You Are My Sunshine” to him, then remembered I’d sung that to Lucy all the time, and I began to call him Sunshine, then Mr. Sunshine as his mancat status as an engineering supervisor was apparent at an early age. Then I realized his color was yellow.

When I draw them in colors, I don’t so much choose the colors just for variety as I am drawn to them for each individual cat, and have been since they were tiny.

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2 thoughts on “From the Archives: Nursing in Color, 2007

  • It’s a wonder they even knew who they were in the beginning. That’s a lot of names to go through. Mom never sticks a name on any of us until she is absolutely sure. Whatever their names had turned out to be, they are all the black kitties that our mommy loves. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

    • Kitties, they really didn’t care! When they were little they were all like one kitten in four parts, sometimes they still are.


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