Since March I’ve been staying with my family for many reasons—for one, the easy access to an extra desk. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, while I packed my bags for the guest room, I was dreaming of a furry coworker.
Mina is my sister’s cat, a sleek brown tabby adopted from Carol’s Ferals in February. I had met her before quarantine, of course. I had joined Adri on the shelter trip where she fell in love with the cat then called Marvel. (Mina is now named for our great-great-aunt Hermina.) And I had spent a few more visits enjoying the cat’s company, including a memorable evening where Mina curled up on top on the Trivial Pursuit board mid-game.
But for the last two months, I’ve been the cat’s live-in aunt. As I write, Mina is snoozing, head on paws, in the early-evening sun streaming through the living room window.
When you work with children’s books, cats are inescapable. Plenty of titles feature a feline or two: Pete the Cat, The Cat in the Hat, even the oldest picture book still in print—cat lady favorite Millions of Cats. In my first few months in my current job, we dubbed the upcoming fall’s release roster “the cat season.” Out of our eight new books, two books starred tigers, two books starred black cats, and one book featured a grey cat following the protagonists through the seasons. Still, until quarantine, I had never edited a manuscript while a cat batted stray board game dice around the room.
Stay-at-home orders have blurred many of the joys of my life into a common space. Routines that once required driving around the city now require a laptop and a blanket. I meet with my Bible study in the same place where I catch up with friends, the same place where I work and nap and make dinner. That loss of variety and control is now so familiar that the words “uncertain” and “unprecedented” provoke just as many eye rolls as panicked expressions.
Living with a cat reminds me that a loss of control can be good, just as it can be frustrating. Last month I wrote about the need to reclaim goodness during quarantine, and living things can be slow and sometimes painful reminders to acknowledge that goodness is often a byproduct of growth. At the beginning of March, Mina liked to sharpen her claws on the recliners, ripping the fabric into frayed pieces. Now she scratches her designated post and meows at the nearest family member for her reward.
And a loss of control is also the foundation of wonderful surprises. As much as I want Mina to love me and sit beside me at all times, I can’t force her to crave my presence. She is my sister’s cat, first and foremost, and she’d rather be near Adri than anyone else. But sometimes Mina will—if I’m quiet and calm enough—choose to join me for a few minutes or even an hour. Sometimes, while I read my manuscripts, something unexpected can curl up on my feet and punctuate the poems with the rumble of her purr.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.