I have always been "Papa" to the chilluns, except when I first moved in with Ken and I was "Uncle Curt" to Nikki and Ashley.
There was a brief time, though, when Ken and I played the role of "Mom" to Olive and her five siblings. Ken had been working at a vet clinic and one of their patients went into labor. She'd been a cat living on the street outside a hotel in LA who'd been rescued by a concerned woman who'd been there on a business trip. The poor thing was brought back to Denver where her vets learned that not only was she pregnant but that she was recovering from a shattered pelvis, which meant a natural birth was out of the question. She went into labor a week early and unfortunately there was no time to do the blood work. I was at home that afternoon when Ken called and urged me to run to PetSmart to buy a case of formula for newborn kittens. He didn't have time to explain and the urgency in his voice told me I needed to be quick.
When I arrived at the clinic with the formula I learned the sad story. The rescued mother hadn't survived the cesarean and was only being kept alive by a ventilator. They'd attempted to get her six kittens to suckle so that they could get those first, very important nutrients from their mother, but none of them would. I sat with their mother while the staff cleaned up the newborns and checked that each of them was healthy. In her last moments, after they removed her from the ventilator, her eyes fixed and wide, I promised her that her kittens would be safe and she need not worry about them, that they would be loved and cared for.
The next few weeks were difficult ones. Ken volunteered us to take the kittens home nightly and care for them as their mother would have. That meant keeping them warm in a small box, feeding them every two hours, inducing them to go to the bathroom and cleaning up after them. We tended to those kittens like no other animal companion I've ever had, getting up with them three and four times a night, feeding them warm milk, simulating their mother's tongue and wiping their bottoms with a moist cotton ball, holding them and checking on them constantly. It was hard work but well worth it and we got to call each other "Mom" for weeks, and when we were done we got to pick which one got to join our family and stay with us forever.
Where our other children had been perfect angels, Olive was a nightmare, a mean and bitey little demon who preferred Ken to me. She hated me, refusing to cuddle, biting me all night long and hissing whenever I came near either her or Ken. She was the only pet I ever had that I actually considered giving up for adoption, but Ken prevailed and we kept her. It took several years but she finally calmed down and is now the most talkative and friendly one of the bunch. When Ken and I separated last year it seemed only natural that Winnie, Pip and Duncan would come with me, but we agonized over our poor, little orphan, eventually deciding she'd fare better with the others so she stayed with me. But whenever Ken comes over she runs out to greet him, jumps up on his lap and gives him all the love she's saved up for him since their last visit. She may live with me, but she's still very much his girl and he is still her Mom and Dad.
She's become very protective of me, though, sleeping on the pillow above my head with one paw on my ear, greeting me at the door with Duncan when I arrive home each night, and standing guard while I shower in the morning. She has long since shed her devilish ways and is my angel, the one companion I have who can call me "Mom."