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When I was five, my family made the acquaintance of Peppermint, a seven-pound, black-haired, green-eyed cat. One early fall day, Peppermint jumped onto my father’s knee as he worked in our backyard. The tiny cat wouldn’t get off, and so, my father brought him into the house and Peppermint became our family pet.

Peppermint and I rarely lived in harmony when I was younger. Quiet and slow, he preferred the calm, languid sunbeams that warmed the front room’s bay window to my fidgety, kindergarten self. Despite our differences and my total lack of empathy for his disposition, I wanted him to be my friend—but, I always went about it the wrong way. Trying to pet him as he dozed in the sunbeams got me far more scratches than approving purrs.

Sometimes, and this was always a rare occasion, Peppermint would jump down from the bay window and up into my lap. As he curled into a tight ball, his small body would start to feel like seven tons rather than seven pounds. Seven tons of hot, furry mass pinning me down, keeping me from doing the important things kindergarteners do:  playing in the woods, artistically arranging dolls around my bedroom, dancing to cassette tapes of the Beatles. I resented Peppermint’s presence when he sat in my lap. I resented the time he made me wait for that presence. And most importantly, I resented his inability to be my loving pet when I wanted him to be.

Trying to pet him as he dozed in the sunbeams got me far more scratches than approving purrs.

Twenty-three years have passed since Peppermint first sat in my lap. Now, I’m no longer a squirming kindergartener (though I still spend time in the woods and dance to the Beatles). As I type this post to you, two happily purring cats sit on my outstretched, blanketed legs. They are my neighbors’ cats. I often look after them when my neighbors go out of town. In the beginning, both felines were suspicious of the strange person who chose to occupy their usual humans’ couch. Yet, with the blessing of time and cold weather, the cats finally decided that my lap was an okay place to be.

This time around, I didn’t mind the process. For I know something at twenty-eight that I didn’t know at five: As long as I am patient and understanding and without presumption, even the slowest of cat hearts will eventually open up and take comfort in my lap.