GALESBURG, Ill. | In the middle of an animated discussion about cats, it was easy to see the woman with the dimples and the girl with the almost-blonde hair were mother and daughter.
"She told me that cat and her had bonded," 33-year-old Cathy Lester said, while sitting in the McDonald's on East Main Street just before noon Thursday.
"And my mom told me there was no way I could bond with a barn kitten in just 10 minutes," 12-year-old Jordan Lester said.
She had spent the morning at the doctor's and was eating a McChicken sandwich and fries before returning to Lombard Middle School.
"So I told her to put that cat down and if it came back to her she could keep it," Lester said.
"I put it down and I started walking away and that cat followed me. It really did," said Jordan, who is named after that famous basketball player.
"And sure enough, that cat followed her," Lester said. "I told Jordan to pick up that cat and get in the car."
Mother and daughter laughed. It felt good. There was a time in their shared life when laughter was hard to find.
"I lost custody of Jordan in 2009," Lester said before the duo told their cat-adoption tale. "I went to prison and I lost her."
Lester started using methamphetamines in 2002, just a few months after Jordan was born. She'd always drank too much and smoked marijuana, but meth fed all her worst impulses.
"I know now that I have an addictive personality. And I'm an addict. It's simple as that. I'll be an addict until I die," Lester said.
"It just got worse and worse. As a mother, you know that using drugs is harming your kids. You know it. You know it, but you go ahead and do it anyway."
Lester made excuses. She boiled her motherhood down to the lowest common denominator.
"I figured as long as she had food in her stomach and a roof over her head, then I was doing my job as a mom," Lester said. "You think you aren't abusing your child because you aren't hitting the child.
"But you don't have to hit to be abusive."
By the age of 8 or 9, Jordan knew something wasn't right with her mother.
"My mom would get panicky. She would be edgy and act strange," Jordan recalled.
By the time 2009 rolled around, Lester was involved in the production of meth. And she didn't hide her consumption from her young daughter.
"I was devastated when my mom had to go to prison," Jordan said. "I was so sad. I talked a lot with a counselor at Lutheran Social Services and I kept talking to them when my mom was ready to come home."
After time in Dwight Correctional Facility and Lincoln Correctional Center, Lester came home in February 2011.
"I'll be out two years on Feb. 10," Lester said. "I have my family and I have Jordan back. Those are wonderful things. Prison was the best thing for me, as far as getting a chance to clean up.
"But it's hard, too. Finding work is hard. I'm a felon with drug charges — not many people want to hire someone like that."
Lester and Jordan live with Lester's grandmother and aunt. She picks up work with her mother's landscaping crew and works hard to stay clean.
Through it all, she tries to deal with another aspect of being an addict.
"Is there guilt? Oh yeah," Lester said. "I'm guilty of doing something I can never take back. The shame you feel is the worst. It was my fault and I have no one else to blame but myself.
"I have to live with that. The guilt never leaves."
Jordan returned to her mother in June 2011.
"I worried a lot about my mom. I still do," the 12-year-old said. "But it is so good to see her looking healthy and to have her back in my life. I need my mom."
Being 12 isn't easy. Jordan said her mom is a vital source of support as she tries to navigate life.
"I get picked on in school a lot. I would say I get bullied every day," she said. "Any kid who is overweight or doesn't have the right clothes, they'll be bullied. Other kids just make fun of the way I look.
"I have a friend who gets bullied so bad she has to go to counseling."
Lester can't solve all the problems Jordan faces — but she is happy to be able to put her arms around her daughter and comfort her.
"Jordan is a sensitive kid and the last thing I want to do is to teach my child to be hard," Lester said. "But one thing I can teach her is that you don't run from your problems or try to escape them."
Jordan nodded and finished her mother's thought.
"You don't do drugs. You stay in school no matter what," the 12-year-old said. "No matter what, you don't drink and smoke and do things just because other kids do.
"You be yourself and be proud of who you are — clothes and stuff never really matter. And you don't have kids until you're ready."
Lester smiled at her child.
"I'm just being honest," Jordan said to her mother. "Like you taught me."