Saturday, December 10, 2011

Unschooling my cat

Catchy title, right?

This is my cat:

She's bigger than that now, but you get the idea. This amazing, bright-eyed little being has entered our lives and transformed our home and our routines.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it's a lot like having an infant again.

Several years ago, I read something Sandra Dodd wrote about things she did to make her dog more comfortable. She didn't say she was unschooling her dog, but somehow hearing the changes she was willing—no, happy—to make, to her home and routine and the arrangement of her furniture, in order to meet her dog's needs and make her dog happy really helped me see what the unschooling lifestyle is all about.

Fast forward a few years and my kids are pretty much grown. While we continue to adapt our home and routine as needed to meet their needs, everything is pretty settled these days, and we take even the surprises in stride because adapting is habitual by this point.

And then along came Rigby.

She is named for Eleanor Rigby, thus continuing our mini tradition of naming cats after Beatles' characters (our last two cats were Desmond and Molly). I am allergic to cats, so she was only supposed to be a visitor, and I was quite prepared to fall head over heels in love with her and give her away anyway.

What I was not prepared for was for her to fall in love with us. And she did. Within a day after I found her cowering under the neighbor's car, beyond thrilled to be found, she had bonded completely with all of us. This is where she slept:

And there I was, an unschooler and attachment parent riding on nearly nine years of unequivocally meeting the needs of the beings I love, confronted with a little loved one who clearly did not need to be separated from another family. Surprise!

So we adapted. We kept her (and my allergies are learning to live with it). She's a fair bit bigger now, but she's still attached. She sleeps on whichever of us is not moving, and she struts and sprints around the house like she owns it. Which I suppose she does.

My next surprise was the unschooler refresher course that having her in our home provided.

She likes to play with the cords on the mini-blinds. We don't especially want the mini-blinds to come crashing down, so we tied a string to chair. It has a bead tied on the end, in as close an appromixation of a mini-blind cord as I could conceive on short notice. She loved it.

She has daily periods of astonishingly high energy. We call this Satan Cat Mode, and Honey Badger has nothing on Satan Cat. What Satan Cat Rigby needs is someone to romp with her. It doesn't matter that we'd rather sit on the couch or go to sleep. (Cats are mostly nocturnal, remember.) We have acquired a collection of toys and other items that she finds entertaining, and I spend close to an hour every day creating opportunities for her to chase, tackle, climb, pounce, sneak, destroy, and gnaw. Very often with me as the target. This is in addition to the time that Frank, Chloe, Emma, MJ, and whoever happens to be visiting contribute to the cause.

She loves plastic bags and cardboard boxes. We have had varietal bags and boxes littering our floors for eight weeks.

She needs to claw something. She would like to use the oriental rug, while we would prefer for her to use one of the alternatives we have provided. We can occasionally be found dragging our fingernails over the surfaces of these alternatives to show her how it's done. She's getting the idea.

She needs to be with us. We leave doors open so she can follow us around. We make sure not to leave her alone for too long. We talk to her and generally provide companionship. I sit in weird positions so she can drape herself across my neck or my lap while I work.

She needs to cuddle. I know this is true because if we are too slow about noticing when she's ready for a cuddle, she will climb on shoulders, laps, keyboards, books, or faces until someone does their damned job, thank you very much. It's usually not too hard to get someone to cooperate. She prefers cuddling on her favorite blanket, so this blanket is usually adorning one or the other of us. (This last might become more problematic in August.)

And of course she needs a litter box and good food and medical care. Check, check, check.

But in terms of illustrating unschooling principles, the need that is the most interesting and, yes, entertaining is her obsession with the bathroom. She loves the bathroom. She needs to explore the bathroom. We have no idea why. It is the strangest cat behavior we've ever seen. If someone goes in to pee, she literally runs after them so she can watch. She hangs out in the sink. She sleeps on the toilet lid (the seat is heated so this one is less puzzling) and considers the toilet tank a prime perch. If someone goes in and closes the door, she sits outside and waits for them to come out. And she showers with me every day, spending some of the time hanging out at the foot of the tub and the rest in the safe zone between the shower curtain and (clear) shower liner.

We don't get it. But the thing is, we don't have to understand her need in order to respond to it. We just have to care that her need is met. That is pretty much the prime directive of unschooling.

Gotta go. My cat needs me.


Zenmomma said...

I love you guys.

Debra said...

We've unschooled our dog, and all of our cats ;-) Not to mention the kids. One big happy family!

CraftyMama said...

Sweetness all in words and actions! The pictures are another sort of wub <3 I needed this sweet reminder. Thank you Ronnie :smooch:

globeonmytable said...

So, so true!! The cat from next door comes to visit to share her beautiful self with us. I know about those wierd poses and that sense that she just wants to be with me.

When we first started out 4 years ago on the path of home educating I sat on the front door step and we watched our lovely old cat. He walked around in the garden sniffing the air, learning what was going on in his world at that moment and practising his skills.

Idzie said...

LOVE this!! Reminds me of some conversations my sister has had with people who are surprised at how very friendly and affectionate our two cats are, and she says that why they're friendly is because they've always been treated with respect, and as actual living, thinking beings with important needs. So many people treat their cats like moving plushies, putting their own desire to cuddle or carry around their cat above the cat's own desire for bodily autonomy, and then they wonder why their cat doesn't seem to like them much!

Anyway, loved reading this post, cats are truly wonderful friends to have. :-)

hilinda said...

I never really thought about it, but I do make adjustments to suit the animals in the family the same way we do for the humans.
We've had cats that love the bathroom, too. Had one that liked to sleep in the sink, in the tub, or on the toilet seat. Right now, we have a couple of kittens who will push the door open to get in with whoever is in there, if they don't make sure the door latches- and generally I don't, because if I did, the kittens couldn't get in. :-)

Sara McGrath said...

Awesome! I'm allergic to cats, too, and yet we've had two of them for 10+ years, because they're family.

Robyn L. Coburn said...

This made me want to do something for Jayn.

Claire Glenn Atteberry said...

That kitteh looks EXACTLY like my daughter's Zoee-cat! Darling. We unschool our pets as well. Sadly, the girls seem to crave more structure than the pets.

Carolyn said...

I hope this means you can come and see us and our cat household soon! :)

Love this (and all your) post(s). You and yours continue to inspire us. xoxo.