> No More Secrets And Lies: Mary and Her Cat

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mary and Her Cat

Mary and Her Cat

Things were going better for Mary than they had in years even though usual problems associated with school still existed. She was still having problems getting up on time for her classes and getting her school work done. And after too many absences and getting too far behind in her classes, she had to leave this school as well.

But one thing was different: her behavior was no longer a problem, at least like it had been. She wasn't kicked out of this school for her behavior; she was kicked out for not getting her work done and for missing school. Her behavior had improved immensely and we looked at this as a positive thing. She wasn't partying or drinking anymore or doing any of the things that had previously gotten her into trouble. She wasn't getting into trouble at all, and she was still hanging out with friends. Mary made friends easily, and would sometimes bring new friends over to the house after school. 

Despite the school problems Mary was having, she was improving in other ways.

I considered home schooling her, however, like her mom and I had done with all the girls when they were young. But with working a night shift and parenting her alone, this didn't seem possible. Then one day I ran into a friend who I started the Minnesota New Country School (MNCS) with a few years earlier. We talked a little about the school, and then I told him about Mary and how she might need something besides the traditional classroom setting. 

Ron told me that MNCS now had an online school that was very successful and geared towards children like Mary — children with different learning styles who learned best with individual learning plans. Many students attended MNCS for this reason alone. He thought this school would be perfect for her and he gave me some contact information. Mary and I talked about this new school and we both thought it was worth trying. Besides, it was the school I helped start a few years earlier, so what better way to teach my child.

I enrolled her in the school, and she got her own laptop and worked with a great teacher, Gigi, and she stayed in this school for the remainder of the time she was with me. It worked better for her than previous schools had. And except for geometry, she did well and felt good about this. 

Like the regular charter school, the online school was project-based with intense parent involvement. Mary could integrate her interests into projects and get academic credit as long as she met certain requirements. And even though there were mornings when I still had to remind her to get up and log in to the online classes, this new school was working well for her. Her mom attended her school conferences and saw her then.

A major part of her schoolwork entailed creating projects. This was how students got credit. Together with their parents, they would come up with ideas for projects that interested then. They would then write up proposals for these projects and figure out how to incorporate different subject areas into their projects. For instance, if they were building a picnic table, they could get credit for basic math, for doing research into the various aspects of construction, and get language credit for writing up their proposal.

Mary's main interest was cats. Almost all her projects involved her cat, "Maibe," in some way. She would either specifically write about Maibe or write about cats in general. She would write book reviews of cats or write about the large cats in other parts of the world. Cats were definitely her thing. One of the last projects she worked on when she was living with me was a cat stand — one of those carpeted perches for cats they sell in pet shops. We went to pet stores to get ideas on how to make these little homes with multiple floors covered in carpet, but they're harder than you think. I helped her with this, and we got as far as making a prototype out of cardboard before she left.

I got Mary's cat for her a few years earlier and she named it after one of the characters from the TV show Arrested Development — one of our favorite shows. Maibe lived with me while Mary was away in the group homes, and like me, she waited for Mary to come home. When Mary finally came home they were both extremely happy to see each other, and I think Maibe was glad to have someone around who could do a better job of caring for her than I could.

Mary genuinely connected with her cat in a way I've never seen anyone connect with an animal. She took exceptional care of her and called Maibe her daughter and called me Maibe's grandfather, and we joked about this a lot. She was very particular about everything regarding her cat, and I bought lots of things for this cat that I wouldn't normally buy for a pet.

Her cat meant something special to her in the same way dogs mean something special to her sister, Josie. Maibe was loyal and gave her unconditional love, and as far as I know still is today. When Mary left, she took Maibe with her and I miss them both.


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John Brosnan said...


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