It is my sixth day of being snowed in at my parents’ house in northern Virginia. I was smart enough to make my way over here before “snowmageddon” hit, so I’ve got my sister and my parents for company, plus some nice meals and a much lower chance of frozen pipes than in my apartment, which is in a 250-year-old historic building!
My two cats came with me and are pretty much in heaven with access to more windows, more napping spots, and more people to manipulate. They’re not really impressed by the snow, but at this point, who is?
As it’s been a week since I’ve seen my students, I’m starting to miss Room 127, where Miss Ellen reigns. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the break. But my cats are getting to be a little much.
Cats are not people (shocking, I know, but try telling them that . . .). Otherwise I’d have to refer to them in people/cat-first language: Mae as “my cat with a serious attachment disorder and fear of machines” and Shirley as “my cat with sociopathic tendencies and chronic narcissism.” Instead, let’s just say that Mae is generally a one-person cat who hates loud noises and Shirley is . . . a girl who knows what she wants.
I have spent a good deal of time analyzing Shirley’s “problem behaviors.” For example, Shirley does not respect daylight savings time. She can tell time (she can!) and from March to November she persists for months in trying to wake me up at 5:30 a.m. to serve her breakfast, instead of my typical weekday wake-up time of 6:30 a.m. This week it’s been 5:00 a.m.
She has a Mary Poppins-like bag of tricks designed to get me out of bed. Favorites include knocking things off of my dresser, scratching on my mattress, using my bed as a racetrack, licking my eyelids, pestering Mae (who, as my loyal sidekick, sleeps when I sleep, where I sleep, for as long as I sleep) to wake up and join her cause, and many other creative methods. Last night she sat on my head and purred until I woke up. That was a new one.
So let’s do an FBA on Shirley. Clearly, the function of the behavior is to get me up to feed her, but humor me. Antecedents: hunger, boredom. Behaviors: detailed above. Consequences: When my bedroom door actually latched closed, I would lock her out. Now that it doesn’t, I typically get up and feed her.
Uh-oh, eating is a primary reinforcer—the most powerful kind. So I know that when I get up and feed her, it reinforces the behavior. I KNOW that to put the behavior on extinction I have to not get up and feed her.
My family knows it too, but they figure she goes home with me when the snow melts, so they might as well just feed her to get some peace. Now Shirley makes the rounds and eventually wakes someone up.
It’s a relief to have to worry only about cats in the morning—I gained a new student with challenging behaviors two weeks before this epic snowstorm and supporting his behavior in a new environment has been a workout for all of us. I’m not an animal behaviorist, so I guess I’ll have to defer to my vet, and I think I need to get back to my little school friends soon. I know they’re probably missing the structure of our classroom (even if they don’t realize it) and I’m getting a little bored without kids to boss around—I mean TEACH.