Friday, May 25, 2012

The "Pet"

There are just some things I home school child has an opportunity to do that just couldn't happen if they were in a more traditional school environment. There are just some things gifted children do that makes much more sense in your own home, than much of the world would understand. Such is the case with my eldest and his pet ferret.
Ferrets make pretty interesting pets - they are full of energy, love to play, love to explore, and the love to socialize. While cute, they are a handful as a pet - which is why we realize our home isn't ready for one. My son, however, decided he was ready for one - in walks his Webkinz Ferret; yes, that plush stuffed animal with an online presence. Now, many kids have Webkinz, and many kids go online everyday to feed, water, walk, and play with their stuffed animal in a virtual world. My eldest will sometimes do just that. However, he doesn't want a virtual pet - he wants a real one. And here we come to the place where only a parents of gifted kids will understand, and where all parents who home school breathe a sigh of relief - the pet.
We visited the local pet store that carries ferrets - every day for a week for an hour! We now continue to go on a regular basis - so that he can watch the ferrets ad monitor their behavior.Wanting to be a good pet owner, my son had me purchase every pet ferret book available. We brought a couple of cute children's books about ferrets - but those were fictional stories to be read with amusement. While fun to read, they didn't prepare him for his pet. So, we moved on to the real deal - books geared toward adult pet owners. He has had me read to him books on how to train your pet ferret, understanding ferrets, even "the Dummies Guide to Ferrets". He could now teach a college level course on ferrets! We even found a video with ferret owners showing off their ferrets (and talking about the dying process as ferrets have a life expectancy of around 8 years). Understanding the entire aspect of ferret ownership, he felt himself ready.
So his Webkinz went from being simply a plush toy - to for all intents and purposes a real ferret. Since we weren't willing to pay $200 for a ferret cage for a toy ferret - he build his own ferret habitat. It has everything a ferret needs including a hammock, a litter box, feeding bowl, water bowl, and even toys. It is multilevel because ferrets like to climb. Knowing ferrets like to go outside - he make a custom leash and harness to fit his "pet" perfectly and even created the perfect pet carrier. He takes his "pet" with him on most of our outings.
How serious is he in this endeavor? I am writing this at 6:30 in the morning and he just got out of bed to get breakfast for his ferret! He can't keep a hungry pet waiting.
While for about 30 minutes of this experience I was concerned, I have been overjoyed the rest of the time. Yes, the neighbors may think they entire family has gone bonkers (we call the "pet" by name and often ask my eldest how the little guy is doing and if he wants to play), but this is healthy. He hasn't moved him any closer to securing a real ferret and he understands that (ferrets are a LOT of work), but he has moved a lot closer to figuring out how to solve his own problems and be the master of his own destiny.
His creativity and problem solving have been impeccable in with this experience. Other than my husband using the hole puncher for the hammock, my son had created the entire habitat on his own. He is also continuing to incorporate new information that he finds. For instance, he learned that ferrets do well with another ferret - so he has started to make the habitat livable for two ferrets. He has increased the number of litter boxes, added a few more toys, and enlarged the sleeping space. He is all set for his new ferret. He has no idea my husband ordered one for him - we are encouraging this journey.
An amazing thing is that he is getting many of the benefits of owning a pet - his ferret has a calming effect on him, he will hold it close in uncomfortable situations (trips to the doctor, intensive vision therapy, and even trips to the dentist), he is learning responsibility, increasing his empathy, and learning responsible pet ownership. I am not sure he would gain more from actually having a real ferret (okay, maybe learning that an animal will actually bite you if you don't handle it properly). All the lessons he could learn from a real pet are probably best learned when he is older - he is only six after all. But "I" am very happy about what he has gained and continues to learn. He has taken on this challenge the way I have come to expect from profoundly gifted children - a desire for intensive and deep knowledge (he recently asked to build a scale model of the skeleton of a ferret), and immense amount of creativity, and the laser focus of a scud missile. I am not sure how long this phase will last, but we are all enjoying the "pet" ferret, but I am mostly enjoying watching my son embrace something he loves and a passion he has so thoroughly.

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