~two months in the life of a lifelong learner~ a new era

as summer days dwindled, quinn could be found alternately picking up books from two awesome series, the wings of fire by tui sutherland (a series about young dragons which he started years ago, but had a few recently published titles to catch up on) and gregor the overlander by suzanne collins. he spent early summer on collins’ series the hunger games, much to mama’s consternation (i would have put that one off a bit longer but he felt sure he was ready) and i can tell he loved both of her series. gregor the overlander is definitely less edgy in ways that give mamas of sensitive children pause, but still quite pithy and substantial in its content.


i seem to have a lot of evidence of kitchen helping this month. he offered quite a few times this month to help me by chopping the numerous jewel-toned bell peppers i would bring home from market requiring immediate attention. i have a few ziplock bags full of sliced peppers in my freezer thanks to my sous chef! he also helped with the making of our household specialty of personal peach pies.

we got to have our ruby dog for a short time, which was a wonderful way for us to get grounded in nature and snuggles.

speaking of dogs, i wanted to remember quinn’s pretend play scenario with the children of camp boss one day this summer, which found him in the role of a 10-day old special type of golden retriever called a silver retriever named cedar. i really like the specific details allowed to flourish during the truly free and unencumbered play of summer.

towards the end of summer, i brought him into work with me a bit, having him work on his cursive handwriting (i am determined that my kid will have a signature that is written in cursive) and computer programming. on one of those days, he drew a diagram of how to build two versions of a piston door in minecraft. the narration of his diagram is hard to re-create, because i get a little lost in discussions of sticky pistons, redstone repeators, and hopper droppers!

during this part of the year, wildfires were raging all over the country, and our enjoyment of the red sky colors in our own area is not meant to diminish how awful and scary that was for people living in fire zones. in fact, having just spent a week in glacier national park, rich and i were feeling strong empathy for the region we had just visited so recently. one friday evening after dinner rich and i walked outside on a windless, beautiful evening following a hot day. a minute later, quinn came outside too. we walked around the yard, just remarking on different flowers and birds and the red moon and sights and sounds we noticed.

while i worked market on the saturday of labor day weekend, camp boss took quinn out to the camp site for fish’s birthday party at the river. rich and i joined them in the afternoon, and we had burrito/nachos and chocolate mousse moose cake (complete with moose on top!) it was a wonderful last hurrah of summer on the river.

just days before school would start, quinn had his hair cut short. as he was sitting down for lunch, he told me he wasn’t sure if it was the hair, or starting fifth grade, or what it was, but, “it feels kind of like the beginning of a new era.”

he spent some time by himself in deep thought before school started, and from what he shared of his thoughts, i know he was feeling the mix of pros and cons of heading back to school. i tried to remind him that his learning really belongs to him, and how he wants to approach it is something he has a lot of power to decide. i was trying to reinforce “it’s a new era” in a positive way, in that life is what you make it. i want him to be empowered to direct his life in ways he feels good about; not stay in any situation that isn’t good or healthy for him; but instead, to be solution-oriented when he has a need that isn’t being met, to use his problem solving skills to find a good solution. we talked some about how he can use fifth grade to accomplish goals that he has, in the same vein as our chats about using 4th grade to hone his writing skills. i followed up with him on that and he felt he had really gotten better at writing during 4th grade. it was a good conversation on being conscious of what he wants to do this year and how he can make the most of it.

i had him listen to glennon doyle’s “dear chase” letter about being a good friend in school and being a love warrior. i hoped that perspective might shift his focus from self to others, and keep him from straying into anxiety. he also wanted to hear the version of brandi carlile doing country roads and then rocky mountain high, which he hadn’t heard yet but had been discussed to encourage him to sing his version even though he hadn’t memorized the ending. we had talked about how sometimes singers do different endings to songs – we told him brandi probably does it a different way every time and most likely so did john denver!

the boy is getting a john denver education. i’ve been playing the compilation i got that has brandi’s version on it, and it has other artists doing his other songs… and john himself singing country roads came on the radio yesterday during breakfast and rich turned it up so q could hear the real thing. i can sing “rocky mountain high” and he’ll follow up with “colorado”. quinn had to come hang out at the veggie truck with me one wednesday after school, and one of the women working with me had a puzzle book. we were all trying to solve this word puzzle and the bonus question was to use all the letters to come up with a place name. the other girl asked “what does it mean by place name” and quinn said, “you know, like colorado.” and thus the john denver brainwash may be deemed successful.

i took him to karate for open mat so he could run through his techniques, and then home for burgers, corn and purple french fries. last summer supper. when i asked him what he wanted for breakfast on the first day of school, he said, “oh i don’t know. maybe just something fancy.” we settled on pancakes with two fruit toppings, peach and strawberry.

we came up with a list together of goals/responsibilities for his fifth grade year… he still has all his lego magnets, aka “the instructions” up on the fridge, but a few things have been added over time so this was to make that more formal. he has been helping do his own laundry for a while, and folding up his karate uniform after karate, but those are now on the list, for example. we spelled out when bedtime is (8:30 now, instead of 8, for starting on “bathroom chores” with lights out still at 9 because he wants to be asleep before i go downstairs to bed myself.) we made a plan that this year he takes on making his own lunch, and basically set as a goal that by the end of the year he is doing it independently, but at the beginning of the year with some help. i asked him his thoughts on baths and he figures one every other day is good and his goal is to brush his teeth twice a day.

the lunch making feels timely, because it gives him more control over his lunch contents, which i am optimistically hoping results in him eating more of his lunch, and it is symbolic of taking on more responsibility for himself, in this new era. he liked the idea. i got out a white board and wrote “protein – fruit – veggies – other’ on the top and wrote things on each list that are available in the fridge and pantry right now (for example he had strawberries or melon for fruit options… that way he wouldn’t go looking for apples that aren’t there). for his first day of school lunch, he made cream cheese and jelly tortilla “sushi,” and put strawberries, cauliflower and ranch, and leftover purple french fries and ketchup into his lunch containers. in the morning he packed it all in the box and put in his backpack.

first day of school pictures!

{insert all of the dumbfounded parent comments about how big he has grown and how quickly time has flown}

just some beginning of fifth grade photos… reading on my lap in the car, which is what he does when we arrive at school early on occasion… it’s truly amazing to watch him perform tricky origami folds of his long limbs to determinedly still fit in the space between me and the steering wheel. reading survey “getting to know you” worksheet he brought home from the first week of school… homework! 30 minutes of reading and a two sentence summary is his nightly homework assignment as a big fifth grader… and still going strong in karate!

we went to a fun get-together hosted by my dear friend for all of us who work the farmer’s market together, and quinn loved playing the table hockey game with every single other party-goer, all of whom were adults. then he got out the train set my friend keeps for her grandkids! he also liked eating the fish tacos and the delicious snacks! and carrying on animated conversations with adults, something he has always loved.

more peppers and peaches! such a willing kitchen helper has been a blessing to his mama!

we went to a lady rizo cd release show… rich and i helped usher, but quinn wasn’t allowed to usher as a kid, so he just read and drew in the lobby and then he got to come to the show, which was awesome. quinn loved it, he paid more attention to the drummer than anything else, and during one song was actually air drumming along with the guy. only 2 other kids were at the show, one of them another our living school alum (we know what’s good). we told quinn afterwards that lady rizo’s name is actually amelia, and that she grew up in newport (she talked about that during the show) and that her mom is our friend deborah, who founded theatre camp, and that amelia was in theatre camp as a camper, a counselor, and a leader at one point, and that his leader this year ethan, is amelia’s brother. quinn just nodded and took it all in. imprinting subliminal message about kids from around here being able to do anything – check.

quinn had his next karate belt test, and we now have an orange belt! this was a fun test, the older boy he tested with (who earned his purple belt) has been standing right next to me in belt rank in the adult class, and has really grown on me. they both did well, and such a great crew of friends and classmates showed up to cheer them on and help them earn their belts (by acting as sparring opponents).

we left that very evening after the belt test, to head up to rich’s daughter’s wedding! the pancakes were reunited and happy to be playing together again so soon after the last wedding. quinn had to miss one day of school, but he wasn’t too sad about that. there was much to be done in preparation for the wedding, so i kept feeding snacks and meals to children and adults, and sewing and painting my way down the to-do list. the kids had fun with legos that quinn had brought along, and played hide and seek and lots of pretend games.



we had a beautiful evening for the rehearsal dinner. i don’t know if anyone else sees a pattern, but i notice a number of instances of b pancake and quinn being quite inseparable. it was a nice group of kids who all played well, including a young girl cousin flower girl and the maid of honor’s son who were both around quinn’s age. there was some mini-golf, and a colossal game of tag. in fact, quinn told me later on, “it was a long and fun day, and we played a long and fun game of a tag.”

fun on the porch swing towards the end of that long and fun day.

the next morning, quinn had pancakes and somewhat reluctantly tried on his suspenders. the kids played legos for a while, but the pancake parents were busy putting finishing touches on the wedding cake, and rich and i thought it would be easier for the kids to run around in a larger space, so we took them back over to the site of the rehearsal dinner the night before (the groom’s parents’ house) for more tag. while the grown ups were making final preparations for the wedding that afternoon, and rich and i were loading things into our truck to transport to the wedding venue, quinn got to try out a onewheel. which was cool, because there’s no way i’ll ever be able to buy him one. wowzers! they are expensive. so it was neat he got to try out such a cool toy.

it was truly a beautiful wedding, and all came together so well. it was a proud moment for rich, who made his daughter laugh as he walked her down the aisle, true to form.

quinn seemed to immerse himself in every experience the wedding provided. he played hard, ate lots of food and cupcakes, filled his candy treat bag up to bursting, and even lined up for the garter toss. he didn’t get a good briefing about what this crazy ritual (which we skipped right over at our wedding, and i never thought to inform him – parenting fail!) was about, so he didn’t realize he was supposed to vacate the area immediately for the bouquet toss, because he’s a boy, to clear the way for girls. and when the bouquet landed on the ground, he ended up being the first one to pick it up to much laughter! the bride re-tossed it and it was then caught by a female. and as i stood across the way, grateful to be married and therefore exempt, and physically providing cover for one of the single bridesmaids who did not wish to participate, i had to chuckle at the confusing tradition and how it must have been perceived by my sweet unsuspecting youth who hasn’t been socialized to think flowers are only for girls. one more social custom to spell out, though i am not even sure where to start with that one!

quoting quinn, who like to quote hobbes, “words fail me.”

fifth grade is turning out to have a concentrated focus on increasing executive functioning skills (paying attention, managing time, prioritizing). one weekend this month, quinn stayed home on a saturday while i worked farmer’s market, and by the time i got home, he hadn’t had a drink of water yet, and crawled into his bed with a headache and slept for the afternoon. (executive function lesson: remember to drink water, even if you’re sucked into a good book.) on sunday around 6:00 he remembered that he was supposed to have been doing homework all weekend (we had discussed on friday breaking it up into smaller chunks and then promptly forgot to do any chunks). after a brief meltdown, “i’ll never get it all done, i can’t possibly do it all in time, i’ll flunk because….” tears, and agony, it all worked out fine. i reminded him that we can only eat an elephant one bite at a time… then i wouldn’t let him look at the whole elephant, just brought him one piece of it at a time (he was copying paragraphs he had already written onto notecards) and he finished one, then had dinner. i had him finish one more while i cleaned up his dishes for him, then gave him 10 minutes to read and when the timer went off he made quick work of the rest. (executive function lesson: eat elephants one bite at a time, manage your time, and don’t let anxiety drive the bus.) we discussed how anxiety is, and how now that he’s done he can see that what looked like a mountain of work really took him no more than 30 minutes total to do, once he got his brain focused. when he was panicking, he couldn’t even remember which cards were already in his “done” folder at school and which ones he still needed to do… but once he was calm of course he could remember.

we spent a lot of time outside on sunday to help get sleep back on schedule. quinn swept off the trampoline and picked up apples. then he played outside some more with the kids of one of rich’s coworkers who was giving us compost. they picked up chickens and pretended they were on an island and visited the goats. after we got home i jumped on the trampoline with him. he went to sleep pretty easily after the homework got done.

on monday on our way to school he told me about khan academy and how last year he was working on the 4th grade curriculum but this year 6th grade, and he feels like he is going really slowly because he is missing things. he couldn’t remember long division, which he learned back in 2nd grade but didn’t get any practice on for the last two years and was upset about that. i quoted mark twain to him, “i never let my schooling get in the way of my education,” and i have been repeating that to him a lot lately. i told him that now that he had identified a gap in what he was learning, he could look it up, or ask me to show him, or ask his teacher, etc. and then in the 2 remaining minutes before the bell i showed him on a scrap of paper and he remembered right away. divide multiply subtract bring down… he told me a teacher gave him the Dad Mother Sister Brother mnemonic device and i hadn’t heard that one. he inevitably knows more than i do about many topics. sometimes i act merely as the keeper of the list of things he knows, for when he doubts himself.

while he often expresses mixed feelings about school (wanting to go, but also not wanting to go, because of time away from home) he does have fun at school. he is hanging out at recess with a boy he knows from karate and a boy who went to theatre camp, which i’m happy about because i think those two kids, from what i know of them, are wired pretty similarly to quinn.

quinn has been a bit exasperated with his dad that he isn’t bringing him to karate. i’m supportive of quinn in his efforts to keep making his requests and needs known to his dad, and validating his disappointment that he keeps receiving the same no answer, in spite of creative solutions quinn is suggesting. he knows it is holding him back in the pace he can progress, since he misses an entire week every other week, and therefore misses learning a new technique for the time period. in spite of asking to be taken just once during his week (which was what was originally agreed to by dad when we switched dojos), and in spite of offers on my part to provide the transportation, this is still a no. quinn and i have discussed how there are other extracurricular activities to explore, but none of them really like it when you skip a week at a time (play rehearsals, music rehearsals, track practices, etc).

i have been accused of trying to come between him and his son before, in the recent past, at another time when i was encouraging quinn to advocate for himself to get his needs met (which at that point involved staying at my house extra days before the first day of school to ensure he could begin fifth grade minus hitchhiking arthropods on his cranium). my message is never to divide them, but to encourage quinn to be true to himself. this has been a predominant theme throughout my parenting career, and one i still feel good about. he will know when he is older who showed up for him to help him achieve his goals, will have made accurate observations of the people in his life and how their actions and words align, and will have learned a great deal about integrity.

parents need to be sane, sometimes parental needs must come first so that parents can then carry out all the duties and care of their children, but i feel that having to place parental needs above child needs should only be in the department of emergency self care (put on your own oxygen mask first shouldn’t need to be a daily practice! because every day life should have minimal emergencies) and the rest of the time, at least how rich and i see it, the kid needs to have his needs met in a both/and, healthy household where parental and child needs are all being met in a coordinated manner. he is only with us as a child for a brief time in the grand scheme of things. 8 more years?! he’s already 10, it’s crazy brief, and small sacrifices like driving out of our way for a practice or a lesson or a game will be a matter of course for us, as they were for rich with his own kids. quinn has been asking to go to new york during the snowy time of year, and our approach is, how can we give quinn what he’s asking for in a way that works for all of us? when it’s about karate, the conversation should similarly be about quinn getting to his class, “how can we make it work?” not whether it can happen based on adult life.

being isolated at home is going to sit less well with this tween as he becomes a teen. he has started speaking up for himself, and i imagine it will continue to bug him, which may spur him to make choices to constructively change his circumstances to be how he wants them.

more processing on a day shortly thereafter… as he was eating his lunch at 5pm, before karate… (executive function lesson: eat your lunch at lunch time! it’s possible to both eat and talk!) he said his teacher mentioned a tragedy and that “if we knew about it and wanted to talk to her we could, but i just figured i’d come home and ask you.”

music to a mama’s ears!!!!

i told him i was guessing she was talking about las vegas, he said yeah he thought there was a v in the name of the place… i gave him an overview of mass shooting, didn’t really sugar coat but also didn’t lay a lot of emotion or political stuff on him either, just sort of told him the facts and he understood, was dismayed by it, but also asked some good questions and had some insightful thoughts about it all, and it didn’t seem to phase him beyond the conversation.

more processing later that night… at karate he had hard time, which is pretty typical when he first comes back after a week away, or in this case, two weeks away. he remembered his one purple belt technique, but sifu showed him the next one, and he was having a hard time making it work, and no amount of encouragement or being told, “it was hard for me to learn that one too!” really helped. i see it as a perfectionist thing, where he is hard on himself if he doesn’t get it right the first time. i always felt that way, too.

in the car on the way home from karate i asked him what was going on for him, and he said it wasn’t just karate, but also school, and “ever since third grade” when he first received high test scores, he feels like his dad and i have put pressure on him to be really smart and do really well (!) and he feels like in third grade he was smart, but then fourth and fifth grade he feels less and less smart, the more he sees how smart all the other kids in his class are. he was in tears by this point, telling me how stressful it is for him.

i was not trying to be on the defensive, but i wanted him to take a minute and realize that my message to him is always “i love you no matter what” and that i am often, very often, saying things to him about not being so hard on himself, taking things less seriously, don’t expect to be great at it the first time, etc. because i’ve been mindful of the perfectionism and of the backfiring praising dynamic that sets up a kid to feel like they’re not meeting approval if not being praised. i don’t really do the praise thing, not like most parents do. i verbalize what i see him accomplish, or what i see him doing, but i don’t tell him a judgment of it that it’s good or bad or better than someone else’s or he’s smarter or better at stuff, or that his painting is pretty. instead we talk about the content of the painting or the content of what he is writing or storytelling about, how he feels about it, whether he is having fun doing it, rather than about his performance. sure, i tell him “i love that” at times, i let myself experience thrill or wonder or awe at his work, but i do try to go the other direction, and am more likely to ask him what he thinks of his work than to tell him what i think of it… i know other people also praise effort instead of ability, but i try not to really stress that either. it feels like the same thing, where it sets up a kid to need to show effort to meet approval… same cycle. the whole “grit” conversation on social media is beyond me. praise of any aspect of the child is a judgment. my message to him is, “i see you, the actual you in front of me,” not “i deem you worthy of praise.”

i gave him the example from moments before at karate telling him to go easier on himself and realize it’s a tricky technique and there’s nothing wrong with taking a while to get the hang of it (like all of us needed to do with that particular move) and also the example of encouraging him to only take his homework summaries so seriously; to just write whatever comes to mind, not to sweat it, just write “i don’t want to write, i want to keep reading” if it is really holding him back from reading, and that would be perfectly okay with me. my message is never about achieving the best scores or being smart.  and i also said that there are so many ways that intelligence can be expressed, and 99% of those ways cannot be summarized in a test score, or tested at all. i told him how i hear him use words in such beautiful and unique ways that stop me in my tracks and take my breath away, and even if he doesn’t spell those words correctly every time he writes them, he has a way of using them that i have never heard any other kids do. i said that doesn’t necessarily mean he will have the best grade, but it is certainly a way that his intelligence comes out of him. i gave other examples, storytelling, imagination… he was visibly doing better by this time (we were sitting in the car in the driveway in the dark in our karate gear still) and then as we were going in the house he was coming up with examples from his own experience of karate teachers telling him they hadn’t perfected a move they had been doing for 8 years, or 20 years, and i was glad he was drawing on previous experience with others giving him examples that help him with the perfectionist stuff.

it came out of the blue for me that he felt i was putting pressure on him. i asked him later, after our talk, if he still felt that way, and he said no, not about me. he said dada does a little bit when he says things like “you’re smart, you’ll be able to figure it out” and i just sort of nodded and listened. he wasn’t upset for long…

it seemed like soooo much processing was getting done that week in his world… he even brought up the “new era” comment and said part of what he had meant by that was not feeling as smart as he wanted to be; he felt smart in third, but as hard as he tried to stay smart, he felt the other kids were smarter… i told him one reason i have always been pro-homeschooling is that there’s so much less comparison of yourself to other kids… and ability to just be you and not always feel like it’s a competition. but that i believe he can work on focusing on comparing himself less, even in the public school context. at any rate, we worked through things enough that the shadows cast upon this new era have had some light shined on them and are a bit less threatening to him now, i think.

i have been downsizing my book collection, but one parenting book came back out of donate pile because i had scribbled quinn quotes in the front cover:


“something in my tummy told me, harold and the purple crayon”


“it wasn’t a bird, it was just a pile of bird food bugs!”

i love finding those little time capsules of happiness.

just for fun… here is what quinn looked like in january 2010:

and now back to october 2017:

quinn’s halloween costume is made out of organic fabric i still have from earth huggy days and it’s super comfy. he has had several years now of pokemon costumes made by mama, and each time i send him off to celebrate halloween with his dad. it has just been the way the parenting calendar works out, and i’m perfectly ok with it, feeling like i still play a pretty key role and i’m glad he likes the costumes i make for him. i’m sure i won’t be asked for very many more, so i’m savoring it.


to round out autumn, we made apple cider in the barn of camp boss (it was a rainy day) and that was fun. the kids bobbed for apples, and though quinn did not bob, he had a great day of playing, and i barely saw him. gratuitous shots of koala instead! before cider, quinn and i visited my farm friends who had to sell veggies in the sideways rain, with the stand set up inside 2 big trucks. we brought them a pot of coffee and quinn picked out veggies for the week – he chose broccoli raab and cauliflower and some things he thought i’d like.

with all its expanded veggie palate, executive function skills, emotional processing, celebrations, accomplishments, goals, self advocacy, and responsibilities, this new era has gotten off to a great start!


1 comment to ~two months in the life of a lifelong learner~ a new era

  • camp boss

    what a nice in-depth verbose review and catch up of Q!! He has grown alot, and the haircut he got really gave him a tween look 😉 And I love the koala pictures, he is pretty darn adorable!!!!

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