~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ the wau of quinn

(pronounced, “wow.”)

just one month this time. still make tea.

this month in executive functioning…

rich suggested getting quinn a watch, and he wore the one i ordered for him all weekend and gave us frequent reports: “it’s 5:36.” we’ll see if it helps with time awareness in the more applied sense…

quinn spent hours on the computer, making a “build your own droid” game in scratch, and didn’t realize he wasn’t logged into his scratch account. when my computer crashed, he lost the whole thing, many hours of work. i think i was more upset than he was. he learned a lesson about how you have to be logged in to have your work saved. on the plus side, he’s doing really detailed work with drawing things (one pixel at a time) and building skills towards his game designing goals.

emotional intensity is still trending. quinn’s handling of the computer crash, the subsequent interactions between us, and between him and rich, all indicate work he is doing in the emotions department. i can see new levels of capability in his resilience to challenges. in several cases, i’ve received a response from quinn of not wanting to talk about something because he already knows what i’ll say. he’ll then eventually talk with much coaxing and reminding that sometimes i am unpredictable with what i say, and sometimes what i say turns out to be worth hearing after all. in one case in particular, i think he actually enjoyed the latter part of our conversation about how he could handle his friend at school who had stomped on and eaten his paper spring. (he knew i was going to say that “people are more important than things,” but agreed to discuss the details with me anyway.)

i think quinn felt validated that i didn’t think it was okay for someone to eat his spring without his consent. (at ols, we always valued safety of our bodies, feelings, and work. this would fall under the heading of the safety of his work being jeopardized.) he did know my stance on retaliation for such an offense (people>things), and the serious part of the discussion was a reminder of his belt status in karate and how he was approaching a purple belt for which the pledge is not to harm or make afraid. we talked again about how boys of his age group may not all be fully cognizant of the types and nuances of humor, and how the receiving party must find the joke funny for it to truly be a joke, but that 11 year old boys may not know that yet. we also reviewed the grammy wisdom we explored back in third grade, when we were learning about a different boy attempting to be quinn’s friend in the most awkward, doofusy way possible… and i pointed out that this seemed to me another likely example of a doofus attempt at friend-making. i felt that although we didn’t know the boy’s motivations, we could assume the best of him given the facts, and give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he didn’t know you didn’t want your spring eaten… so you should tell him that, but also indicate that he is forgiven (i reminded him that forgiveness is one of the school’s eight essentials and pointed out how this was an opportunity to practice it). once we got to the solution-oriented part and were discussing taking charge of the situation and clearing the air between them in a proactive move to make the next 6 years of school together more friendly, a darning needle dragonfly appeared before quinn.

we walked through some potential dialogue, thought about worst case scenarios (that the boy would not want to talk but remain unfriendly) but realized we predicted he would instead be receptive and likely to respond positively.

i couldn’t see the dragonfly at first so i had him describe it to me. he said it was shiny blue, and i said it must have been there for him specifically. i said he should take dragonfly spirit helper medicine with him the next day, because they are good at maneuvering, and deciding which way to go, and by being brave (dragon) and bringing up a difficult topic, he would be taking charge of the direction he wanted things to go between himself and the friend.

the next day he told me he talked to the friend, asked him to not eat his springs, and the friend said “ok, whatever.” ha!

later that same week, we arrived 15 minutes early for school and quinn climbed on my lap and told me, “life is sucking for me right now” at school because “everyone basically thinks i’m a jerk.” he had resisted doing his homework summary during the drive to school, but that wasn’t the thing bugging him, so this conversation took some coaxing and guessing as well… mainly guessing that there wasn’t actually a major event, just a knot of social anxiety that had taken hold.

i asked questions to try to get to the heart of it, trying to narrow down who “everyone” was, it was not the fellowship; not spring-eater; not any of the girls. finally i named some of the boys he has never really hung out with, and he said, “yeah, i mean if i go up to them on the playground they don’t do anything. they just walk away, or keep doing what they’re doing.”

by the end of my line of questioning it was clear no one had been particularly mean, but he hadn’t felt included warmly when attempting to mingle with other kids he doesn’t mingle with daily. it took me a bit longer to put together why he was trying to do that in the first place.

it turns out aragorn, gimli, and legolas are all currently obsessed with yu-gi-oh cards, playing the game and having pretend battles on the playground, and also naruto (another anime series) and quinn has felt unable to truly participate because he doesn’t know those series or cards or the game.

he was pretty upset about it, saying he liked yu-gi-oh and wanted to know more, but *hates naruto because he knows absolutely nothing about it (yu-gi-oh he at least can look at their cards and familiarize with, but for naruto he has no reference at all). when they make up complicated spells that have intricate hand gestures, he has no idea how to do any of it. i guess he drifted off and tried to play with other kids, who probably already had their own thing going on, and he felt snubbed.

we discussed how it would be okay to appreciate your friends’ excitement about a subject even if you are unfamiliar with it, and the validity of sticking with the friends who are historically warm and welcoming towards you. but also, we covered that if he is interested enough in the subject, we could look up yu-gi-oh at the library and see if we can find books or get online and do some research. the shift was so immediate, it was like flipping a switch. yeah, can we do that tonight?”

with 3 minutes until the bell would ring, he changed the subject, “oh, can you text dada and ask him if he will take me to aragorn’s for a sleepover tomorrow night?”

more educated guessing… i found out that they had been planning a sleepover for a week or so, and aragorn had invited all 3 boys, but since quinn knew it was scheduled for a night he’d be at his dad’s, he thought he wouldn’t be able to go. then (time management/executive function) he forgot to follow up and ask and all week went by. my speculation is that between not wanting to feel let down about not being allowed to go, and not being into the game his friends were into, he used the latter to alleviate the disappointment of the former. he didn’t want to feel too excited if he might not be able to go, so he decided not knowing the game mattered more than it did.

however, once i unlocked the yu-gi-oh problem for him (he has been watching episodes through the library app ever since, and we used his christmas money from grammy and grampy to get him a dinosmasher’s fury yu-gi-oh deck, plus a two-headed king rex card), he realized he truly did want to be at the sleepover.

his dad was somehow on board, and i got the details from aragorn’s folks, since we were missing approximately all of the details.

after we got home that afternoon, quinn and i snuggled and watched first 2 episodes of yu-gi-oh on my phone.

homework that afternoon was still a struggle because, “i just wish i was already at the sleepover.”

we have a new purple belt in the family! he had spent that day at our friends’ house while i worked and then i went and got him and played a little settlers of catan with them.

quinn got changed into his uniform and we drove to the dojo. i had quinn talk to sifu, because he was stressing about the part at the end of the test where sifu kicks you, which is tradition and it’s not quinn’s favorite part. at his last test he flinched, and if you do you have to get kicked a second time. i was explaining it is a trust thing, but he said it has hurt him enough to cry every time… and i told him i thought he should tell sifu that and ask if he has advice on getting through the kick well. “i know what he’ll say and i don’t want to talk to him about it,” but i got him to eventually give sifu the benefit of the doubt that he wants to help q cope with the kick and is an expert and probably has advice. it was around that part of our discussion that i realized that quinn had been thinking all this time that he should not tighten his core muscles but leave his stomach relaxed. i said, “well no wonder it’s hurting you, but sifu has told you to tighten up, right?” he said yeah but that he figured it’s like when you strain to hold your breath you can’t hold it as long, so just relax and you can hold it longer… DIFFERENT CONCEPT, BUDDY. i assured him i had tightened up my stomach for my kicks and not gotten hurt at all, and he should try that instead, but to ask sifu what he thinks. he went out on the mat with sifu and he took quinn to the far corner to discuss and then to practice getting hit in stomach (just with a light punch, but practicing how to get ready for a kick) and then had quinn punch him to feel the difference from the kicker/puncher end, and by the end had him laughing and totally relaxed about the whole thing. it was a much needed and very successfully delivered pep talk.

i made coffee for parents and grandparents, and especially rich and i since we were getting up at 4:15 and rich was working lots of overtime, and the kids started warming up for their test.

the dojo was crowded because there were 4 kids (including quinn) testing for purple, one testing for blue, and 2 testing for half brown/advanced green. 7 kids total, all testing for intermediate/upper ranks, was very cool to witness. the kids were serious right from the start, and the test was dialed in right away.

when there was a break so the kids could have a drink of water (and so sifu could deliberate with mrs. todd about some aspect of the test) quinn came right to his dad and hugged him, then rubbed his shoulders, and then said he was giving backrubs to all the people who came to watch his test. then proceeded to move to me, then rich. rich joked “are you rubbing?” and i told quinn rich would need karate chops and so he did chops to rich’s shoulders and they were both laughing and then quinn had to get back on the mat. it obviously means a lot to quinn to have the men in his life come see him do karate.

so if karate is broken down into techniques (these are short), forms (these are longer), and sparring (this is spontaneous/not choreographed), quinn really shines in techniques and forms.

they had to show short form 1, which most of them had mostly right, but quinn’s was pretty stellar among the purple belt testers. then sifu had just the purple belts do long form 1 together, and quinn executed it perfectly, and was done before anyone else (not rushing… just confident and sure of what to do) and the other 3 all had small or big areas they struggled through before finishing. one kid was obviously nervous and didn’t even finish it that first time. so sifu said he’d watch them do it again, but then he said, actually quinn, i don’t need to see you do it again, because i saw you and that time was solid, but would you like to showcase it? and quinn said yes, and so he had quinn do it all by himself, which he did super well again, and sifu was so pleased he initiated a round of applause for it… i could see how proud quinn was. then sifu asked quinn to do it alongside the others even though he didn’t need to see him do it again, and quinn obliged. so they eeked out that one, then went to short 2 later on, and quinn again did very well, and markedly better than he had done on his previous test (because it’s a new form for him as of this belt and he literally learned it a couple days before the half belt test but still went ahead and tested on it). earlier in the week he had some feedback from sifu about lining up his stances on the proper angles (which was where he had struggled last time around) and quinn had clearly incorporated that new feedback. the other kids had minor or major struggles again.

the test went smoothly, and the kick wasn’t as bad as last time, but there was an added surprise that mrs. todd got to kick them all as well, since she is now a black belt. so quinn still had some trouble with flinching, but he didn’t get hurt, so that moved in a positive direction. also there is a whole rumor going now of “mrs. todd kicks harder than sifu!” which diverted the focus away from fear. she and i were laughing at the way urban legends are born.

all in all it was a great test, very positive and well balanced (the kids were all pretty well matched for sparring in size and ability). it was two hours long but with a fast-paced, good mix of material to keep it interesting, and kids got to show their stuff… he had them all do the activity “point of origin” where instead of going back to the normal starting spot, you do the next technique (several in a row) from where you end up on the previous one. then he had them continue doing that, but with their eyes closed. so in addition to letting them all show their strengths, he took them into uncharted territory and showed them all ways in which they can all still grow a lot in the future.


this month, quinn took possession of his phone. it is my former phone with the cracked screen, and it is mainly intended for him to be able to communicate with both his parents directly. he wants to paint the (blue) hard case lime green, and we had a really good discussion of expectations and responsibilities. he immediately used his 4 library app borrows for june, watching yu-gi-oh episodes. we discussed taking plenty of breaks and observing the same limits we’ve always observed with phone/screen time: not before school, not between dinner and bed. he is to keep it in the “parking lot” in the kitchen when not in use, and i was suggesting he use it only in the main house, not his room, but then realized he would be watching yu-gi-oh and he wanted to do that in his room (and i realized i wanted him to, too) and so i think i’ll amend it to “in room is ok with door open.” it charges in the parking lot, and just like my own phone, is not in his bedroom while he sleeps. he has to check with me to put new apps on, he agrees to not get any apps or accounts that require him to lie about his age and say he is 13. which he doesn’t want anyway, he says (he is particularly vocal right now about not wanting to join facebook). he does want to be able to text, not just email, so we talked about the $10 phone plan and he felt the specs of 500 phone minutes, 500 texts, and 500 MB of data would be sufficient… that means he can play pokemon go once in a while, but he can’t consume it endlessly with a modest data plan; and can call and text within reason but not excessively.  i left a fair number of my own contact numbers on his phone who are friends and family i think he might call in a pinch, and whom i trust to be on the receiving end of such a call.


we got to take care of our fairy dog. quinn stayed up past his bedtime to greet her. ruby jumped up on quinn’s loft bed to help tuck him in. i had market that saturday and left quinn a note of ruby tasks (feed and walk) and he did a great job being her caretaker. the afternoon following market was lovely, glorious sunshine. i laid on a blanket on the lawn with ruby for quite a while. quinn joined me and drew on graph paper. (a game with army men.)

i played risk outside with quinn and he destroyed me while ruby kept us company. then after dinner  he got out scrabble and i dominated. near bedtime, i was leading by over 100 points, and he said, “let’s just be goofy and do whatever now,” and started making up words. i strung together as many ooooo’s as i could and was singing operatic “ooooh” whenever i’d point to it. he made up “QFAXEXL” and put it on a triple word space for 99 points… i added a Y to it to make QFAXEXLY and he protested, “that’s not even a word” at which point i was rolling on the floor laughing, because i had clearly crossed the line. “mom. you can’t just add y to a word, and make dogly, or boxly.” he was giggling like crazy in between mock-serious statements. i loved pronouncing all the double consonant two letter words created at the intersections with QFAXEXLY, and XJ was my favorite because it’s the sound made by a light-sabre.


for their end-of-year science unit, quinn’s class was discussing geology, and i got to help them with several hands-on projects in crystal-growing that, if nothing else, taught them through experience that things don’t always go the way we plan. our rock candy project crystallized in the jar, but not onto the candy sticks (we learned we need to let it cool more, and let the sugar crystals dry onto the cake pop stick before inserting into the not-boiling sugar water mixture. our alum crystals completely failed (we think it was a product issue with the alum quinn’s teacher had ordered). but the borax crystals were wonderful, and it was nice to culminate the year in science with one success under our belts, and a nice souvenir to take home.

on the penultimate day of school, i was very under the weather with a bad head cold, so i did not get to participate in the all-day field trip. luckily many other parents stepped up to help, and i know the kids had an amazing time bowling, playing in the park, swimming, and stopping for frozen yogurt! because his teacher and aragorn’s mom both sent me photographic evidence.

at last, the final day of fifth grade arrived. i picked up all four of the boys from school, and they came strutting out of the building, shoulder to shoulder, chanting, “we’re middle schoolers now!” they immediately wanted to show me their gifts from their wonderful teacher, who had every kid choose several words to describe each of their classmates, then configured them into word art pieces for them to take home. quinn’s classmates said of him that he is helpful, kind, clever, inventive, mysterious, and “follows his own path.” i’m not sure why no one chose, “most likely to get lost in the library,” but they didn’t ask me. the boys got right down to business playing yu-gi-oh and pokemon when we got to our house, snacking on cherries and peanut butter pretzels. they made use of the trampoline for a time before they ventured into world domination (i always try to encourage quinn to find opponents for risk other than myself!) finally, their families joined in the celebration over pizza, ice cream cones, and cupcakes. rich made a campfire and some of the younger siblings indulged in s’mores. it was a nice way to mark the end of their elementary years!


the following day, legolas and quinn were both participating in yet another sleepover, this time at the karate dojo. there was a trip to the pool, lots of food, and the movie black panther before they even thought about sleeping. the next morning, they tie dyed a new set of dojo t-shirts before heading home for a nap.

after his nap, quinn woke to find his new quilt (a graduation present from mama in addition to his new old phone). i think he likes it.

he then started in on his math placement test, and went to the movie solo with his dad for father’s day.

his teacher asked me to administer the placement test at home because she had run out of time in school, but trusted me to oversee it. at first quinn resisted the test and “borrowed trouble” (anxiety) about not being capable of working out such hard questions. he told me he should be placed in low math class and would barely look at it. by the time he got going and i needed to drive him to meet his dad for the movie his tune had changed, “aww, but i want to do the graph!”

his score would indicate that he is at least 97% ready to be done with grade 6 math, and that’s considering that the person who created the answer key (presumably the grade 6 math teacher) only scored about 96% on the test. i know that because quinn’s answers that differed from the key, instead of being errors, pointed out to me where there were errors in the key. (i checked and made corrections.)  although he had 100% of the math numerically correct, he had a small number of notation omissions, and that was where i deducted the 3 points.

i don’t think he will have any trouble with the 7th-8th accelerated math class intended for him by his teacher!

[lunch at the picnic table at work:]

quinn: (shoving fava beans in his mouth until green is dripping down his chin)

mama: you’re being embarrassing.

quinn: (giggling at me stealing his line)


later, discussing his method of eating fava beans…

quinn: first i like to put a myriad of fava beans in my mouth…

mama: thank you for using words like myriad.

quinn: it’s only normal for a kid my age.


mama: do you remember growing fava beans?

quinn: i remember the gardens at the orange house, the community garden, and the dragon house. at the orange house, the fava beans were growing right next to the peas, so that was convenient.

mama: (shaking head in amazement)

later, i did a quick search of the blog for fava beans, and sure enough, peas and favas were growing side by side, as he said.

“look at that captain and crew of peas in there!”


still looking closely at veggies; in this case, to determine the fibonacci-ness of romanesco.

quinn’s mathemusician hero, vi hart, has an amazing patreon site (one option is to support her for $3.14/month!) where he can now access ongoing new math videos and content.

and i got this awesome green hexaflexagon shirt for quinn!!!

we had fun with this video about hexaflexaflakes… the logical progression once you’ve conquered both snowflakes and hexalfexagons is naturally to combine the two (and i hope you watch the video i linked to experience her refreshingly layered, dry humor). quinn and i made a hexaflexagon and i was cutting the centers out and folding and testing what it would do. apparently he didn’t think i did a skillful cutting job because he told me, “i’m surprised it functions at all after that lob-oh-TOE-me you just gave it.” there was a whole beat before i understood what word he had just said and i burst out laughing. i asked where he learned the word; calvin and hobbes, of course, and he’s been “saying it to myself that way in my head for years!” waiting for a chance to drop the word “lobotomy” on an unsuspecting mama…..


one night quinn asked to watch star wars after work. i started dinner prep and then took a bath while rich joined him for the rest of the movie. i could hear them chatting. when i was done with my bath and finishing making dinner, quinn was playing minecraft, still sitting in the living room with rich, and they were chatting about minecraft stuff. rich told me later that he was just saying outlandish things to cause quinn to correct him. then quinn told rich something about a mathematical constant called wau. rich teased him, “you’re making that up,” and made quinn giggle.

me: what were you telling rich last night about wau?

q: if you take euler’s identity, but then you replace all the pi’s from it to be wau instead, you end up with 1 instead of -1.

me: what’s euler’s identity?

q: it’s like e to the i pi is equal to negative one. or something like that.

me: how do you spell euler?

q: e-u-l- something. why?

me: because i was curious

q: everyone knows euler’s identity.

me: …

me: so how much is wau?

q: i don’t know. i don’t even know if it has a value, i just know there are a lot of cool things you can do with wau.


all i can say is, wau.

2 comments to ~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ the wau of quinn

  • tim

    Penultimate. I’ve wished for a while now that someone (who is more artistically inclined than myself) would do a spoof of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, either a Gif or a comic strip or something, of the scene where “only the penitent man shall pass” is replaced by “only the penultimate man shall pass”. Because hilarious hi-jinks would ensue. Also, I just got into Pokemon, now I have to learn Yu-gi-oh? I play Kuriboh in defense mode!

  • camp boss

    I DIDN’T take your advice in the beginning of the post so now I can’t be verbose in my comment, I must go make my tea!! Q has grown so much!!! It will be fun to see where he is in another year!! 3 cheers for kids learning, growing, and becoming amazing bigger humans!! hip hip hooray 🙂

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