~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ more cowbell

~12-23-18 to 1-23-19~

we had family visiting on christmas eve. rich’s mom, daughter and son-in-law came, and his mom made dinner for us all. it was fun to impart messages of non-worry and support to my pregnant step-daughter, and encourage her to refrain from consulting the dreaded google about that sore hip or that swollen foot. she had a cold she had been trying to shake for months, and i told her that it was a good sign for her baby, that during pregnancy your immune system is dialed down to accommodate the baby, and that was just what it was doing (accommodating the baby, instead of fighting off the cold particularly efficiently). i know there is a metaphor in there for life, parenting, and everything.

quinn had a good time catching up with the family. that night, he slept in his sleeping bag on the living room floor. everyone came back christmas morning for pancakes and bacon and presents.

quinn fits right into the christmas model of the rew family, with whom he has only spent one christmas when he was not quite two years old. the rews take their time, take turns (in order!) opening presents, and time is also taken to pass around, explore and savor a present, and for expressing thanks. this can take an entire day, with breaks taken for meals, and back in the day, barn chores. rich’s family gets it done in a half hour. quinn took 15 minutes unwrapping rich’s mom’s present, a cool calendar, because he was reading the comics in which it was wrapped. it’s the way that he has always been, in fact, we would often spread just a few presents out over a period of several days when he was younger.

i approached this christmas a bit the opposite of last christmas, when it came to quinn. last year, when he was in 5th grade, a big fish in a small pond, maturing… i gave him practical gifts and not as many toys. this year he is swimming hard into the middle school current, and everything is so serious all the time that i felt like this christmas should be as playful and fun as possible. he got lego sets, a game, a rubik’s cube, a bunch of books he wanted (minecraft guides, life of fred trigonometry, a role play game book four against darkness, hexaflexagons by martin gardner, harry potter y la piedra filosofal for continuing to practice his spanish, and to be extra playful: p is for pterodactyl, the worst alphabet book ever, because it had a dinosaur on the cover and it makes me happy to think of his struggle against silent letters as an early reader. i had fun reminding him about how i had to really play up how funny i thought those silent letters were, to get him to lighten up about them. he can laugh about it now, but he would get so frustrated each time he encountered another offending letter!

rich has been working on a boat called the pegasus, and the skipper had given him a hat and a hoodie printed with the boat logo. when he wore it home, i noted that there was a picture of the mythological winged horse on the boat, and we both remarked how quinn would appreciate it. a few days later rich came home with a hoodie in size (adult) medium for quinn. when he opened it on christmas morning, quinn realized the reason for it (aside from it being the boat rich is working on). quinn smiled knowingly and rich joked, “isn’t it from some chinese mythology or something?” and quinn hilariously downplayed his encyclopedic mythological knowledge saying, “i think it’s greek” and i laughed. “you think?” litotes much? and then we got to hear him tell how poseiden and medusa fell in love but decided to go on a date in athena’s palace, and athena cursed medusa and her sisters to punish medusa for the offense, and then (he included more details i am unable to regurgitate…) when medusa was killed, her three unborn children were released, and one of them was pegasus, god of the winged horses. and everyone agreed, that sounded 100% correct.

he wanted to read each book, look at each lego set, open each yu-gi-oh card expansion pack and read every single card. there were so many good, funny moments. one of the first stocking presents he opened was a bright green cowbell and he shouted, “more cowbell!” and everyone laughed and talked about christopher walken but quinn said, “it’s from the trials of apollo.”



he was 3/4 done with the lego sets by the next morning, and he had opened every book and finished at least one. he had specifically asked for jurassic park legos and was very happy with them. after building each set he went about recombining dinosaur parts and making “hybrid” species (complete with imagined backstory of how rare/common they are, their habitat and diet, etc.)

grammy and grampy gave him a model strandbeest (a wind-powered automaton beach-walker that quinn learned about and was fascinated with a few years ago when he watched theo jansen’s ted talk.) once again, he recounted amazing facts to the live studio audience about the original strandbeests and how the inventor wanted them to exist in the wild so he would add features like a “brain” made from a water bottle that somehow helped them sense the water’s edge and keep them from going into the water.

rich and i were visited by a gray bunny rabbit on solstice in the yard, and it kept returning to visit each evening, including on christmas eve and christmas day, when quinn got to see it as well. we called it full moon solstice bunny. it was gone again a few days later, but we felt its magical appearance was a gift. rabbits are often said to be symbolic of creativity and fertility. with our time off to indulge in creative pursuits, and our anticipation of new family members, this meaning certainly applied. a creature at the mercy of the elements, rabbits are able to make use of mere blades of grass to sustain life, so this bunny in our yard was surrounded by abundance. whereas they can seem afraid and skittish, this one was approachable and less fearful than most. i think bunnies can symbolize overcoming fear and anxiety. with so many predators (eagle, hawk, owl, coyote, bobcat) it is no wonder that rabbit could succumb to fears, but focusing on abundance brings more abundance, whereas giving power to fear can instead bring fear to reality. i am going to go out on a limb and say bunnies are a good mascot for the law of attraction, and manifesting abundance. turning anxiety around, rabbits can be seen as very alert and perceptive to their surroundings, and this gray bunny made me think of how perception can give us flexibility to process the gray areas of life. finally, the softness and vulnerability of rabbit are a great lesson in embracing the softer side of our natures, being open and approachable, being vulnerable enough to put our fears out there can sometimes bring us closer together.

q and i had a fun day of yu-gi-oh (he slaughtered me) and laying around with our laptops (yugioh on netflix and coding a game on scratch). one evening i opened up the martin gardner hexaflexagons book to a random page and found a game called hex, and had dryly mentioned that i was sure he would hate this book, “here i’ve just arbitrarily opened to a game involving hexagons. sounds awful.” he replied, deadpan, “oh man, yeah, i will hate that.” at lunch the next day he brought the book to me and said, “i know we’ll hate it, but will you read to me about hex?” i did, and then we printed out a hex game board from the internet, and picked out green and yellow buttons as game pieces… and he proceeded to clobber me over and over again. the kid is good at math strategy! sheesh. he is seeing things i may be able to see with time, but he’s just already got a handle an 11 by 11 grid of hexagons.

already, that book has proven to be fun and he hasn’t even really read it. martin gardner wrote a column in scientific american for many years on recreational math, and vi hart talks about him a lot, especially in her hexaflexagon videos. i figured quinn would appreciate reading directly from the source. gardner’s columns are collected into a pile of books, so i got him the first one. it’s intended for an audience of adults, but i was reading to him concerning proofs from game theory on how the hex game works, and he was posing really good questions, obviously with no trouble grasping the concepts, seeing new angles, and taking it further in his mind.

142,857, a fun cyclic number i grabbed from facebook for him to puzzle over.

we also discussed his life of fred journey. i asked if he knows what’s next after trig and he said, “yes, calculus.” and i said, “are you planning to go right on to read calculus after trig?” he did not hesitate: “yes.” i said, “ok, but i think when you’re done reading them you might want to go back and do some of the exercises to make sure you know the Procedures to do the problems,” (practice) and he said he plans to. he doesn’t plan to start back at the beginning with fractions, but just with the later books, starting with beginning algebra. he thinks he has the lower level stuff down now, and he can go from there. but his plan is to read the calculus book, and then start doing the beginning algebra problems in his math journal, and work his way on up through geometry, trig, calc, after that. i’ve told him the good things i’ve heard of the math teachers at the high school; the one married to the teacher quinn has had for theatre workshops (she teaches drama and is also the tag teacher up there) is said to allow kids to keep learning on beyond calculus if they are capable, and will hold class for as small a group as needed. i wanted to give him a little bit to look forward to and make sure he is still thirsty to learn this stuff the way he has been. he seems to know that he does his best learning at home, and isn’t looking at school as his primary place of learning. therefore dreading anything about school (as he has sometimes felt with his current math class) doesn’t get automatically linked (for him) with dreading anything to do with learning. i think they are essentially two separate things in his mind. strangely, i think this compartmentalization is a good thing in his case. one can ask why one might attend school if one learns best at home, and it’s certainly an open discussion in my mind.

at least i get to facilitate project-based interest-driven learning on breaks. over this break he worked on a card-based role play survival game with dinosaurs. i steered him into generating dinosaur artwork for the cards. check out his resulting drawings!

we had some outside time before break was over!

he had an emotional meltdown  in the car coming home from karate one night. he was feeling criticized, wanting to quit school, life, not wanting to grow up. i helped him name it overwhelm. i gave him a visualization of drawers in his mind, having him picture what the drawers look like and what they are made from, right down to the details of the handles. i said, “sometimes all of your little drawers have their contents tucked inside and are neatly closed, and it’s peaceful. sometimes though, too many things are out of their drawers trying to be dealt with at once, and that is what overwhelmed feels like, and so now i want you to take karate, put it in its drawer, and close the drawer.” i waited to let him do it, and had him visualize closing each topic (school, friends, etc.) in its drawer. we talked about taking them out one at a time the next day, when we’d be able to look at them on their own, and they wouldn’t seem nearly as overwhelming.

another topic we discussed this month had to do with control and compliance and relating to adults as a pre-teen who is used to being in charge of his own person. i don’t remember exactly how it came up, but some adult in his life had expected compliance from him and he had felt it was undeserved. i felt it best to explain why i think he was having a reaction to such a thing. i told him that because i have mostly not required compliance from him based solely on the premise “i’m the mom, i’m older than you, and therefore i’m in charge,” he is used to making the choice to comply with my requests (which are almost always accompanied by information and reasoning) rather than have compliance extracted from him by an adult. if he gives me his respect, it is because i have earned it and he has chosen to give it to me, not because i’ve demanded it. but i explained that most other adults operate in a different way from that, and insist on compliance and believe children owe them that because they are older. since i’ve done it differently i may have put him in a position where he notices it a heck of a lot more than other kids, who are conditioned to the other way, and that may be hard for him on some level. however, i also hope he can see it as an advantage in that he knows his own mind, and knows that when he complies he is doing so by choice, because he has decided he can trust this adult and what they are instructing him to do. on the other hand, he also has the strength to question or defy when he knows or suspects an instruction is unjust or incorrect, and the wherewithall to ask for information about why a command is being issued, rather than blindly following. it’s been my goal to raise a critical thinker, not a blind follower. i think he could see the pros and cons, and the perspective was helpful in alleviating his disgruntled feelings of the moment.

his new haircut makes him look taller yet again. though he is legitimately taller! i measured him xmas day at 5’2 ¾”!

this month marked the first call home from the principal, concerning quinn’s reasonable response to an unprovoked shove/hit by a kid with a neighboring locker. ahh, middle school milestones.

one saturday while i worked farmer’s market, rich and quinn did firewood work together. rich had me look in the back of his truck when i got home and he was starting to unload the wood, and said that quinn had been the one to stack it into the back, though he waited for quinn to “offer” to do this. rich started setting wood in the truck and quinn said, “i’ll climb in the back!” quinn talked alllll about minecraft to rich, and i think stacking firewood appeals to quinn because it’s real life minecraft block stacking. he would stack it ever so evenly like puzzle pieces and then fill in the spaces with smaller pieces. rich said there was twice as much wood in the same amount of space he usually fills because quinn was analyzing how to fit more pieces in the same space. he would ask rich for certain sizes “i need a big one for the base” and rich would be a joker and hand him a “big one” that was a tiny twig. rich commented on quinn’s story telling (or minecraft details) and the way quinn occasionally trails off in conversation; he would be left in the middle of a sentence and would look over like, where did he go? i know that speaking style very well.

we had a mellow, sleeping-in sunday with pumpkin pancakes. quinn and i figured out how to play multiplayer minecraft together on both our laptops, which was hilarious. we held a librarian hostage, installed purple and green stained glass windows, and tamed wolves to be our pet dogs.

the librarian traded with us for enchanted books. i am not sure why he was still willing to trade us when we had commandeered his house and held him captive, but i guess he’s just cool like that.

he finally got a larger size (but exactly the same brand and color, his requirement) backpack, and i was delighted to find his collection of wedding detritus from his step-sister’s wedding over a year ago in the pocket, along with the other treasures (petrified orange!!).

he had math and language arts homework that took him hours even though it was 2 math problems and 3 google slides… but he got it done, and then had a bath and he ate a million pounds of food (he had eaten all the meals and then while we were working on the logic puzzle before bed he pounded 4 fig newmans. this was the evening that he broke google with his logic question.

i got quinn to school ready for his math test that monday, prepared to talk to his spanish teacher about making up a quiz he had missed before break, and ready for his social studies test. he is a long string bean in a green hoodie.

i showed quinn a photo from when he was 4 and fell asleep on the happy spot foot stool. he wanted to re-create it. i’m not sure this has anything to do with lifelong learning, but certainly gives a sense of scale of just how much he has physically grown!


1 comment to ~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ more cowbell

  • camp boss

    cowbell is on our top 10 snl skits list!!!!its crazy the boy can still fold up small enough to fit on the foot stool…not much longer.!!!

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