~summer shorts~ two tuna

I had been using my office primarily for brief bouts of stress-crying, not so much for consulting my calendar, and had overbooked my work life beyond what could reasonably be multi-tasked. Namely, I had booked experiments while scheduled to be on a trip to Florida to see my college friends.

After patching up that hot mess as best i can, i arrive home at 3:14 to my husband with a look on his face like he has something he is not sure he wants to say to me, because it might bring on more stress-crying. We are supposed to be out the driveway by 4 to head to the airport, so i am ready to hit the ground running to get everything organized.

“sweetie, as i was leaving work i was given two tuna. They’re in the back of my truck.”

i sprint mentally through the options, but the obvious thing to do is to cut up tuna and throw it in the freezer before we drive to the airport. The equally obvious conclusion is for me to be holding the knife.

I cut fish every which way at work, but never into fillets. I swiftly slice salmon with a scalpel to remove stomach and spleen; i carve out pacific cod otoliths, pluck out their tiny gum drop livers and peel back their scaly skin for a sample of muscle; i plunder sablefish organs, parceling them into preservatives, pausing between each one only to clean my blades with alcohol and flame. I even dissect tiny arctic cod larvae under microscope to count how many even tinier rotifer prey they have been consuming. Microsurgery, this tuna work is not.

I don’t have a fillet knife, or really any knife that i haven’t dulled, so i grab a serrated one, knowing i need something that will saw through a tuna spine.

I gut the first like i would perform a necropsy, not at all the way a fish peddler would do it. Wishing i had time to look more closely at its organs, iridescent gems in bright orange and deep merlot, i toss them unceremoniously in a bag. Two other bags fill with hunks of meat and are lobbed into the chest freezer.

Then we jump into our new family car, which we filled with pancakes one weekend before. Now it is just the two of us, grandpa and nana, heading to the airport. Gray hair climbs up from rich’s chin and licks his sideburns, like a slowly kindling fire; whereas my grays cascade down from the center of my crown like a waterfall. Long hedgerows of queen anne’s lace wind their way towards mist-wrapped coast range mountains across hay fields almost ready for second cutting. I sink into my heated seat and try to breathe more deeply, to consciously embrace this new season in which an older child and a steady paycheck set me free to take a spontaneous solo trip. the encouragement from my husband to do this for myself is the cherry on top. He lets his hand linger beside the temperature setting knob, pausing at 69 until i get the innuendo and laugh. Laughing loosens up my lungs at last. Pulling out my thin, but warm, turquoise sweater, I explain my overthinking process of packing light, including this sweater which can be rolled into a small ball.

“but sweetie, you’re bringing a sweater to florida?”

“yes, for all the air conditioning, and for the cold airplane ride.”

“You’re bringing a sweater to florida… in august? Don’t you want to store up some cold to bring with you?”

Tomatoes, tuna, peaches, and applesauce, all the many gifts of summer bounty, these I will gladly tuck into bags and freeze; better yet, i will pack them into jars and screw metal lids on them and dunk them in boiling water baths (or sister camp boss’s pressure canner, in the case of tuna) to preserve. But if there is one thing i do not want to store as summer days begin to wane, it is cold.

cousin photo tradition

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~rainbow mondays~ a heart in new york

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~black and white wednesday~ soul of summer

~lifelong learner supplemental photos~ paleontology camp

as soon as i made my lifelong learner post, the camp program posted a whole album of additional photos of quinn’s paleontology camp! too good not to share!

~rainbow mondays~ glad

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ quercus quetzalcoatlus

paleontology camp!

there was quite a bit of sand spilling out of the lint trap in the dryer as i restarted the bulging load of size 14 clothing for another cycle. Every pair of underwear but the two extras were worn; all socks; all shirts and pants; when the second batch of instagram photos of paleontology camp came across my feed, my very first thought, “look at his big smile!” was immediately followed by: “he’s wearing a different shirt!”

i got to hear a lot about the people he spent his week with on the ride back from camp, in between him tuning me out to participate in the group text chat the six campers had set up with each other. Conveniently for the purposes of this blog post, they had given each other nicknames. Quinn had become quetzalcoatlus, then morphed into pretzel. The others were bob (previously known as D from L.A.), remus (also CA), frizzie (WI), lead (WA), and k.k. (WA). The leaders, birt and kamel, had also taken on camp nicknames. Frizzie plans to specialize in birds and pterosaurs (such as the aforementioned quetzalcoatlus), bob is headed into paleobiology, but the common theme was that all six of them plan on getting PhDs, quinn’s in dinosaur paleontology. He recalled remus’s question about how many PhDs one could accumulate before getting kicked out of school. Kids on fire to learn!

Their days structured themselves around hikes and museum forays, with a clear division of labor in camp. The leaders prepared dinners, while the campers made their own breakfasts and lunches. bagels and cream cheese for breakfast; for lunch, sandwiches or wraps, goldfish crackers and granola bars. The van became known as the fishbowl, and the six campers themselves as the goldfish, for the sheer number of packages of goldfish crackers they consumed. While leaders prepared dinner, the campers set up all the tents, including those of the leaders. Quinn shared a tent with bob. Among the fossils he brought home was a plain old rock, “my stake-pounding rock!” The campers were also responsible for washing the dishes after meals. Quinn talked about this without any hint of resentment over “chores.”

“Did you know that only one single dinosaur fossil has ever been unearthed in Oregon? And it was a toe from a madrasaur? And it was found by Thomas Condon? He is who the Paleontology Research Station in John Day is named after.” I asked quinn how he was feeling about how the study of paleontology is not limited to the study of dinosaur fossils, the topic of a heated moment we shared a few months ago. At the time, he had felt devastated that his understanding of his dream job was all a lie, and his future was now ruined. It passed. Now he has seen fossils from turtles, plants, mouse deer, “and a very old pig!”

Day 1 Sunday

They drove east that first day into the mountains and hiked somewhere near Sisters, then camped. Before leaving the museum, they had to find one scientific name in the collection sharing the first letter of their name; quinn found Quercus, an oak leaf.

He said the hike that day contained more wildlife than paleontology, and they learned some of the plants currently flowering in the region: beargrass, lupine, and another pink flower whose identity they weren’t sure of.

Their cooking device was missing the correct hose, so they needed to cook dinner over a fire that first night. The kids decided pinecones might work well as kindling, and they lit right up!

Day 2 Monday

They would spend the next two days in the John Day fossil beds/painted hills area of eastern oregon. They finished the drive there, set up camp, and hiked and visited the Thomas Condon Research Center that day.

Day 3 Tuesday

John Day all day!

Day 4 wednesday

They finished up in John Day and packed up, spending a long driving day to Newport, set up camp in Beverly Beach and explored for fossils.

“By the way, mama, we are going to need to get a trash bag or something capable of holding large fossils and take it back to beverly beach to collect my fossil deposit.”

Day 5 Thursday

This was the day they had been planning on going to Florence to see Kamel’s research on fossil pinnipeds (floppy-swimmies) but it was raining and they decided to stay at Beverly Beach. Birt’s tent flooded so they needed to re-do her tent set up.

“Birt slept well that night.”

They went to the aquarium that day instead, communed with modern floppy-swimmies, and took showers back at the state park.

Day 6 Friday

This was the last day of camp, and they woke up, broke camp, and drove back to Eugene. They went on one hike on the way which culminated in some sand dunes where they played on a rope swing (this could have been somewhere around florence, but quinn didn’t know for sure.)

the folder quinn returned home with contained a bundle of good reading material about fossil formations, geologic processes, and animal phylogenies. i know it will be a resource he will look at later! the pile of rocks that came home provides another tangible reminder of camp!

the other kind of tracks

The goldfish made up several songs during their time together. A reimagining of from now on from the greatest showman turned into “And we will go back home, and we will eat these fish. Gold….fish….”

They rewrote hakuna matata using “the Birt will Durn,” the phrase uttered by Birt which earned her the nickname, because of the sausage that fell in the dirt on the first night, and her justification for going ahead and eating it anyway after re-exposing it to the flames.

A whole new world was in the process of becoming a song about basalt. “Unbelievable rocks, indescribable basalt…. A Very Old Rock…”

Finally, there was a song being written by Remus about bagels and cream cheese.

~~~

While paying half attention to a tilt podcast, i was directed to this thought-provoking ready for adulthood checklist from the author of the book happy campers.

in that regard, i see how camp encouraged his growth towards independence and self-responsibility. It gave him a taste of being truly responsible for himself in a way he hasn’t experienced before. i also appreciated how the group took care of each other (tent set up, dish cleaning). He may not have packed each day’s outfit in its own gallon ziplock bag the way i did when i went to camp, but he went ahead and wore the clothes anyway! It may seem like i’m making a big deal about his clothing changes, but i witnessed him wear the same shirt 3 days in a row for outdoor school just last month; and that was with a mama chaperone in the live studio audience, letting him know i saw that he was still wearing the same shirt again and reminding him to think about changing it at his earliest convenience.

Summertime learning

Quinn’s adventures in learning tag program day camp ran for two weeks, and we managed a carpooling arrangement that got him to the OSU campus each day. His chosen class schedule included united we solve, mathcraft, lego robotics, and create your own country! I think he enjoyed them all; at first create your own country was his favorite, but when the novelty wore off and the countries he and his classmates created had all cornered the market in the various limiting resources, he began saying more things about lego robotics in the evenings. I know the puzzles class was right up his alley as well!

Swim lessons – 4 of the 5 summer swim lessons took place this month. We will pick up again when school starts with one every other week so he can keep building skills!

I took quinn with me this year to oregon country fair – it has been a while since he was there! He experienced it through a much different set of more grown up eyes. At the same time, the magic of fair elicits from each of us the wonder of a much younger child no matter what age we are. We stopped in our wanderings to watch a parade go by and attended a concert by the march 4th marching band. We became absorbed for quite some time at an interactive musical art installation consisting of the innards of several pianos bolted to a structure; an assortment of the hammers were available for use around the panels of strings, waiting for passers by to experiment with sound by tapping on them. Food was a big focus, and quinn enjoyed a strawberry lemonade and a kabob (he thinks meat lollipops are yum) for lunch while rich and i shared souvlaki. Quinn mostly absorbed quietly and did not express many desires for most of the day while we walked around, but i coaxed him into trying out the handmade marimbas, and a young dad nearby broke into a grin and bopped his head to quinn’s rendition of take on me. While we watched another concert (the shook twins and john craigie) he was having to dig for the stamina to carry on with standing in the crowd, but the simple distraction of putting on my overshirt, tying knots in it, and letting me dance him around, was enough to lighten his mood. Late in the afternoon he finally made his requests known: ice cream, and to watch “one of the plays.” We had walked past several plays in action throughout the day, but he hadn’t shown any sign of wanting to stop, so by this time of day, he had to settle for some acrobatics performances, which he felt was suitable. After his raspberry ice cream, we ordered burritos for dinner, and it was time for us to make our way homeward with just one more stop to buy three sets of fairy dragon wings for our three pancakes.

At karate, he started learning green belt techniques this month. Our sifu’s sifu visited, and quinn wanted to maximize his time at the dojo to overlap with his time here. Sifu Diaz always remembers quinn each time he visits, and is so warm and friendly to all of us. He wanted to watch the kids’ activity known as jump tag (something he hadn’t experienced) before we got down to the business of belt testing. This was my turn to test, and quinn attended as a spectator, and turned out to have observed quite a lot of details about my test, in spite of sitting on the floor in the back with his face in a book. Our dojo marched in the local summerfest parade again this year, and that night rich, quinn and i watched fireworks together.

family firework gazing

family cloud gazing

In usual summer fashion, quinn spent a few days in “office camp” at my work, armed with audio books (he got caught up on wings of fire) and khan academy (he worked on programming, but also thinks he might be interested in the chemistry course, since he can see that the “balancing chemical equations” and “periodic table” units are near the beginning). He also figured out how to watch naruto episodes that aren’t found on netflix, by you tubing them in japanese and reading subtitles. I asked if he was learning any words and he said no, because he had determined that the words are all in a different order from english! Something tells me that if he is determining the order of the words, it is only a matter of time before he starts translating… i love the unexpected learning that can take place in the unstructured pockets of summer.

~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ connections, finding eggs in unusual places, and the oxford comma

camp boss verbosity warning: please excuse the verbosity of this end-of-schoolyear/start-of-summer month of lifelong learning and grab a cuppa!

pizza rolls and rubik’s cubes

quinn and i solved his christmas stocking rubik’s cube this month! He is pictured showing the initial progress just after the first step of solving one side (the green one, of course.)

he wants to know more about tides (the math of how they work) and the oxford comma (i gave him the zombie dinosaur spiel but he wants more details).

after a sleepover at aragorn’s house he reported that pizza rolls are yummy. the next time i made pizza for dinner i gave him some dough to work with. we ended up with a few odd attempts and some awesome commentary about pizza blobs, pizza nuggets, and a meatball pizza taco!

he procrastinated on social studies homework- he had to make greek mythology trading cards (rich laughed, “he put that off?”) chalk it up to perfectionism. he wanted to do some seriously intricate drawings, the tradeoff being he handed them in over a week late.

perfectionism likewise struck in his band assignment to record himself playing a few songs for placement next year, but these he managed on time!

middle school band concert! hard to capture great photos of percussionists, as they stand in the back!

he helped me plant impatiens for grammy.

You find an egg… in a tidepool

we went tidepooling on a drizzly day. he had so much homework that i almost called it off but he expressed really wanting to go. we mostly hiked and didn’t peek into many tidepools. there were lots of seals in the areas we might normally explore further and we didn’t want to disturb them. a baby seal was right in the path to get around the last headland, so we didn’t go any farther. on our way back we found an egg (!) in a tidepool… it was so out of place, it did not immediately compute what it was. both of us had “you find an egg” thoughts like “is it a dragon? a dinosaur? A pokemon?” before returning to reality. it was a seabird egg, but had obviously been laid in the wrong spot or had gotten moved or washed out, so it was in the water, with a little sculpin treading water next to it. The bizarre context stopped us in our tracks and made us think impossible thoughts.

We saw lots of fossils on the beach, and with his upcoming paleontology camp they stood out to me. each time camp dawned on me i would get excited all over again.

 

Starlight parade

On the way to the parade, it was shouted around the bus “band attention! it is tradition to play living on a prayer when we are halfway there!” thus was bon jovi the 27th singalong of the trip. Most of the singalongs were crazy train, because that was one of their chosen marching songs, and the best thing about singalongs on band trips is that they sing their individual instrument parts.

when the instantly recognizable (or so i thought) intro to dream on started playing and several kids asked, “what song is this?” the other mom sitting kitty-corner from me on the bus exchanged extremely amused glances with me. We had the same reaction about them not knowing jump!

 

 

We chaperones marched along with our kids in the Starlight Parade, wearing “i’m with the band” t-shirts. some of the parents had squirt bottles of water with which to hydrate the kids in between songs; the three doctors among the chaperones were especially good at inserting water into kids without making them choke or gag, or soaking their uniforms.

 

I stuck with photo documenting. i overheard some choice quotes from the crowd of spectators and saw some killer dance moves as the evening light dwindled towards the end of the second mile of marching. The whole experience was magical. As I heard one little girl in the crowd say, “I can feel my heart vibrating!” Indeed.

 

 

at the end of the parade quinn was very tired. we got back on the bus and he got out of his uniform top and said, “mama can you hold this because i feel like i want to just drink water, and sleep. sleep while drinking water. yeah.”

And also, this was quinn’s shoe! his band teacher encouraged me to document this to show people why we need fundraising!

on the way home, we took the band to the zoo! quinn loves penguins.

outdoor school

day 1

the sixth grade outdoor school trip started with a climb up the dune at camp kiwanda state park. Highlights from day one included an after dinner beach trip for nature/sensory immersion and some capture the flag; meeting silvana and her mom, the girl quinn brought up in this post whose inspiring mom bonded with me throughout the trip; her story is so relatable, advocating for a differently wired child; also memorable were campfire and s’mores and camp songs!

it is also necessary to mention a boy (not actually) named pippin who is the second example of a new kid at school whom quinn has been the first to befriend this year. Pippin sidled up to me and laid the story of his life right on me at the start of the trip. his mom had died less than a month before. three weeks before, he had started school here, having moved from vegas with his three year old sister to live with his aunt. the day before i met him, he had received his mom’s ashes. “i think i want to get one of those necklaces where you can put some of the ashes in it to always have a part of her to carry with me.” the stories of these kids’ lives crack my heart open.

I told quinn how much i appreciated his way of welcoming newcomers, and quinn went the extra mile with pippin, changing cabins and leaving behind the rest of the fellowship (in sleeping arrangements only, but still) so that pippin would have a friend in his cabin. The teachers seemed to find it helpful that he had connected with an adult who would support him (he and quinn both gravitated to me at meal times) and who was also able to redirect him when necessary (he was frank about his adhd and that he had already gotten to know the principal pretty well in his short time here.) we found out we have martial arts in common and i invited him to come check out our dojo!

 

day 2

Tie dye art class with our group turned out to be a personality test… quinn needed his own space so no other dye mess got on his fabric, and he wanted to make a perfect spiral but was upset about his folding job, and wanted to make perfect pie slices of each color but he felt he was messing up… many pep talks and he was the last one to unfold his, but he got it done and was happy with the result. pippin was the first one done, all blue, with a few red spots, and he had left a big puddle of dye on the plastic tablecloth.

then our group walked to the lake and fished. a few volunteers who knew fishing were there to help keep lines untangled and reels working properly, and each kid was issued a rod and stood on the edge of the lake and fished. Some kids knew just what to do, like quinn, and others had never fished before. Some required a quick lesson, others an in-depth confidence boost: “you’re doing something that takes ton of coordination and some kids have done before but you’re brand new to it and it’s hard! but ‘we can do hard things’” (glennon doyle’s words came in handy a few times this week.)

Back at the lodge for our next art session, we laid on the floor and made big banners with the sharpies. “outdoor school 2019” block letters got written and filled in with doodles, and kids all added their personal touches. quinn declared “fractals!” and did a bunch of his math doodling in lime green. as most of the kids began to lose interest and wander back outside, quinn and i and the art teacher stayed and kept doodling for a while longer. quinn and i were our normal selves and the art teacher said, “i am really enjoying listening to the conversations you two have.”

while the kids did skit practice with counselors, i had break time… i filled up my coffee cup and i wandered off to one of the camp areas we weren’t using and sat in a pavillion out of the rain and read my book. at one point i laid my head on the book and power napped. in spite of the coffee, i was pooped. The quote at the beginning of the book i brought to read, unsheltered by barbara kingsolver, read:

“after the final no there comes a yes

and on that yes the future world depends.”

~wallace stevens

this spoke to me, echoing how i feel about these 12 year old people as they mature, the unfortunate state of the world they are inheriting, and how they are rising to the occasion against the odds.

At dinner i was again joined by quinn and pippin, who talked my ear off. then ran off. then ran back and checked in. he asked me for a hug and i said of course! motherless boy asking me for a hug. what am i going to do, say no? i don’t have it in me.

after dinner we went back to the campfire pit for skit night. more songs were sung, each of the six cabin groups did their skits, and smores were consumed. i sat with silvana and her mom a few rows behind quinn and friends. (he was with pippin and eomer, goldberry, aragorn and legolas.) one of the songs that was sung all week was boom-chicka-boom (with all the variations “janitor style” broom-sweep-a-mop-a-sweep-a-mop-a-sweep-a-broom…  valley girl style, taco bell style, emo style “boom chicka rocka chicka MOM GET OUT OF MY ROOM” which both quinn and silvana thought was HILARIOUS and would look at their respective moms and sing loudly. all through the week, i loved hearing the sound of kid groups marching through the forest echoing repeat-after-me-songs “what can make a hippopotamus smile?”

 

day 3

there was unstructured time while the counselors had the kids cleaning and packing. quinn and a few of the kids were sitting around playing the one word story game. i went off to my own zone again for a bit with my coffee, as well as a short walk to the beach by myself. as i was walking through nature, i saw a flower i haven’t seen in almost 20 years called a “single delight”. it is tiny and appears to me to be rare (i had no idea it even grew in oregon and only saw it once or twice in olympic national forest) and has a lemon-lime fragrance. it was a lovely surprise to find them all over my own little adopted corner of the camp.

We made one stop on the way home at the tillamook cheese factory for a tour and ice cream. q had cookies and cream. i had hazelnut salted caramel.

 

starting to feel like summer

weekends… pizza and family movie night… watching the hobbit. filling up his plate with pizza 4 times. We launched our free family boating season on a beautiful sunday, kayaking for an hour.

He worked on his travel hacking assignment; the final 6 week grade was all one project, a “dream trip” itinerary and budget (they had $10k to work with). he had the itinerary roughed out but he needed to put some time in on the budget. all the googling “public transportation in perth australia” and “are there any restaurants on penguin island” and prices of admission on whatever museums and parks he would visit. he did well on his own, pricing out airfares and hotels. the small details bog him down because it feels never ending to him. i sat with him and talked him through some steps when he was really despairing of ever finishing.

 

Grammy and grampy!

on the last day of school, i picked quinn up at noon and he spent a good part of the afternoon watching pokemon. we started gathering materials for a journal project. i took him to karate that night since his belt test would be the following wednesday.

Grammy and grampy arrived around midnight. The next morning quinn woke up and asked for grammy to come in for his wake up. aw. they were hugging and smiling at each other, so happy to see each other. There was a visible shock reaction at how big he has gotten since last year.

We sat outside any chance we got, quinn played uno with whoever would play (always grampy, sometimes others). Grammy and grampy took walks in the morning together while i went to work to feed fish, and when quinn woke up would hang out with them. some days camp boss and kids came to bounce.

That week q had his first swim lesson. He put his face in the water more for his teacher than he ever has for me in one half hour session. she also saw the challenges he faces, and when we talked afterwards she said, “i really like him. and i think this is exactly what he needs.”

I had to take quinn to karate right after getting back from swim, and he was very put out. His prevailing feelings were, “i just need more down time,” But he also doesn’t want to not do any of the activities. i let him know how hard i had to work to get him exactly 5 lessons scheduled for the ENTIRE summer. once i got my point across i think he calmed down a bit. i can’t expect him to know what it takes for me to arrange these things to enrich his life, unless i explain. So i explained, not to guilt him into feeling grateful, but so he could understand and relax and realize it wouldn’t be every day that he would have swim/karate back to back.

One day camp boss and i packed hot dogs and snacks and all the kids in their swim stuff and we brought chairs and sat by the river in the sun-dappled shade. We enjoyed the relaxing sound of the water and kids splashing in the creek, the sight of kids with caterpillars crawling up their hands, kids throwing rocks in the water, and kids being kids.

Grammy, grampy, rich and i all went to quinn’s belt test. Quinn did very well. He received compliments from multiple people, including sifu in front of the whole group, for how well he did and how much hard work he has been doing. He was again asked to demonstrate techniques and forms the others had forgotten or didn’t know from memory, so he really got to showcase his skills. he was the only one testing who could remember kick set from start to finish and he got to lead them all through it. also he did long 2 form, which is the highest form he has learned, and did it by himself, so he got all his stripes on his belt for forms. he did GREAT for the kicks, and did not flinch! I was so proud! And i think he was even prouder of himself. After the test and pictures, he came right over to grammy and grampy and hugged them both. they were very proud and told him so. then we went home for nachos.

at lunch one day quinn saw grampy spreading liverwurst on his bread and asked, “what’s that?” he wanted to try it and gobbled up a whole sandwich of it. If grampy likes it, it must be good.

dishes washed by quinn

That night we had a very small party in the back yard. Rich had made a nice campfire, so the kids all ate smores.

on Saturday after market, quinn and i painted plywood for the band haunted house fundraiser.

that afternoon all five of us were sitting around the backyard and mom and dad were telling family stories. Quinn got to hear about grampy’s summer trips to his grandpa and grandma’s house (my great grands, quinn’s great great grands! This is the grandma from whom we got our typewriter). He described their house in Gowanda, NY, and its long, narrow yard with vegetable garden, raspberry bushes, and fruit trees, extending “all the way back to the crick.” He told how it was odd to be away from his brother tom, but grandma and grandpa took them for a week each, one at a time.

One time Uncle Tom built himself an airplane, an inventor then and to this day. it was all going great as he ran it off the edge of the hill, until the wings folded up. Dad just laughs when he tells about their childhood… one time tom was trying to get him to play ball (dad was reading his book) and since dad refused, tom put a wasp on him! it stung dad, he chased tom around and then finally decided he’d play ball after all.

Dad remarked that he might have a touch of ADHD in the sense that he cannot Just Sit. He spent his time visiting us in constant engagement, or asleep; he read books, split firewood, went for walks, fixed things, played guitar, did crosswords and sudokus, and instigated philosophical discussions. Thinking of his brother tom, i mused that if the two of them were children now, he’d also likely have a diagnosis; perhaps ADHD or asperger’s. i think it is possible they both fall into the same category as quinn, and their “challenges” are mostly a result of the intensity that goes hand in hand with giftedness. This article about overexcitabilities and the gifted explains the different forms this intensity takes, and it is easy to see how certain intensities can be confused with other types of challenges, a topic covered in depth in the misdiagnosis book i read earlier this year. If i were to make a table for the overexcitabilities (OEs for short) in our family, it might look like this:

 

Overexcitability Me Quinn Dad Mom
Intellectual *** *** *** ***
Sensory ***
Emotional *** *** ***
Imaginational ***
Psychomotor *** ***

 

Or how about:

 

Overexcitability Me Quinn Dad Mom
Intellectual makes grids to understand a topic studying calculus and the periodic table at 12 writing book on the electoral college apple variety identification autodidact expert
Sensory sound, touch, smell, taste

blenders made him cry, toothpaste was too spicy

Emotional overthinking, perfectionism and existential depression, oh my! perfectionism; refusal to throw away sentimental objects like dryer lint my first call when i have something big to process
Imaginational you find an egg
Psychomotor gardening when not hauling water or slinging veggies splits wood for fun

 

Intellectual OE is not just being a little bit intellectual, it is being intensely insatiable in needing to know every detail about a topic, to always be absorbing information and engaging the brain, to be asking questions, interpreting data, proposing new ideas. This makes for great lifelong learning potential, but also means we handle anything, from a hobby to a diagnosis, like a college course. Likewise, with each of the other OEs, there can be a next-level intensity in some people. There were key imaginational intensity components to some of the difficulties of quinn’s early elementary education, though i would never trade the sparkling magic of his imagination for all the world. Learning about these intensities has helped me understand myself better, for example, how my friend in high school pointed out that I never just felt medium about a song, I either LOVED this song or HATED this song… intensely. It’s not a bad thing, it just is a thing about me, but it can pose challenges if one is too intense for others’ comfort. It also means we have the potential for extra insight and strengths in these areas; emotional intensity, with awareness and seasoning, can go hand in hand with empathy and compassion; my mom was the long-time prayer-chain coordinator at her church, and couldn’t have been more perfect for that (intense) role of receiving the heft of other peoples’ gravest concerns. This handy exercise with the grid also illustrates how, while the rest of us have a grab bag of intensity, Quinn has collected almost the whole panel!

Speaking of really liking songs, through Grandma rew’s sister ida, dad received old 45s from the jukebox in the hotel she ran and was introduced to a wide variety of music. One that he recalled fondly was “highway 101” by the cheers, and he quoted parts of it, and it is of course a funny coincidence because highway 101 runs through our coastal town. And since we live in this fascinating modern age i went ahead and looked it up:

black denim trousers and motorcycle boots by the cheers

All five of us played uno in the backyard that night. It had gotten to be routine for quinn to bring out the cards, fetch the card table out of the shed, set it up, and get grampy to play, but this time he got us all involved, it being his last night before going off to camp.

Quinn spent some of the day packing; he handled it mostly himself (12 really is sublime!). We had gotten him a sun hat, clip on sunglasses, a head lamp, and work gloves, to fill out the list. He counted the exact numbers of undies, socks, shirts and pants the list told him to bring.

Once he was mostly packed, he and i spent some time together while he glued the quotes i had printed for him into his journal. We had done little parts of the journal book making throughout the week. We layered alternating graph and lined pages and sewed them in bundles; i carved four dino skull stamps at his request (t-rex, triceratops, mososaurus and pteranodon), and he stamped them on the cover; we added a green ribbon for a bookmark. My hope is that it inspires him to journal a bit on some of these trips he will be taking, with paleontology camp for starters, and on to italy next spring!

As he glued, he mentioned some anxiety about never having been away from “both parents” for this long. i said i remembered the first time i went to camp i had felt that way and wondered if i would make it or if i would need to come home the first night, but i had stayed and loved it and by the end of the week, didn’t want it to end and couldn’t wait for the next year. i said he would feel that way too, i was sure of it. we talked about each quote and how it applied to his situation. discussing the mark twain quote “you’ll regret more not going” and also how he was like a hobbit was going out his door on an adventure, his anxiety seemed to dissipate pretty quickly.

Grammy and grampy said goodbye to quinn before everyone went to bed, since we’d be leaving before they had to get up in the morning to take him to camp. I know he thoroughly enjoyed having them visit to launch his summer vacation!

 

Paleontology camp

We woke up early the next morning and took him to camp! Day one of camp was 6-23, the last day about which this lifelong learner post is concerned, so stay tuned for the next post where all the juicy camp details will be posted. Sharing about camp was one of the most effective motivators for catching up on these backlogged posts. this amazing opportunity seemingly manifested itself in quinn’s lifelong learning path because of how perfect it would be for him. several years ago when i signed up for the e-newsletter from the university of oregon’s museum of natural and cultural history, the day camps in natural sciences (including paleontology) never felt practical due to our distance from the museum. I have to applaud their targeted marketing because I have not felt inundated with emails from them, but this winter when the email subject heading read: “you might be interested in: middle school paleontology explorers camp” i thought, “heck yeah i might be interested in that!” (search terms for anyone else interested: sternberg camps, through fort hays state university’s sternberg museum, who partnered with university of oregon for the inaugural oregon camps this year.)

Quinn had to write a letter of intent and request a letter of recommendation from a teacher as part of the application process; the very first of probably many in his lifetime. It turns out that the paleontology explorers: kansas camp has a waiting list each year and is fairly competitive, but as this was the first year of paleontology explorers: oregon, there were six kids who applied, and all got in. you might be hearing more about kansas next year!

The six campers were instantly absorbed into helping their two instructors load gear into their van, with which they would be traveling around oregon to various sites of paleontological interest. Rich and i mingled with some of the other parents discussing all the dinosaur t-shirts our kids had packed.  Then the leader of the program spoke to the parents while delegating the van packing to the staff and kids.

he talked about why he started these camps in 2014. he sees mentorship as a huge focus (this was obvious…  even in the simple things like the layering of staff – lead instructor, t.a., high school assistant, students… for example, empowering the high school assistant figure out coordinating the middle school kids carrying gear from point a to point b… “got a plan? ok go for it.” he talked about connections and how there is a guy he was a counselor with when he went to camp, who is now the head of paleontology in eastern kansas, and this great connection is part of why this program is successful. It was amazing to think of these camp friendships about to form, and how they can have lifelong impacts (i know this very well as applied to my own life, as i obtained a sister-in-law from summer camp!) i had told quinn that when i went to camp i wrote down each of my new friend’s phone and address to send letters – we didn’t have email or text yet. I encouraged him to do the same (or the modern equivalent) if there was a new friend with whom he wanted to keep in touch.

The Sternberg program is running another first-time trip this year at the high school level; paleontology explorers: Australia. I get chills just thinking of this, as Australia is a place Quinn has always dreamed of going. i asked about the probability of the australia trip happening again in future years he said, “well, i have 3 kids on the wait list for next year already.” i said, “quinn is saving up for it,” and he said, “i now have four kids on the wait list.” Ha! He encouraged him to come to kansas next year, as most of the australia-bound students were repeat students from paleontology: kansas.

he also mentioned his philosophy on outcomes/jobs and how not only is this kind of program good for resume/college application building but also the actual skills they learn on the trip prepare them well- very hands on, it shows them not only the “college professor” option of this line of work, but that there are many other ways to be in the work force besides that – everything from grant writing to lab and field technical work to scientific illustration.

the kids all popped out of their gear organizing and said to each of us, “i was told to come and say goodbye to you. goodbye!” after a quick hug, they all went cheerfully off to camp. it was just awesome to see him blend right in.

rich and i mused on the way home how it’s like hogwarts and camp halfblood becoming reality for him, but in his favorite subject.

~summer shorts~ swim lessons

Lesson one

“Roughly 80% of your body is water. your body is made of mostly water.” She puts a number on it for him, and it is then that i know i have found the perfect swim teacher for quinn.

She explains not to blow out all his air at once, but to instead hum, letting out small amounts of air at a time. Of course, music helps everything with quinn, even swimming.

In the bedtime dolphin visualization, i tell quinn to relax each muscle and let himself be held and supported by the ocean, to trust the water. I have repeated it like a mantra, a chant, a wish i would have him absorb into his being. “let the water hold you and support you…” it works to lull overactive thoughts into sleep, but he is anything but relaxed when he gets in a pool.

My first job outside of babysitting and farm work was as a lifeguard and teacher of swim lessons. Something about that has held me back from hiring outside help. I’m qualified, i reason. I was on the high school swim team, a scuba diver, a marine biologist, a sailor on the open sea.

I was just as sure my little pisces boy would take to swimming. He’d be a natural. He is a water boy through and through, in love with boats and buoys, fishing and fly-tying, kayaking and canoeing.

But underlying the wateriness of quinn is a murky deep layer of fear, exacerbated by sensory integration challenges. Just this year he has become capable of showering, because he now realizes the loudness and pokiness of the water cascading over his skull and entering his ears (now that he sometimes allows this) is not going to kill him, though he is still pretty sure that any water entering his nostrils will.

One by one, his teacher starts the painstaking work of dispelling his fears. She shows him that every person has a level at which they float, if they do not move at all. For her, it is at nose level. With no effort at all, she is not going to end up on the bottom, but will equilibrate at nose level, like a cork, and she demonstrates for him. She has quinn try this exercise. His string bean build has him floating just under the surface, with nothing but the cowlick of his harry potter hair protruding above. She tells me later that to him, this feels like he is far below the surface, sinking to the bottom, and for now, all he has is her word that he, too, is a cork.

Lesson two

Graceful high schoolers porpoise across the pool, their strokes cutting slices of water to propel them efficiently forward. The coach looks at me like he’s not sure what i’m doing in the bleachers, does not connect my face to anyone in his database of swimmers. I aim my gaze over at the teaching pool, trying to silently communicate to this coach that mine is the upright shivering stick figure, not one of his muscular porpoises.

With so much water all around, i feel salt water in me welling up, threatening to spill over as i watch his teacher turn the rubik’s cube of quinn over in her hands, figuring out how he learns. Like a midwife working to guide a new mother through the task before her, she tries one thing, then another. Her arsenal of strategies is a deep well.

He responds to her instructions without delay, i notice on this second day. He is ready for this, he wants to build this skill. It is not coming easily for him, but he is putting in so much effort.

She drops a weighted object. He throws himself after it, for once forgetting to pinch his fingers to his nose. His body submerged, one hand stretches above the surface, reaching for the wall and safety, but the other long arm has gotten ahold of the weight. He surfaces, lifting it up and out, victorious.

That day i watch him jump in for the first time ever – not holding his ears, just his nose, and after the first try, not trying to bend down and use his hands to maintain a hold on the edge.

Over dinner he explains his logic of how his eyes and mouth can close themselves, but not his nose and ears. He has found he can deal with water in his ears, because it can’t hurt him, but he knows water up his nose can hurt him, so he is still fearful of leaving his nose open. I tell him that even though his nose doesn’t have a physical barrier, it does have a way to make a “door” it’s just that it’s made out of air… but nothing can go in if air is coming out. he says he knows and now he has even experienced it, but his mind doesn’t totally accept and trust that yet. We decide more experience is what he needs to get past that block.

 

Lesson three

Two days later he jumps in with confidence, lets himself go under on purpose, lets himself stay under the water and come up slowly, starting to trust. She has him do it again, in slightly deeper water, building even more confidence. He holds his nose, sticks his head in the water, and kicks all the way across the width of the pool. He stands up, parts wet hair out of his face, and when his teacher points back to where he started, realizes how far he just propelled himself. he throws his hands up in the air in celebration. He struggles to float on his back for the first half of the lesson, then there he is, lying back into the embrace of the water, letting himself just float. Letting the water hold him and support him. He stays in the pool after his teacher moves on to her next student, pushing himself onto his back to float again and again. He has it in his body now.

Lesson four

He jumps in with wild abandon (and his fingers pinching his nose), again and again, pulling himself up on the edge of the pool with more ease and coordination between his long limbs and his core muscles. The very last jump at the end of the lesson is epic, he nearly cannonballs into the pool, with the goal of reaching the bottom of the 6 foot section where the green torpedo weight beckons for him to retrieve it. Retrieve it he does!

After he finishes the lesson, he comes over and tells me i have to watch him do the squid! I had been watching the whole time, of course, but i watch dutifully as he climbs back in, leans back, glides onto his back, and squids across the pool with a grin on his face.

 

Lesson five

More squidding, this time underwater. More jumping, more diving for objects, more floating and kicking. More successes, more throwing up his arms in celebration. Afterwards, i ask what he worked on.

“the main thing today was making sure i can flip over from my front to my back.”

“and can you do that now?”

“yup.”

Swim lessons might be about more than just swimming. Lessons about not letting fear hold us back, about being brave, and jumping in. Lessons about miracles, like the solidity of doors made of air, and matter in a liquid state holding up your body weight. (Quinn’s new word: lolid.) Lessons in trust, even when logic might not support it, leaning on it despite having considered all the facts. Lessons about how we can do hard things, if we put in effort. May these lessons cling to him like water from here on out.

~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ playing in the band

~4-23 to 5-23~

we visited baby pancake w and quinn was great with her. she woke up from a nap sooner than expected and i had handed her over to him but she had started fussing in his arms, so i went to reach out and take her back thinking he might be worried or uncomfortable with her being fussy. he said, “no, just hand me her binky.” and the cutest ever mini-me moment of her falling asleep on him followed. he really is my son. he puts babies to sleep, and likes to read in the bathtub.

 

 

then he was so sleepy from having her sleep on him (it overcame him instantly) he was yawning and asked me to put something by his head for a pillow.

green home tour

At spring conferences, just about every teacher said a version of, “i just love the way his mind works/i am fascinated by the way he thinks/i love his mind/he has a great mind.” Also in the mix were “has such unique perspectives/i look forward to hearing the things he will say/he is one of the only students who gets all of my jokes.” The overall conference experience seemed to speak to the teachers’ recognition of an amazing amount of growth and adaptation to middle school for quinn.

quinn encountered some opportunities for growth in asserting himself this month. At the prospect of not being allowed to play his instrument and march in the parade due to a uniform shortage, he let his teacher know where he stood. He negotiated a deal in which he only marched if he got to play, which meant he would only march in the second of the two parades, but would also not have to march while carrying a banner instead of playing. I was pretty frustrated with him being excluded from playing, but opted to try to model making the best of a bad situation for quinn by volunteering for the band boosters, instead of encouraging him to stop going to rehearsals or quitting the band. On the side, however, rich got to hear quite a few rants about how kids join band so they don’t have to be cut from the team! I feel it is important for quinn that i find a way to support him continuing with band, as i heard him telling colleagues that band is his favorite subject in school (with math being his favorite subject at home, apparently. Oh the things i learn when listening to conversations he has with other adults!)

quinn did well using the days off for conferences to catch up on travel hacking assignments. It can take him a long time to do them but he is coming along. one assignment was 10 questions about a chosen “underrated” travel location (chosen from a list). he picked western australia “because penguin island is right off the coast of western australia!” and he had answered all but one question when i checked on him- but it was question 5 (not 10!! not the last one! he skipped ahead and answered 6-10! a tiny but significant success!) and he said to me, “i’ve read 15 articles to answer this question!” then wrote his answer. the question was “what do australians think of americans?” and his answer (after reading 15 articles) was the one sentence, “Australians like us as individuals, but they don’t know what to make of us as a whole.”

and if i wasn’t hung up on “maybe more than one sentence would be good”, i would be able to pay more attention to how succinct an answer that is about how citizens of other countries often feel about americans. the thing is, he learned and summarized and synthesized information from 15 articles and i just don’t know how apparent that is to teachers from just the one sentence.

Going down the google rabbit hole is a major reason his classwork often doesn’t get done – it is hard for him to regulate browsing and manage his time simultaneously (each is a difficult executive function skill on its own, so the pair of skills is difficult squared), because there is more to learn everywhere you turn on the internet!

he has been spending more time on duolingo working on his italian!

 

~more cowbell~

books

we finished listening to moon over manifest which was written by the same author as navigating early which we adored last month (clare vanderpool is the author). this one was awesome, too. i like when quinn listens ahead, then he listens to whatever part i’m on and says “‘you have to hear this part!” it reveals parts he really liked or thought were intense or wants me to also pay close attention to.

I’ve been reading born on a blue day by daniel tammet, which i learned about in the authors note in navigating early. it has me almost in tears in parts that read so much like quinn. The author so eloquently described how social situations are hard for someone with asperger’s, how teachers would see him as spacing out when he was engaged in other thinking. he even talks about difficulties riding bikes and swimming, and uncoordinated walking because of looking at his feet. i still sometimes waffle back to my stance of quinn maybe being an aspie with a bunch of neurotypical quirks from having a quirky mama, rather than the other way around. In the first chapter he describes his extreme number-color synesthesia. prompted by a paragraph about “showing work” in math and how in his brain there wasn’t “work,” there was an answer, and how he struggled to follow the “carry the one” rules the teacher wanted him to use, quinn said, “i bet he had trouble in school.”

when quinn got home one friday i had finished adding legs to his lego table (grateful my husband helped me with this project; much lego activity ensued) and i had also added a new extra green shelf to his room. he was all ready to put his whole life of fred series of books in one place, in order, on said shelf, filling the rest with finished lego creations. he has been reading one of his birthday books called elements about the periodic table. the writing is hilarious, a little rick riordan-esque, and he is memorizing lines. he was reading aloud to me about how most metals are a dull gray in elemental form, and that there are only 3 metals that are non-gray: gold, copper and cesium. gold is nice but expensive, so a lot of people make jewelry out of copper because it is also not gray and much cheaper than gold. As far as the third option, “the main disadvantage of cesium as a metal for making jewelry is that it explodes on contact with skin.” he started giggling like crazy. he woke up the next morning quoting it to me, and laughed all over again. he is also reading the stars beneath our feet (a novel about a 12 year old boy in harlem; we heard about it when signing him up for summer TAG program and although he did not want to take the book discussion class, he did want me to check the book out of the library so he could read it). and of course, he is still reading calculus when the mood strikes. i impulse-bought him chess mathematics which is a chess math puzzle book, which i didn’t know to google until i read about a chess math puzzle in born on a blue day. he hasn’t picked that up yet but i know he will soon – still strewing like an unschooler over here. he has also been re-reading percy jackson’s greek heroes.

since he was doing state testing for two weeks out of this month, it was nice to see him want to come home and learn/read/absorb. he seems to have percolated on state testing and decided to go ahead and do it, with no fanfare and no fuss.

School vs learning

There was a post in my raising poppies group from a mom who was wondering how we keep our poppies’ learning lights from being dimmed by the damage public school can do, and described how her son’s had been so dampened in a year. I am ever watchful for this while quinn is in public school, and it is the thing that would cause me to go back into battle with his dad to fight to home school. It was good for me to reflect on how quinn has been able to, i don’t know how, draw a very big distinction between what is Learning and what is School. School he tolerates and likes for social reasons, and for being able to play in Band. Learning is what he is always doing (and loves, and thirsts for, in fact he seems driven more by this than by food or water!), and if you ask him where he learns best, he will say at home. He is double accelerated in School math (doing algebra) and comes home and grudgingly does the homework assignment so that he can go read his Life of Fred calculus book. It seems particular to his personality to be able to keep his light burning in spite of how school circumstances can sometimes seem bent on dimming it. I am thankful for the bright spots in his schooling, such as the teachers who recognize his wonderful mind, who do what they can to encourage his light to continue to shine brightly.

mother’s day brunch

May-whelm

Looking ahead to summer, quinn is getting excited for paleontology camp, theatre camp, and tag adventures in learning. I also spoke with a karate mom friend about working with him one on one for swim lessons. I have stopped saying “yet” attached to “he doesn’t ride a bike” this year, he simply doesn’t ride a bike and it is well with my soul. But by golly, the lad will swim.

May is 42 kinds of busy with school, marching band rehearsals, karate classes, as well as thinking ahead and signing up for all of what the summer will bring. One day i wrote, “may is overwhelm month. tonight we had papa murphy’s (take and bake pizza) for dinner. tomorrow probably nachos.”

Quinn also found may to be overwhelming on at least one occasion. he had a momentary bout of resenting activities because of not having enough spare time. he said he doesn’t understand why other kids don’t feel this way and are all about the activities and don’t need down time, and i told him it was good to know this about himself. We had a good discussion about honoring that need, prioritizing goals, finding balance, all things i want him to be reflecting on regularly.