~quinn’s forty sixth month~ stirring the pensieve

~written november/december 2018~

by this time, the blog had taken on a life of its own, and i began documenting quinn’s happenings on a regular basis in ~a month of unschool~ posts the next month, which then transitioned to ~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ posts. as such, this feels like the last chapter needed in this series to complete the splice in the one unbroken line.

unschooling was proving to be a good fit for the learning style of quinn. he was always inclined to follow his interests in an in-depth way, learning pertinent life skills as a matter of course. he was exploring numbers and taking on math all on his own. he would tell me things like, “2 and 2 more, and then another 1, is 5!” he did the same with subtraction, during the course of play. “you have 4 but you take away 2 so you have 2 left.” his boat-y observations about the letters on a page were a great example of how he constructed his own meaning of the world around him, including the o buoys and q crab traps he encountered.

in addition to chronicling the learning-oriented activities and events that took place each month, the monthly learning posts have become a place where i’ve processed some of the different layers of his learning style and personality. by this magical age of three, many of the most quinn-ish aspects of quinn-ness had emerged and i was starting to observe and take notice of them. the blog has been a bit like dumbledore’s pensieve in which i have been able to store memories, and at various times revisit them, swirl them around, and discover connections among the memories and the present days’ events, coming to understand both more fully. i find it incredibly fitting that the memories in the pensieve seem very much alive, as though pulsating with bioluminescence.

by this time i had put my finger on one tricky aspect of quinn’s personality, in that he has a serious perfectionist side. i can easily relate, and i think that was why i could identify this in him at a young age. i had noticed that quinn was easily upset when he was unable to execute his artistic goals to his liking, and he would spend months not drawing. his drawing skills would eventually catch up to his drawing goals, and then he would enter a new phase of drawing willingly, often to the exclusion of other activities. when his goals and skills were out of sync, he bided his time. part of this had to do with his style and personality, my watery ebb-and-flow dude, but part of the ebb was/is definitely an aversion to imperfections and mistakes.

during this particular month, quinn realized he could just turn the page to a new sheet of paper when a mark went onto the paper he didn’t like. he then filled an entire 100-page spiral notebook with drawings in one weekend. attention span was certainly not his issue, and i recorded that three hours elapsed one saturday while he stood at his play table, drawing storm waves, boats, and people so adorable i could have eaten the pages. his people had heads, stick arms and legs, with blobs for hands and feet. he would dictate, “you have to attach the eyes,” and make sure peoples’ legs were inside the boat so they would not fall in the water.

his narrative still saturated with boat imagery, he told me about a drawing in which we made our daily commute in a boat instead of a car; he told of filling the streets with water by poking holes in the road. of all the places in the world to be thinking of sending a boy with an imagination so preoccupied with boats, a few days in venice seem especially apt.

this month was when the milks seemed just like buoys to quinn! and we baked our two big green pumpkin boats and turned them into pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, and we still had pumpkin left over to make pancakes and store some in the freezer. my kitchen helper left no eggshells in the mix, was getting better at filling and leveling the teaspoon, and i didn’t have to stir anymore- he was very thorough!

delving into these archives, i found that the series seemed to be woven through with a few themes revolving around personhood. quinn was solidly self-possessed, and i was heading in that direction myself, engaging in a lot of self-reflection, and contemplating what freedom meant to me. having begun to establish healthy boundaries, i was more free to pour my energy into actualizing my potential in areas i cared about, such as parenting. quinn and i weathered storms, to be sure, as i climbed the mountain of parenting ideals. life would not come to rest in some static pose in the rain shadow, but we would find that we were camping there more frequently than we were trudging through gales on the weather side.

when he was an infant, and the struggle was being bitten while he nursed, i had to learn not to clench my own jaw. when he was three and having a tantrum, i had to learn that there was a prerequisite amount of connection needed to see us through those storms. now that he is eleven, i am seeing the parallel to the learning i’m doing now, which is maybe more advanced in that it is both about clenching my jaw less and front-loading connectedness. one of the key components to a thriving parent-child relationship all along has been attention to my own self-care, and looking back makes me want to give myself a high-five for steady improvement.

quinn and i took a trip to portland, and given our previous month’s trip having been so hotly contested by my coparent, i did not tell quinn ahead of time, so that i would not have to ask him to keep a secret. when it was time to go, i told him, “we’re going on a road trip tonight to see r and s and t!”

quinn said, “i like them!”

he was quiet for a while, but then spoke up again:

“dada says that one of the mamas is sicker than you are, mama… (pause)… r is the guy who dada says is sicker than you and she has problems in her head even more than the problems you have in your head.”

“whoa buddy. that’s heavy stuff. how did it feel to have dada say that to you?”

“when he said that i wanted to cry.”

“oh yeah? you felt sad, huh? i think i would feel sad too, if someone said that about my friend.”

“yeah (repeating the ‘sicker than you’ part)”

“oh. well, sweetie, i want you to know that you are the one who gets to decide what you think about people. even if dada or i think something, it doesn’t mean it has to be true for you.”

(repeating, “but dada says…”)

“so boo, do you think that about r?”

“no. i like r. she’s my friend!”

“me too. i like r, and i don’t think she is sick.”

a few minutes passed. i can still picture the low winter sun glancing off the water’s surface as we crossed the bridge.

“quinn, how are you feeling about it now?”

“i’m not sad anymore.”

the court-mandated parenting class i took when i originally planned on establishing custody paperwork had engraved in my mind that kids derive a lot of their self-esteem from their image of their two parents, and therefore any trash talking about the other parent in front of the child, while it can influence their kid’s opinions, is done at the child’s expense. so i had redoubled my commitment to never doing it. ultimately, without any need for trash talking, i trusted my kid to figure out whether his other parent is a person of integrity, without me ever having to burden him with my opinion. conversely, if i helped quinn maintain a center from which he could determine his own opinions in spite of outside input, he might stand to be less vulnerable should one parent choose to engage in trash talk.

r and i took the boys to omsi. we spent oodles of time in the room full of nerf balls and vacuum tubing. we played musical wrenches and played with electricity in the physics room. we dunked and excavated in the watershed model. we got to hold a leaf bug. quinn put together a human skeleton puzzle. we used to go to omsi all the time, but it was a different experience with quinn being older and more capable, since i could actually look around a little bit myself. i found a cool book called while a tree was growing about all the historical events that happened during the lifespan of a certain giant sequoia tree- it was a cool blend of science and history. when i got home i ordered it for 48 cents for a christmas present. s was into drawing mazes, and he made one for quinn, and showed him what a maze is all about. the boys played with cars, driving them down the ramp. quinn pretended everything was a boat. r fed us like royalty, quinn ate 27 little oranges, 15 chocolate chip cookies, and a few bites of burrito, and i got to do lots of mama chatting. i made a side trip to visit a friend at print arts northwest, where quinn made beaded candy canes at a table with four adult women, and i looked at art. q told the women his favorite colors are “green, pink and orange.” this was the first time i had ever heard him name any color a favorite other than green!

quinn told me on the ride home, “i had such a good time at r’s house.” i figured it would be so fresh in his mind, and he’d mention something about it to his dad, but at least after the fact, it wouldn’t ruin the trip. when coparent asked me if we had gone to portland, i simply answered truthfully. whereas the prior month, mr. hyde had lectured me about the requirements “by law” that i inform the other parent when taking his son out of town, this time i got dr. jekyll: “so, what is the policy on that? i’m confused.” i agreed i would like to know if he were taking quinn somewhere, without agreeing that i would notify him. i certainly did not apologize or in any way indicate that what i had done was wrong.

i never did confront him on the trash talk. at earlier times he would turn it back on me, denying things he had said about me completely with, “maybe he got the terminology from you.” (gaslighting alert! looking back now with an understanding of such dynamics, it is so easy to see.) from all these years later, i hold these truths to be self-evident: that i had good parental judgment and the right to do what i wanted to do, and go where i wanted to go, with my son on my own parenting time.

what is also clear to me years later is that i stand behind my then-conviction to maintain quinn’s personal integrity, to encourage rather than discourage him to decide for himself on matters large and small, whenever possible. it can be unwieldy to parent a three-year-old with a strong self-knowledge and definitive agenda, in a world where the prevailing parenting paradigm revolves around compliance. with my eye on the longer-term goal of quinn knowing, absolutely within his own soul, who he is, and as a side benefit, knowing who his parents are, i have always encouraged him to be in touch with what he thinks. this has been worth every bit of awkwardness going against the mainstream.

this was the same month i posted that he knows himself in which he made stunningly self-aware statements about not going to school, and not belonging in a city. i was in awe, looking to him as a model, and hoping to catch up in the department of self-knowledge! i could already see the radical approach i was taking was starting to bear fruit.

one morning on the way to work (in the rainy semi-darkness of mid-december) we saw an owl fly out of a tree beside the road just before we crossed the bridge. since nobody was behind us, we waited at the stop sign a while and watched it fly again, down to the grass. we talked to it, telling it to stay safe and not go into the road. it flew back up into the tree. we drove across the bridge.

solstice this year fell on a full moon, and featured a full lunar eclipse! the timing of the eclipse didn’t allow for us to see it, but such a celestial backdrop seemed like the natural time for things like owls flying by my car on my morning commute.


we filled the house with the fragrance of cinnamon-applesauce ornaments, and cloves stuck in an orange. we made playdough (beet juice pink, reminds me of red violet), and painted all our buoys for our buoy garland every color of the rainbow. a long string of rainbow colored buoys is about the most fitting ending i can think of for a post series about fixing a broken line, finding a whole bunch of unexpected treasures, and turning them into a celebration.




as i tucked the pensieve back into its cabinet, i re-read each post and pondered how transformative this writing process has been. just due to the very act of saying yes and showing up to do this specific writing, my perception went through a dramatic shift. at first i perceived this line splice project as a repair that would be functional, but not necessarily pretty. i was on a mission to unstick myself in a certain aspect of my writing, because it occurred to me that this missing piece was holding me back from fully integrating my storyline. i went into it slightly intimidated, daunted by the things i knew i would revisit, and apprehensive about what i may have forgotten. i thought i would catalog memories, organize them into paragraphs, slicing away ugly or unneeded parts and maybe inserting a metaphor to tie them all together. however, by the end of the first one, i realized i had been remiss to think of it so clinically, and i had been so focused on how hard things were during that time, that i forgot how beautiful and joyful they had been. by the third post, there were rainbow connections and so many gems whose immense worth i could not have fathomed at the time, but which were now radiant given the new angle of the sunlight shining upon them. i gained some momentum through several more posts as i savored the flower petals i was able to hold in the palm of my hand once more. and i reveled in the broader view having come full circle up the spiral staircase. the connections zigzagging from then to now and back to then, all reminding me that integrating is about making these important connections, that this mending project is not just making the whole more functional, but also lending it strength. it will remain to be seen if i am now “unstuck” as i hope to be, but what i feel i can take away from all of this is what beauty you can make out of what was broken and left behind, if you’re resourceful.

it turned out that the broken ends of the strands of my rope were just another magical place on the edge of things, the crack where the light gets in.

so i lay my line splice down here on the threshold of another winter solstice 8 years hence, another darkest part of another year, to hopefully bring a little light to the darkness.

1 comment to ~quinn’s forty sixth month~ stirring the pensieve

  • camp boss

    It was fun to take a few minutes to glance through and catch up on these new old posts….i turned the tea water on but then sat down so now im sure the water is back to cold…i guess i can make tea now and get busy on life….school needs attention and there is no school fairy who loves to help kiddos with math just waiting to jump in a do it for me while i sip a cuppa.

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