Archive for the ‘Intensities’ Category

The Boys of Summer

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“Nobody on the road /
nobody on the beach.”

– Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer”

There’s an interstitial period at the end of summer that I always forget about until it’s on top of us. Suddenly, the lines vanish, the traffic subsides to a manageable thirty-mile-per-hour level, and the sonic content of indoor activities drops to a whisper. Pools glass over, and deck chairs are abundant.

The Boys of Summer are gone.

For intense kids like ours, it’s a double bonus. Mine wear out eventually, the din of daycare camp kids running roughshod in the museum dulling their interest, the nineteenth Nerf football that errantly dings them in the head bringing pool days to a close earlier than they otherwise might. But when the Boys of Summer have gone, they’re given this magical two-week window of free rein, and I am blessed and lucky to see it.

What games might they play in an otherwise empty pool? How long would they stay to read museum placards explaining the trilobite’s role in the Devonian? What would a day look like for them in a world that – there’s no other analogy, really – has been neutron-bombed to their benefit?

The Boys of Summer depart at precisely the right time, too. It’s been a long summer of spinning plates for me – trying to give my clients exceptional service while giving the kids a summer of adventure and fun, both while not allowing the house to fall into utter entropy. That’s involved some sleight-of-hand in places – responding to an email or two* with a hand over my phone in the museum IMAX theater, or overseeing a pool day from the second-floor gazebo that happens to sit right atop the WiFi router. (Thank God). By this point in the summer, I’m usually tired, and what’s facing me down is the fact that we’re getting started in two weeks. Am I ready? Do I have Vonnegut’s voicing and character development predilections under control for E? Do I remember where H left off in sixth-grade math, and what her challenges were? Am I really ready to swapwrite about A’s Dungeons and Dragons character for months on end?

At precisely the same time this weary level of concern arrives, I pass the Boys of Summer on the way out, and I am reminded of why I do this: the pure fire of curiosity and passion that emerges in the quiet the Boys gift as as they go. Absent the pool din, the need to queue up to look at a model of a Titan IV rocket, the path-sharing on hikes and the raw entropy of Jump Street at its rainy-day worst, I can hear them again. Their questions, their discussions, their endless love of learning why and how.

They never left. They’re still the same passionate learners I said goodbye to, at some level, when I threw the switch into full-on Summer Dad Mode at the end of May. They’ve just been submerged in the summer chaos itself, their voices the bubbly blurble of shouting underwater at a pool under clear Colorado skies.

The only MARCO I hear now is theirs, and while I might not have said it even a week ago, as I sat in construction traffic, I am, indeed, ready with a POLO of my own.

Let the fall begin.

Soon.

But first…let me enjoy this.

Because the Boys of Summer are fun, but they’re raucous and exhausting, and by mid-August, I’m not sad to see them climb into their Deadhead-stickered Cadillacs and go.

_____________________________

* Five hundred fifty-seven

Intensity and Buzzards

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Our family finally finished The Weddings (both my sister and Dave’s sister got married in the first half of this year), and, after the last one was completed, we decided to go on a much-needed family vacation to Southwest Colorado. Dave and I lived in Cortez, Colorado for a while during residency and graduate school, and it is one of our favorite parts of the state; we were excited to share it with the kids for the first time. We started by visiting Mesa Verde for a few days – a guided morning tour of the mesa top sites, which finished up with a ranger tour of Cliff Palace. Watching our kids see the archaeological sites for the first time was wonderful – they were as awestruck by their majesty and intrigue as we were when we first toured them.

In the afternoon, we ventured over to one of the self-touring sites for a look around. Life with intense kids is a waiting game – the intensities can only be held in check for so long before they start to flourish again. Vacation with intense kids is no different. After everyone kept it together during the morning tours, Dave and I figured an unscheduled afternoon would work best. That way, the intellectual conversations, emotional exchanges, and predictable discomfort with clothing and shoes could happen on a backdrop of our own schedule, and be adjusted as needed.  After we finished the self-tour, I suggested we might consider a short (read: leisurely) hike into the canyon. We scouted the two hikes that can be done from the canyon floor: the Petroglyph Hike and the Spruce Canyon Hike.

The kids read about each hike on the sign, and E and A begged us to do the Petroglyph Hike. H was non-committal about either. Dave and I had previously done the hikes 20 years ago, and we hike a lot around Denver. It was around 90 degrees, but we had packed water for our trip into the canyon that day, so we committed to the hike, and H agreed to go along for the ride. The hike was supposed to take two hours round trip, and we only needed to be out of the canyon within four hours, so we figured we could make it easily. Plus, between the three of them talking incessantly and bouncing around, I thought an outlet for their psychomotor intensity was warranted.

We started up the steep climb of steps, H vanishing into the distance (her strategy was get the hike over with as soon as possible.) E and A hiked along at a brisk pace, exchanging conversation about video games and soccer. Dave and I followed behind, carrying the water in a pack, and marveling at how 20 years could go by. The hike was steep up and down, and went a long way into the canyon. By the time we reached the Petroglyphs, the kids were doing fine; Dave and I were hot, tired, cranky, and wishing we were 24 again.

We stopped and took a rest under the shade of an overhang. H had come back to the group, and the three kids were now running around, talking very loudly, and deeply immersed in an imaginative world of their own making. It’s one of those moments where I saw them for what they truly are: intelligent, complicated, intense humans that the universe produced into a society that isn’t quite sure what to do with them. Out here, though, in the expansive canyon, they could be themselves without restraint.

So Dave and I hiked – and grumbled – behind them. The climb from the top of the path up onto the canyon rim is a free climb up a rock face, with some strategically placed foot and hand holds. I tried not to think about what would happen if we fell. Once we were on the rim, we began the long, hot hike around the canyon rim back to the parking lot. Turkey vultures circled constantly overhead in the heat, reminding us to continue on. (More than once, we  joked that the kids should just leave us for the buzzards.) The kids encouraged us, engaged us, pulling us along with their words and questions. We finally reached the car, about two hours after we started. Air conditioning had never felt so good.

For Dave and I, the strenuous hike served to scrub off the grime from the first half of the year. We went from wrapping up our first full-time homeschooling year right into two family weddings (and replacing a broken dishwasher), all while keeping up both of our jobs at a brisk pace. Our own intensities were worn down, beaten under the heat, with buzzards circling overhead. The hike was a turning point, a rallying cry for the year. We both finished the hike, and the vacation, with a renewed feeling of intensity and purpose, thanks to our intense and resilient kids.

 

Unification

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So we’ve been a bit busy, as you can probably tell from the Gap That Was April. In that month, we had one out-of-town wedding, prep for another, taxes for home and business, two kid sports starting up, and the abrupt death of our faithful dishwasher. Forgiveness? Thanks. We’ll do better over the summer.

And speaking of, we looked up to find three weeks left on our homeschooling calendar. Just a double-dozen days of fitting everything in and we’ll be into the lazy – and welcome – days of summer. As I turned the calendar over, I started looking for a theme to the year – an overarching sense of mission, or purpose, or accomplishment, that I could find anchorage in. Was there something that tied it all together?

There was. But it was different for each of them.

For A, our five-intensity flathead V-8 made flesh, it was de-institutionalization. He’s had a workshirt and a nametag on for far too long, compared to the girls, and it was starting to show in a hundred little ways. But the most heartbreaking of them was his tendency to lean back, to wait for knowledge to be inserted or dispensed or otherwise given. He’s never been a taker of knowledge, and that changed this year. Slowly. Almost imperceptibly. But it changed. He’s looking now – for information, for inspiration, for meaning. He’s leaning forward, willing to participate, willing to work for his outcomes, rather than waiting for them to be served up – and it’s been wonderful to watch. I can’t wait to see how this plays out next year.

For H, our 2E emotional-intensive, it was comfort. For the entirety of her educational life, I’ve wished H a year to learn when she wasn’t concerned about hiding her disability, or worrying where it was going to surface next. I’ve wished her peace and unconditional support and the time and space to find what she is truly passionate about. This year provided all of that, and more, and it was a thing of absolute beauty to watch her learn to love history, to grow to want to improve her writing meaningfully, and – perhaps most importantly – to find a place to sit with math in comfortable silence, if not friendship. H needs space to find herself, to build something up from beneath her that will provide a platform for her to grow atop. She was never going to find that in a traditional school setting. It’s warmed my heart to see her find it here with us.

For E, our host child from the Crab Nebula, it was focus. E’s been guesting in the local GT program for the past two years, leading a split existence: two hours a day with me, on intensive writing and math and passion-project work, and then over to our local GT center school for some time being nine and ten, respectively. I wouldn’t begrudge her that time, looking back on it, but she’s grown more serious about having the time to pursue her passions, free of recess lineups and heat-lamp tater tots. This year was her opportunity to stretch out, to read everything she wanted to (even if – ahem – it was under the covers by flashlight), to stargaze the Perseids and sleep in the next day and work in her robe until noon. It was the year to show us the fire. She showed it to us, and its flame is beyond comprehension.

For me, it was spacing. Hockey coaches preach it like a mantra: motion, dispersed, active, aware. I learned to read them much better this year, to understand what it was they needed at any given moment. Sometimes, that was routine – the secure safety of the knowledge that tomorrow would parallel today, that what was asked of them on Tuesday would be asked of them on Thursday, too. Sometimes, though, it was disruption: that precisely the opposite was true.

So what do we do next year? Find a new theme. New focus. New energy. New tasks and architectures and ways of working. We build on what we found, keeping the best, discarding the rest. We move forward with a sense of passion and purpose.

But first, it’s time for a break. Because passion derives from the spaces between things – and it’s time for some between.

Adjusting the Plan

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I was flipping through channels on Sunday while the Super Bowl was on (being from Denver, it was unwatchable), and came across The Adjustment Bureau on the SyFy channel. Dave and I saw the movie while it was in theaters, and really liked it, so I watched it again to cure my Super Bowl blues.

For those of you who have not seen it, The Adjustment Bureau is not a revolutionary movie idea (it borrows from The Matrix and Dark City, among others), but it is a well-acted science fiction story about a New York couple, David and Elise (played by Matt Damon and Emily Blount) who feel they are meant to be together, but are secretly being kept apart by members of “The Adjustment Bureau” because it’s not part of “The Plan.” Early on in the movie, David inadvertently finds out about The Plan, and, as the movie unfolds, the Bureau members reveal to David the reason he is kept from Elise: apart, he will go onto become President of the United States, and she will go onto become a famous dancer and choreographer. Together, however, they will fill each other’s voids; David will not become President, and Elise will teach dance lessons to 6-year-olds. David has to make a choice about whether to leave Elise alone so she can fulfill her dreams (and he his), or be together with her, and have their dreams altered. Eventually, they decide to stay together, and The Plan is altered by the Bureau.

The first time I saw it, I was emotionally drawn to the scenes between David and Emily. It reminded me of how I felt when Dave and I met: we were instantly drawn to one another, as though we had found a soul mate. Later, I recognized this as both physical and intellectual attraction: gifted young adults, in our early 20s, who had never really met anyone like ourselves. That attraction has stayed strong 23+ years now, and it is still the basis of why we like to be around one another as much as possible. The choice the movie presented to David was never a choice in my mind: I would have chosen to be together, no matter the cost to careers or fame.

What interested me most, though, was my reaction the second time I saw the movie. During the movie, the Bureau members use doorways to move around the city; when they are wearing a special hat (I know, corny), they can open a doorway and move large distances within the city. At one point, David is wearing one of the special hats, grabs Elise, and they open a door from a random bathroom in an attempt to escape. The doorway opens into Yankee Stadium, with green grass and blue sky, and Elise is at once thrilled, terrified, and confused.

I was reflecting on our last 3 years, and how that one doorway opening is one of the few visual representations I’ve seen that accurately conveys the intellectual and emotional intensity of raising highly/profoundly gifted kids. Each doorway we open – sometimes looking for a way out – is a jarring awakening that we are not on a regular journey. We think the kids are headed off to school, but through the door is a full-time gifted program at a different school. We think the kids are continuing in the gifted program, but through the successive doors are grade-skips, part-time homeschooling, and full-time homeschooling. The rules (if indeed there are any) are altered, the outcomes unpredictable. It feels thrilling, terrifying, and confusing all at once. We’ve gotten more used to it now, opening doorways into uncertain places, and wandering around when we get there. But the visceral, emotional feeling when you think you’re headed into the grocery store, and instead you end up on top of a building, never goes away. It’s an endless cycle of sudden disorientation, finding our way, and heading forth.

The one thing that didn’t change when I watched to movie, however, was my feeling that no matter what, it’s all better when we’re together. We are drawn to each other, my family and I, as we walk through each door together; gasping in awe, laughing, and looking for the next one to open.

Through the Looking Glass

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What is screen time anymore, anyway?

(No…seriously. If you have a good handle on this, please contact me. But read on before you answer.)

I know the simplistic, medical perspective: time spent staring at screens is neither active play nor imaginative play. I get it. Do I think the Collective should spend six hours a day staring at anything? No. But the further along we go, the more the lines begin to blur, and the more convoluted I’m finding screen-time rules to become.

Just to toss out the dog’s breakfast of issues we’re contending with: is a Kindle the same as a book? Does a book simulate screen time, or is the imaginative component of reading a sufficient stand-in for ‘imaginative play?’ What about interactive video games, then? And, within that category, is Mr. Crab in the same category as The Room? What if they’ll work up a frothing sweat playing Kinect Sports or Just Dance, but I find them quietly drawing with chalk if I send them outside?

What about board games turned into iPad games? One thing we worry about video games is the isolating effects of constant, solo, immersive time. So if I come across them playing Monopoly on the iPad – and Monopoly, like Ticket to Ride and Scrabble and Small World and Risk, are just better-executed, more fun games on the iPad – am I supposed to call those proceedings to a halt as ‘screen time?’

And then there’s the even more convoluted category of consumption versus creation. Where, for instance, does writing fall on the ‘screen time’ continuum? What about coding? If coding and writing are both creation, does that equate video-game time with reading as consumption? Do I need some sort of insane ratio system for consumption time versus creation time?

The reality is that nothing is cut and dried any more when it comes to allocating and monitoring screen time, because what kids are doing on those screens is very different – sometimes active, sometimes passive, sometimes creating, sometimes consuming. Nor is it really a viable option to expect kids to play outside for the full balance of their free time. My kids love a bike ride, or an afternoon playing in the pool, as much as the next kid, but it’s not realistic to think that they’re going to spend the entirety of their days in those activities. They love to read, to come up with new, imaginative play worlds, to nap by the fire.

Moreover, what am I telling them about how screens are going to integrate into their adult lives by centrifuging out ‘screen time’ as kids? I can’t count the times I’ve seen the person next to me at the gym reading on a Kindle or an iPad while exercising, and tech like Google Glass is only going to further integrate the concept of the screen into their everyday lives. We live in a connected, data-driven world, and while it’s fun to unplug from that world for periods of time,  it’s tough to leave that world on a permanent or even semi-permanent basis.

When many of us were kids, screen time was an easy issue for our parents to manage; it came down to “turn off the TV and go outside.” But increasingly, as parents in 2014, we find ourselves stopping short to consider the circumstances involved in screen time. I don’t have any easy answers on this front, and I suspect many of us share the same question: with screens involved in nearly everything we do and nearly everywhere we go, is it even possible – or desirable – to police this concept anymore?

I find it easiest to subscribe to the Let’s Move! standard of sixty active minutes per day. There have been many, many days we’ve started with 60 as our baseline and gone on to 120 and then 180, and those are good days. But the days they’ve come home exhausted from a hike or a tennis match and proceeded to invent a society of sentient cats in the basement, or collaborated on writing a Doctor Who script, are good days too. And so I come back to a saying that’s helped our family in virtually every area of our lives: everything in moderation, including moderation. 

Walking on the Moon

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For a first time in a long time – probably since before preschool – they are happy. They are intensely, exuberantly, singing-at-the-top-of-their-lungs happy.

I don’t know when I first noticed it, but this “school year” is different. Sure, I’m not dragging them out of bed every morning, dropping them off (sullen) at school, then picking them up (even more sullen) to come home, coercing them through homework, and forcing them get to bed and repeat it all over again. No, this ” school year” has been full of discovery, pajamas, projects, plays, singing, strife, emotions, intensity, and happiness. And that just covers the first two hours.

I couldn’t have predicted the complete change in their behavior at this point in the year. We had been part-time homeschooling both girls for the last two years, so I figured we had seen both the benefits and drawbacks of homeschooling gifted kids. I assumed we would see more of the same – content, less-stressed kids with a general love of learning.

What I got, however, was happy.

They are playing in the playroom downstairs, engaged in intricate play between the three of them that involves something along the lines of singing a favorite song, while one of them plays the accompanying keyboard. For H, this means a Police song – she asked for a DVD of a Police concert for Christmas – and she’s singing her rendition of “Walking on the Moon” with the piano. Their music teacher would be proud (and thank goodness she is OK with them doing pop songs for their music lessons.) It’s the type of thing I would have heard them doing at age 3 or 4, but that slowly melted away as they went to school. Once they moved beyond preschool, the monotony of school ground the playfulness out of them, and they came out the other end, as a Pink Floyd face. It happened so slowly, so insidiously, that I barely noticed.

This happiness in my house has made me question everything that I thought I knew. I used to think I understood, without a doubt, the benefits of education, acquiring knowledge, and training for a profession. I knew the right way to study, the right classes to take, the right way to get into school. But thinking about happiness, and what that means to a human life, has made me realize that I have much to learn. How do I guide my kids through an environment that I never knew existed, one so vastly different from my own experiences as a child? How do I focus on their happiness as an end point, not as an unexpected side effect?

How do I teach them to walk on the moon?

Or maybe – and probably – they should teach me. The good news is, I’m never too old to learn, especially from my kids.

I’m heading downstairs to start singing.

Bobamento

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In the summer of 1979, there was much to be excited about for me. Van Halen II still had singles in heavy circulation, Alien  and Star Trek were in movie theaters, and Trivial Pursuit was a brand-new source of intra-family strife on board game night. Hell, it snowed in the Sahara for thirty minutes that year; anything, it seemed, could and would happen. It was in that spirit of unbounded excitement and possibility that I ripped open a padded mailer from the Kenner corporation to reveal an action figure I knew absolutely nothing about.

Boba Fett was a giveaway in the summer of ’79. Collect enough proofs of purchase, and he was yours, but with a catch: Kenner told you next to nothing about Boba, because they didn’t want to give the plot of Empire away. Still, he was yours to do with as you saw fit between June of 1979 and May of 1980, when Empire came out, and we found out who the hell he was. But for those glorious eleven months, I had the time of my life with Boba, who was one day a rogue with a heart of gold, assisting the Rebellion in its takedown of the mighty Empire, and the next a soulless blackguard who would sell his grandmother’s ashes for beer money. Boba had no story, and, conveniently, no memory from day to day of who he was or what he did the day prior; he might as well have been Guy Pierce in Memento. Boba changed allegiances and personalities at a pace that would have made Loki ill, and I often paired him up with another group of masterless ronin, the Micronauts, a translucent army of action figures imported wholesale by Mego without so much as a thought for backstory or explanation. The Micronauts had only titles and suggestive coloration; Baron Karza was, likely, bad, just as Force Commander was probably good, but who knew? Even the Star Wars figures I had to play with in 1979 were near-ciphers themselves, since we had little concept of what a Jedi Knight even was, let alone the enigmatic Clone Wars. Without an ethnography of the Jawas, or a robust explanation of who Jabba the Hutt might be, I just forged ahead devil-may-care and made up my own stories for all of them.

Flash forward to November of 2013, and the Collective’s Christmas lists are decidedly hesitant. E wants a compound bow, but beyond that, she’s pretty much left things in my capable hands. A, similarly, has designs on a few items, but they’re not just more than broad strokes, and A might be the most toy-detached of them all. The reality is that they grow less interested in traditional toys with each passing year, and I can’t honestly say that I blame them. Toys come with baked-in universes anymore: everything has either an online tie-in, or a supporting TV show, or another culturally circumscribed environment that’s belted so tightly that there’s not much to do but to act out what’s already happened on one screen or another. Where’s the fun?

If Kenner existed today, there would be no possibility whatsoever of a ten-year-old opening an action figure that had no rigorously developed backstory, online product push, television tie-in, and, probably, soft drink promotion at 7-11 tied into it. Everything, it seems, has converged on the concept of play guided by consumerism.  Even Legos, the most historically stalwart of open-ended playthings, has succumbed to this. Everything in Legoland is now a set, and builds a defined entity (or, if you’re lucky, three), but that’s it, and God help you if you toss it into the Lego bin intact for repeated rummaging to begin abrading that completed vehicle into its component blocks.

In 1979, I built an entire army of X-wings out of Legos, and every single one was a ragtag assemblage of rainbow-colored blocks, as if the Rebel Alliance had hired the Teletubbies as its fighter repair mechanics. When one broke, I fixed it. I came across an X-wing that A and I built for his birthday in 2012 in the Lego bin the other day. It was substantially still together, but missing some key chunks. I asked A why he didn’t play with it anymore, and he shrugged and said it had gotten to be too hard to fix. It was, too; it was too close to perfection for intensity to tackle, whereas my godawful rainbow X-wings were usually just a brick or two away from being pressed back into service against the Empire. But creating X-wings from bricks I already own has no value to the Lego corporation, and the more kids are told, stepwise, what to do, the more dependent on Lego ‘set logic’ they become.

The reality is, that was we face off against another holiday hijacked by the consumerist economy we live in, we’re increasingly confronted with what one blogger called ‘junk toys’ -mindless, scripted-recreation plastic that does nothing to let our kids expand their creative horizons and everything to line the pockets of corporations.  It’s strange, that as we’ve begun to purport to value creativity more in our society, we’ve actually provided our kids with toys that encourage less creativity: just follow along with the script, no thought process allowed. It’s for that reason that they’ve come to count on me – in the form of a Christmas who-kn0ws-what-you-might-get construct called the Randometer – to find cool stuff for them. I can’t disclose what this year’s Randometer might bring, since they read this blog, too – but I’m confident that what they find under the tree on Christmas morning is going to encourage out-of-the-box thinking.