Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)

Saw our last school play

Parting is such sweet sorrow

We will miss these days

Tonight, we attend our son’s last performance in a school play. We loved watching Luke in plays. Although he had zero desire to pursue drama in school, we sure did enjoy seeing him act when he was forced to. Tonight’s play was a hilarious summarization of William Shakespeare’s works, which pleased his English major mom. It was presented by the Honors Literature class, and it was perfection. Cheeky, inappropriate, and hysterical. And, of course, Luke killed it as Juliet.

And as I was watching the play, thinking about how this was the last time I would see Luke perform this way, this lyric was playing in my head:

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” ~Counting Crows

With A Poet’s Heart, I Begin Again

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

I used to write poetry. I was much younger then, with a radical heart, raucous with emotion. Then I grew up. I learned to pull my emotions in, hug them like it was the last time I’d ever feel them because I was sure no one else wanted to hear from them. I stopped wearing my heart pinned to my chest and gave it a forwarding address deep inside. Now I find that with the passing of time and with roughness of the outside world, life used heavy-grit sandpaper on me because now, now my heart is back on the outside where it was before. Everything is raw. I can’t push it back down, and that’s a good thing, I think.

So I am mentally planning a poetry comeback. Until the inspiration hits me, I’m reading others’ poetry. Good Bones is one I feel with all my heart. I have on many occasions apologized to my children for the state of the world and my part in making it what it is now, what they will inherit and have to fix (or create a rocket in which to leave forever).

As I start down the poet’s path again, I share this work with you today. Perhaps it will resonate with you as well.

Good Bones, a poem by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

Don’t Mess With The Senate

First day of 8th grade

When our youngest was in 8th grade, his teacher told me he thought Luke had a good shot of becoming his class valedictorian. I thought it was sort of a crazy thing to say to a parent, but I took it to heart because Mr. Beckwith was a no-nonsense, honors literature teacher with high expectations. He was not the type to throw around undeserved praise. At the continuation ceremony, each homeroom teacher spoke briefly about their students. Mr. Beckwith said this about Luke:

“We call him The Senate. That is what he liked to be called*. But unlike the Senate that the adults are accustomed to, Luke works really, really hard. He is a diligent, quiet leader, but don’t let that fool you. He has a powerful, powerful voice in class. And his work ethic, I can’t stress this enough, it sets the bar for everyone around him. He raises the level of excellence by just walking into a room. It’s pretty profound. Luke, you will be missed but never forgotten.”

As a parent, I was blown away by Mr. Beckwith’s words of praise and by his assertion of where Luke might be able to take his high school career. When we left the ceremony, I told Luke what Mr. Beckwith had shared with me about being valedictorian. Luke’s eyes lit up. In that moment, I immediately regretted my words. Luke is a formidable person who sees a challenge and makes it a goal. He’s like a border collie with a job: get out of his way and watch how quickly and efficiently he lines everything up and puts it away. Like Mr. Beckwith, I knew well how hard Luke works, and I wondered if I had just doomed him to a difficult and decidedly un-fun high school career.

Luke started freshman year with honors English and social studies. Sophomore year he added honors math and science. Already a student ambassador, Luke joined Student Senate. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and became an officer for that. By senior year, he was Lead Ambassador, NHS president, and a leader on the cross-country team in addition to maintaining straight As in all his honors and elective classes. I regularly asked him if he wanted t have friends over. He regularly declined. My worst fears were realized. He was working too hard, I thought. I told him repeatedly he could try giving 90% sometimes instead of 110%. My words went in one ear and out the other.

Last Friday, the dean of the high school announced the senior awards. When he was about to name the valedictorian, he noted there were two this year and said he would announce them in alphabetical order. I held my breath since our last name begins with W and I know Luke is the last kid in his class alphabetically. The dean named the first student and went through his academic and community achievements. Then he named the second valedictorian. It was Luke. Although Luke had carefully been monitoring his progress towards his goal and thought he had a good shot at it, you never know until the fat lady sings, right? He scanned the room for us, looked right at his father and I, and waved, just like he did when he was on stage for the Christmas program when he was in kindergarten. He was beaming. He’d done it. He’d locked his gaze on his goals, rounded them up, and escorted them, one by one, into the pen until he saw the gate close behind them. Mr. Wood later announced that Luke was also voted Senior of the Year by the teachers because, of course, he was.

I recount this story about our upward climbing Luke not to brag or because I had anything to do with his accomplishments (other than being his chauffeur). I tell this story because 9 years ago, I sat in my kitchen and wept after I heard a dyslexia specialist quizzing Luke and realized my 3rd grader skipped letters in a recitation of the alphabet, couldn’t name the days of the week in order, or name even half of the twelve months of the year. I cried because before she left she told me Luke needed to go to a special school. She told me his dyslexia was severe, and he was years behind other students. Years. He would likely never read well. Looking back now, though, I know I shouldn’t have worried. That specialist knew a lot of things, but she didn’t know Luke. She didn’t understand the power of The Senate.

(*Luke liked to be called The Senate in 8th grade because of his love of Star Wars. It was a joke he made once with his classmates and it stuck. He’s as powerful as Palpatine, but he has no desire to join the Senate.)

All Dressed Up With Some Place To Go

With our senior set to graduate in 39 days, 17 hours, and 30 minutes (not that I’m counting), last night we attended our final Denver Academy Gala as parents of a current student. Because the last two gala events had to be held virtually, we were thrilled to learn this year’s event would be in person again, and at The Ritz-Carlton, nonetheless. I’ve missed this event because it is my yearly excuse to get dressed up and prove that I know which fork to use at a full place setting. I get to wear a lovely dress and heels and see my husband looking dapper in his suit. And raising funds so more students can attend this private school that teaches students with learning disabilities the way they learn best is a passion project now. Steve and I will likely continue to attend these events after Luke graduates because the school changed our sons’ educational trajectories so dramatically. Luke entered 7th grade at the school reading more than a year below grade level, but four years later at 17 he was reading at post graduate level. Joe, who struggled in nearly every subject in elementary school, now attends a competitive liberal arts college and has a 3.6 grade point average. You can’t argue with that success. This year the school celebrates fifty years changing lives for these neurodiverse kids. We were happy to dress up, show up, and donate from the deepest corner of our pockets.

It’s not hyperbole when I say Denver Academy saved our family. Once our sons started at this school, there were no more homework battles; in fact, we were rarely asked to help with homework at all. Parent/teacher conferences no longer made me cry. The boys started believing they were capable. Smart, even. This was new territory for them. They began getting involved in sports and clubs. For our part, we attended a seminar that simulated what it’s like to live with learning disabilities and gained a better understanding of our sons’ struggles. We showed up for every lecture and presentation DA held that we felt could help us do better for our kids. We bonded with other parents whose experiences with their children were eerily similar to ours. We no longer felt isolated in our situation with our children. We found a home, and nothing in our lives has been the same since.

Thank you, Denver Academy, for teaching our kids how to be successful in their skin and for teaching us that learning differences are something to appreciate, not fear.

Rubber Ducky, You’re The One

As we count down the days to our youngest’s high school graduation, the festivities are picking up speed. We’ve got plans for a small party for our son and his friends post graduation. There will be a tent campout soon for the future graduates on their school campus, which will be followed by the infamous and ever popular Senior Ditch Day. Prom is a couple weekends away. On May 6th, the school will have their annual Senior Signing Day, where the students share what they will be doing post graduation with their classmates and teachers. And then there is the annual senior Shakespeare production, which happens before the Senior Breakfast, graduation practice, and then the final hurrah at graduation. All of this is overwhelming and hard to keep track of as a parent, but Luke is so here for it. Senioritis is in full swing at our house.

This week, Luke and his classmates began with the senior pranks at school. Luke has been dreaming about this for years. YEARS. When Luke was a sophomore, he told us what prank he would like to oversee before graduation. As long as we’ve had Luke (going on 19 years now), he has been an aficionado of cute things. So it is very appropriate that Luke’s contribution to the senior pranks at his school would be cute. To that end, I give you Luke’s senior prank. A Deluge of Ducks.

A deluge of ducks

I’ll admit I was a little less than thrilled when Luke originally floated (from here on out there will be duck puns) the idea of amassing a plethora of rubber ducks to display in the office of the high school dean. He wanted 300 rubber ducks. I thought he was quacked, but I agreed to foot the bill. I mean, the kid is getting ready to fly the nest, so how could I make a flap about his wish? When the two large boxes of rubber ducks in various sizes arrived, I picked them up and waddled my way in with them and set them down. Luke didn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket, so he asked some friends to help purchase more ducks so he wouldn’t be in hot water with me. They took the ducks to school early Monday morning, gained surreptitious access to the dean’s office, and got busy. Thye were winging it and having a blast with the duck placement. Then Dean Wood arrived.

The reveal

There was quite a bit of nervous laughter as the kids tried to decide if they had ruffled the dean’s feathers, but it all went down just fine. No fowl response here. In the end, Dean Wood proved unflappable.

Sometimes it’s worth it to give into your kid’s whim when he presents an idea. Sometimes you just have to say, “What the duck” and give them some cash to help them fulfill their crazy dream. It might just become a fun memory for both of you.

Everything was just ducky

Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

In Vino Veritas

Wine tasting. It’s something many older (and younger), primarily white, people do for fun. It’s still a new thing for me, and I have not yet perfected the art of it. There clearly is a method to do it correctly. I have a friend who is 20+ years into this game, and he says it’s all about the pacing. Go to a couple tastings, get a substantial, late lunch, do a couple more tastings, then have a good dinner. We did one tasting this morning, then went straight to another tasting where we had tapas, which was a light lunch. By the time we got to the third tasting at 2:30, I had to stop because I was the designated driver for the afternoon. This was just as well as I am not a regular drinker and, as a smaller person, I am a cheap date. If I hadn’t sat out the third tasting, I might have needed help getting back to our car. After a couple hours sobering up while the wine and conversation flowed, I was good to drive the fifteen minutes back to Walla Walla.

I am going to need more practice at this. It’s a good thing I will have at least four more years of wine tasting in the Walla Walla valley now that our youngest has decided to attend Whitman College also. Maybe by the time he graduates, I will have honed my wine tasting skills. Hubby and I will be heading home with a case of wine, so I can start sharpening my skills straight away.

Here are some photos from our uncharacteristically snowy tasting day. Here’s hoping the vines and the fruit trees in the area survive this unexpected snow. I will need to taste and buy more wine from the area later in the year.

My final takeaways on wine tasting are 1) it’s a fun way to spend a weekend if you can afford it and have wonderful friends with whom to enjoy it and 2) it takes some practice. I’m still learning the lingo. I am learning what to look for as I sample the wine. I love the word terroir and, although I don’t have a textbook definition of it memorized quite yet, I can pronounce it correctly. It’s a whole new world for me, but it has been around for a long time. With some attention and practice, someday I might honestly understand a wine list.

Thank god I found this school for my sons in wine country. It’s going to be a win all the way around. I likely would not have been admitted to Whitman College, but I was smart enough to get my kids here and that has to count for something.

Believe In Your Potential To Pop

I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.

I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.

I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.

Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)

We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.

The Professor And His First Lecture

You have to be confident to choose that outfit, though

Public speaking. It’s anxiety-inducing for most of us, which is why most of us are impressed by those who do it well. Our house has one member who does not fear speaking in front of others. In fact, Luke was born with two traits most people lack: self-confidence and a gift for public speaking. When I say born with, I’m not joking. For most people, confidence comes either through racking up a series of successes or repeatedly messing things up and then realizing we survived that calamity successfully. Luke needed neither of those experiences to acquire confidence. He simply had it in spades from the beginning.

From the age of two, Luke’s confidence allowed him to work a room. His toddler birthday parties were a dream. He would open a gift, carry on as if it (a toy, a blanket, a toddler potty, a dollar bill) was the greatest thing he’d ever seen, and then he would run to the gift giver and hug them. It was something else. We couldn’t have trained him to do that if we’d tried. When he was in first grade, we were looking at some of his art work. He looked at me and asked, “Am I pretty good at art or am I amazing at it?” He didn’t even consider that he might be meh at it like I would have. Another time around that same age, while he and his brother were discussing attractiveness, Luke said, “I’m attractive. I’m totally attractive. I’m like 300% attractive.” Well, okay then, I thought. The thing about Luke, though, is you can tell those statements aren’t made because he’s overcompensating for a lack of self-esteem or because he’s an arrogant little weasel. He just knows who he is and he’s comfortable with it. He also knows what he wants and how he will get it. He’s not conceited. He’s convinced.

His gift for public speaking first showed itself in school plays, where he was often given the funniest line and would deliver it and soak up the laughs like a lizard soaks up the sun. He would volunteer to give presentations to his class or other classes. When his voice dropped, his public speaking presence only increased. In junior high, he was chosen to lead tours for school visitors. He quickly became a Lead Ambassador in high school. Then he ran for offices in the Student Senate and the school chapter of the National Honor Society and won. Along the way, he kept killing it at public speaking. All students are required to compete in the Great Debates during junior year, and Luke finished in the top four. During senior year, students are asked to give a 50-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. Most students think of this as something they have to get through. Luke started considering topics for his presentation his freshman year.

Last night, Luke stood in our living room and did his final practice for his Senior Symposium presentation today. His topic? Mars in Science Fiction. Luke started practicing for us on Sunday. He quickly realized he would run long with the copious amounts of information he had (he calculated he had read 8200 pages of science fiction about Mars over the years), so he presented to us again on Monday night with a reduced format and nailed the timing. Last night he practiced in front of us one last time. He was ready. Here he is in a one-minute practice snippet, which he granted permission for me to share:

It’s not easy to present with a dog wandering in and out and it’s not easy to film when your subject is working the room

Luke’s plans at this point are to become a college professor. That could change, of course, but he is aware that his comfort with public speaking is a gift and something he should find a way to use in his life. When we watched him give his speech, I have to admit that I could imagine him as a professor. He needed no notes. He spoke extemporaneously with little effort, comfortable in his subject-matter expertise. He was excited to give his speech to his classmates today. When he got in the car at the end of the day, he was ebullient. He was still hyped up over his presentation, for which received accolades.

It’s something else to see someone using their gifts. It reminds you that you should be doing something with your own.