Thursday, June 30, 2011

All About Camp Stimey

Well, it's summer. Or spring break. Or any gaping amount of time when you are desperate to make your kids participate in any activity that doesn't include watching TV, hitting their brothers, or whining at you, which completely harshes the summer buzz.

It's okay. I am here to help.

Each summer, with varying levels of success, I plan Camp Stimey, an at-home summer program designed to keep your kids learning and having fun while keeping them the hell off of your back. Camp Stimey (or Camp [insert your family nickname here]) involves work, but it's worth it.

Following are summaries of each of the theme weeks Team Stimey has participated in, with links to relevant posts, detailing the disasters and/or successes of each.

I will update this post at the completion of each week, so if you don't find something to your liking yet, come back in a couple of weeks and check again!

Please feel free to leave suggestions for future Camp Stimey activities in the comments. Did you do at-home camp with a successful theme? Let me know what you did and I will shamelessly steal the idea for myself.


The Origin of it All: I'm going to be honest here and tell you that I originally stole this idea from my friend, Lindsay, and have since given her almost no credit for her suggestion. This is how Camp Stimey, orginally Camp Here and Now, came to be way back in 2008.


Cooking Week: Camp Stimey started with Cooking Week, which is a really fun and easy way to ease in. We started by making collages with pictures of food cut out of magazines. The great thing about Cooking Week is that you can make your trip to the grocery store fit in with your theme. No, I'm not dragging you on errands! I'm teaching you! Try making macaroni art and then cook pasta for dinner. I wasn't very good at chronicling Camp Stimey back in those days, but cooking week evidently also included making playdough.


Animal Week: Animal Week started with Day One: Pets. We read stories about pets and colored pictures. We also petted our dog. Later in the week, we did animal races (you yell the name of an animal and your kids have to race, while walking/running/crawling like that animal). We also took a trip to the C&O Canal, where we went on a boat ride where the boat was pulled by mules. We were also in the middle of our Ant Farm Nightmare during animal week, which fit in well, although insects could be a whole theme week of their own.


Sports Week: This is a really fun week, and very easy to facilitate. Choose a different sport each day and play it. Read books about the sport. Draw pictures. We started with Soccer Day, which is pretty self explanatory. Actually attending a real sports game is a fun way to spend a day of Sports Week. I suggest you look for a minor league baseball team or women's basketball. These games tend to be mellower and cheaper, but just as much fun. We took a day to go see our local minor league baseball team, the Bowie Baysox during this Sports Week.


Camp Stimey returned in earnest in the summer of 2009, and was my best planned and executed Camp Stimey to date. This post lays out my goals for the summer.


Transportation Week: This is one of my favorite weeks of all times. Most kids can really get behind this and there are so many methods of transportation to choose from that you are almost guaranteed to find fun activities no matter where you live. You can read my summary post of the whole week and a more in-depth post about Day Five: Bus Day.

We started with Train Day, which included a ride on a miniature train at a local park. Day Two was Aviation Day, during which we made paper airplanes and visited the College Park Aviation Museum, a local repository of all things airplane. Day Four was Boat Day. We went to a nearby lake that offers rental boats, including the most small-child friendly of the boats, the pedal boat. Be forewarned: You will do all of the pedaling. Day Five, of course, was Disguise an Errand as Bus Day.


Government and History Week: This is a very easy theme to conduct if you live in the DC Metro area. It may be harder if you live in, say, Ruralville, North Dakota. But I believe in you, faithful campers! You can do it! You can read about my ideas for this week in my Coming Attractions post. There are a lot of easy things to teach your kids about government including the three branches of government and basic history. Schoolhouse Rock can help you out a lot here. I like to schedule this week around July 4th, but the problem with that is that everyone else does too. Your local attractions will be busy that week.

Our week included trips to the US Capitol Building, a journey to the birthplace of George Washington, and a trip to the National Museum of American History (highly recommended!), which was preceded by a tour of the Main Justice Building of the Department of Justice, facilitated by government lawyer Alex. Check out the full details in my summary post. Oh, we also celebrated July 4th.


"Ology" Week: Think geology, paleontology, archaeology, and then mash them all up in one week of confusing science. This week had some extraordinary successes as well as a couple of spectacular failures. But as they say, when it comes to science, you can learn more from your failures than your successes, right? RIGHT?!

Speaking of failures, now might be the time to mention those. We went letterboxing, unsuccessfully our first time, successfully the second, and we attempted to create homemade stalagmites and stalactites. That didn't work either. I also attempted to dye sand so we could make sand art. That also didn't go so well.

This week also featured our first Camp Stimey Meet-Up, which is a fun way to meet some new people in your area, or even people you already know. We went to a local nature center. Aside from some customary Team Stimey shenanigans, I'm going to count this one as a success.

Our biggest outing was to Luray Caverns, where you can tour a giant underground cave. If you live near any caverns, check them out. This was a high point of our summer. I hope to go back sometime soon.

My summary from that week covers most of our activities, including Entomology Day; Letterboxing Day; Letterboxing Day, Take Two; Archaeology, Paleontology; and Spelunking.


Sports Week, Year Two: See, I told you that this one is fun and easy. I just have a Coming Attractions post and a Summary post for this week, but we packed a lot in, which you can read about in the summary.

We started with Golf Day, when I took my kids to a driving range to hit golf balls. They had fun, and if you go on a weekday, there are not a lot of serious golfers there for you to annoy. Field Hockey Day came next, in the form of my mother's helper, who acted as a Camp Stimey Counselor for the day. We also crammed in soccer, football, baseball, and soccer. I also took my own advice and took my kids to a women's basketball game, in our case, the Washington Mystics.


Boot Camp Week: This is not, as Sam originally thought, a week to learn about boots, but rather a week when you can spend five days barking orders at your kids without guilt. We didn't do this in 2009, but I would recommend closing up your Boot Camp Week with a trip to laser tag.

This week for us included learning about the branches of the military and having water gun fights. If you do this type of week, I would recommend morning calisthenics and daily "training" obstacle courses.


Geography Week: There is so much that you can do with Geography Week, but mostly I cut up a United States map and had my kids learn a little bit about each state, then draw something relevant on each state. This was a great idea and a lot of fun, but took longer than I expected, meaning we didn't get farther than the western states.


Colonial Week: This is a good week to do if you live anywhere near Virginia. It might be harder elsewhere, but I'm sure you could try to recreate colonial times in your backyard or make a colonial meal with ease. In fact, the more I write about Camp Stimey, the more I see missed opportunities. Maybe I need a Camp Stimey is Better the Second Time Around Week, where I take advantage of what I learned the first time.

For us, colonial week meant that we went to Jamestown in Virginia (on the hottest day of the year, apparently) and then the next day we constructed a little model of Jamestown. It was fun. I don't know how much my kiddos learned, but I sure did get a better appreciation for what the original settlers had to go through.


Where Does Our Food Come From Week: This is one of my favorite Camp Stimey weeks of all time. I loved that my kids got to learn a little bit about what happens to food before it gets to the grocery store. I wanted to let Alex handle the first day of this camp by having him force the kids to help him with his vegetable garden, but he took them swimming instead.

Day Two involved blackberry and peach picking and my mom baked a kickass blackberry crisp. On Day Three we made homemade bread, butter, and peach pie. It was completely awesome. Most of this information is available in my summary post.

On Day Four, we went to a farm that we found on the internet. It turned out to be not really what I would call a farm, but there were some animals and there was a tree maze and we had fun, so it doesn't really matter.

Day Five was super fun because we went to a dairy farm and got to see real cows being milked. We also got to feed the calves and pet kittens. Plus, we drank brand new milk, straight from the farm, which was delicious!


Simple Machine Week: This is the week of Camp Stimey that has stuck with my kids more than any other week. Jack in particular really internalized the message of this week and can identify a simple machine at thirty paces. It's easy to plan this week because simple machines are part of everything. On wheel day, you can go bike riding. On lever day, you can dig a hole. On inclined plane day, you up an on ramp.

We found examples of simple machines, learning about a different one or two each day, and then we did little experiments with them. It was fun. Plus, I keep finding little pictures of simple machines in Jack's backpack, so I know he really learned something. This is concrete enough for the youngest of kids, yet can be made more complex for older kids. It's the perfect topic!

If you are in DC, you can finish up Simple Machine Week with a trip to the National Building Museum, which we did. We didn't end up doing any of the building activities because there was a Lego exhibit there that kind of stole the show, but usually the activity packs you can borrow are good options. If you don't live in DC, maybe go to a construction site and try to spot all the simple machines you can find.


Human Body Week: Human body week was necessitated by my desire to make sure my kids received some sex education prior to learning it on the streets. You know, where they often hang out. Don't worry, though! If you're not ready for THAT particular lesson, there are many other parts of the body to explore. For example, we built a skeleton out of paper bones. It would be fun to add muscles on top of that, then skin, and then dress the person, but we didn't get that far before I ran out of energy. Other ideas include exploring the five senses and doing fingerprinting.


Water Week: I had all kinds of plans to teach my kids about oceans and water life during Water Week, but for the most part we just played with water. You can read all about the things we did in my recap post, but here's a quick round up: We did a lot of swimming, had a water balloon fight, found a local park with a stream in it, visited an aquarium and did some water-related crafts and experiments. For example, we experimented with food coloring in water and then making music by clinking spoons against glasses with different amounts of water in them. We also did some watercolor painting (of aquatic subjects) and made giant stuffed fish.


Five Senses Week: This week was planned better by me than implemented. It turned out that we got busy and didn't have a lot of extra time to do activities. Plus, my older sons weren't too interested in the five senses because they'd already learned all about them at school. This might be a better theme for younger kids. We did do some fun stuff, including thinking about sounds and a general lesson on the overall senses. I had planned to put objects in socks and have my kids feel them, then draw what they thought they were. We were also going to bake for Smell Day and flavor popcorn with salt, sugar, and Parmesan cheese on Taste Day. If you Google "activities for five senses," you will come up with a plethora of things to do!


You are now up to date on Camp Stimey. Check back again because I'll be adding information as we complete more weeks! You can always access this post by clicking on the Camp Stimey button on the top right of the sidebar.

It's Time to Get Real

Okay, friends, for all intents and purposes, it is JULY. It is time to get Camp Stimey MOVING! Sure, Jack has been having a delightful and therapeutic summer camp experience, but Quinn didn't go back to camp (that's $60 I'll never see again), and Sam has spent June learning how to surf the internet looking for Pokemon game cheat codes.

This means, of course, that today I set my kiddos up in front of their DSi's so I could plan Camp Stimey. And by "plan Camp Stimey," I mean "spend an hour making a Camp Stimey internet button."


Amateur Photoshoppers are the best, aren't we?

In a little while, I am going to sit down with Sam and Quinn, a calendar, and all of your ideas from my begging for help post and I am going to PLAN SUMMER—NO, FOR REALS THIS TIME!

Sample Camp Stimey topic: Teach the Kids to Medicate the Animals Week

Before, I do that, however, I am going to create a post where I consolidate all of my prior Camp Stimey weeks, so anyone who wants to play along at home can pick, choose, and learn from my mistakes. (See also: check out the ego on that lady!)

Sure, you might not be able to recreate the whole Camp Stimey experience. I mean, who says that your kid is going to climb a statue at your local capitol building and then fall off? But you can try.

That longer post will go up later today and will be published here and then will also be accessible by clicking the Camp Stimey button on the top right of my sidebar. Don't click yet! It's not ready until my next post goes up! (You know, sometime in July...or August.)

That post will be updated at the conclusion of each week, with links to all of the fabulous activities we have experienced, and hopefully survived.

So long, Summertime Ennui! Hello, Camp Stimey!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Squeaky Squeaks By

A couple of months ago I noticed that one of our mice, Squeaky, had a little hairless spot on the top of her head. The first time I looked at it, Quinn, whose mouse Squeaky is, looked at her and said, "I liked Squeaky better without that."

I agreed completely. It stressed me out to see something on Squeaky that looked like it boded poorly for her. When her face and head got worse, I eventually took her to the vet and started giving her antibiotics and pain killers, which she responded well to.

Unfortunately, after she had largely healed and we completed her medicine course, she started to scratch again. And scratch and scratch and scratch. I knew I shouldn't, but I started medicating her again and she got better and then got worse and then got better and then it got to the point where she had scratched chunks of fur off of her body, leaving red welts on her head, face, and side.

This is by far the least gruesome recent photo I have of her.

I made an appointment to take her to the vet today with a great deal of trepidation about whether she would be coming home. If I'm going to be honest, I was afraid that the doctor was going to take one look at her and bring out a shoebox with a mousetrap inside of it for her euthanasia.

Isn't that what they do to pet mice?

We spent some time over the past couple of days making sure that Quinn got a lot of time with Squeaky and I laid some groundwork about how she is sick and I have to take her to the vet and she might not come back, which meant that every time I reminded them of the upcoming appointment, Quinn would say, "Squeaky might die."

It broke my heart. It also broke my heart last night when I was watching Squeaky in her cage, all unaware of my plans for her. But the thing that most took my breath away was that when I first told Quinn that we might lose Squeaky, Sam said, "Quinn, I can give you my mouse. You can rename her anything you want."

Which is how Poseidon nearly became Squeakseidon.

I had hired a babysitter so I could go to the vet by myself because murdering their mouse in front of these particular three children seemed like a spectacularly bad idea. We had one last cuddle with Squeaky and then I took her away.

I, however, severely underestimated the veterinarian's desire to make Squeaky better. He was fine with my decision to continue her first meds, which made me feel better. He kept telling me, "This is such a nice mouse," and "I'm going to try this first," and "If this doesn't work, we can try something else."

I would have had to say, "I want this mouse put to sleep," in order to make that happen and I think we all know that I am not the person who will say things like that. Sorry, Alex.

I'm not going to assault you with the photos of Squeaky that led me to believe that she wouldn't be coming home from the vet, because I know you all are very delicate and probably don't want to see them. Frankly, I don't either. I honestly thought that her quality of life was terrible. If she can feel better, I will be so happy. My fingers are crossed that this works.

Long story short, now Squeaky has THREE medicines. And a vet who really wants this nice little mouse to have a long life. And a me who is too much of a bleeding heart to not give her my best shot.

Plus...Quinn. It's really not all about the mouse.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'Nother Day, 'Nother Camp

Today both Jack and Quinn had camp in different locations, both starting at 9:30. Such is the way of my life. Next year I have a sneaking suspicion that I am going to have to pick up kids from three different buses at exactly the same time. I'm attempting the cloning process in August, during Science Week at Camp Stimey.

(If I talk about Camp Stimey enough, will you folks believe that I am actually conducting it without my having to interact with my children at all?)

Team Stimey headed out en masse this morning, dropping Jack off at his camp first. By the time we got there, he was car sick, so he walked in and told one of the teachers, "If I throw up, you should call my mom." Naturally, he said this in front of all the other parents who probably assume that I was introducing a virulent flu into their midst. Good times.

Jack then proceeded to lay down on the carpet in the most pathetic fetal position possible, at which time the rest of us cut and ran.

SPOILER ALERT: He was fine.

We then headed off to drop Quinn off at his camp, which was at his old preschool and which he had been begging to attend. Anxiety hit him strong this morning though and he completely lost his shit. When Sam and I left, the teacher was holding him as he struggled and screamed.

SPOILER ALERT: He was also fine.

We headed home where Sam immediately went into his bedroom and shut the door. Every time I knocked on the door and went in, he looked extremely guilty. I think he might have been sneaking video game time in there. I eventually forced him to take the dog for a walk with me, during which he walked a full ten steps ahead of me the whole time.

SPOILER ALERT: I was not fine.


Quinn's camp was only half day, so Sam and I went to pick him up. I fully expected to see him capering in the little swimming pools on the preschool lawn when we got there, but we pulled up and saw no sign of Quinn. All his little friends from his last year of preschool were there, but no Quinn.

Weird. We got out of the car and I heard the teacher say, "Quinn, your mom is here!" but I didn't see him right away. The reason?

He was sound asleep under a tree.

He was pretty surly for a while after we woke him up (he was particularly perturbed by the grass imprints on his upper body) and I thought it was a little weird that he'd fallen asleep, but he perked up after a while, so I figured he was okay. Then, on the way to pick up Jack, he fell asleep again. And on the way home from picking up Jack, he fell asleep again.

Figures. I sign Quinn up for three days of camp all summer long and he decides to get sick TODAY. He has 65 other days of summer to be sick and he chooses today.

SPOILER ALERT: Stimey = devastated.

I do have to say though, that he seems a lot better now, so I'm wondering if maybe he was just hot and tired. It was, like, 95 degrees today, so that is plausible. We'll see how he is feeling tomorrow morning. Cross your fingers for him me.

Oh, Right. The Other Two.

So it turns out that "Jack starts camp on Monday! Hooray!" doesn't mean, "Sam and Quinn will magically be appeased and not need to have plans made for them.

Imagine my surprise.

If I may back up a week, we sort of took our first full week of summer vacation to relax and have playdates and swim in the backyard and just chill. It was nice. Plus, I had FULL-DAY CAMP FOR JACK!! starting Monday and HALF-DAY CAMP FOR QUINN!! starting Tuesday.

Monday arrived today, heralding the Era of Sam Doesn't Like to Commute to Camp, which you could also call the Era of Dirty Looks and Animosity. We returned home to the Era of Boredom.

And popcorn.

We were all sitting in our living room kind of staring at each other when Sam piped up with, "Hey, didn't you promise Quinn like four days ago that he could paint?"

Thanks a lot, Sam.

Painting ensued.

Things picked up when the three of us played Legos together for well over an hour. We built a jail. It holds monkeys.

I am extraordinarily proud of the staircase I built.

It may tell you a little something about my state of mind when I tell you that I consider today to have been an overwhelming success. Also, it's hard to write a humor blog when you're depressed.

I am suffering from a bad case of Summertime Ennui. I have to take some sort of action. Therefore, I am now officially soliciting ideas for theme weeks of Camp Stimey.

It's a little sad to conduct more than a month of Camp Stimey without Jack, but do you want to know what Jack's schedule at camp is? Table time, soccer, morning meeting, snack, speech and language centers, bike riding, handwriting without tears, lunch and a movie, movement group, social skills, and finally summer fun activity. Yeah. He'll be okay. As a matter of fact, I'd be happy to let Jack run Camp Stimey so I can attend Camp Awesome.

Suggest away. Also, let me know what I should do with Sam tomorrow after I drag him around for an hour to drop off Jack AND Quinn. Bonus points if you know how to get rid of ennui.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

And Then There's Quinn

You've already seen Jack and Sam's backpack contents. I think you know that Quinn's would be full of all kinds of good stuff too, right? I've chosen some fun pages for you, folks.

Every week, Quinn's teacher had his class write about what they did over the weekend and draw a picture of said activity. Quinn's collection of these pages is full of imagination, fancy—and very little reality.

There is, however, a strong theme to all his pages, and that theme is QUINN LOVES ANIMALS OH SO VERY VERY VERY VERYVERYVERYVERY MUCH!


I won't subject you to all eleventy billion pictures, but I've selected my favorites, along with a full list of our weekend activities (according to the Q-ball). I've corrected his spelling when I retyped the sentences, but I am in love with his "wif" instead of "with" and other such mistakes. This is a pack of papers I'll be keeping forever. (Quinn's sentences in bold.)

Without further ado...The Year According to Quinn!

September 7: "I swam on my back."

He's in there somewhere.

September 13: "I went swimming on my back."

September 20: "I went on my submarine. I put my head, face, hands, and body in the water, but not feet." Clearly this kid had swimming on his mind. It being September, though, I can guarantee you that we did not swim each of those weekends. Nor does he have a submarine.

September 27: "I buy mice."

October 4: "Swimming on my head but not my feet."

I don't even know how you would swim with your head but not your feet. Based on his expression in the picture above, I don't think he does either.

October 11: "Izzy is sensitive to special cat food. Denali likes regular cat food."

Denali is the giant striped cat. Izzy is the tiny black cat.

This is about the time that my cat Izzy got really sick. Izzy is doing well now, although I am constantly fighting to keep the other cat, Denali (known 'round these parts as "The Mean Cat"), and the dog from eating that special cat food of hers. Evidently it is delicious.

October 18: "I bought mice."

Don't ask me what the mouse is saying to the cat there. I have no idea.

There are a lot of weeks that Quinn claimed to have purchased mice over the weekend. He is a liar. If he were telling the truth, we would have six thousand mice by now. Just to set the record straight, we are strictly a five-mouse family.

October 25: "I bought mice."

November 3: "I went trick or treating."

As what? A bat?

November 8: "I got a mouse."

November 15: "I played Force Unleashed 2."

November 22: "I ate a lot of peanut butter honey sandwiches."

That is one big-ass PB & honey sandwich.

November 29: "I looked at Garfield and Odie."

I like that Quinn's animals are always smiling. I also like the way he makes striped cats.

December 6: "Mouse house over the weekend."

December 13: "I decorated my Christmas tree and I saw a robot mouse."

I vaguely remember talk of a robot mouse around Christmas. In fact, I think it might be what Quinn wanted to ask Santa for. Interestingly, the robot mouse isn't smiling.

December 20: "Over the weekend I pet my cat."

And stabbed her with a carrot.

January 3: "Over the weekend I played with Legos."

January 10: "Over the weekend I played with my cat."

January 19: "Over the weekend I played the Wii."

January 25: "Over the weekend I drank milk."

And got jaundice.

January 31: "Over the weekend I played Super Smash Bros."

Check out the sad character on the TV.

February 7: "Over the weekend I petted Izzy the cat."

February 14: "Over the weekend I watched TV with my cat." You know how you used to read fortunes from fortune cookies and add "in bed" to the end? I kind of feel like Quinn just adds "with my cat" to the ends of all of his sentences.

February 21: "Over the weekend I pet my cat."

Quinn's head took a sudden turn for the engorged this week. I do enjoy the black and blue theme though.

February 28: "Over the weekend I pet my cat."

March 7: "Over the weekend I wrote a book."

Awesome pencil, dude.

He's not kidding, incidentally. This is probably the one accurate sentence from all year. Quinn covets empty notebooks and fills them with drawings and words. I have stapled together stacks of paper and composition notebooks full of Quinn's creations all over my house. It's one of the coolest things about that kid.

March 14: "Over the weekend I pet my cat." And back to the cat.

March 21: I have no idea what happened this week because there is no paper for March 21. I'm actually a little bit broken up over it.

March 28: "Over the weekend I made my cat watch TV."

I like that he included the wires for the TV.

I love that he MADE his cat watch TV. I have this image of him sitting on the cat and holding her head facing the television.

April 4: "Over the weekend I played with Sammy's DS."

April 11: "Over the weekend I watched TV."

April 26: "What did you do over the spring break? I did so much stuff it blew my mind."

Note: "It BLUE my mind."

My guess is that Quinn was unable to remember a single thing he did over spring break.

May 2: "Over the weekend I played video games. I also played with Sam. I also piggy back rode on Sam and I had a good dinner and I played outside."

May 9: "Over the weekend I got chased by a Goomba."

That's the Goomba on the bottom left.

After this, I think the teacher and the para think that we're into the mob for some money, but you Nintendo enthusiasts out there will know that a Goomba is a character from Super Mario.

May 16: "Over the weekend I played Donkey Kong Country Returns."

May 23: "Over the weekend I [slept] on the couch with Nana and Jack."

We don't have a guest room, so when my mom comes to visit, she sleeps on the pull-out couch in the living room. Jack and Quinn like to sleep with her. I like that in this picture, there are motion lines to imply a lot of tossing and turning because that really lets you know what it is like to sleep with the two of them.

May 31: "Over the weekend I slept all day and night plus I woke up in my bed." I guess that Nana went home.

June 6: "Over the weekend I was in chocolate heaven. No one saw me and no one was there with me. I was happy."

This is one of my favorites. If you look closely, you will see that there was, in fact, a chocolate cat with him. Although I can't quite imagine Quinn being happy in a place where there is no one for him to talk at.

June 13: "Over the weekend I ran around the house."

"Faster than the speed of light!"

He's so fast that he has wheels! This is a good one to end on, because he really does run around the house pretty much ALL THE TIME. Our house has a circular layout, which means that Quinn can do laps around the whole main floor. We put a coffee table in the living room last week. It's kind of cramped his style. I'm waiting for the day he crashes directly into it and breaks a shin.

There you have it. The year, according to Quinn. I love these because they are little snapshots into the mind of a psychotic Quinn. While most of these statements are completely made up, it really shows what is important to Quinn. (I'm trying to not notice how addicted to electronics he is, so let's just gloss over that part, m'kay?) The thread that I see woven through these pages are love, happiness, and whimsy. It delights me that this is what Quinn produces.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sam: Creative, Thoughtful, and Respectful

"The three words that describe me are: creative, thoughtful, and respectful."

You hear a lot about Jack and Quinn here, but I write less often about Sam. This is partly because he is older and as he gets older, his stories become more his and less mine to tell. That said, even though he's turning into his very own guy, he's still my little munchkin and sometimes I just have to chat about him.

In the annual emptying of the backpacks, I found a whole slew of really awesome stuff, including that sentence above in his reading journal, in which I discovered that he has a pretty good handle on himself and that he uses the serial comma, just like me.

I have some other little gems pulled from his papers to share with you. It is  a little bittersweet for me to read these because in them I see a little boy who is turning into a big kid whose earnestness is so genuine and so serious. Sam is a kid who tries so very, very hard and part of me wishes he could keep that beautiful, young innocence that he is so rapidly shedding. I see a young man who is working so hard to toe the company line, which is so different from anything I see in either Jack or Quinn, both of whom believe it is their way or the highway.

For example, Sam is the only one of my three children who would write this on the first page of his notebook:

"I feel happy because I like to work."

There are also delightful little passages like the following:

"I am more like a summer tree because I exercise and run and I'm full of life. I'm also like a summer tree because I play around a lot."

As trees do.

Last fall, presumably in October, he wrote, "My favorite part of October is Halloween because I can eat candy and stay up late." I'm always amused by what teachers must think of families based on the information they get from the kids in their classes. I also shudder a little bit to think what my kids' teachers think of me based on things such as the following:

"The one food I would never want to eat again is broccoli because I tasted it once and I didn't!" Presumably the end of that sentence is "like it." Also, who is the worst parent in the world if she has only managed to get her 9-year-old to eat broccoli one time?

But who is the best mom in the world to have a kid who would write, "If I could [I would] build a robot to help me do my homework so I could help my brothers do their homework." Although, honestly, I think sentences like that have a lot more to do with Sam's inherent generous nature than anything I've done. (Also, it might just be easier to have the robot start with his brothers' homework to begin with.)

That inherent generous nature is also evident in an argument he wrote about the topic: Do you think animals should be used in labs?" which, incidentally, is way more complex than anything I discussed in third grade.  Here is Sam's argument:

"Opinion: I don't think animals should be used in labs.
"Detail 1: Animals are doing nothing to people."
"Detail 2: We harm animal's environment.
"Detail 3: Animals belong in the wild not in a lab.
"Conclusion: Overall, animals should not be experimented on."

Honestly, that is about the same thought process I went college. Although I'm sure the fact that we have pet mice didn't help the cause of scientific advancement and medicine at all.

I do, however, think that Alex and I had a little something to do with Sam's love of classic rock.

"Classic rock is great. It draws you into the song.
It is loud and exciting. It makes you want to dance."

And I know that Phish isn't exactly classic rock, but it is only a matter of time before Alex starts dragging Sam along with him to shows.

Speaking of places where we dragged Sam to, he wrote about our camping trip last summer too.

"My favorite vacation in summer is when we went camping. We drove about 400 miles for 6 hours straight. A raccoon stole our food. We also collected rocks and shells. We got to play at the beach, have ice cream, and play tag. Finally we got to make delicious smores."

The raccoon was a big deal for me too.

This next piece of work, I include because I was enchanted by Sam's language. He wrote this when his class was reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. (And let me tell you that I completely blew Sam's mind by telling him that Jack got his autism diagnosis at NIMH. "The rats saw it as a prison!" he exclaimed.)

"Dear Mrs. Frisby, If I had the same problem, I would not abandon
him to that rancid cat. I would be bewildered if you
abandoned him to the cat. My advice is to keep his
poor essence safe from the tractor. Sincerely, Samuel."

Rancid cat? Bewildered? Poor essence? This kid could grow up to be a poet.

Except, of course, that Alex has already poisoned his little mind and Sam says he wants to grow up to be a lawyer. Alex almost cried when he saw the worksheet wherein Sam declared his intentions of being a lawyer. "I kind of feel like his hero," he said. (Alex, I think you are.)

I particularly like his image of what a lawyer does. In fact, I don't think he's that far off.

Although I feel a little bit sad about how ready Sam is for a life of toiling at a job.

But if you want to know a little bit more about Sam's true nature, you need look no further than the following evidence. In, I presume, a response to a question about what he would change his name to if he had a choice, Sam wrote, "I would not change my name because I am used to Samuel." Yep. That's my practical kid.

Also, "What I like to do on a rainy, cold day is to curl up on my bed with my blankets and pillows and read a very long book. I also like to help my brothers catch up on school work on a rainy cold day."

Sam, you kill me dead every time. What a great kid. And finally:

"I would be the owl because he is supposedly the wisest animal in the forest.
I would also want to be the owl because he is a peaceful owl."

Seriously, that kid is magic. He's such a crazy, impulsive, riotous kid, but underneath all of it, he is just such a sweet soul—and, as he says, creative, thoughtful, and respectful. I love him so very much.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

To the Best Father These Kids Could Have

Even if you do bail on Father's Day to go see Phish. We still love you. Lots.

I wrote a post at Autism Unexpected to thank all the fathers of kids with autism. Much of it is for you, Alex. Much of it for all the other autism dads. Thank you for all that you do.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Things Come Out of My Brain, Part III

It happens for real.

I thought I would round out the trilogy of spelling sentences that Jack has produced this year. You can pretty effectively gauge his feelings based on his school work. The kid doesn't hold anything back.

But before I get to that, I am going to share with you a few of the papers that came home in Jack's backpack because they amuse me oh so very much.

First, we have some of his likes and dislikes.

Likes: 1. Drawing; 2. Plants vs. Zombies; 3. Chocolate donuts
Dislikes: 1. I hate homework; 2. I can't swim before school; 3. I hate my sleeping drops.

I'm not even going to go into the fact that Jack thinks you spell "doughnuts" with three letters missing in the middle. He's eight, I'll forgive him that. I DO really enjoy that he makes it sound a whole lot like we roofie him every night before bed. Which we do not. We merely drug him with melatonin, which I have to say, he quite willingly opens his mouth for, thank you very much.

Next we have Jack's career worksheet. On the front, he was asked what job he would like when he grows up. Naturally, he said that he wants to be a video game maker because "I make plans on a piece of paper."

When asked to draw the clothes he would wear to such a job, he decided that he would clearly be wearing shorts and a tee-shirt and would carry a pen and blank piece of paper with him.

Evidently he'll be bald as well.

This kid has a harsh lesson to learn about the intricacies of computer coding.

And finally we have one of my favorites. If someone asked you to draw a castle, you'd probably draw a pretty palace with flags and princesses and maybe a unicorn standing out front on a rainbow, right? Not Jack.

"I'd throw prisoners into the dungeon. I wouldn't swim in the moat."

I'm actually a little surprised that he didn't draw sharks or piranhas in the moat. It looks like that kind of castle.

Now, on to the main point of this post, which was supposed to be Jack's spelling sentences. Jack's sentences are below, with the spelling word (or my best guest at which word is the spelling word) in bold, with any comments by me in italics afterward.

I am so, so sillier than Quinn.
I don't know, Jack. That's a pretty high bar.

Mount Everest is the highest mountain.
On this one, Jack wrote the letters in "highest" in really, really tall print.

Ice climbers need mittens to climb.
Especially on Everest.

Light something up would ya?
I have no idea what this means, but it makes me laugh.

Everything in my room is mine, get it? MINE!
Well, except for the stuff that is Quinn's because you share a room, Greedo.

In the movie "Cats & Dogs" kitty galore has a disk that said the call of the wild.
I'm a little horrified to admit that my kids saw that movie more than once.

If everyone will please quiet down, I won't pound you to pieces.
I like how he was able to make the spelling word "please" so offensive.

The wheel is a kind of simple machine.
Camp Stimey works, bitches.

I can blow out 3 bombs at a time.
Awesomely, "three" is the spelling word here. Look, ma, I can spell "three!" See: 3!

Without the moon, everything will fall out of balance.
Way to drop science, Jack the Science Guy.

Garfield said "the guy on the hook must be asleep."
What kind of scary ass Garfield are you reading, Jack?

The following trio came together on a spelling test, followed by the teacher comment, "Sounds like you don't want to be here":
I am sooooooo sick.
I am ill because I have a fever.
Will someone buy me some medicine?

I don't like beautiful people.
Harsh, dude.

I NEVER forgive.
Uh oh.

1,000 dollars is 100,000 pennies.
Hi there, Mr. Math!

Halves are things cut in 2, so if a half-minute is 30 seconds. It's true.
I'll forgive you an extra "if" because this is such an excellent sentence.

The x in a math problem is the unknown.
Now you're just showing off.

Be sure to precaution me once a week...or keep me safe.
Just once a week, buddy?

I disagree to kill my family.
Um. Yay. I think.

I am the smartest kid on earth!
Look away, folks. No hubris to see here.

I am the loudest in the world.
No, that would be Quinn.

Put me by the mailbox.
Jack's teacher wrote "Why?" after this sentence. I'm curious too.

Schools are dumb.
Jack's teacher  drew a little picture of her crying after this sentence. I laughed really hard.

Another series here. Jack is nothing if not a clever kid.
Can't I play now? —Jack
Jack won't do his homework. —Jean
Jean is right! I don't want to do my homework. —Jack
Jack didn't do his homework yet. —Jean

I want to go on vacation RIGHT NOW!
Jack's teacher: "You're not alone, my friend." I love that woman.

I got a trophy for hockey.
He really did.

One last series for you, just so you know that I'm not the only who brags ad nauseum about Jack, you should know that HE brags ad nauseum about himself too.
I did a magnificent job.
I'll describe why I did a magnificent job.
It was very complex.
If it was complex, I did terrific.

I want my mother to never leave me behind.
Oh, my heart.

"I...I WON!"
You always do, kiddo.

Thank you for indulging me there.

Lastly, I will give you Jack's expectations for summer. They sound pretty good to me. Also, I want to live in that house, which I think resides in some Dr. Seuss or Harry Potter universe.

"I dive in any water when I go to the beach. I go 'sploosh.'
I like to swim for an hour."

For more spelling sentence fun, please to enjoy Part I and Part II.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Unpacking the Backpacks for the Last Time

Today was my guys' last day of school. While they were playing in the other room after they got home, I emptied their backpacks for the last time this year. I took out all the little bits of pencils that have been nesting in the bottom for so long and I finally threw away Sam's semi-destroyed lunchbox that I have been hating for months.

Then I went through the stacks of papers they have brought home over the past few days. I love finding papers that have clearly been lost in their desks for weeks and notebooks in which I can trace their year from entry to entry. I also made some side-splittingly hysterical discoveries within these pages, which I will be sharing with you over the course of the next few days.

This ritual backpack unpacking is bittersweet. Sweet because my kids have successfully finished a whole year of school, but bitter, because holy frijoles, now I have three kids at home with me all summer. No, really, it is bittersweet because so much has transpired in my sweet little kids' heads and bodies this year.

Quinn finished kindergarten. When he got on that bus last August, he was practically a baby. Now he's a big kid, with a best friend, report cards, and an ability to do math and read. Quinn was a trip for me this year because Sam had a lot of anxiety in kindergarten and stayed very restrained all year and Jack's kindergarten was...well, I don't much like to revisit the yearlong transition that was kindergarten for Jack, but Quinn? He jumped in and exhibited his manic Quinnosity from day one. That kid is who he is, no matter what the environment and I love him for it. He knows who he is and, dammit, he likes that person. I am so proud of him.

And Jack. There is always so much to say about Jack. He started his year out so easily, with a teacher who was then a stranger and is now a friend. He had ups and downs this year, but with a staff as supportive as his, he made it through. In with his report card came a note that says that he is officially considered gifted and talented, with pretty good reading scores and incredible math scores. I am so thankful that he has those abilities, which makes the rest of it so much easier. This is the first year that he has started to show a fair amount of interest in other children and their doings. Peer interaction is still so very hard for him, but he's started to want to figure it out, and I love to see that. I am so proud of him.

Then there is Sam. Sam is the leader of his little team of brothers and an amazing kid. I have always been so grateful to him for paving the way at school for his brothers. I always joke that he makes the teachers like our family and then the rest of us swoop in, in a flurry of special needs and recalcitrance for the next several years. Sam is an incredibly independent worker and such a smart guy. We have started to have real, deep conversations this year about topics that real people talk about. Imagine that, Sam as real person. Who would've thunk it? Today was not only his last day as a third grader, but his last day at this school. He'll be heading off to the highly gifted program at another school next year. I know that the people at this school will miss him. I know that I will miss having him at this school as well. I also know that the staff at his next school will love him too. He is a wonderful kid. I honestly could probably never say enough good things about him. I am so proud of him.

One of my favorite discoveries from the backpack purge was in Jack's backpack. Within a sealed, clear plastic pouch was a completely pulverized fortune cookie. I decided to open it and read his fortune although I was pretty sure that it would say, "Your mom will sweep cookie off your kitchen floor soon."

God knows where the mystery cookie originated, but it was one of my favorite discoveries to begin with because it is so Jack to have a mashed up, but completely contained cookie in his bag for months. Mystery cookie remained one of my favorites once I read the fortune:

I do, Jack. I really do. And in the eyes of your brothers as well.