A Poetry Interlude, Illustrated

Quinn doesn’t like to speak in front of people, especially in class at school. So when I found out that every other month he would have to memorize and perform a poem in front of his reading class, I had one of those die-a-little-inside moments.

I knew that Quinn often freezes then meltdowns if asked to do so much as read in front of the class, so I knew the fastest way to send him into a panic was to make him perform—with props and emotion—something he’d memorized.

I contacted his teacher, asking for an accommodation. I suggested that he be able to do it just for her and not in front of the class. She came back with a suggestion that he do it at home and I videotape it.

Boom. That is how you teach kids who learn differently.

I was thrilled. Quinn was relieved, but still worried. He didn’t think he could memorize a whole poem. We worked on two lines a night and by the end of the month, he (and the rest of the family) had his whole poem memorized. We taped it and he got the highest score possible. He was so damn proud.

That was October. This month he had to do another one. All of the poems to choose from were either longer or more complicated than the one he’d picked for October. I was worried. Quinn ended up picking “The Lion” by Roald Dahl.

I felt good about his choice because it’s a funny little poem that I thought would make Quinn laugh. Unfortunately I didn’t think about the fact that there is basically a complicated list within the poem that made it tough for him to keep things in the right order.

To help him, I suggested that he draw some pictures of the subject of that list so he could keep the order straight while he was trying to memorize. Then he could use the pictures as props when performing the poem for the camera.

Quinn doesn’t want me to post the video on the internet, but he told me I could post his pictures. So. Without further ado, I present to you “The Lion” by Roald Dahl as illustrated by Quinn.

Screen capture of Quinn in his YouTube video holding up a picture he drew of "roasted lamb."

This screen capture is the closest I can ethically come to posting Quinn’s video. Isn’t he cute?

The lion just adores to eat
A lot of red and tender meat
And if you ask the lion what
Is much the tenderest of the lot,
He will not say a roast of lamb

A pencil drawing of a lamb face inside a flame.

See how the lamb is on fire? He’s roasting. (Oh yeah. It’s about to get intense up in here.)

Or curried beef

Pencil drawing of a cow with the words "curried beef" above it.

I didn’t really know how to advise Quinn to draw curried beef so he just drew a really cute cow.

or devilled ham

Pencil drawing of a pig head with devil horns.

Don’t mess with Devil Pig.

Or crispy pork

Pencil drawing of a pig head with an exclamation point over his head. He is also inside a flame.

I think—THINK—that the pig is alarmed to be on fire.

or corned beef hash

Drawing of a cow with a corn cob body. Quinn has labeled the body with "corn" just in case there is any doubt.

This is another one of those hard-to-draw ones. I think Quinn came up with an excellent idea of how to illustrate it.

Or sausages

Drawing of a conveyor belt with a machine in the middle. Visible in front of the machine is half a pig. Sausages are coming out the back.

And that’s how sausages are made out of pigs.

or mutton mash.

Drawing of a lamb being crushed (or mashed if you prefer) by a mallet from the ceiling.

This one took me a minute to get, but I think it’s one of my favorites. (See that lamb getting mashed?)

Then could it be a big plump hen?

Drawing of a hen.

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

He answers no. What is it, then?
Oh, lion dear, could I not make
You happy with a lovely steak?

Drawing of a steak with the words "lovely steak" written above it. There is a heart floating above the steak.

I like the simplicity of this one.

Could I entice you from your lair
With rabbit pie or roasted hare?

Both rabbit pie and roasted hare are on this one. The roasted hare is on fire on a spit. For the pie, well, there is a rabbit sticking out of a pie.

I think Quinn got tired of drawing here at the end. I even had to remind him to put long ears on his bunnies.

The lion smiled and shook his head.
He came up very close and said,
‘The meat I am about to chew
Is neither steak nor chops. IT’S YOU.’

I feel as if Mr. Dahl would be proud. I hope his teacher likes it as much as I do.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quinn has a new guru. It is Grumpy Cat. If you’re familiar with Quinn’s work, this totally makes sense.

I tell you this because when Quinn thought he had to make a sign to carry at his school’s Turkey Trot activity, he wanted to incorporate Grumpy Cat. Because what says happy thanksgiving, like a cat in a terrible mood? More on this later.

The Turkey Trot was supposed to be a mile-long walk through the neighborhood around the school with parents invited to join in, followed by hot chocolate. Unfortunately the weather today was a heavy mix of rain and snow and hail, so instead of cruising through the neighborhood, the kiddos tried to run as many of the 24.1 laps around the gym that makes up a mile.

Perhaps because of the venue change, I was the only parent from Quinn’s class who showed up to watch the kiddos run, walk, skip, dance, and otherwise ambulate around the gym.

I only went because Quinn was expecting me and I wasn’t about to change the script on him because of the rain. I’m so glad I did. I got to watch him smile and laugh and talk and play with his new good friend in the classroom. I got to see him talk to a kid I’ve never even heard of before. I got to talk to a lot of teachers and paraeducators who work with Quinn that I hadn’t met. I got to see him show his sign to all the staff, who told him how great it was.

I got to see him be happy and comfortable at school. Even knowing that he still struggles there, that means so much to me.

So even though Grumpy Cat might not approve of a happy thanksgiving, I sure do.

Photo of Quinn holding a sign. The sign has a picture of a turkey he drew under the words "happy thanksgiving." Then there is a photo of Grumpy Cat, with a line indicating that he is saying NO.

May all of you, American celebrators or not, have a wonderful day full of love and joy and smiles. And hopefully cats, grumpy or otherwise.

Every Day a Little Easier

I realized the other day that I haven’t updated you on the Quinn vs. School situation lately and that the last you heard, things were rough. While Quinn is still emphatic about not being the kind of kid who enjoys school, every day is better than the last and he is, if not super incredibly happy to be going to school every day, at least not madder about going to his new school than he was about going to his old school.

This year, all students in our district ended up with email addresses, something that came as a surprise when one evening Quinn was laughing hysterically about the emails he and Sam were sending each other. I took a look at his account and noticed that he had been sending emails to a kid from his school, some kid I’d never heard of.

QUINN HAS A FRIEND!!!

I mean, yeah, the email was something along the lines of “poooo00000ppp ha ha %^*^%#*@&#( meow meow cat,” but he was communicating with a peer from his school so, you know, rock on wit yo bad self, Q-ball.

Fast forward to last week when Quinn was all excited to go to his new school’s back to school picnic. Grabbing on to the fact that Quinn was excited about something about school, we ditched Sam’s soccer practice, Alex came home from work early, and we all headed over to the picnic.

We weren’t social butterflies or anything at the picnic, with my kids playing almost entirely with just each other, but they were happy. They played in the dirt and ran on the playground and found sticks.

Photo of Quinn standing on a path holding a stick. He looks distinctly NOT miserable.

“Take a picture of this stick, Mom. This is a good stick.”

They made Alex pull a hula hoop out of a tree near the playground and then Quinn hunted down the principal and gave it to her because “it belongs to the school.” Then the principal had to carry the dirty hula hoop around all night. Good times.

Also, Quinn’s reading teacher brought her dog, which, regardless of whether he can define any of this week’s vocabulary words, he could write an essay on this dog and his quirks. So at least I know he’s been paying attention to something in class.

So anyway, we know one family at the school and we were standing there talking to them when this other mom came up. Somehow it came up that her son was in fourth grade and then she mentioned his name and it was EMAIL KID!!!

Then Alex and I kind of made asses of ourselves, being all, “You’re Email Kid’s mom?! Is Email Kid here?! We’re sooooo excited about Email Kid!” Then I made her give me her phone number.

I think we might have come across as desperate and a little overbearing.

But Quinn was all, “Email Kid is here? Where is he?” and then he ran off to see him and later he asked if he could have a playdate with him, so I’m okay with being overbearing and desperate because Quinn has a friend—or at least someone he talks to—at his new school and that’s awesome.

We also have an EMT meeting (the meeting to decide if he is eligible for evaluation for an IEP or 504 plan) set up for the end of this month, at the school’s instigation. Quinn is back to trying to be the first kid on the school bus instead of me having to shove him on board. And the other day I watched him walk down the street after bus drop off with another kid who lives down the street.

So we’re feeling all right over here. I’m not saying that Quinn isn’t ridiculously brave to set off every day in a world full of sensory assault—he most definitely is—but he keeps getting happier, and I will take that.

Cheetah Proud

I’m going to write about last weekend’s Cheetah-thon because it was fabulous and deserves to be written about, but in terms of getting my point across, if I wanted to, I could just decide that a picture is worth a thousand words and show you this one:

Jack and Alex are ice skating. Alex is in front of Jack and Jack is holding on to the back of Alex's jacket. Alex is smiling. Jack, however, is looking at the camera with an expression of pure, open-mouthed glee. There is so much joy in this photo.

I call this photo: Joy.

Jack loves the Cheetah-thon. Loves it. He is totally in his element there. It makes me so happy to see him so joyful and engaged and silly and relaxed. I think he really likes getting to skate without anyone telling him what to do.

He takes advantage of his freedom by demanding that all of his coaches pull him around the ice—which they do with big smiles on their faces.

Photo of Jack and one of his coaches on the ice. The coach has his hands behind him. Jack is holding those hands and being pulled along the ice.

You might remember similar photos from last year’s Cheetah-thon. And Jack had that same big-ass smile then too.

So, we know that Jack has a good time at the Cheetah-thon, and clearly Alex was having a good time in that photo above (although several days later, his body still hurts from the sudden trips to the ice he took a couple of times), but what about the rest of Team Stimey?

Sam had a really good time. One of my friends came and brought her kids, whom Sam really likes, so he got to play around with them. Plus, he was able to goof around with his brothers. Some days he is such a chill little dude. (Or, rather, a chill giant dude. Seriously, once he put his ice skates on, he was as tall as many of the adults.)

He does like to hassle me though. At least he does it in a sweet, exasperating manner.

Sam smiling with his hand up in an effort to block the camera.

Sam doing his best anti-paparazzi impression.

So Jack, Alex, and Quinn had fun. But what of Quinn? Quinn does not ice skate. Quinn doesn’t even like being inside ice rinks. Quinn and his brothers were invited to a friend’s ice skating party a few months ago and Quinn spent most of the party in tears because of the cold and the environment. I was worried that the Cheetah-thon would be the same way for him.

Fortunately, I am not above bribery, so I gave him money right off the bat to buy a giant pretzel and didn’t even bother asking him if he wanted to skate. In fact, I was so sure he wasn’t going to skate that I didn’t even bother bringing a helmet for him.

Quinn ran around for a while while everyone else skated and I took photos and chatted with my friends. Then…oh my god…you guys…QUINN ASKED IF HE COULD SKATE. I think the excitement and the fun of the event seeped into him and he couldn’t resist.

I hadn’t brought a helmet for him, but fortunately due to the helmet snafu of last winter, I had an extra one in the car—and it fit him perfectly. I couldn’t have been more pleased. In addition to being amazed that Quinn was willing to skate, I was also amazed that he was willing to wear a hockey helmet with a facemask and everything.

Quinn took exactly one lap around the rink. (It took him 20 minutes.) I couldn’t have been more proud of him. I would show you a photo of him looking adorable in his helmet or skating on the ice, but he forbade me from taking a picture and/or posting it on my blog. HUGE SAD FACE.

Instead, I’ll show you this photo of him smiling at his pretzel.

Quinn holding a paper plate on which is a giant, soft, salty pretzel. His eyes are looking at the pretzel and he has a huge smile on his face.

Seriously. It’s the only photo of Q from that night that I can publish without him getting mad at me.

I had a blast too. One of my good friends came with her family, including one of my relay race team members that I hadn’t seen for a long time and was stoked to hug. I ran around taking photos, handing out money to my kids (and Alex) for food (and raffle tickets). I talked to my friends. I goofed around. It was great.

It was a triumphant night for Team Stimey.

Oh, and the Cheetahs did a great job of fundraising and met our goal. That too.

It was fantastic all around. I love this team and our community. I am so grateful for their support and also for your support. Thank you to those of you who donated money to the team. Thank you to those of you who donated items for the raffle. Thank you for those of you who attended the event. Thank you to those of you who sent love and good wishes. Just thank you all. We feel your support and we are so grateful.

Thank you for supporting Jack and his wonderful team. We are so grateful for every single dollar. If you are still in the mood to donate, you can still do so online.

Hockey season is over for the summer. I have my Saturday mornings back so I can sleep in. But as always, I will miss both practice and the people it brings into my and Jack’s lives. Fortunately they aren’t really gone and, partially thanks to you, they’ll be back weekly come fall.

Photo of Jack skating straight toward the camera.

Fun Run

Hey, guess what? You were right! I was sick! Hooray! I’ve never been so happy to have a cold! Especially because I’m already starting to feel better.

This is especially fortunate because I am running a 10K this weekend and I would rather not run every race I’m registered for this year whilst in the throes of the ague. I haven’t had much of a chance to run this week, what with my heavy time commitments in the areas of whining and complaining, so I decided to try to get a short run in this afternoon while Sam was at soccer practice.

Photo of Sam running backwards on a soccer field.

Sam. At soccer practice.

The only flaw in my plan was that I was in charge of Jack and Quinn as well. They were extremely happy on the swings that overlook the soccer field, so I tried to run back and forth on the path that snaked between them that allowed me to still watch my smaller munchkins and make sure they weren’t departing for more interesting pastures.

Sadly, it only took me a few minutes to realize that I would have to run something like 38 tiny laps to get any decent mileage.

I did not want to run 38 tiny laps.

Happily, when I said to Jack and Quinn, “Come on, guys; run with me!” they did! We departed down the path, leaving the soccer field behind us.

Photo of a paved trail through trees. Quinn and Jack are on the trail ahead of me, running away from the camera.

Jack and Quinn. Running.

It was, by far, the least productive run I’ve been on in a long time, but oh dear lord was it fun.

They actually did a really good job too. We would run for a little bit and then we would walk and if we saw a dog, we would stop to pet it. I kept track of our running (not the walking parts) on my Garmin and they ran for a little over a mile.

Like rock stars.

I think it might have been when my kids were marveling over the group of seven deer that we happened upon, followed by much excitement over a robin pecking around nearby that I realized how much fun running with my kids is.

Quinn would run up ahead and then jump out from behind a tree to ambush Jack and I and we would laugh. Jack and I would run really fast to catch up to Quinn and then he would scream and cry when we ambushed him. Both kiddos made serious but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to pet deer. We watched a creek. We had a heart-stopping lesson in remembering to stop at roads. Jack politely informed a smoker that he should quit for his health. Quinn hid from a peloton of bikers on a nearby road by crouching behind a bank of daffodils. Jack quite literally stopped to smell the flowers.

Jack walking throgh trees on a paved path while inspecting something he is holding in his hand.

Then Jack picked said flowers, told me he wanted me to help him make a dye out of them, and very carefully inspected them for suitability. It slowed us down considerably.

The whole damn thing was delightful as hell.

We got back in plenty of time for Jack to find more flowers and for Quinn to play on the swings and run into a friend from his class at school.

Photo of Quinn swinging.

Quinn has recently made great strides in his swinging ability. He gets JOY from swinging now. It’s awesome.

I run for a lot of reasons. I run to be healthy, to be fitter, to be faster, to train for races, to feel strong. Today I ran for fun. Just for fun. It was wonderful. I’ll have to remember to do that more often. And I need to remember to invite my new little running buddies to do it with me.

And then soccer practice ended and Quinn called Sam stupid and Sam threw a shoe that hit Quinn in the face and there was no more happy for anyone ever again. So, there’s that.

Wait. There actually is a little more happy. But just a little.

Photograph of a plant. Due to the position of its purple flowers and the shape of it's green leaves and the coloring of the purplish leaves at the very top, this plant looks just like a very silly bird.

“Hello! I’m a bird! I bring happy back!”

Introducing…

It’s been several months since Algernon headed off to his next adventure. I still miss him. He’ll always hold a small, dirty white space in my heart.

And yet, even though his absence still stings, I think I might be finally ready to start bringing a new mousy friend on adventures with me. Because you all are the best, I had a large selection of rodent buddies from which to choose.

It wasn’t an easy decision.

I ended up drawn to a mouse that I had originally given Quinn because he wanted his own little guy like Algernon. After he saw all of the friends you guys sent, he gave me the gift of the mouse I had given to him months before.

He is a mouse born for adventure.

A close up of a small stuffed mouse in my jeans pocket. He looks just like Algernon, who was all white, except this guy has a white chest and stomach and a brown/black brindle rest of his body.

I started carrying him around with me a while back.

There’s more to adopting a new mascot, however, than just popping him in your bag and dragging him places he doesn’t want to go. You also have to name the little dude. I spent a long time trying to find the moniker that suited him best. I tried to find mouse names from literature, but none of them suited him that well. I ruminated on his name for a really long time, but there was one name that stuck with me. I decided to let him tell you what it is.

The mouse holding a quill pen and sitting on a piece of paper on which is written, "I'm Chester!"

He’s Chester!

Naming task taken care of, we headed out to see what we could see. Unfortunately, most of what we saw on Chester’s first trip out was traffic.

Chester sitting on a dashboard of a car "looking" at multiple lanes of stropped traffic.

DC can be frustrating.

He did better on a later trip to the pet store where I was buying a lot of lab blocks (aka, food) to feed my gerbils. Chester got reacquainted with some old friends.

Chester in front of a tank of small mice. There is a sign taped to the tank that reads, "All sorts of fancy mice $3.49 each"

Fancy mice. All sorts of them.

I’ve been enjoying having Chester around, but he’s a little bit of an attention hog and he will go to any means necessary to get it.

Chester holding a large, soft mallet in front of a giant gong.

Bang a gong, Chester.

I will say this for him: He’s a very brave mouse.

Chester's back is to the camera and he is standing directly in front of Starfire the cat, who is looking directly above the camera.

He’s a daredevil, that Chester.

I blame a lot of his bravado and wild behavior on all the caffeine he drinks.

Chester holding the handle of a very small ceramic mug of brown liquid.

Sometimes he overdoes it.

Chester with a paw through the handles of two ceramic mugs, now empty.

And sometimes he REALLY overdoes it.

Chester with his face up to the opening of a large Starbucks cup.

And sometimes that mouse straight up embarrasses himself.

Regardless of his addictive behavior and his guzzling of hot chocolate out of coffee cups, I feel very thankful for Quinn’s selfless generosity.

Quinn sitting in a chair with Starfire the cat cradled in his arm and Chester sitting on top of her.

Thanks, pal.

No matter what, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Photo of me with Chester kissing my cheek. I hope we have a lot of adventures together.

*****

In other news, Jack’s special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, is still soliciting donations for their big fundraiser coming up in May. Thank you so much to Jodi and the Paulsons for their donations. You can make your own donation online.

It Was EXACTLY Like the National Treasure Movies Except Not at All

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting my family to the National Archives for a family day event and a pre-opening coffee with a curator to celebrate their “Making Their Mark: Stories through Signatures” exhibit.

Immediately upon receipt of said email, I realized that (a) I had never dragged my kids through that particular institution and (b) I should rectify that immediately. Also, (c) I’d never been and I really wanted to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights in person.

Our morning at the Archives came around this past Saturday and I was prepared. Museum-type spaces can be tough for my kiddos, particularly Quinn, so I made sure to not use the m-word and I pulled out the other heavy gun I had in my arsenal: I reminded them about the National Archives scenes from the National Treasure movies.

That did the trick.

We arrived to find juice and pastries as well as curator Jennifer Johnson, who gave us a personal tour through the Making Their Mark exhibit, which she had curated. It was really cool. The exhibit is all about signatures, from athletes signing sports memorabilia to Benedict Arnold’s oath of allegiance to a display of pens used by presidents to sign bills into law.

It was even more interesting than I thought it would be. There was a patent application filed by Michael Jackson, a letter from Johnny Cash to Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon’s FBI application, and any number of other fascinating documents and items. All three of my kids were also really interested, which is notable because there are not a lot of things that my three kids are all into.

The backs of my three kids looking at a display of 50 pens in a frame.

One of my favorites was this display of pens that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used to sign bills into law.

One of the exhibits was a full-size door that members of a home builders association sent to President Reagan to draw attention to their economic troubles. Jack took a look at the door, listened to the curator explain that it featured signatures on one side and the address on the other, and said, “Excuse me? Excuse me? I think the president was all, ‘What the bleep is this door doing in my mailbox!'”

Yep. That’s Team Stimey, keeping it classy across the generations.

In my defense, at least Jack says “bleep” instead of actual curse words.

The part of the exhibit that might have captured my kids’ attention more than any other was the auto-signing machine that was set up near the exit. This particular machine auto-signed John Hancock’s signature.

Jack carefully watching the mechanism of an auto-signing machine. There is a pen attached via a mechanism that follows the grooves in a disc that guides the signature.

Jack might have been more interested in the mechanics of the machine than the result.

We still had a few minutes before the Archives opened to the public so the curator took us to the Rotunda where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. I may have majorly geeked out there. This may also be the place where I was reprimanded by a guard.

There are no photos allowed in the Archives (barring special permission on a private tour in certain areas), so I’ll give you this image provided to me.

Photo of the Rotunda where there are murals of the founding fathers on the walls and six pages of documents, each in their own case: the Declaration, the Constitution (4 pages), and the Bill of Rights.

It was incredibly cool to see these documents close up. The Bill of Rights is my favorite.

I asked the curator how accurate the National Treasure depiction of the National Archives was and she told me that even though none of the filming was done there, it was actually pretty close. It is here that I might have to admit to you that my kids love those films and that we own DVD copies of both of them.

I am so ashamed.

Anywho, from there, we headed to the public Family Day activities that were taking place adjacent to the Making Their Mark exhibit. There were all kinds of good activities for all ages.

Jack standing at a white board where he is matching photos of and quotes by presidents to their pictures.

Jack matched presidential photos to their quotes and names. He may have needed some help to complete said process.

Sam using a template of John Adams' signature to make his own version.

Sam recreated John Adams’ signature.

Quinn slumped in a chair with a grumpy look on his face.

And Quinn sighed loudly and often.

There were crafts in another room, but the real treasure was the room set up with fountain and quill pens where my kids all learned how to write and draw using a pot of ink. Sam took approximately sixteen years to write a letter to each member of the family and Quinn and Jack drew their cats.

Quinn smiling and holding up an ink drawing of his cat Oreo.

This is a remarkably accurate representation of Oreo. I certainly wasn’t that good with the quill pen.

I was even retweeted by the @USNatArchives, which was also a kind of geeky high for me.

Screenshot of a tweet from the National Archives. The photo is of Jack looking sort of exhausted, patiently filling in his drawing of a cat with blank ink from a quill pen. The tweet says, "RT @Stimey: Drawing a picture of a black cat with a quill pen is hard work. #signatures @USNatArchives"

My kids are adept at cat drawings.

I feel very lucky that my family was invited to this event. As I say, I’ve been wanting to take my kids to the National Archives for a long time and this was the best possible way to have a first visit.

That said, your family can visit this exhibit too. The Making Their Mark exhibit is open through January 5, 2015.There will be more Making Their Mark Family Days on July 18 and December 30. There will be Constitution-in-Action Family Learning Labs on April 15, July 10, July 23, and July 29. For more information about these events, as well as others, go to archivesfoundation.org.

*****

In other news, Jack’s special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, is still soliciting donations for their big fundraiser coming up in May. Thank you so much to Sarah Elizabeth, Laura, my friend Heather and her family, and my young friends Katie and Brooke (and their terrific parents) for their donations. You can make your own donation online.