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  • The Value Of A Good Coconut Tree

    October 10, 2011

    Sunday was a slow and rainy day, very much welcome as we have not had rain here since 1996.  It’s true, ask my lawn.

    Rain brushed against the windows and falling acorns made the sound of popcorn popping as the wind shook them from the trees onto the roof.  Football noise filled the house and AD dozed on the couch in front of the TV.  Which left Sean and me with a wonderful afternoon of nothingness to fill.  It was a perfect day for artsy people like us, so we called up our inner-Picassos and sought out something creative to do.

    I recently found a box that had been stashed away for years, and inside was a bunch of artsy crafty things like markers, craft wire, beads, fancy papers and four small blank puzzles among other things.  I handed the bag to Sean to dig through to see what elements would inspire him. He chose the blank puzzles.  He wanted to make a puzzle to give to his dad to solve at such time as he awoke from watching the game. . .

    Before I even handed Sean the puzzle, I knew exactly how it would play out.  He would make three or four marks on the puzzle and then heave a big sigh of regret and slump his shoulders and hang his head – the posture of tragedy and lamentation.  He had messed up, nothing could be done to salvage the project.  It was not perfectly executed. There was no hope, none.  It was hideous and must be destroyed and hidden from view of the world.

    I remember doing the very same thing when I was about his age.  I would sit down with much creative energy and an artistic vision in my head, one about seven clicks beyond my skill level.  I would make a few marks on the paper and then feel disgust at what I saw.  It was not perfect.  Not even close.  Then I would wad up the paper and throw it in the trash, wanting no one to see.

    I would wad up paper after paper as I sought artistic perfection which never came.  And my mother let me.  Maybe she didn’t care about the wasting of paper or the environment, not very many people did in the 60s.  Or maybe the wadding and tossing of paper kept me busy which meant she could keep reading her book.  Nonetheless, I remember the frustration of not being able to perfectly transmit my idea to the paper and the dissatisfaction of never completing a project, never having anything to show for my time and effort.

    Unfortunately for Sean, I am not as easy going as my mother.  I don’t allow wadding and tossing.  I make him finish what he started.  He doesn’t like that I make him do that, but he lives under a momocracy and Queen AM decides the fate of all paper and art supplies around here.

    So I knew before I even handed Sean the puzzle that this is how it would go. That he would make a few marks and then heave breath and hang head and beg for a do-over.

    Therefore, I  preemptively gave my little speech on how he needed to think through and consider what he was going to do before he made one single mark.  Oh yes!  He knew exactly what he was going to do! He didn’t need a sketch or a thumbnail!  That is for amateurs!  He had an artistic vision! I said that was awesome that he was so far advanced, that even DaVinci made thumbnails.  I reminded him that this was a one shot deal, no do-overs, that he was required to complete the project no matter what.

    He decided that he would make a tropical scene, a palm tree with coconuts.  Unfortunately, about 63 seconds into the project, he decided that the coconuts didn’t turn out as he had hoped, which set off the heaving, hanging, slumping and lamenting.

    He looked up at me with the practiced expression of hopeful, yet sad watery eyes.  Might he please, possibly, please have another blank puzzle?

    And do you know what I said? I said No.

    I said you figure out some way to make the composition work – that is the creative process – figuring out how to make your mistakes work.  No one makes perfect art.  But those who make good art, have learned how to do so by working through the failures.  Those who keep wadding up paper and throwing it in the trash hoping the next effort will be better, never get better.  Art is about making something good out of your mistakes.

    Or maybe I was talking about life.  I don’t know.

    He didn’t like that I made him finish his coconut tree puzzle.  He said it was a terrible coconut tree and he frowned a sad frown.

    I don’t really enjoy making my child frown sad frowns (although it is kind of cute) but I know that some day, because I insisted, he will grow up to make good coconut trees, and you can’t really overestimate the value of that.


    October 9, 2011

    Last week Sean had an extra-credit homework assignment that involved investigating patterns.  He grabbed the clipboard and tucked a pencil behind his ear and off we set around the house to do some research.

    We walked around the perimeter of the outside of the house and took note of everything we saw that could be interpreted as a pattern.  He came up with flowers, leaves, the pumpkin, the fence, the roof shingles and the bricks.  Inside he determined there are patterns on the floor tile, the fabrics of the furniture, the Kleenex box and the carved Greek key motif on my desk.

    He illustrated each of the patterns, as the assignment required, and set it aside, ready to tuck into his homework folder.  That could have been the end of it, but I couldn’t let him stop there, there was just too much fun to be had.

    Instead, I asked him to classify the patterns.  He studied the paper for a moment and then said it seems to him that there are patterns that God made, like flowers, and then there are patterns that man made, like bricks.  That was a pretty astute observation, and again, I could have left it at that, but he seemed open to pressing it further.  So I suggested to him that perhaps there were more patterns in his life which were less obvious than those that he could see and draw.

    He tapped his pencil on the table as he cocked his head and squinted at the ceiling, a posture known to all to push the thinking ions into the brain.  I let him wrestle with it until I was sure he was stumped. Then I pulled the plastic place mat from under the paper upon which he had been writing, the one with the multiplication tables on it.  I handed it to him and asked him to study it for a moment and see if he could find any patterns.  A light bulb went off above his head, crackled and popped and then exploded into an Aha! cloud of smoke.  He quickly pointed out the 5 multiplication table, the repeating of the 5’s and 0s and also the 9s, how the numbers go up on one side of the answers and down on the other.

    Since we were on a roll, I had him close his eyes as I recited a poem for him.  Then I took him over to the piano and played a simple piece for him.  I had him clap the patterns.

    He went back to the table to add these types of patterns to his homework.  As he worked, I asked him if he thought these types of patterns that escape the eye but exist in the mind – were they God made or man made?

    We spent the next 15 minutes at the kitchen table, bending our brains around that idea and batting it back and forth, each trying to dismiss the theories and suppositions of the other.  My hypothesis was that God made mathematical patterns and man discovered them. Sean said he felt like man invented number patterns.  I told him that I could be convinced of that.  Maybe man invented numbers as a way to describe and make sense of his world, that perhaps math is just another language.  And for the first time in my life, the aroma of math was not clinical Pine-Sol, but appealing, lilac and romantic.

    And then Sean said, no, man created numbers so that he could collect taxes.

    Well, there’s that too, I suppose.



    October 6, 2011

    I remember when I was 16, seeing the cover of some magazine that featured Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  Actually I don’t really remember if Wozniak was on the cover or not, all I remember is thinking that Steve Jobs is really cute!   I also remember thinking, wow, he’s just a few years older than me, so young to be so rich and successful.  And then, “I wonder if he has a girlfriend…”

    Steve never became my real life boyfriend, but he’s always been my pretend techno-geek boyfriend.  I’ve always had a crush on him, I’ve always had a thang for smart geeky guys.

    Steve changed the world in many ways, not the least of which, he showed the world that geeks can be hot and that being a geek can be a cool thing.

    But the biggest way he changed the world is in how we communicate and stay connected, how we learn and how we process creativity.

    When the news broke yesterday that Steve Jobs had died, I read different reports on his life and what various people had to say about him. They talked about all he had accomplished and how he changed the world with his products.  And it’s true, because of the products he envisioned and brought to market, people can do more in less time, be more creative, share more, connect more, learn more.  I am one of those people.

    I’ve always been a big fan of the “i” products and recently splurged on an iPad2 for Sean and I.  We love it with a deep intensity and use it all the time.  I have loaded it up with educational games for him and photography and design apps for me and just all kinds of fun and cool stuff.

    Last night Sean and I went out for an early dinner at Chili’s.  He confiscated the cardboard coasters off several nearby tables so that we had a deck of about 20.  While we waited for our food we tried stacking the coasters in different configurations to see what kind of load-bearing structures we could make and how much weight they could bear.  Answer:  Triangle structures can bear the weight of a drinking straw – if you hold your breath and no one bumps the table. When we got bored with that, we divided up the coasters.  I asked him spelling and math questions and if he answered right, he got one of my cards; if he answered wrong, I took one of his cards.  Very low tech, but fun for geeky geeks like us and just a tad educational.  But most importantly, we were engaged.

    As Sean and I were playing our silly made-up coaster games, I noticed a mom and little girl in the booth across the way.  The mom was staring into her iPhone and the little girl was watching something on her iPad, both bathed in the glow of their devices, a separation of less than two feet, but worlds apart.  I am not making a judgment here, just an observation. I realize there are many many reasons why a mom might need to decompress and veg out and that I have no idea what she’s dealing with.  But I will say that AD and I have taken note of how often we see this when we go out, families out to eat together, but not together – silent and zombie-like, the face and spirit of each lit up by their personal device.

    I thought about Steve Jobs and how everyone is talking about how he changed the way we live for the better, that we are better connected than ever.  But, I have to wonder, if perhaps in other ways, we are not changed for the better, if our beloved devices are more of a wedge than a bridge, if we are not more connected than ever, but more disconnected than ever.

    What do you think?


    * * *
    Addendum:  Found this post along the same lines from Jon Acuff who writes Stuff Christians Like:


    Jackets Lost And Found

    October 4, 2011

    So far we have had two chilly mornings.  So far Sean has worn a jacket to school two times. So far Sean has lost two jackets.

    So this morning, as he put on his 3rd and final jacket, I said to him that his first order of business today was to locate the other two jackets.

    “Mom,” he said, “If the jackets are not claimed within so many days they give them to someone who does not have a jacket.”

    “Sean,” I said, “That someone without a jacket may be you if you don’t come home with your jackets.”

    And I was not kidding.  I am a big proponent of Love & Logic parenting. If he comes home with no jackets today, tomorrow he will be mighty chilly as he walks to school.

    After seven years of parenting, I have yet to discover how to teach this child to keep track of his stuff.  I have tried to teach him that when you do not return things to their proper place, they become lost.  When you just put things down wherever you are done with them, they are not in their proper place and therefore — become lost.  When you do not put mommy’s scissors back in her desk, the proper place of scissors, they are not there when mommy wants to use them, and they become lost.  And that makes the vein in mommy’s neck bulge just a little.

    The constant losing of stuff is a source of aggravation to me for two reasons.  1) It somehow becomes my job to find or replace the lost stuff, usually at the very inconvenient 11th hour and 2) I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to lose stuff.  I obsessively keep track of my stuff.

    I grew up with not a lot and if I lost my stuff, I would have been transferred from the “grew up with not a lot” category into the “grew up with nothing” category.  There just wasn’t any getting more stuff.  Period.  Papa Ed and Vivian practiced Love & Logic out of necessity, long before it was a parenting philosophy, long before people said stuff like “parenting philosophy”.

    Last fall, Sean lost his jacket the very first day he wore it.  It was a very distinctive beige and black plaid jacket that I loved that someone had handed down to us.  I had an inexplicable sentimental attachment to that jacket — probably because when he wore it with the hood pulled up, all I could see was my own 1st grade face and that melts my heart like butter on a hot waffle.

    At any rate, several times a week I would go up to the school and rifle through the lost and found box of MIA lunch boxes, jackets and water bottles looking for that jacket.  And let me tell you, that is not an especially pleasant job.  That lost and found box falls into the category of “smells not that great.”

    Finally I gave the jacket up for lost, grieved it and went to the resale store and bought him a bright orange jacket for $5.  I figured that maybe he would be less likely to lose an orange jacket, and if he did, I was only out $5.

    But then in the spring time, when it warmed up, Sean came home with the brown and black plaid jacket.  Which was now too small.   I could never get clear how the jacket resurfaced, if Sean checked the box again and there it was or if at the end of the year, some kind soul looked through the box and saw his name in the jacket and returned it to him.   If the jacket could talk, I’d ask where in the heck it had been all year.

    And maybe the jacket would say he went home to spend a season with a little boy who was growing up with not a lot.