Film Reviews for the Rainforest Mind

This blog post title is a bit of a misnomer; I’m not going to list films I think rainforest minds would enjoy seeing.

That list would probably be too huge. 

Instead, I’ll write about how watching and reviewing films has been an incredibly useful outlet for my creativity over the last 14 years.

As I’ve written about on here before, I’ve been (obsessively) writing posts on a film review blog for quite awhile. It started as a way to productively procrastinate on writing my dissertation, and ended up becoming a sanity-saver during years of new parenting, a new career, and other life changes.

(No, writing a film review blog doesn’t solve all of life’s problems, or provide any income or fame. I only have one dedicated contributor – plus a few more who pop in every now and then to comment – but that’s actually enough for me.) 

The goal with my blog is really straightforward; as I state on the “What is This Site About?” page:

In 1988 [when I was 14], I bought a copy of Danny Peary’s Guide for the Film Fanatic and since then, I’ve steadily been trying to see each of the titles listed.

In 2006, I decided to create a website where devotees of this book — and other hardcore film fanatics — could debate Peary’s selections and discuss whether or not all the titles he lists are really “must see”. I also wanted a forum for posting my own reviews for each of Peary’s listed titles, and I’m adding new ones continuously.

As someone who struggles with the challenge of too many choices, writing about every single  one of the 4300 titles listed in Peary’s book at least seemed like a way to “narrow down” my focus (!). (In a big-gulp, rainforest-mind kind of way.)

I’m ~61% of the way through the book, and if I continue at my current average rate, this project will take me another 9-10 years to finish. (We calculated this with the kids at dinner the other night.) 

Getting back to why I write film reviews – it’s taken me many years to “come out” in this way. The fact that I write reviews as a hobby has been surprisingly tough to share; admitting that I do this on top of my “job-job” and parenting has had me convinced that people might think I was using up valuable time I could/should have been spending with my kids on something as “frivolous” as movies. (Many of them bad movies – oh, so bad.)

Over the years, however – as I’ve gone to therapy and continued to make peace with my own complex self – I’ve come to understand what so many parenting experts have said for years: parents must take care of themselves to be any good for their kids.

In spite of this advice, there’s a pervasive sense of self-sacrifice and overwhelm in most parenting circles I’ve seen, with a seemingly endless list of ideas one could be trying out.  The irony – really, it is ironic – is that if you try TOO hard to “focus on parenting’, you end up doing your kids (and yourself) a disservice.

In contrast, being a reasonably happy, sane, creatively fulfilled mom goes a long way towards helping me stay an effective parent for the long haul. I’ve seen evidence of that.

So, while my kids do their online gaming or schooling or whatever else they’re involved in, I take care of the many details of our lives, AND I write reviews. (Which means watching films. That’s a side benefit of this hobby.)  I keep a massive checklist (of course), categorize the films I’ve seen or have yet to see by multiple different variables (?!?!), and feel a little bit better each time I check one more off.

Whenever I need a grounding reminder of something NOT RELATED TO REAL LIFE, I head over to my site and read my own reviews, or scroll through my lists.

It’s soothing. It’s self-regulating.

And even if I don’t completely understand why I enjoy this so much, I do – that’s reason enough.

 

 

 

Rainforest Partner: Sharing the Wealth

My partner R (my husband) is a Rainforest Mind, too.

I actually knew that before I even met him in person, given that R’s online dating profile nickname was “Many Hobbies”, and in his self-description he talked quite a bit about how much he loves learning new things hands-on.

In my diary, shortly after meeting him, I wrote:

He’s science-y by nature… but seems totally capable of carrying on conversations about plenty of other things, and actually seems really well-rounded… He likes to learn more about himself and life all the time.

There were a bunch more things about R that I liked and resonated with too (of course!) – but the fact that he was interested in many things was a huge bonus, and has continued to work in our favor as a couple.

The photo at the top of this post is from our front office/library. (Yes, it has a rolling ladder – my dream come true!) I’m a book hoarder and tend to dominate  the shelves, but R has a few near the top dedicated to his own hobbies. (Important side note: he designed and put together the entire wall-covering shelving unit in this room, using IKEA modular pieces. He’s a “builder” on the side.) 

Because R’s hobbies and interests tend to lean towards requiring more “gear” and/or being more expensive (think=large machinery and tools), we have a happily mutual agreement that he can only be actively involved in so many at one time, BUT he can buy books and learn about topics to his heart’s content (and much of that is online these days).

A quick skim of the titles in the random photo above show me just a few of R’s many hobbies over the years – and these are from awhile ago:

  • software architecture
  • robots
  • astronomy
  • woodworking
  • bookbinding
  • four-wheel driving
  • Legos
  • plywood design
  • gears and gear cutting
  • soldering
  • water gardens
  • SketchUp
  • emergency food storage and survival
  • making pure corn whiskey

And let’s not leave out the massive tomes on display here entitled simply “Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 67th Edition” and “How Things Work” (I and II).

The nice thing is that my own book collections – scattered around the house – cover entirely different types of subjects. I’m much more into film, art, photography, languages, literature, etc.

So, together, you could say we make a collective rainforest household that encompasses a truly enormous range of topics. (With some gaps. Neither of us is into team sports at all, for instance. Go figure.) 

As I mentioned, learning about R’s rainforest mind early on (I didn’t know to call it this way-back-when, of course) was a major point in his favor. I’ve often said – only half-jokingly – that my idea of hell is intellectual boredom. Thankfully, with R as a partner, that just doesn’t happen.

I should add, though, that our desire for variety has some really important limits. We established early on, for instance, that we were interested in finding a life partner, not multiple or shifting partners. (We want comfort and security in that area, not variety.) We don’t especially want to move every year, or even every few years.

And, some of our hobbies manifest differently. He has certain movies he likes watching again… and again… and again, while I love to mix things up and will rarely watch the same film twice. He prefers to revisit relaxing vacation destinations, while I will ALWAYS choose a new spot to explore. Etc.

When it comes to parenting, we split things up and I very happily outsource science “instruction” (both formal and informal) to him, since he’s way more intuitive with it all. (I learn a lot from him myself when I take the time to listen and absorb.)

Meanwhile, we obviously understand our kids’ rapidly shifting and all-encompassing interests, as well as their obsessions, since we’re wired the same way (albeit – differently).

In sum, as challenging as it can often be to have a rainforest mind, it is a LOT nicer – and, I think, easier – sharing my life with someone who not only “gets” it but can match me.

Game on. (Well, not team sports-wise… )

Too Many Choices: Teaching as an Antidote for Rainforest Minds

Paula Prober points out that one of the top challenges facing Rainforest Minds is the dilemma of “too many choices”. She opens chapter four of Your Rainforest Mind (2016) – entitled “Too Many Possibilities, Too Many Choices” – by writing:

If you have so many interests and abilities that you are overwhelmed, embarrassed, frustrated, confused, and very, very busy, chances are you are suffering from multipotentiality. (p. 81)

Prober acknowledges that:

“Oddly enough… being good at many things can create distress. How do you choose? What do you let go of? Who will cry with you when you choose a medical career over classical piano? Can you do it all?”

Prober’s chapter gets at so many of the ironic challenges of being a “multipotentialite”. That is, if you are capable of and interested in many things – and “simply” have to choose – how in the world can this be a struggle or a hardship?

Well, first of all, “choosing” is never (or rarely) simple. In fact, I would refer to it as one of the biggest challenges in life, both pragmatically and existentially. The knowledge that at any given moment, one can make this choice – or that choice – or that choice – can bring with it an instant sense of paralysis and fatigue.

The ability to choose should never be taken for granted (and always appreciated).  With that said, dealing with too many choices has led to the following outcomes for me, personally:

  • dropping out of school numerous times
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • guilt
  • existential angst
  • panic

Both Prober and Emilie Wopnik – founder of puttylike.com and author of How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up (2017) – focus primarily on too many choices related to career selection.

This has been (and continues to be) a challenge for me, though perhaps less so than for other rainforest minds – simply because I decided fairly early on that I wanted to be a teacher, which is what I’ll focus this blog post on.

In short: having been so poorly served by the educational institutions I dabbled in (and kept leaving, time and again), I finally realized I could work towards greater change in the world (definitely a rainforest mind priority!) by plunging into education as a field of study and practice.

I figured that by becoming a teacher – however imperfect and infuriating that sphere may be (and boy, it certainly was/is) – I could at least establish a stable career while getting away with constant exploration of my craft (score!). 

This approach has more or less worked for the past 25 years. As an emotionally paralyzed 20-year-old needing to find an excuse to get out of my parents’ house and do something, I easily found work and income by applying to be a substitute teacher’s aide in various spaces – including an adult ESL school and PreK-16 special education classrooms.

I continued this type of work throughout college, fueling my insatiable need for variety (being a substitute definitely provides that) while learning a tremendous amount of on-the-ground realities about different school settings – not to mention more broadly about teaching as a career.

As soon as I finished my bachelor’s degree – which I earned in large part because it was required in order to teach, thus making at least that choice easy I obtained my emergency teaching credential and started substituting as the “teacher-on-record” in various classrooms.  Again, the variety built into this part-time work was incredible: I had a chance to experience different age levels, neighborhoods, pedagogical approaches, programmatic styles, and much more. Each day was different (with a little bit of “redundancy”, or returning to the same class for a few days, built in), and I loved it.

In terms of which type of teaching credential to choose to earn – well, in some ways that choice was also actually easy: a multiple subject credential, of course! This allowed me to teach kids from Kindergarten through 7th grade in all subjects, which was the only way to go for someone like me who was unable to stay landed on any specific topic for very long.

However, by the time I got my teaching credential in 2000, I faced yet another choice: where to teach? I applied to work at one of the largest districts in the nation, knowing they would surely have a spot for me (yes, they did), and then set about trying to find the most diverse school in that district. The range of students I was able to serve at my K-5 school – linguistically, racially, and economically – made life exciting in yet a different way.

However, within three years (two, strictly speaking), I knew it was time to move on. By then, I had enough of the “basics” of teaching down to feel like I was reasonably competent, which started to make things – well, too predictable.

So, I began applying to graduate school. I couldn’t articulate the “why” behind this other than that I dreaded the notion of being a “career-long” anything – and I knew there was more to learn.

I spent the next four years (with support from my boyfriend/fiance/husband) zipping through my masters and doctorate degree combined, keeping my “I want to learn and know everything” tendencies in check by remaining ruthlessly dedicated to not wasting money, and therefore being done as soon as realistically possible.

When I inevitably became dogged by procrastination and imposter’s syndrome, I got help from my husband in setting up a film review blog so that I could “creatively procrastinate” and not feel bad about engaging with writing that wasn’t dissertation-focused. Since writing begets writing, eventually I was doing enough of it that I could turn to the final stages of my degree (i.e., The Big D = The Dissertation) and Get It Done.

Lest any of this makes it sound like I somehow knew what I was doing and had an easy time of it – HA!

No way.

I share all this simply as a way to note that rainforest-mind tendencies can both hinder and help. I’ve learned how to hack many of my challenges so that they work in my favor (eventually), or at least help to keep existential dread at bay.

I have a lot more to say about choice-making, and will save all that for another post (or two, or three). But for now, the advice I’ve given myself over the years is: MAKE a choice. Accept that it will be imperfect because there is truly no such thing as “the right choice”.

Any choice – as long as you’re not harming yourself or others – will at least keep you moving forward and (hallelujah!) provide you with new experiences to explore. Go forth.

References: 

  • Prober, P. (2016). Your rainforest mind: A guide to the well-being of gifted adults and youth. Luminare Press.

Quarantine Birthdays

Two of my three kids have had birthdays so far during COVID-19 quarantine.

My son, D, turned 10 back in April, when life-as-we-knew-it had just come to a screeching halt.

My older daughter, C, just turned 12 yesterday.

In this post, I’ll talk a bit about what it’s been like planning parties for kids when the “normal options” just aren’t available.

First Quarantine Party: 10 Year Old Son 

When my son’s 10th birthday rolled around in April, I was still in full-on parent-panic mode:

“What is this #$@&%*! pandemic doing to my kids??!!”

“How can I not hold a birthday party for my child??!!”

However, problem-solving is an antidote to nearly all of life’s – well, problems – so I shifted into this mode, and came up with a bunch of ideas – none of which seemed sufficient at the time.

My ultimate goal was to try out as many ideas as possible and see which ones would stick.

In other words, if you offer 5 activities and 3 are fun but two are “meh”, have you succeeded? I figured the odds were better than otherwise.

So, for my son D, here were the basics of what we did:

  • he opened his presents in the morning;
  • we let him pick what to eat for dinner (Dairy Queen – yay for drive-through pick-up during quarantine!);
  • we let him choose what to have for dessert (an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen with a very specific image of his two favorite cartoon characters scanned on top – thank you Google image search and Dairy Queen!);
  • we let him choose a board game for all of us to play after dinner;
  • we let him pick a movie to watch that night.

The through-line theme – “we let him” – was very intentional. That is, while the world may be in absolute chaos, my goal was to stress that we always do have some choice and control.

Next, I tried to brainstorm what kids really like the most…

Candy.

No question.

Could I do something special with candy?

I decided to create a “candy scavenger hunt”, which started with my husband taking my son (wearing masks) to the drug store  and letting him choose his top ten favorite candies.

From there, my daughters and I figured out ten places inside and outside the house to hide the candy, and I created rhyming clues.

(Heads up: kids love doggerel, so the worse the better – as long as it rhymes!)

Here’s an example of what I wrote:

Look among the Legos
We know there a ton
But if you keep looking
You’ll find some candy fun!

After the hunt, my son got to share his (many, many) candies with his sisters – thus giving him the agency to let him do this as the Birthday Boy.

Finally, following the lead of my older sister (whose daughter had turned 13 in March), I hosted a Zoom gathering with cousins, aunts, uncles, and D’s Mormor and Morfar (Norwegian for “mother’s mother” and “mother’s father”). It was special and unusual to see all his cousins at once, since we all live across the continent, so – score on that point for novelty.

We started off the Zoom “party” by doing a quiz about D’s life, seeing who could accurately recall the most details about his childhood.

Then we shifted to a scavenger hunt (an idea provided by a friend – thank you, K!) and the fun really began. My son absolutely LOVED being in charge of sending everyone off to go find various items (he selected the following categories):

  • something fuzzy
  • something sharp
  • something stinky
  • something with every color in the rainbow
  • something with leather
  • something yummy
  • something made of glass
  • a picture of D’s favorite animal (they had to guess what this was)
  • something smaller than a dime; and
  • something totally random.

In Apples to Apples style, D got to judge his favorite from each category, and as family members picked up on this competitive energy, the tension mounted (in a fun way).

All told, while D definitely missed getting to see his two best friends (he spoke with one on the phone), he seemed reasonably happy with his birthday, and I considered it a quarantine success.

In the Meantime… 

After my son’s party, my 7 y.o. daughter started getting invitations to drive-through birthdays. I had vaguely heard of these in the news, but wasn’t exactly sure what they involved – so, after mild panic and discombobulation, I looked it up.

I watched a helpful video on YouTube, and came to understand that the basic premise is having the birthday child out in front of their house while a parade of well-wishers come driving by to honk and wave and yell “Happy Birthday”.

Pretty cool!

My 7 y.o. “I” has now “attended” three drive-through birthdays (with me at the wheel), all slightly different.

The first involved meeting up with other families (masked) in a parking lot, decorating our cars with markers and signs, then parading together single file in our cars towards the birthday girl’s house, where she (M) was waiting with her dad and brother and gift bags to hand out. The drive-by greeting itself was over within a minute, which felt a little odd – but M was getting LOTS of adoration and attention from dozens of people, including neighbors standing outside to look and cheer as well, so it felt like a complete “pandemic party success” from my perspective.

The second drive-through party “I” attended didn’t start with an initial meet-up. Instead, the hosts offered an hour’s window to come by and say hi, which meant we could take our time and not feel rushed by a crowd of other cars ahead of and behind us. We actually got to spend 10 minutes chatting through our car window with the birthday girl, asking how her birthday had gone so far, what she was planning to do that evening, etc. A present and a gift bag were exchanged, and (typical for 7 year-olds) every single gift bag item was cherished and appreciated by my daughter on the drive home.

The third drive-through party “I” attended was a mix of the first two. We were given a specific time to drive by, and there was healthy crowd of cars waiting around for a turn. The birthday boy gave my daughter an ice cream bar using a “Go Go Gadget Arm” tool and this (the ice cream) was literally the much-discussed treat of her day. We left with a honk, as other friends came up for their turn to say hi.

Second Quarantine Party: 12 Year Old Daughter

My daughter C started thinking about her birthday weeks ago, wondering what her options were, and how in the world she could make it fun.

She gave up immediately on coming close to the magic of last year’s birthday, when we took her and a small group of friends ziplining through the forest (heck, that was MY best birthday party ever!) – but she still wanted to find some way to make this depressing year memorable.

Her most recurrent comment to me during our planning time was, “Surprise me. I want to be surprised.” I appreciated that sentiment, but knew I needed to strike a balance to ensure my ideas were close to the ballpark of what she wanted.

I considered hosting a drive-through party for C, since I now had a few templates to build on, but she told me she was less interested in this than getting to see a couple of close friends.

Thankfully, while we’re still in quarantine, life has opened up a tiny bit to allow for “bubble friends” (a.k.a. “quarantine friends” – kids whose families we know and trust and feel comfortable socializing with now and then).

So, her party was an interesting hybrid of approaches.

I started with the most successful idea from my son’s party: the Candy Scavenger Hunt. I made a special date to take my daughter to the store with me (masked), and let her carefully pick out her top ten favorite candies.

(Parents, don’t underestimate how amazing this process alone can be. Remember the days of feeling like your parents controlled everything about your candy consumption, and the idea of picking out not one but TEN candies was like being invited to an exclusively-fun version of Willy Wonka’s Factory?) 

Back at home, I enlisted the help of my two younger kids in finding ten spots around and outside the home to hide the candy, and once again wrote some quick “doggerel” clues:

Just three more left! Can you find them?
Go back inside and head up the stairs.
Check the spot where our vacuum is hidden
And a candy will solve all your cares.

The hunt was once again a complete success, other than ants crawling into the sealed box of Milk Duds that had only been outside for a couple of hours. (Ew! She’ll get a re-do on that.) 

The night before her official birthday, we held what has now become a “traditional” Zoom party with our family members (we had also done this for Father’s Day and another cousin’s birthday in the meantime). This involved:

  • opening the presents everyone had sent C through the mail;
  • showing off the sweet treats C had picked out from the local bakery (see picture above);
  • doing an “All About C” quiz (turns out it’s really hard to guess a 12 year old’s current favorite song, or color, or activity);
  • ending once again with a real-life scavenger hunt (“Go and come back in 10 minutes”), with C assigning points for the most creative items.

I took some screen shots during the “party” – including, of course, a “funny face” one – and sent them to everyone as a “party favor”.

Finally, C had a sleepover with two close “quarantine friends”. They went swimming in the lake, had a dinner of C’s choice (yay for Trader Joe’s mini chicken tacos and potstickers!), ate an array of delicious (bakery-made) pastries, opened presents, and watched a movie (actually, two) before spreading out in sleeping bags on the living room floor and conking for the night.

This last part of her party – i.e., actually hanging out LIVE with FRIENDS – is the biggest indication that we’re in a new and different phase of this seemingly interminable pandemic. It’s a risk, but a calculated one, which all parents (aaaaaakkkkk!) are required to make these days.

Speaking of quarantine, one question on C’s Zoom birthday quiz was: “What are you MOST looking forward to doing once quarantine is over?”

Her response: “Having all my friends over for a huge sleepover!”

That can’t happen right now. In the meantime, we’re settling for the Next Best Creative Compromise.

And that process alone – coming up with viable alternatives when life hands you an avalanche of lemons – is undoubtedly a valuable one for all my kids to be living through.

 

Summer “Uncamping” During Pandemic Time


This has been an unusual summer, to put it mildly.

Prior to the pandemic, we very happily sent our kids off to fun and enriching summer camps each week, driving them all over town and a bit farther to allow them opportunities to play outside in unexplored spaces, wade in streams, make friends (both kids and counselors), learn about animals, tell new jokes, play games, construct glass art, sing songs, climb trees, and so much more.

This summer – other than one experimental day of outdoor art camp for my 7 year old (I was too nervous to continue) – we have been camp-free; or, as I’ve coined it, we’re “uncamping”.

So, my kids are at home – very occasionally hanging out with a few select quarantine-friends and family; biking and swimming; and spending a lot of time getting better at online gaming and virtual world construction.

I’m keeping our “schedule” (i.e., our “non-negotiables”) simple, flexible, yet semi-structured:

  • go to bed and wake up at a “reasonable” time (so far not a problem, given their ages; I anticipate more challenges with this as they enter their teen years);
  • eat three meals a day – including sitting down for a family dinner, which involves sharing “highs” and “lows” from the day;
  • get at least a little bit of exercise every day, in some fashion (ideally outdoors);
  • read for 20-30 minutes a day during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time;
  • treat each other kindly and help each other out when appropriate.

    I’ve experimented over the summer with trying to add even more structure in:

    “Let’s do some art!”
    “Let’s do some math!”
    “Let’s do some music!”
    “Let’s do some science!”

    But, the minimalist schedule outlined above seems to be as much as I can manage without pushing on everyone’s nerves (including – and perhaps most importantly – my own).

    So, the art my kids do is on their own time and initiative, typically related to whatever online game they’re playing (i.e., designing new “skins” for their Minecraft avatars). The math they do relates to calculating how much online money they have left to spend on their games, how long it will take to save up for a certain coveted item.

    Etc.

    It’s hard to blame my kids for wanting to spend time in virtual worlds that allow them maximum flexibility, autonomy, and interaction (not to mention flying and magic!), when the real world has severely curtailed that to an unnatural degree.

    In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be back at work (thankfully, at home) while simultaneously overseeing my three kids’ online school schedules. Life will feel – and be – intensely exhausting and full once again.

    For now, I’m appreciating this chance to sit and stare out the window, reflect on life, and know that my kids are managing their pandemic time in a way that makes sense to them.

A Day’s Reading in Our Household

During these weird, semi-structured COVID-19 summer days, without summer camps to fill the time, my kids are expected to read for 20-30 minutes a day (depending on their age) during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time.

Yes, I wish the amount of reading they did each day was more. And yes, it’s hard for me as a book-loving adult (and a voracious former kid-reader) to understand why this amount is even negotiated or questioned to begin with.

(Then again, when I was a kid during long summer days in the 1980s, I didn’t have a personal tablet or computer to distract me. I’m willing to bet a significant amount of money that I would be equally distracted by such amazing devices. )

So… What does this daily “required reading” look like for my 2E kiddos? I’ll share a bit below about the challenges and strengths for each of them, with the emergent theme that “gifted” does NOT necessarily translate into a kid quietly sitting and reading by herself for hours on end. (Well, that was me… but not my kids.)

  • C (my ~12 y.o. daughter) chooses to read weekly graphic novel serials on a site called Webtoons. She found this site herself, and loves it. The upside is she can get completely absorbed and read for hours (far beyond the minimum required daily reading time). The downside is that these stories aren’t vetted by anyone other than the website. The other day she stumbled on a new series that intrigued her while also scaring her. (Let’s just say… it involved death and killing in an unpleasant way.) She had a rough evening. BUT – we used it as an opportunity to talk about how there is a lot (a LOT) of deeply unpleasant stuff out there on the internet, and she will have to learn for herself when to turn away. This is an important life lesson, one I’m guessing most parents (including myself) would prefer to put off as long as possible, but… for us, it’s here.
  • D (my 10 y.o. son) is a neurodiverse kiddo and tends to prefer either factual books or series with a predictable format. For the past number of months, he has chosen the 39 Clues series as his go-to favorite. This is a perfectly fine choice, but I suddenly realized a few weeks ago that only being mid-way through the 6th book in the series, when he started the first one back in January meant… Wait, how much is this kid actually reading (or not) during his reading time? He loves timers, and I know he was actually setting one each day, but without me doing any kind of progress monitoring, there was – shall we say – a disconnect. A happy solution is that I recently talked with him about a schedule for getting through one book a week. We agreed he would split each book up into chapters, divided by 7, and he would commit to reading that many chapters each day. Lo and behold, he’s suddenly on track and reading what feels like a semi-reasonable amount! I still don’t know what kind of a shift this triggered in his head, but it worked and he’s happy, so – win/win.
  • My 7 y.o. daughter can read chapter books but has regressed (I know that’s a loaded term; I’m using it intentionally) to reading primarily pictures books and easy-to-read books during COVID. She adores Mo Willem’s awesome Elephant and Piggie series, and otherwise lately has been re-reading the same easy-to-read chapter book – Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off (2019) – multiple times a day, many days in a row. As a kid, I myself obsessively read about a book a day, eagerly looking forward to how many new books I could check off my mental list. I considered an unread book an exciting mystery to be explored, with re-reading happening occasionally – but only for my most beloved books, and never as a default. But honestly – who am I to judge my daughter’s reading choices? I need to check that tendency. [UPDATE: I bought her the two sequels! She’s similarly obsessed.]

The other sustained reading in our household occurs at night, when my husband and I each read either to our son or our two girls (youngest, then oldest) every other night. Being read to before bedtime is a cherished memory from my own childhood, and is also a beloved ritual from my elementary school teaching days, when I would rarely let anything get in the way of reading a chapter or two to my students as they sat (mostly) rapt at the rug, listening and quiet (ah, quiet).

Read-aloud time at night with my own kids is a chance not only to engage in literary worlds with them, but to expose them to slightly more demanding or complex books they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily choose for themselves. My husband and I can talk them through challenging sections, and use the stories as a bridge for other topics that come up throughout the days and weeks and months.

Here’s what I’ve been up to during read-aloud time with my kids recently:

  • I just finished reading Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby series to my 7 y.o., who was instantly engaged and could relate to so much of what Ramona goes through, both struggles and triumphs, as she ages naturally throughout the books.
  • My 10 y.o. son and I just finished (finally! they’re long!) the fourth book in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time quartet, called Many Waters (1986). It goes in some unexpectedly adult directions, and I had to read carefully and cautiously between the lines at times – but he insisted on sticking with it, and it allowed us to continue our ongoing discussions of space, time, and existence, all as creatively conceived by L’Engle.
  • With my 12 y.o. daughter, we recently read The War That Saved My Life (2016) and The War I Finally Won (2019) (its sequel) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. These were significant not only for allowing her to discuss the brutal realities of World War II (war and violence have been a major trigger for her anxiety in years past), but to be able to compare a life of restriction for kids in WWII-era England with life now in COVID. We are obviously so much better off now, but she doesn’t know that from her own lived experience – and I sense it helped her to hear about other kids dealing with less-than-ideal (to put it mildly) life circumstances. These books also gave me an opportunity to talk with her about Hitler, genocide, and Resistance movements, including the fact that her own grandfather was a small boy on a farm in Nazi-occupied Norway when his dad was hiding Resistance fighters in the forest behind their house. She took in this information carefully and seems to be considering how it all relates to the fictional stories we just completed.

So, that’s a snapshot of reading in our house. All told, with DEAR and read-aloud time combined, each kid gets about an hour of “book reading” in each day.

It may not be as much as I’d prefer, but we’re making it work for our unique household – and as I put it into writing, I realize it’s more than it seems.

Rainforest Minds: My Introduction

A couple of years ago I stumbled onto Paula Prober’s blog “Your Rainforest Mind: Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive”, and was invited to consider the following questions:

• Like the rain forest, are you intense, multilayered, colorful, creative, overwhelming, highly sensitive, complex, idealistic and influential?
• Do people tell you to lighten up when you’re just trying to enlighten them?
• Do you wonder how you can feel like not enough and too much at the same time?

As so many other readers of Prober’s blog have responded: yes, yes, and yes!

They and I can very much relate, and feel a sense of relief about finally having our complex “way of being” in the world validated.

Given how justifiably controversial the term gifted is – Marc Smolowitz’s new documentary “The G Word” says it all in the title – it makes sense for Prober to use the metaphorical conceptualization of a rain forest, which “achieves by simply being itself” (Prober, 2016, p. xi). In explaining this choice, Prober writes:

If you think of people as ecosystems, you can see some as meadows, others as deserts, some as mountains – and some as rain forests. While all ecosystems are beautiful and make valuable contributions to the whole, rain forests are particularly complex: multi-layered, highly sensitive, colorful, intense, creative, fragile, overwhelming, and misunderstood, while thick with possibility and pulsing with life, death, and transformation. You could say that a rain forest has far more activity than, say, a meadow or a wheat field. The rain forest is not a better ecosystem, just more complicated. It also makes an essential contribution to the planet when allowed to be itself, rather than when cut down and turned into something that is it not. (p. xi, bold mine)

So, complexity is a key term in Prober’s conceptualization of rain forest minds. I can accept and embrace that as a working distinction.

This blog will be about my own “journey into my rainforest mind” (Prober, 2019) as a “gifted adult” (Streznewski, 1999) (a term I’ll also use if or as appropriate).

Along the way I’ll include plenty of posts on what it’s like to to create a rich life alongside my rainforest partner, with a particular emphasis on parenting my rainforest kiddos – but this is not “just” a parenting blog since I’ve never been able to divide my life that way. For instance:

  • A few weeks after giving birth to my oldest child in the summer of 2008 (as our nation’s economy started to semi-collapse around us – though we’re seeing much worse now), I began a tenure-line position as an assistant professor.
  • I continued my professorship and a modest bit of publishing while having my second child 20 months later.
  • I intended to take a break from work while having my third kid in 2012 but the lure of teaching drew me in and eventually I was just as busy as ever. (A heads up: this led to pretty serious health challenges, something I intend to address in a later post. It’s NOT possible to ‘do it all’ without staying highly attuned to your body and your limits; believe me, I’ve learned the hard way.)
  • In between homeschooling and co-parenting my three 2E kids during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been teaching and studying on my own, including learning Norwegian, writing reviews for my film blog, co-founding a small non-profit designed to bring post-secondary educational opportunities to a local prison (website in development), learning more about systemic racism, practicing Zentangling, and obsessively following the progress of an insidious global pandemic.

(Are you tired yet? Prober wouldn’t blame you, but wants you to know that this type of existence is generally rejuvenating rather than exhausting for rainforest minds.)

In other words, during my hardest times in life, I’ve turned to learning and exploration as a way to stay sane and engaged.

I’m grateful to Prober for giving me “permission” to be “excessively curious, creative, smart and sensitive”, and to embrace what that looks like each day.

Now, please excuse me while I go and learn some basics of how to play the harmonica (a brand new instrument that just arrived in the mail yesterday). The kids are fed, my husband’s busy working, and I’m tempted by the new challenge facing me…

References:
  • Prober, P. (2016). Your rainforest mind: A guide to the well-being of gifted adults and youth. Luminare Press.
  • Prober, P. (2019). Journey into your rainforest mind: A field guide for gifted adults and teens, book lovers, overthinkers, geeks, sensitives, brainiacs, intuitives, procrastinators, and perfectionists. Luminare Press.
  • Streznewski, M.K. (1999). Gifted grownups: The mixed blessings of extraordinary potential. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Meddling with Middle School: COVID 2020

    In my last blog post, I shared a bit about what my (almost)12 y.o. daughter C is up to these days: basically, watching YouTube, playing Minecraft, and staying cozy in her room (with breaks built in for reading, eating, exercise, and socializing with her family). I’m glad she’s learning to self-regulate, especially knowing she most definitely struggles (like presumably all kids are these days) with feeling sad, lonely, and frustrated.

    Middle school was going great for C last year as a sixth grader. I can confidently say she was thriving, in her own fashion. While it was a challenge to stay on top of work expectations for so many classes (one of her 2E designations is ADHD-Inattentive, meaning she struggles with executive functioning), she enjoyed biking to school each day, making new friends, getting to know her teachers, and feeling independent.

    COVID-19 changed everything. (I wonder, if one were to Google that phrase, how many times would it come up in blog posts and articles from the last six months?) Suddenly, she was learning exclusively from home, in an uncertain format, with expectations severely curtailed. She had “problems with Zoom” (another common searchable phrase!) and quickly grew to hate it. She was uninspired by her science classes, which had shifted away from fun, hands-on experiments to reading about cells; frustrated about not being able to watch her math instructor give an algebra lesson in person; and sad about missing out on all the fun activities her beloved Social Studies teacher used to routinely engage her class in. (Yay, Ms. W! You are awesome!)

    In the periphery of C’s 11-year-old life were two other siblings also dealing with the shift to online learning, a stressed-out mom, and daily bad news about a global pandemic. Needless to say, she was far from happy. I caught her staring out her window, sitting by herself, scrolling guiltily through her phone (she knows I get triggered by seeing too much of this), and sometimes struggling to fall asleep.

    The photo I’ve included in this blog post is from the day we went biking to her school back in May. I figured it might cheer her up to take her old familiar route through the woods, see her school building, and say hello to the trees there. My plan was a nice try, but didn’t work; it just made her feel more sad for what she’s lost “thanks” to the pandemic.

    We still take bike rides out in that general direction, but don’t go quite all the way – we stop before we can see the school. It seems that if school’s not in session, she’d rather not be reminded it still exists, in its skeletal (i.e., uninhabited) form.

    So – cycling back to my previous post on what C’s currently up to, at the moment she’s in her room, a lot. (We’ve convinced her to mix things up by moving around the house into different rooms, and thankfully, she willingly does this.) I’ve reconnected with her former therapist and am so excited she’ll be having sessions again for a while! (Remotely, yes, but still…) C has concerns she doesn’t want to share with me – and, rightfully so. I just want to ensure she has support, somehow.

    She occasionally draws (her latest creation is a Puppy Girl, a human-animal hybrid), but mostly seems to appreciate escaping into creative online fantasy worlds, sometimes with her siblings, sometimes alone, sometimes with new online friends she’s carefully vetted according to our discussions and guidelines. (More on that in another post.)  

    Parenting is challenging under the best of circumstances. I got my Ph.D. from a top-tier university in 2006 and can honestly say that learning to become a parent in 2008 was much harder than the four years it took to get that degree.

    Parenting during a pandemic has (for all of us) simply honed our skills that much more, whether we were looking for that challenge or not. I take solace in knowing, as Sebastian Junger (2016) writes regarding PTSD in his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging:

    “Shared public meaning gives [individuals] a context for their losses and their sacrifice that is acknowledged by most of the society. That helps keep at bay the sense of futility and rage than can develop…” (p. 97)

    Although Junger is writing specifically about soldiers returning from combat, the comparison to the collective trauma we’re all experiencing (albeit differentially, yes) during this pandemic remains apt.

    My hope is that we can collectively help acknowledge for kids that what they’re going through right now isn’t “normal”, reasonable, or something they need to suck up and accept – rather, it just “is”.

    If my 12 y.o. daughter emerges from COVID-19 having retained  her sense of self and sanity, I’ll be a happy mom.

    References:

  • Junger, S. (2016). Tribe: On homecoming and belonging. HarperCollins.
  • COVID-19 Memories? (“No, thanks, Mom.”)

    Today at lunch time I told my kids I wanted to help them fill out COVID-19 time capsules. (Like this one.) I’d been wanting to do this for months, and now seemed as good a time as any. We’re still here; COVID-19 is still here.

    I explained to them that time capsules are packets of information telling what their lives were like during these unique times, and that they would probably appreciate looking back at them years from now.

    Both my 7 y.o. daughter (I) and 10 y.o. son (D) essentially said, “No, thanks.”

    (Me): “Are you sure? You might want to be able to remember back on this weird time and what it was like. It will be over one day.”

    (Them): “No… I don’t really want to think about what life is like right now.”

    This was completely reasonable, and I had to respect their choice.

    My 12 y.o. daughter (C) wasn’t interested, either, but was willing to be the experimental “guinea pig” and report back to her siblings. I promised to actually do the work of writing down her answers, and just let her respond orally.

    As soon as we sat down in her room to get started, C gave a big yawn – no offense meant to me, but this just wasn’t her cup of tea.

    She immediately asked if we could do just one page a day.

    I countered by saying no, but we could definitely break it up into several days. We settled on this compromise, and got to work.

    My favorite response from her so far (from “Words to Describe How I Feel”) was her made-up word of kerplunctious (no idea how to spell this!). She immediately clarified for me: “That means meh or blobby.” Other words she offered up in this category included weird, angry, excited, nervous, and happy.

    In terms of what she’s learned the most from this experience (so far):

    “Some things that you take for granted may look even better when times are bad.”

    So true. She appreciates our family, our house, our neighborhood, and the lake we’re lucky enough to live by.

    Now that I’m done interrogating her, C is back to simply getting through the day, which for her means watching YouTube videos of people playing Roblox, playing with new friends on Minecraft, and staying cozy in her room.

    While these aren’t ideal ways to spend the summer, I’m glad she’s safe, healthy, and knows how to take care of herself during challenging times.

    This is a marathon. She needs to pace herself.