Thursday, December 1, 2011

You said "yes!"

On Monday night, I watched as donations to Flummox and Friends came in one after another, pushing us closer and closer to the $30K goal. But along with all the excitement, I was, frankly, exhausted.

It's been quite an eventful fall, with this video project being just one of several things I'm juggling (though none quite as fun as this). We were $600 away from the goal and I assumed we'd hit it in the morning.

"Wake me if we go over," I told Chris, somewhat as a formality, and got in bed.

Ten minutes later, he shouted for me to get up and yes, we had gotten a donation that pushed the total to the $30,000 we needed, assuring that we could collect all of the pledges made to date.

The experience has been humbling and inspiring. Getting support from hundreds of people that don't know me or the other team members personally, but who said "yes" on the merits of the idea alone shows me that we're on to something. Something exciting.

This is a note I sent to our supporters on Monday night:

Screen shot 2011-12-01 at 8.51.15 AM.png

And here are a few links to articles and interviews about the project that you can check out and share with friends who might still like to donate up until December 9th.

***Just released!*** My interview with Jeremy Fuksa of The Cocktail Napkin podcast. Download audio or video versions.

Jean Winegardner's article in Washington Times Communities

Shannon Rosa's interview with me in The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

I hope you'll follow along with our progress by liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter, or, if you haven't already, pledging a few bucks to our Kickstarter campaign so you can receive the backer updates that we'll be sending to all of our supporters so they can watch us spend their hard earned cash making the pilot episode of Flummox and Friends.

Thanks to all of you made donations, to those who blogged and re-blogged and tweeted and re-tweeted, who cajoled and nudged your friends and family and coworkers to help make this happen.

Fist bumps all around and stay tuned!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Data visualization

(Disclosure: I stole most of this post from my husband Chris' Tumblr.)

After years of resisting art and non-homework-related writing, Ben has taken to drawing in the last couple of weeks in an astonishing way. Our dining room table is now covered with sheets of paper with his drawings and he'll happily sit for up to 30 minutes at a stretch, drawing scenes of from his favorite stories and movies.

This one is my favorite. It's so revealing of how Ben's mind works. I'm glad he's found another way to express what's going on in there.

(The description and reference image is from Chris.)

Screen shot 2011-11-05 at 4.02.05 PM.png

Data visualization of the National Spelling Bee, as portrayed in A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN.

In which color indicates the proportion of correct (green) and incorrect (red) answers given by each contestant.

Charlie Brown appears in the lower center, his face mostly green, reflecting his 2nd place ranking overall.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Walking and reading

This might be my favorite picture of Ben ever. If you want to know who he is, this picture pretty much says it all.

walkingreading.jpg

Taken by Chris, via Instagram

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

3-2-1 LAUNCH!

I meant to write this earlier, but I've been too busy refreshing my screen every few minutes.

Last night, we finally launched the Kickstarter campaign for Flummox and Friends and I've been giddy and transfixed watching the "Likes," the "Shares," the comments and, most of all, the donations come in.

We've raised 25% of our $30,000 goal in fewer than 24 hours.

I was thinking I'd write something profound about the power of social networks and community and putting your work out there without asking permission from the usual institutional gatekeepers...

And I was thinking I'd write something profound about why we need a show like this: a show that knows our kids are funny and smart and won't talk down to them and why that's a bigger deal than most people understand...

But to be honest, I'm just so freaking happy that so many people are saying nice things in public about this project and I'm not going to be able say anything profound.

But I can say this:

You think you have a good idea, but it sounds kind of crazy to actually try to do it.

But you do it anyway, because you can't not do it.

And you try not to think about the whole thing and how crazy it is and how hard it's going to be and how you're probably going to fail, you just finish each tiny step - whatever is - that's directly in front of you.

Send an email. Make a call. Write something. Get help from someone who knows how.

Pretty soon, you're doing it. All those steps add up to the thing.

Then when other people see it and tell you that it really is a good idea...well it's kind of unbelievable. And then, when they pitch in to help:

Also. Unbelievable.

I hope you'll help me make a smart, funny show for our smart, funny kids.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to refreshing my Facebook feed.











Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fifteen years ago

I normally use this space to write about parenting. But I would not be the parent I am without my co-parent, my husband Chris.

Fifteen years ago today we were married. The vows we took said:

In times of triumph, joy, and laughter,

I will be with you.

In times of hardship, loss, and heartbreak,

I will be with you.

In all the in-between times, days that quietly slip by,

I will be with you.

And as the years unfold, as our lives stretch out ahead of us,

I will be with you.

As you are now, and as you are becoming,

I will be with you,

and I will love you, simply, and with all my heart.


I wanted to revisit those vows so many years and life changes later, and share them here - as an encore presentation, a second public acknowledgement of what we promised.

But I'm not very good at grand, romantic gestures. The fact that I needed Chris' help to find, access and convert the fifteen year old Word file we used to create the script for our ceremony pretty much undermined any last shred of off-the-feet-sweeping.

It's fitting, I guess, because that's marriage, too. The vows are there for the times that aren't fun or glamorous or romantic.

So for our fifteenth anniversary, I am proposing a few amendments to our vows that are inspired by the real world of marriage, family, change, learning, and love that goes on.

On the way to the emergency room at 2 a.m.,

I will be with you.

When another major appliance breaks down,

I will be with you.

When we both decide to change careers in the middle of a major economic downturn,

I will be with you.

When the only way to get through the weekend is to nap in shifts,

I will be with you.

When we feel like there's no freaking way we can act out the "finding the golden ticket" scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one more damn time,

I will be with you.

When we step back and feel proud of what we can do together,

I will be with you.

And I will love you simply, with all my heart.



Happy Anniversary.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From Firefly to Flummoxed

Many months ago, I wrote about a project I was starting called Firefly and Friends, a pilot for a children's video series that teaches social skills.

Although I haven't written much about it lately, I - along with Jordan Sadler and Liesl Wenzke Hartmann and a small-but-growing team of independent artists - have been slowly but surely moving the project along.

We discovered last January that Firefly and Friends isn't a viable name for trademark. So, after a quick lap around all the stages of grief, we got help from a team of real-life naming professionals led by uber-namer Matt Gordon, husband of Firefly co-creator Jordan Sadler.

And that process led to our new name, (drum roll) Flummox and Friends!

We decided to use the name change as an opportunity to re-brand the show, so for the last several months, we've all been behind the curtain working away. I thought I'd let Hyperlexicon readers take a peek:

1. We're designing a new logo and website.

2. We're planning a fundraising campaign that will appear on Kickstarter.

3. We're casting the actors who will appear in the pilot.

4. We're shooting the "pitch" video that will support our fundraising campaign.

We hope to unveil the new Flummox and Friends site and start our fundraising campaign this fall, so STAY TUNED for more updates as we get closer to the big launch.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Free to be...boys.

Remember Free to Be You and Me? The record album and book, created in 1972 by the Ms. Foundation for Women, was a collection of stories and songs designed to show boys and girls that they could break free of traditional gender expectations.

Rosie Greer reassured us that it's all right for boys - even NFL stars - to cry. Alan Alda taught us that sometimes boys want to play with dolls. And Marlo Thomas sang about how Mommies can actually hold down a job.

It was the old switcheroo technique. Supply kids with narratives that completely reversed traditional gender expectations in order to blow their minds and set them free. Encourage girls to be more like boys. Encourage boys to be more like girls. Stir well and liberate.

The "swim against the stream" message of Free to Be You and Me was pretty groundbreaking at the time, when images of gender in kids' books and popular culture stuck to the narratives we roll our knowing, liberal eyes at today.

But 40 years later (Wait. Forty? Are you kidding me?), Ben doesn't have to be convinced by a folk-pop soundtrack that girls can be strong. He sees plenty of female characters wielding swords, braving monsters, saving the day and their male counterparts. He sees men expressing emotion and tenderness, in pop culture and in his life.

And now Free to Be's approach of making boys better by making them more like girls seems, well, quaint.

Phil Weglarz thought so too. He's a therapist here in the Bay Area with an interest in using creativity and play in his work with kids.

Playing with his nephews, shooting homemade remakes of Star Wars movies, made him think about the positive aspects of the forms of expression to which many boys are drawn.

They like to explore power relationships in black and white/good and evil terms. They like dramatic action with elements of danger, aggression, and destruction. Sometimes, things are dark and scary, or loud and chaotic. And some research suggests that boys actually benefit - developmentally - from this type of play.

He also saw that in many children's arts and drama programs, these narratives were viewed by the often female, Free to Be-influenced instructors as disruptive and unhealthy. For a boy to "express himself" and "be creative" was great as long as it was "nice."

Phil wanted to create a program that would allow boys to express themselves through the stories and ideas that interested them, and where he, as a teacher and therapist, could funnel those impulses into fostering self-confidence, cooperation, teamwork, respect for differences.

So he created Active Imagination camps and workshops. Ben's been participating now for several months and just finished Phil's first summer camp.

It's a perfect fit for boys who love imaginative play, who might not be as into team sports as some of their peers, or whose creative expression needs a little more latitude than formal music and arts programs sometimes allow.

And I think you will not be surprised when I tell you that lots of the boys are on the quirky side.

In the Active Imagination program, boys learn about restraint and self-control while they stage mock battles, they learn about their bodies and their breath as they do yoga in preparation for their transformation into superheroes, they learn about collaboration and cooperation as they make movies about defeating villains.

It's a place where they can feel safe being their own unique selves, wherever they happen to land on the continuum of gender - or neurological - expression.

"Every boy in this land grows to be his own man..."

And that's exactly what Free to You and Me was all about in the first place.




One of the AWESOME videos from Active Imagination Camp for Boys. Ben is the one in the red kimono and the snorkeling mask.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Leaving your kid in the woods (a.k.a Summer Camp)

At seven and a half, Ben has now aged out of the familiar, comfortable, low-maintenance options for summer camp he's enjoyed since preschool.

So this year, like most other working parents in our area, I researched the hundreds of different nearby day camps, read parent recommendations online, compiled - I kid you not - a spreadsheet of options by week, sent in my forms and crossed my fingers that we'd be okay.

Ben is an in-between kind of kid when it comes to summer camps. In the past, we haven't enrolled him in summer school through his special education program or camps designed specifically for kids with special needs. But we can't simply drop him off at a local rec center and expect things to go well.

We're starting our summer with a couple weeks at a nearby outdoor science camp with rave reviews and a reputation for a quirk-friendly environment.

camp.jpg

As the first day approached, I tried to prepare Ben, to let him know what to expect. He was nonplussed. "I know, I know..." he told me, exasperated, using his latest tactic to end conversations.

He happily got in the car the first day. No sign of anxiety or reservation. He walked down the path to the clearing where the campers gather in their groups.

His group's counselor was a very nice college student who mentioned she likes to paint rocks.

Now, I should admit that I've developed a bias against nice, quiet, artistic young teachers over the years. They don't tend to make an impression with Ben. He responds better to someone funny or dramatic or a little in-your-face. Plus, she hadn't read the tip sheet we sent with our forms: the "instruction manual" for Ben we prepare for any new teacher. I started to get worried.

None of the kids in his group were particularly gregarious or outgoing. But they were the normal kind of kids, who, when an adult says sit on the bench and color your name tag with a marker, they sit on a bench and color their name tag with a marker.

Ben, not being that normal kind of kid, roamed around the clearing, silently picked at pieces of bark, and investigated the details of a chain link fence. He wasn't distressed, but also not enthusiastic.

"Why don't you go sit with your group and make a new friend?" I suggested.

"I can't. I can't make a friend." He didn't sound discouraged or sad or lacking self-esteem. He said it as if he was simply stating a fact.

"Do you think you're going to be okay?" I asked, more for me than for him.

"Yup." he replied stoically.

I decided it was time to go. He didn't protest, but as I walked back down the path, he ran after me. "Promise you'll pick me up?" he asked.

Then he watched me go with his hand raised in a somber goodbye, a moment I knew he was re-enacting from the final scene of Disney's Pocahontas, where the brave Indian maid watches from a cliff as John Smith's ship returns to England.

And then I got in the car and cried because I had just left my kid in the woods with a bunch of people neither of us had ever seen before.

I tried to keep busy and ignore the gnawing, burning feeling in my stomach. I clutched my phone like a talisman all day, waiting for the call where the director nervously and euphemistically tells me that "he's been having some trouble," and that I "might want to come and get him."

The call never came, and eventually it was time to pick him up.

He ran up the path to greet me. "Camp! Was! Great!"

The nice, rock-painting counselor agreed he'd had a good day. Maybe she didn't need the tip sheet after all.

"Did you make any new friends?"

"Yes."

"What are their names?"

"I don't remember. Never mind that. Let's pretend we're in an airplane and..."

And on the way to the car, he settled into the comforting mode of improvised storytelling and recitation. His version of Miller Time.

Later, I asked him why he never opened his lunch box.

"I'm sorry I didn't eat lunch, but I was too bored."

"Bored? Do you mean you were too nervous to eat lunch?"

"Yes."

Camp was great. He was bored. He was nervous. He couldn't make a friend. He did make a friend.

It's all true. It's possible for him to be okay being dropped off in an unfamiliar setting, for him to not like it, but to do it anyway.

There's room for all of these things to exist at once, perhaps because his psyche is spacious enough to hold these contradictions comfortably, even when mine is not.

Here's hoping your summer is spacious enough to hold lots of things at once.

Camp flyer.jpg
And here I thought it had something to do with having hair and bearing live young.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Independence

Occasionally, I've been letting Ben walk home by himself for the last three blocks of our drive from school. It started when we stopped off to mail a letter and Ben announced that he knew the way home from there and asked if he could walk.

I suggested a compromise: that I would let him out on our corner so he could walk up the hill by himself. But the next time we stopped at the mailbox, he insisted he could walk the whole way by himself.

I surprised myself by letting him do it.

Two of those three blocks are along a fairly busy downhill street. He has to cross one intersection, watching behind him for turning traffic. I drive as slowly as I can and am never very far out of sight. He runs most of the way, with a grin that signals his excitement of being independent.

Each time I've done this, I have a moment of panic. "Is this really a good idea? Is it dangerous? Is this street too busy? God, what have I done?"

The last time, along the way, he struck up a conversation with a utility crew and gave me a report on what they were doing when we met up back at home. We're they charmed by his outgoing curiosity or were they were thinking, "Where the hell is this kid's parent?"

In the end, the idea of Ben developing independence, being able to walk three familiar blocks, seems more important than my second-guessing and feelings of panic.

I need to know that someday he'll be able to get places, take a bus, look at a campus map and leave enough time to get to his class, find the address of a job interview, use good judgement, keep himself safe.

And I'm never NOT going to panic, so that criterion is pretty useless.

It makes me think of the books of Ezra Jack Keats. I've written before about the special place "A Snowy Day" has for us. In the world of these books, Peter and his friends rove around their urban neighborhood, run errands to the store, experience a new snowfall, mail a letter, explore a vacant lot, all without adult interference.

And it makes me nostalgic for my own very comparatively free range childhood of biking and swimming and just doing nothing in particular without direct adult supervision.

I've come to terms with the fact that Ben will spend his childhood being chauffeured more often than roaming free. But when he wants to walk three blocks, or do that next thing that's totally reasonable but scares me anyway, I'll try to let him. And I'll try not to panic.

And I'll probably panic.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Honesty

Me: (singing)

Ben: Stop singing.

Me: That's a little bossy. Besides, I like it when you sing.

Ben: Your singing annoys me.

Me: (Attempting to create a teachable moment) That hurts my feelings.

Ben: (Reassuringly) Well, I didn't say that your singing REALLY annoys me.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Seven Years Old

Today you are seven years old. One of the big kids now.

7 years old.jpg

But you're far from turning jaded or sullen. Not you.

Your primary mode of transport is skipping. You sing your heart out, just for your own entertainment, without a drop of self-consciousness.

You are almost always in the midst of improvising an action adventure movie or a comedy skit.

"This is the part where we're running away and the cave is collapsing and there's going to be an avalanche. Ready? Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!"

"Mommy, I'll take a drink and then you tell me something surprising and then I'll spit it out. Okay! Go!"

When, occasionally, you can't find the words for something, you come up with your own, infinitely more interesting, way to say it.

"Do you want to know why I didn't finish my breakfast? My food microbes are not at 100 percent."

_______

You know all your math facts and frequently correct adults' grammar, yet you still seem to enjoy school, thanks to a teacher who (most of the time) lets you sneak away to the bookshelf when your classmates are parsing "the cat sat on the mat" and asks you to read aloud to the class while she needs some time to prep.

The kids in your first grade class seem to like your charisma (that we adults call "bossiness"), your boldness (that we adults label "tactlessness"), your array of movie quotes for any situation. More than one boy has boasted to me at pick up time,"Ben is my best friend."

________

You're starting to ask yourself the Big Questions. Sometimes, you take out the kids' bible we bought you and you study it for a long time - the stories of kings and battles, angels and miracles. You rarely want to talk about it with me, except the occasional question that tells me you are grappling with these mysterious stories in your own way.

"Mommy, why were people so mean in Noah's time?"

"Did these things actually happen?"

I know that you've inherited my skill for imagining the catastrophic. You worry about things going wrong, about losing control of yourself. You invent worst-case-scenarios that hook themselves into your brain.

"Mommy, what will happen if I go to a play and I shout a grown-up word so loud that the actors hear me and the actor comes off the stage and yells at me?"

Sometimes, you're afraid of making mistakes, of not being perfect. And sometimes, you need the people around you to be perfect, too.

Despite this, you are learning that most of the time it's better to say "Oh well." or "I'll be okay." than come apart. And every day that gets a little easier.

__________

And most days you have a smile on your face when you get up in the morning and a smile on your face as you get into your bed at night. Usually, because you're recalling something funny from a book or a movie or your own imagination.

You already have so much of what you'll need in this life.

You already have so much of what I wish for you.

Intelligence, creativity, compassion and most of all, joy.

Happy birthday to my big kid, my sweet boy.

baker beach.jpg

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making comic strips

We've been having a lot of fun lately using the Make Beliefs Comix online comic generator.

It lets you create three-panel comic strips with a variety of different characters and standard comic strip elements. The interface is a little clunky, especially if you're familiar with any other kind of drawing software (or have an iPad), so Ben acts as the creative director and I do the actual manipulation.

Using this tool has helped me see how facile Ben is with the visual and narrative conventions of comics, even though he can't draw very well himself. He comes up with the storyline, the characters, and the dialog on his own and knows exactly how to insert storytelling devices such as using "meanwhile" to indicate a parallel plot development, or foreshadowing events by showing characters lurking in the background.

comix.jpg

Since the tool includes several different emotional states for the different characters, this might be a fun way to have kids create their own social stories or experiment with cause and effect. The three panel design could also be useful for helping younger kids with basic sequencing.

And because Ben and I do this as a collaborative activity, there's lots of opportunity for spontaneous conversation and give and take.

Ben especially likes to print out the panels and assemble them into entire pages. He gets a much more "finished" end product than he can draw himself and it's helping him learn that he can channel his storytelling abilities to create permanent artifacts, not just in-the-moment imaginary play scenarios.

Try it out next time you're looking for a rainy day activity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Monkey" and "Other Monkey"

I'm not the only one who records bits and pieces of our quirky life. I implore you to read Chris' piece about Ben's longtime companions, Monkey and Other Monkey. Find it here, on his outstanding Tumblr page.

Screen shot 2011-01-16 at 8.53.49 PM.png

We felt odd naming it, even though the boy couldn’t speak to give it a name of his own, so in time “Monkey” stuck.

We wound up ordering two additional monkeys, first Backup Monkey, who was called upon when Monkey was pooped and/or barfed on.

Backup Monkey disappeared not long after he arrived, misplaced in the home of the woman who cared for the boy during the day, and was never seen again.

Then we ordered Auxiliary Backup Monkey, who we left in a drawer too long. By the time he was called into service (Pretty sure, barf that time.), Original Monkey had already been worn down enough that the boy could tell that this softer, shinier wasn’t the same.

READ IT ALL

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Collections

It's all about collections right now.

Ben is constantly inventing and describing and assembling collections of books, collections of DVDs, collections of video games.

Thanks to the marketers who know that bundling products together is the best way to get customers to spend a little more than they were planning in the first place, he's become fascinated by things like the pamphlets that come in DVD packaging or promotional cards tucked into magazines or the "Also by this author" lists on the back covers of books.

The idea of creating or completing a collection must feel so satisfying, so compelling, for someone who is, like Ben, both a pattern-seeker and completist.

Every time I come around a corner these days, I seem to encounter a neatly laid out grid of DVDs or books, arranged into a collection: in the middle of the living room floor, the hallway, on the sofa.

He now asks for books and DVDs based on how they would enable him to complete a collection rather than an interest in the content.

And he invents his own collections. Several times a day we have a conversation like this one:

"Mommy, have you ever heard of the 3 DVD set called The Dr. Seuss Complete Collection?"

(I take the bait) "No, I haven't. Tell me about it."

"On Volume 1, it has Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat and the Cat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back..." (He lists five or six, or ten or twelve more titles, organized into volumes.)

"Wow! That sounds like a great collection!"

"And... have you heard of the Dr. Seuss Complete BEGINNER'S Collection with special BONUS FEATURES?"

And we continue like this for some time. He enthusiastically pitches and I ooh and ahh and say, "Tell me more!" as if on the set of our own QVC show.

Sometimes, from another room, I'll hear him in his announcer voice burst out with: COMING SOON TO OWN ON DVD, THE GREATEST DISNEY BLUE RAY COLLECTION OF ALL TIME!

If only the copywriters who slave away on package copy or voiceover scripts for video trailers knew how much he appreciates, and believes, their tired hyperbole. If only they knew what a devotee they have in a hyperlexic, echolalic child.