Interview with a Six-Year-Old Birthday Boy!

I can’t count the numbIMG_4787er of  times Joe and I have looked at each other over Max’s head and exchanged that look: how can he be more charming, entertaining, and just plain fun?

I can’t count the number of  times Joe and I have looked at each other over Max’s head and exchanged that look: how can he be more charming, entertaining, and just plain fun?

I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent in my kitchen, making dinner or prepping something for Doing Good Together, while Max paces back and forth, telling me stories, imagining futures, and asking big questions.

Add to these sweet moments all of the loads of laundry he’s helped fold (towels only, of course), the tender way he cares for his pets when his sisters are away, and the nearing-infinite pages of notebook paper he’s filled up in the last year, and this kid has made us the luckiest parents in the world this year.

I also can’t count the number of times he’s watched Pokemon. Or the number of times I’ve had to say, “don’t scream, let’s solve the problem instead of getting so mad.” But on the balance, this kid is way too much fun to have around. His elementary school is going to be awfully lucky this fall.

Here’s our little guy in his own words:

1. Tell me what was great about the year you were five?

I don’t know.

2. What are your favorite things to do?

To draw, and eat, and sleep.  I don’t do that very often though.

3. What do you like to eat?

Corn dogs and pancakes and cantaloupe and milk and pop.

4. What do you dislike eating?

Tomatoes, any kind of olive other than green, and onions.

5. What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve been wanting to be an inventor for a long time. It started like this. So I wanted to be an inventor, and then I wanted to do a different job because I thought inventor wouldn’t work out. Then I wanted to be a spaceship guy, but that didn’t work out for me either. Making all of those books was fun. And then I wanted to be an inventor again forever and ever.

6. What will/did you do to celebrate your birthday?

We ate donuts, went bowling, went swimming (!!! said in a singing voice), and had my favorite burrito.

7. What is your favorite color?

Orange.

8. What things do you like to do for fun?

Imagining and drawing. And playing with my sisters.

9. What is your favorite thing to wear?

My Pokemon shirts. I have like three of them.

10. What is your favorite television show? Movie?

Can I say three of them? I like Lab Rats, Pokemon, and Digimon.

11. What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is The Three Things by Jon Muth.

12. What is your favorite song?

She sets the City on Fire.

13. What is the best thing someone could give you?

More Pokemon cards.

14. If you could go anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go?

New York City!! (the greatest city in the world)

15. What is one new thing you would like to try this year?

I’d like to learn about other countries and other places.

16. What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?

When I’m as old as Maya I’d like to learn engineering and science and stuff. Sign me up for that.

17. What would you like to be doing 10 years from now?

Inventing and partying, yah, yah, yah. I’ll be having a party with all my robots. (all said with fist bumps and air guitar).

18. What moment from the last year makes you most proud?

I don’t know. I think I do well at school.

19. What has this past year taught you about life?

I don’t know… not to hurt the forests, to save water, and to help people?

20. Finish the sentence, “the most important thing about Max is…”

I have a big imagination. And I’m kind.

According to Maya, the most important thing about Max is that he’s silly and goes along with things and is a good leader.

According to Elliot, the most important thing about Max is that he always plays with me.

According to his father, the most important thing about Max is his sense of humor, inventive imagination, and his sweet hugs and kisses at the end of each day.

And according to his mother, the most important thing about Max is the way he asks questions constantly. Every new word, every idea he’s unsure about, every invention he’s working on in his notebook comes with a new set of questions. It keeps us all curious.

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 Maxwell through the years:

Interview with a 12-Year-Old

Inklings has been silent, during this past year. But it’s livening back up for Maya’s annual interview. Maya's birthday pics (2)

Maya’s eleventh year was full of big ideas, thoughtful questions, goofy laughs, and fast feet. She continued competitive clogging, with competitions in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Nebraska. She explored middle school opportunities, like quiz bowl and battle of the books. And she learned about the world of politics, stepping in to defend common decency when necessary. Since November, we’ve all had to be more assertive.

Maya clogged her way through family dinners. She clogged her way through the halls of middle school. She has even clogged while tidying up the goat barn or walking the trail through the woods.

The thunderous rhythm of her enthusiasm echoes in her other passions as well, including social justice and animal rights, her friends, her favorite classes. We’re so lucky to have her, and so thankful to accompany her on her enthusiastic and wonder-filled tour De force.

Here’s my girl in her own words

1. Tell me what was great about the year you were eleven?

Some things that were great… it was the first year of middle school and there were a lot of clogging competitions.

IMG_16492. What are your favorite things to do?

Some things I love to do are clogging, playing with my goats and other pets, and reading.

3. What do you like to eat?

I like to eat puff corn and pesto cheese tortellini with tomatoes and watermelon.

4. What do you dislike eating?

I dislike eating meat and mushrooms. That’s about it.

5. What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be an animal rights activist and a veterinarian and an animal rights lawyer.

Maya's birthday pics (1)6. What will/did you do to celebrate your birthday?

With my family we had a super fun water fight, and went to see Captain Underpants, and had a really nice dinner by the river. With my friends we will have a sleep over on the last day of school and see Wonder Woman.

7. What is your favorite color?

My favorite color is blue.

8. What things do you like to do for fun?

I love to clog, write, read, play with my pets, play with my siblings, and have karaoke battles with my family. Not battles, just singing.

9. What is your favorite thing to wear?

My favorite thing to wear is the new dress I got from Grandma for my birthday.

10. What is your favorite television show? Movie?

Gilmore Girls! I’ve watched so many good movies this year, it’s really hard to pick one. I’m obsessed with Saturday Night Live.

11. What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is The Hired Girl, about a girl in the late 1800s who runs away from home.

12. What is your favorite song?

Anything from Hamilton. 

13. What is the best thing someone could give you?

The end of animal abuse. Or the key to ending animal abuse. Or the whole world going vegan.

14. If you could go anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go?

At home in the hammock when it’s sunny outside.

15. What is one new thing you would like to try this year?

I want to make another clogging solo. And I want to learn a new language, like Norwegian.

16. What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?

I’ll be 17, so I can work at an animal shelter and places.

17. What would you like to be doing 10 years from now?

I’ll be 22, whoa. I want to be in college.

18. What moment from the last year makes you most proud?

Probably, being at the clogging competition and getting overall awards. And this whole year has been really happy and made me proud.

mayas-favorite-quote.jpg19. What has this past year taught you about life?

You can always find peace somewhere.

20. Finish the sentence, “the most important thing about Maya is…”

She will work to end animal abuse no matter what.

According to her sister, the most important thing about Maya is that she always let’s me pick the game we play. And she’s obsessed with clogging.

According to her brother, the most important thing about Maya is she plays with me.

According to her father, the most important thing about Maya is the excitement that she brings to everything she does.

And according to her mother, the most important thing about Maya is her eagerness to try something new, her enthusiasm for the world, and her wild sense of humor.

 

Interview with Our 9 Year Old!

IMG_1241.JPGMiss Elliot is nine.

This girl has become an exceptional little person over the course of this last year. She is as caring and tender-hearted as ever. She’s curious and brave and has an unflappable commitment to honesty and justice (read: she calls me out when necessary… and sometimes when not necessary).

She stands up for her friends and, in a surprisingly new turn of events, stands down and admits when she’s wrong when we occasionally disagree.

She still delights in all of my favorite little-girl activities. She builds fairy houses, plays dolls, and disappears into imaginary worlds, turning our back yard into the boxcar from the Boxcar Children or our living room into the control panel from Inside Out.

I believe you can know a lot about a person by the books they read.

img_6199Miss Elliot prefers biography and nonfiction to fiction. This baffles me. If I could learn all  the physics, philosophy, and ancient history I want to know simply by reading fiction, I would likely never pick up a nonfiction book again.

She seems to be driven to know things exhaustively about a single subject before moving on.

Our librarian gives us a smile and gets her keyboard ready when Elle marches into the library. Her latest question? “Can you give me everything you have on Amelia Earhart?” Last week it was fish. The week before veterinarian science and Broadway and Alexander Hamiltonn.

Elliot’s other favorite genre is the goofy, partially-illustrated ridiculousness of Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She reads and rereads these books at bedtime, laughing so loudly her little brother has to beg me to turn her light out.

That tells you nearly all you need to know about Elle. She’s intensely curious and passionate about her current her world. And she’s wildly silly.

And no matter what mode she’s in, she’s remains our snugly, silly, tickle-monster loving little girl.

May nine be as much fun with her as eight!

Here’s my girl in her own words:

  1. What are your favorite things to do?

Um, I like to play tickle monster and play with Anne Shirley. I like trying to teach Zuzu to be nice. And I like listening to music and day dreaming.

2. What do you like to eat?

My favorite foods are snow crab and macaroni and cheese.

3. What do you dislike eating?

I dislike tomatoes and onions.

  1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

A police officer or a pilot or a horseback rider.

5. What is your favorite color?

My favorite color is pink.

6. What’s your favorite thing to play as a family?

Tickle monster! (crazy tag)

  1. What things do you like to play with?

I like to play with polly pockets and I like to play that we’re animals.

  1. What is your favorite thing to wear?

My soft swirly pants and my robe.

  1. What is your favorite television show? Movie?

Um, I love the Buddies movies and Inside Out.

  1. What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is Amelia Earhart.

  1. What is your favorite song?

    “Call me maybe” and The Hamilton Soundtrack.

  2. What is the best thing someone could give you?

Um, a horse (said with a little giggle, as in “obviously, mom”)

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go?

    Florida, because I like when it’s hot and I want to go fishing there.

    What is one new thing you would like to try this year?

I would like to go rock climbing.

15. Finish the sentence, “the most important thing about Elliot is…”

She is always so rad (according to Elliot herself).

According to her dad, the most important thing is how creative and caring and goofy she is.

According to her sister, the most important thing about Elliot is that she stands up for what she believes in.

According to her little brother, the most important thing about Elliot is that she’s in our family.

But, according to her mother, the most important thing about Elliot… is her unique observations about her world. She’s a young philosopher at heart.

It’s time to admit, looking back of the last 6 months, that this little blog has been relegated to a birthday compendium. I’m not even going to promise to do better. If all I post is a compilation of birthday interviews largely for my own benefit, I’m okay with that.

Scrolling through these old posts is priceless!

Watch Elliot grow through the years with these old posts.

Interview with Our Birthday Boy – 5

Here we are again at a another birthday!

This little cutie couldn’t be more excited about turning five! As bittersweet as it is to leave the littlest years of childhood behind, Joe and I couldn’t be more excited either. This boy is ready for adventure. His curiosity is now fully matched by strength and patience. Suddenly, our family is on the move like never before.

These long summer dayshave been full of frisbees and fishing,  late evening games of tag, and unexpected field trips that were never possible when nap schedules and bed times were non-negotiable under threat of tantrums. As long as we build in days of rest here and there, plus lots of snacks (or ice cream) between activities, Max is excited to embark on almost any adventure.


Now, in  his own words, here a few of Max’s favorite things.
1. What are your favorite things to do?
Play ipad, swim, play in the sprinkler, and draw. And also, eat. I like eating.

2. What do you like to eat?

Um, I like bananas and peanut butter sandwiches and I like pickles and spaghetti and meat balls.

3. What do you not like to eat?

I don’t like to eat rotten eggs.

4. What do you want to be when you grow up?

An inventor, but I’m going to be secretly…. an astronaut.

5. What will/did you do on your birthday?

Going to Finding Dori, opening presents, and having fun.

6. If you could be any animal, what would you be?

A bear, because they’re cool.

7. What is your favorite color?

Red and orange and black and white.

8. What is your favorite toy and why?

The BatBot I got for my birthday.

9. Who is your best friend?

Julius and Remi.
10. What is your favorite thing to wear?

My space landing shirt.

11. What is your favorite television show? Movie?

The Avengers and the Justice League. The movie we just watched is my favorite (Finding Dori) because I liked everything except the part that made me cry.

12. What is your favorite book?

One of the Jack and Annies (The Magic Tree House).

13. What is your favorite song?

The song that goes “I had a dream so big and roud I jumped so high I touched the clouds.”
“The Best Day of My Life,” by American Authors

14.  What is the best thing someone could give you?

I want two things. Tickles and a piece of a cake.

15. If you could go anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go?

I would go to New York City, because that would be awesome.

16. What is one new thing you would like to try this year?

Swimming all by myself.

17. Finish the sentence, “the most important thing about Max is…”

Max says: That I climb really well.
Maya says: He puts time and effort into everything he does.
Elliot says: That he’s funny and I share a room with him.
Dad says: That he always thinks about his family and makes cool pictures and gives great hugs.

But, according to his mother, the most important thing about Max is his astonishing imagination. He’ll often get very quiet and seem to be on the verge of a nap. Then, half an hour later, he’ll resurface with a new invention, rocket ship design, or time travel device, which he must draw in great detail and add to his invention stack.

With such a creative mind at work and a his new capacity for outdoor exploration, there’s never a dull moment around Max!

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Interview with a Birthday Girl – 11!

Welcome back to our annual interview with Maya.IMG_7336

As her elementary school experience draws to a close and middle school hovers just around the corner of summer, we are getting to know Maya in a whole new light. She’s more independent than ever (she insists on calling middle school junior high!). She’s bold and brave and full of negotiations when she feels the need to advocate for herself.  I really couldn’t be more proud of the young lady she is becoming.

Here’s my girl in her own words:

  1. What are your favorite things to do?

My favorite things to do are clogging, playing with my pets, and working on animal rights stuff.

  1. What do you like to eat?

My favorite foods include egg rolls, other stuff from the Mongolia barbeque, and rainbow chip frosting. And I’m now a vegetarian..

  1. What do you dislike eating?

I dislike eating raisins, mushrooms, and any sort of meat.

  1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up I’d like to work for the Humane Society ad be an animal activist, because I enjoy stopping factory farms, puppy mills, and other cruel animal distributers. I would also like to be a championship clogger, because it’s a fun sport. Plus you’re getting exercise without knowing it.

  1. What will/did you do on your birthday?

    I had a sleepover with my friends Jada and Grace. We went on a trail ride at Wild River Stable, had emoji cake, and watched Napoleon Dynamite.

  2. 6. What is your favorite color?

My favorite color is blue, no aqua….  Any shades of blue. And periwinkle.

  1. What things do you like to play with?

When I have free time I like to play on the trampoline, interact with my pets, check out the cool features on my new ipod, and trick siri.

  1. What is your favorite thing to wear?

I most comfortable in cotton shorts and my dance t-shirt.

  1. What is your favorite television show? Movie?

My favorite television show is Once Upon a Time (SPOILER ALERT: Hook and Emma make out in season 3!) My favorite movie is the 5th Wave, even though it leaves out so much stuff from the book.  

  1. What is your favorite book?

Don’t make me decide, please! There are too many. The last book I read and loved was called The Nest.

  1. What is your favorite song?

    “Just like fire” by Pink. My favorite band is 21 Pilots.
  2. What is the best thing someone could give you?

They already gave me an ipod 6… but no, they could give me the key to ending animal abuse!

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go?

    Maybe China so I could yell at the people running the dog meat trade. Or, for fun I would go to Greece… no Hawaii.

  2. What is one new thing you would like to try this year?

I would like to try hip hop, which I am currently starting. I would also like to take an animal rights class.

15. Finish the sentence, “the most important thing about Maya is…”

She’s one day going to end animal abuse.

But, according to her mother, the most important thing about Maya is her passion for fairness and justice, her wacky sense of humor, and her creativity. I can’t wait to see where middle school takes her!

 

 

Embracing the Imperfect

As a culture, we are being suffocated by a swelling intolerance for imperfection.

We celebrate genius and perfection to a fault. We stifle exploration in our children and ourselves, fearing failure. We set ambitious goals for ourselves on a myriad of fronts, and stress as we swim upstream to meet them.

I like to think I’m not talking about myself here.

I mean – clearly – I’m not prone to perfectionism. I flat out refused to stress over the tidiness of my house, the pedigree of my vehicles, or whether I am meeting the expectations of others or not.

But if I’m more honest with myself, I must admit I’m a perfectionist in other spheres.

In some cases my (delusional!) expectations of my own abilities make me take on more than I can handle. In others, fear of imperfection keeps me from starting a project I’m excited about.

Of course, on a good day I would deny the fear and call myself prudent and practical.

But it’s fear. I’ll admit it.

Perfectionism isn’t a virtue.

It makes us afraid.

Perfectionism keeps us small.

It limits us to safer paths and narrow, well-worn ruts. The vast, tangled woods beyond look too much lake a doomed trap.

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of amazing people speak about perfection in the last few weeks. Rocker-poet Patty Smith, Buddhist teacher Jack Cornfield, my favorite wisdom-seeker Parker Palmer, Suzuki, and even Maria Papova‘s interpretation of Ursula le Guin.

The truth is clear, from all of these thinkers: chasing perfection as a goal in itself – whether in our personal life, professional goals, or hobbies –  dooms us.

We are not inspiring, lovable, capable people because we have overcome our flaws and made ourselves perfect.

We are inspiring, lovable, capable, whole people in spite of our flaws and because we’ve explored our imperfections. We’ve found their overgrown edges and been inspired by them. We’ve turned off the known path for the tangled woods and found infinite satisfaction in the trails we’ve carved, though they may not be as fast or straight or wide as the paths of others.

By ignoring the possibility of imperfection or – gasp – failure, our personal world grows larger. We expand to achieve something new, imperfect or slightly off target as that something might be.

So when I’m feeling intimidated and stuck and overwhelmed by a goal that feels unattainable, what do I do? Continuing the theme from my last post, I think the trick is to keep asking questions.

  1. What am I avoiding?

    When I’m stuck on a writing project or avoiding a task, perfectionism is part of the problem. How can I bring animals into our new barn if I don’t make myself an expert first? When I don’t have a business plan? What’s the point of editing that short story yet another time when it surely won’t be accepted? The trick is to lower the bar just enough to make the task less intimidating. It’s the old trick of setting smaller goals and looking only a step ahead. The small steps are easier to perfect.

  2. Can I overthrow my ego?

    I find it challenging to face down my own insignificance. I’m not the only one struggling with this. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke tells Kappus, you may be a drop in the bucket, but the contents of the bucket would be different without your drop. (I’m paraphrasing here).

    Some days it feels as if everything interesting has been done. What contribution could I possibly make in any sphere? If I love to write, but if I will never be a David Mitchell (and seriously, who will) why do I persist. The same is true for nearly any endeavor. I’m not the first, the most unique.

    What a trap ego is, what a false motivation. If I enjoy something enough to devote free time to it, my status shouldn’t plague me.

  3. When should I just let it go?

    Because letting go – as Elsa taught us – is honorable. Some aspirations are fun for a time. When you find they don’t fit you anymore, it’s time to overthrow their burden. Have you seen this gorgeous video about regret? It says it all.

  4. When do you know it’s worth it, and strive for near-perfection?

    Some aspirations shadow us for a time, and fade away under closer examination. Those are the ones we let go. Others are our companions for a lifetime, bending and bowing under strong winds, branching and twisting in new directions, but rooted to our very souls. On these, aiming high is not irrational, as long as I can check my ego enough to experiment, and adjust my expectations enough to get started.  Even then, self-doubt will persist.  For that, I’ll take Rilke’s advice:

Your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers – perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to  a  Young Poet

I’m really enjoying exploring a question each week or so. I’ve got a pile of Bertrand Russel books to explore next, including my favorite title In Praise of Idelness!

 

 

Curiouser and Curiouser

Forgive my recent philosophical musings. 

I could share so much about our family life, stories of Maxwell’s rock obsession, Elliot’s love-hate relationship with piano, Maya’s search for justice and tween social time. But lately I’ve been hungry for bigger ideas, a broader perspective. I’m not religious — haven’t been since my senior year in high school — but I’ve always been philosophical. These posts represent my search for meaning. I never really know what I think until I write it down.

When I first encountered the concept of Beginner’s Mind, I read it as “permission to fail.”

A beginner humbly starts where she is, learns all she can, and builds from there.

I feel like a perpetual beginner. I take up new hobbies like a fifth grader reading the extracurricular catalog. Ski lessons? Yes! Beginners clogging? Yes! Flash fiction imagery? Yes!

A humble, beginner’s attitude comes easily.

Explorer of all, master of none: I believe that was my major in college as well.

It’s hibernation season here in Minnesota, and when the winter holidays ended, I gathered books around me like a bear foraging for berries before a long sleep, as if they are nourishment for the long winter.

I found novels of course. A surprising amount of poetry. An interesting new cook book. And philosophy classics, a great towering stack of them that threaten to topple into my pillow while I sleep.

When will I find the time? I can’t tell you. But I am making progress.

I’ve lovingly opened all of my new books, gently flexing their spines and browsing their crisp clean pages, still free of margin notes or water marks from a bubble bath.

Strangely, I found a reference to Suzuki’s Zen Mind, the concept of beginner’s mind, in each book I opened one day.

You know how very good your mind is at weaving connections between random occurrences?

We call them coincidences. Or signs. Or fate.

Beginner’s mind appears to be whispering to me from the pages.

Clearly, I must begin something really exceptional. My cosmic energy is drawing me to the beginning of something. How can this many fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books all point to the same philosophy, one I haven’t noticed in decades of avid reading?

Here’s the problem: I’m not poised to begin anything.

I stand firmly in the middle of so many things.

The middle of parenting my Maya, who is growing up too fast and staring down middle school. The middle of Elliot’s elementary years. The middle of Max’s preschool years. I’m mid-step through many efforts at work and at home. I’m not exactly in the middle of my writing life, but I’m always in progress.

But here’s the thing. I judged the meaning of beginner’s mind too quickly.

Be humble, eager, and unafraid to fail. That is part of beginner’s mind. Be bold and hopeful in your willingness to begin. That is a wonderful, exciting way to live.

But beginner’s mind is much more about maintaining the curiosity and wonder of a beginner, even as you grind through the work-filled middle.

Beginner’s mind is about remaining hopeful and motivated, even when the days get long and my list of responsibilities threatens to overtake me. It is looking with fresh eyes at well-worn paths.

What does this practically mean? How does a person remain curious in daily life?

  • Write: I believe keeping a journal (yes, I keep a daily private journal in addition to all of the musings I toss out here) has helped me celebrate the unknown and notice the wonder-filled minutia of life.
  • Explore: I believe time spent in nature, hiking, canoeing, even running (ever-so-slowly), makes it easier to notice the little things,to find inspiration even among the many daily tasks and well-known responsibilities required in the middle.
  • Keep learning: I’m not poised for a grand beginning, but learning something new always brings a fresh perspective and new energy.  Taking a dance class last year was so much fun. Maybe this year I’ll try pottery or poetry or simply read all of these wonderful new books I’ve gathered.

The strength of beginner’s mind lies in the inspiration it brings to the middle of everything. It’s a way of living, a perspective filled with curiosity and enthusiasm, that makes every phase of life richer.

And it’s something to practice, even as I head off to make the kids’ lunches and help Max write the middle of his rock book.