Friday, July 26, 2013

friday night riddles

If he asks twelve, the answer is six.  If he asks six, the answer is three.  But if he asks ten, the answer isn't five.
This has been an unusual summer week for us, with Nicholas and Julia both at week long day camps and Jonathan working.

It has felt a bit more like a school week to me in some ways, even if my drop off and pick up for Nicholas has been far from typical.  He attended a week of Rippleffect day camp on Cow Island and in order to get to this Casco Bay experience, we have braved the summer traffic and congestion of the Old Port in Portland to drive him to and from the ferry landing each day.

What has been particularly strange, and also magical, has been our daily routine for this camp.  Each day, we sat with him at the Casco Bay Lines terminal, waited for his guides and other campers to arrive, watched the ferries come and go, and then watched him walk the ramp onto the ferry and disappear, into the morning mist.  He rode the ferry to a larger island and then hopped aboard a small boat and was shuttled to Cow Island.

Never having been to Cow Island ourselves, we only know what happened there, the landscape of it, the activities and facilities, through what Nicholas has told us.  And he has told us a good deal.  But I find myself wondering what the boat landing looks like there, what he could see while riding their zip line, wishing I had seen him kayaking from island to island, paddling and laughing and chatting with his friends.  I have little windows into this landscape of their day from their Facebook page, but it's not quite the same as seeing it for myself.

But I also think my not knowing this is a good part of what has made the camp experience so very good.  I can only see what Nicholas has told me, and from what I have inferred from what he has told me. I see the camp through his eyes and not my own. And he gets to decide what he tells me.
Julia, watch this. Nicholas holds the jelly jar in his hands and proceeds to tip it upside down and then upside right over and over again, alternating between saying my jar is open and my jar is closed in a seemingly random order. What's the rule?
These growing children.  Figuring them out is sometimes like solving a riddle.  Listening to them, what they share.  Trying get a sense of where they are, how they are feeling, what is on their mind.  Because sometimes the direct question is not the best way to find this out.  And sometimes it is not really an answer that I want.  It is that I want to observe his thinking, what seems important to him, what gives him pause.  His process.

As they grow, so much of what happens for them occurs internally. My early days of watching them play on the playground or with each other, observing their behavior and what it means, have been replaced -- with listening to them talk, catching glimpses of the subtle clues, peeking in at their inner world.

And trying to make meaning of it.  And accepting that some of it?  I am not going to understand or even know.
There's a man in a suit lying dead on the sidewalk.  No blood.  No visible injuries.  No, it wasn't a heart attack or a stroke.  How did he die?
What we did hear, and what we saw, was all evidence of a wonderful week. When we decided on this camp with him, we focused on the outdoor experience aspects of it.  Of kayaking and rock climbing and zip lining.  Of getting to know a new group of kids and his guides.  Of the independence he would feel from riding the ferry without us each day.  Of what we would feel putting him on that ferry each day.  

But what came home?  Yes, he did tell us of those activities.  But what he most wanted to tell us about was about the games, riddles, and mind teasers that he learned.
Nicholas holds up five fingers and says this is one.  He shows four fingers.  This is five.  He shows seven fingers.  This is four.  He holds up one finger.  What's this?
Perhaps it was the long ferry rides while still waking up in the morning and then the rides each evening while exhausted from the day.  Perhaps it was the simplicity of the facilities on this eco-minded island, relatively undeveloped except for yurts and the remains of Fort Lyon.  But there was as much talking and mind challenging and new game playing as there was kayaking and climbing and zip lining.

As the week went on, he started to leave Jonathan or I on the bench each morning to play his new favorite game, Ninja, in the middle of the ferry terminal.  Kids would call to him as they arrived and he would jump up to join the hilarious hootenanny that would ensue, entertaining all the commuters as they watched.

And then, when the time came, he would run to pick up his backpack and head off down the ramp. And have his day away.  But then, each night.
Julia!  Elliott!  Do you want me to teach you to play Ninja?
* * *

At the end of each day, we met his ferry.

The walk to our car. The ride home. That's when I heard the stories of his day.

Can we walk up to where we can see the harbor? I want to show you where we paddled today.

We saw this huge boat docked over there as we came into the harbor. Can we go see it?

We walked into the bunker, into a long narrow hall that was built for ventilation for the cannons.  It was completely dark and you couldn't see anything. We held on to the person's shoulder in front of us. It was kind of scary.  But cool.  Except for the huge spiders.  Those were just scary.

Can I have some money for tomorrow to buy a piece of candy when we paddle to Great Diamond?

I climbed the rock wall. Blindfolded.

The last night of camp, he had the option to spend the night on Cow Island in a yurt. He decided he wanted to do this, and we felt very confident that he was going to be ok, given how the week was going for him.  But there is something strange and unsettling nonetheless about your child being away on an island, an ocean separating you, no option for a late night pickup should the need arise.  I imagined the midnight ride on a water taxi that I would summon if we received that call.

But we knew this was not going to happen.  And it did not.

And this evening, the four of us headed down to the ferry terminal to meet him and waited for his ferry to arrive.   Before he came off, the older kids emerged.  It was clear that they had been on the island for longer, given their gear, their elaborately painted faces and clothing, and the huddles and hugs and tears as they said goodbye to each other.  They had grown close.

Nicholas' group emerged from the boat after them and they each got a cheery and chatty high five from their guide.  Nicholas waved goodbye to a few new friends.  Their parting was developmentally just right, more reserved, but warm.  He allowed a one handed hug and kiss from me.  And even a picture of his wind blown salt water crusty sunscreen smelling self.

Good?  I whispered to him.

He smiled and nodded.  Awesome.  But are we still having dinner at Flatbreads?

I exhaled the breath I had apparently held for his 48 hours away.

* * *

So we headed just across the pier to our favorite pizza place, Flatbreads, which has been hiding in plain sight at each drop off and pick up.  What's funny to me is that this was the first restaurant that we ate at in Portland in 2004.  We were visiting my sister-in-law, Wendy Rich Stetson, who was here to perform in a play.  And she brought all of us here -- well, sans Elliott, who was not born yet -- for dinner after we watched her performance in Almost, Maine at Portland Stage.

We had planned our family dinner at Flatbreads this last night, talking about it all week.  Jonathan ran ahead and reserved us a table out on the deck, which sits just above the ferry terminal.

When we asked him to tell us about his past two days, he started with a complete detailing of the food he had eaten. Ah, eleven year old boys.

He told us about the island treasure hunt the guides had set up for them.

He taught us several new brain teasers during dinner, eating more pizza than I have ever seen him eat, talking with his mouth full.  I tried not to interrupt him too many times in order to ask him to swallow before he spoke.
There were three camels in a line.  One said there are two camels behind me.  Another one said there is one camel behind me.  The last one said there are two camels behind me.  How is this possible?
I think we may have officially become a three pizza per meal family.  

He looked tired.  And a bit spacey at times, staring off at the ferries as we ate.  Between riddles.

I am kind of sad it is over.  The guides always had something fun for us.  And they were so energetic.

I pushed back the little worry that maybe he was quiet at times because he was unhappy, that things had not gone well, that he was thinking about something troubling.  And forced myself not to ask this question.  He was tired.  He was apparently starving.  And he was talking in bursts of enthusiastic detail.  

So I sat back and listened.  And I will continue to listen as he shares in the days ahead.

He was happy.

And so, realizing he might put his head down on the table and fall asleep, we paid and gathered all of his overnight things, and headed home.

We kind of fell in love with Portland during that first visit here with Wendy.  And unexpected job changes and opportunities and also careful choices have landed us here.  Exactly where we want to be.

With three children.  Growing.  Challenging us to let them grow and move and look outward, developing independence, confidence, and experiences that are away from us.  It's good.

But that doesn't mean I didn't have to hold back tears as I said goodbye to him as he headed off on his overnight.  Or that I am not teary again as I write this post.

What better place to grow up a bit than on a small island off the coast of Maine?

Riddles. With answers only he holds. Learning them elsewhere. But bringing them home to teach us.
My backpack is not Black Magic. The sky is not Black Magic. That pigeon is not Black Magic. But your Keens? They are Black Magic. Now you do it.

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