Spring “break” photo notes

Okay, so I dread spring break a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit.

But we made plans, and we had adventures. It was cold most of the time, so this involved a fair amount of scheduling on my part. Me being a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl [which is just a cover for my true identity: homebody], I always expect planning to be painful, but it wasn’t. The shooting neck and back pain on account of me thinking I could jump with the boys at the trampoline park is another matter entirely.

Bullet points:

  •  Gave SkyMax a go. Intended goal accomplished: exhaustion. Unintended consequence: I couldn’t move without pain for about four days and G’s cold turned into an ear infection, resulting in a burst ear drum. Per usual, J emerged unscathed and ready for more.
  • Perry Sippo Lake library (coolest fish tank ever!), science center (Taxidermied bobcats and bears! Puppets!), trek around the lake (G moaning and whining all the way (hadn’t figured out the ear thing yet)!
  • Kelsey babysits! Jon Lincoln babysits! Jeff Pethybridge reads The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School!
  • Playdate with friends in Suffield. Multiple rounds of war games planned and executed. Legos constructed, deconstructed, and envied (G’s pockets turned out before our departure).
  • Surprise visit to J’s old Montessori school for recess with friends.
  • This week’s characters of choice: scary Heath Ledger Joker, Indiana Jones, Cat in the Hat.

That’s all I got. And pictures. Of course pictures.

At the museum:
mountain lion j
puppet j
puppet g
boys and bear
mountain lion 2
In the woods ’round the lake:
pensive g in woods
tunnel boys
tunnel run
joker j
j the joker rubber gloves
cat in the hat



The boys are spending too much time in front of screens this afternoon. They are. I know it and am consciously ignoring the good-parent voice in my head because I desperately Do Not want to interact. I love my children, and to be their mother, I sometimes need to do a screen-for-all afternoon because, quite simply, I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to answer questions. I don’t want to get juice or help initiate an activity (or provide oversight of said activity, the lack of which would result in physical harm to child or home or the loss of the child all together). I want Quiet.

Unfortunately, my handy screen-sitters don’t necessarily mean I will experience Quiet, not even when mandatory headphones are involved. Having told the boys I would no longer be available, that I was in the grey chair and for all intents and purposes did not exist for the next two hours, that they needed to use their headphones And go to another room where the grey chair was Not, they began to talk to each other with their head phones on, turned up (I imagine) just about as high as they would go. Talk isn’t the right word to describe the volume level. It wasn’t quite a yell either. More like that voice you use when talking to someone whose hearing aid is on the blink. Hearing an eight and four-year-old do that is kind of hilarious, even when I’m past frazzled.

They eventually settled in and settled down, during which time my heart rate slowed a little, the racing in my chest abated. I dug into a good book. (QuietThe Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.) I might have preferred a novel as I almost always prefer a novel, but I’m finding the premise of Quiet to be good medicine. Having long recognized my self as a member of the introverted species, I had to make myself dig in. What was I going to learn that I didn’t already know? Also: books devoted to the study of a multitude of studies make me want to skim, skim, skim.

I must now mention that the boys have exhibited self-limiting behavior, voluntarily plugging the screens back into their respective charging stations. Quiet no longer exists. Gabriel has opened the musical instruments box and is shaking a rattle and some bells while taunting his brother, who is doing math problems on a thirty-year-old adding machine, accompanied by all manner of vocal (I can only call it) stimming. Might this be the time to share a passage describing  the open-plan office?

Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure. Open-plan workers are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and elevated stress levels and to get the flu; they argue more with their colleagues; they worry about coworkers eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their computer screens. They have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues. They’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates; releases cortisol, the body’s fight-or-flight “stress” hormone; and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive, and slow to help others. (Quiet, 84)

Well now. That just about describes me. Cortisol crazy, I want to run away. Sustained exposure to constant noise puts me completely on edge, my temper igniting at the smallest of small infractions. I have no desire to help anyone but myself. Because I cannot abandon my children I think we will go for a walk.

But here I am still: an introverted woman with two intense, quite extroverted younglings. To survive them, not to mention care for them and make some contribution to raising them up in the way they should go—as well as maintain (and grow) a relationship with my husband who is probably more introverted than I (but better, it seems, at ignoring the chaos)—I periodically revisit the subject of my identity. But first I must answer G’s existential question: Mama, what is a sock?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now night, the only sounds I hear are the tapping of my keys, Sophie snoring behind me, the furnace kicking on, and the muffle of the boys’ sound machine through a closed door. Not quite Quiet, but more so. Enough to be like food or sunlight or walking—my other best/necessary fuels. Though Kafka might not agree: “One can never be alone enough when one writes…there can never be enough silence around one when one writes…even night is not night enough.”

Back to that open-office plan breakdown. It’s got me thinking about family life, about cohabitation and identity, about contemporary culture, about self and the giving up thereof. Many times at church today, Fr. Nicholas spoke of quiet, particularly joyful quiet, and how difficult it can be to find. Or does he mean cultivate? I’ve had the same question over the last few days. I certainly feel an absence, having/trying to abstain from—or at least cut down on—sugar and wine, beer, cheese, meat, serial dramas, chocolate, and the listening to of music 24/7. I feel a hole those pleasures did fill, and I’m not comfortable with it yet. Makes me a little edgy, a life with fewer distractions—which is how I prided myself on living for the first ten years or so of my adult life. So it’s not that it’s unimaginable, it’s that the conditions have (obviously) changed.

I come from a tight, lively family. My mother is an extrovert par excellence—enough so that God saw fit to make everyone else in our family introverts, in varying degrees. But even my mother craves quiet and peace and works to create space for it these days. Growing up, and living on a farm as we did, it was pretty easy to get away. Quiet was more the norm than not. I could hole up in my room and read for hours. I could wander around our property, my sisters my only playmates for many years. But even then, in that relatively quiet environment, I needed to get away sometimes or I got cranky. It is a wonder to me how well I function now with only a minimal amount of silence and solitude. O wait! I’m on anti-depressant/anxiety medicine. Nevermind.

All of this to say, a little more cultivation and prioritizing is in order on my end of things. The hole fasting creates—okay, let’s call it space—helps me see myself more plainly, throwing into relief who I am and who I think I need to be, primarily for my children. A simple, physical example: as Gabriel and I sat on the pew today (J was braving it with the altar boys back behind the iconostasis), I found myself curving my body in a rather uncomfortable way so that he could use me as a human recliner. I instinctively reacted to this realization by straightening my spine, causing him to reorient himself to get comfortable again. In that small moment, I felt the pull between making someone (I love dearly) more comfortable and protecting myself from not only pain but also (more instinctively) subsumption. Convergently, I thought: I need to be the straight one. Whatever that means.

Gets messy, doesn’t it? And what’s the point, you ask, of my analyzing this seemingly simple action? It’s the way I roll. It’s quiet at work in me, amplifying my attention to my thoughts, environment, and actions. I notice things; it’s one of my gifts. Having neglected it, I am grateful it is still there, and that quiet, by God’s grace (a phrase I do not mean to use as mere vernacular or jargon), makes me empty enough to receive it again.

Spring Fever

I like the weather. I like to check the weather. I like to study the radar and the hourly forecasts. I like to be out in the weather.

Today being the first day of spring, I was pleased to see we might make it up to 50 degrees F. On their way to school, both boys mentioned they might actually get to play outside today, though G still gets a little confused about how the sun works. J too, for that matter. Maybe it’s because the winters are so grey, but when the sun finally makes an appearance, they immediately assume they will be flooded with warmth. They roll down the windows in the car.

Me: It’s only 30 degrees! I’m freezing.
Them (in certain denial): We’re not cold! We need fresh air!

Thank the Lord for window locks is all I have to say.

Back to the weather. As I set out to walk I was a little surprised to see snow flurries descend from what had turned into another gloomy grey sky in the time since I had dropped the boys off at school. So, naturally, I checked the radar. What looked like a decent patch of bright blue (snow) was heading our way. I checked the hourly forecast. 0% chance of precipitation, I read. But where the sunny/cloudy/rainy/snowy icon usually declared the current conditions, I was greeted with a bright blue question mark. I have never seen such a thing. Have even the forecasters given up forecasting?

Two hours later we have a good thick inch, maybe two, on the ground. And it’s still coming down.

spring snow

But it’s not just weather, is it? Spring is a kind of fever. My self inside bounces off the walls of my body, ready to spring, run, howl, make . . . Something.

Mark Twain:

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!

It’s what makes a boy take off off his shirt and ride through a cold wind in only a puffy vest, because he is Sebulba, and it is what must be done.

sebulba rides

Or, climb a tree as such.

sebulba climbs

If you are another variety of boy, you might find a rotten piece of thick trunk fallen off the neighbor’s tree and take your mallet to it, again and again,

hammer to wood 1

and again.

hammer to wood 2

If you are me, it means a poem written (in part) while walking until my hips ache. To work my soul and body in tandem. So that I can match up with myself better, and sleep so well at night.

Late winter, Early Spring
      Pain is never permanent.  –St. Teresa of Avila

Snowmelt jetsam: uncleared summer
gardens border winter
salted sidewalks—how is the dog to know
what’s concrete or earth? Disintegrating
piles defy cleanup. Forgotten Christmas
lights blink on or hang busted, not
bright. You look for it. You look for it
and when you are not looking the crocus
finally shoots. The hangdog clouds
bring snow or rain, exasperating as a child
on the borderland of reason. Should you
sing or cry? The pull between sinking
and rising is a hard stretch.
Yes brightness but why gloom?

Walk until your hips are numb with walking.
The black fluttering in the highest
branches might be birds, might be the last of
what still must fall.



How we groove

So how it goes around here on (adult) birthdays is: the best gift is time alone. Almost without exception.

Yesterday was John’s. He chose to forgo the traditional cake/cookie/decadent dessert for spinach enchiladas with red and green sauce. We found a candle and slid it into the layers of tortilla, cheese, spinach, beans, onions, and corn. We sang. Homemade presents and a bottle of scotch were opened. The best gift might have been G’s unprompted, impromptu Happy Birthday song shortly after he woke. And here I must note that Gabriel Keats is not a morning person, not unlike his mother.

So though John has loads of grading to do, and spent much of the day doing just it, he was able to do it with a modicum of quiet, even as he binged on a Netflix offering to get him through. And when I needed a moment minus boys, he took them out for brunch after church. (When asked what his favorite part of the day was at day’s end, G promptly replied, “Going to the restaurant with daddy!”) Upon their return, John went back to grading and the boys reentered my purview.

That’s the way we groove. At our best, team Jantz-Estes works best through a series of baton passes. I take a few laps, he takes a few. He feeds the minions, I feed the minions. Our endurances shift, and we each specialize—he the master maker when the boys’ plans are bigger than their skill sets; I the incentivizer for outdoor adventure. Even the boys pitch in, understanding when mommy says she can’t talk or answer questions, that they must try to keep themselves occupied so that she can orchestrate a multi-faceted meal (enchiladas, beans and rice push my typical mix-it-up-and-put-it-in-a-bowl cooking pattern). To their very great credit (and increasing maturity), they kept themselves occupied in the basement with “clues” (piles of toys they did God-knows-what-with and then PICKED UP UNASKED when they were finished).

O, I almost forgot. Absolute BEST gift of the day (I will presume to say we all agree on this): as we opened a few presents after lunch in our front room, our hawk friend who lives on campus across the street, alighted on the branch right outside our window. He was close enough that we could see the beautiful spotted detail of his tail feathers and could be amazed by the way he swiveled his head from front to back without moving a single feather. He seemed quite content on that branch until Gabriel—who was bouncing his body up against the window in excitement—spooked him to the oak across the street.  




the You beneath

I check in occasionally with the blog, Letters of Note, and today read a letter from W.E.B. Du Bois to his fourteen-year-old daughter recently enrolled in an English boarding school. He extols her to work hard and, most importantly, be herself no matter what people with their “curious little annoyances” may do or say. I can very well imagine writing something of the sort to both of my boys one day, and particularly, dear Jonah.

Study, do your work. Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life. You will meet, of course, curious little annoyances. People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkley hair. But that simply is of no importance and will soon be forgotten. Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual, whether it is beautiful, fine or not. You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin—the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.  —W.E.B. Du Bois to his daughter, Yolande

The ability to do. The will to conquer. The determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world.

astro jonah



A pieced together description of The Intense World Theory of autism, gathered from an interview with its originators, Henry and Kamila Markram on the blog Wrong Planet:

The Intense World Theory states that autism is the consequence of a supercharged brain that makes the world painfully intense and that the symptoms are largely because autistics are forced to develop strategies to actively avoid the intensity and pain…

The brain is supercharged because the elementary functional units of the brain are supercharged. These units are called neural microcircuits. Neural microcircuits are the smallest ecosystem of neurons that can support each other to carry out functions. The brain is made up of millions of these units. These microcircuits are hyper-reactive and hyper-plastic. That means that they react and process information much faster and more intensely, they can learn much more and remember much longer, and they can remember things with much greater detail. The Intense World Theory proposes that having such powerful units makes orchestration difficult—like trying to play a piano with a million run-a-way keys…

What strikes me about this explanation is how exhausting it must be. To constantly be processing, in a more intense way. Such a busy mind must be distracting to the point of madness. One theorist described the workings of the autistic brain in terms of building a city without any highways, only side streets. You can get there, but it will take longer.

While earlier theories have characterized autism by a lack of empathy and social knowledge, the Intense World Theory maintains that “autists could actually be seeing much deeper into the minds, thoughts and emotions of themselves and others, which triggers active avoidance and lock down behaviors. It also requires the ability to simulate others as if you where them and to extrapolate to where their thoughts and behaviors are leading them. Seeing into the minds of others can be extremely disturbing.”

As Emily Willingham (a biologist, self-diagnosed Aspergian, and mother of an autistic child) puts it, “The overwhelmingness of understanding how people feel can lead to either what is perceived as inappropriate emotional response, or to what is perceived as shutting down, which people see as lack of empathy.” It’s not that autistic people are being unemotional, but rather that they are “taking it all in like a tsunami of emotion that they feel on behalf of others. Going internal is protective.”

This makes sense to me, though I’m not autistic. But Jonah is. (Every so often I need to see the obvious in print. I need to tell myself Jonah is autistic because sometimes I try to talk myself out of his autism. J doesn’t fit into the parameters others—myself included—have set up to typify autism.)

So though we knew he was a quirky, non-typical person from the get-go, he didn’t fit the brand of autism everyone was selling at the time so we resisted having him evaluated. Jonah has always been keyed into others. He may not have communicated verbally until he was 3 1/2, but he communicated what he needed, usually with sign language. He is sharp and can be incredibly attentive (to what he wants to be attentive to). He is warm and loving. Sure, he’s physically and emotionally intense (our priest’s wife gave him the superhero name, Dr. Kinesis) and a little bit clumsy, but he also has crazy-good agility skills (tree climbing, acrobatic swinging, bicycle riding). I can see his brain working working working, never stopping…

The Intense World Theory is the only unifying theory of autism out there today, and it makes sense of what we have come to know as the autistic spectrum. Just as there are varying degrees of impairment and disability, there are as many different kinds of autistic people as there are non-autistic people in the world. As the Markram’s put it: “The diversity comes from the fact that we are normally diverse and if you add hyperfunctional circuits to that then naturally each autistic child will be even more different from each other. It is like taking all our normal differences to an extreme.”

The powerful combination of hyper-reactivity and hyper-plasticity (stronger, more intense connections in the brain) results in the hyper-functionality previously mentioned, the consequences of which are hyper-perception, hyper-attention, hyper-memory and hyper-emotionality. These traits express themselves in behaviors such as sociability, attention, multi-tasking and repetitive behaviors—all things autistic children and adults struggle with on a daily basis. All things our Jonah struggles with to a moderately (shall we use the word again?) intense degree.

The research supporting the Intense World Theory also supports the paradoxical autistic trait involving under-reaction to pain. Jonah has an incredibly high pain tolerance. He is indifferent to cold; he can fall down a set of concrete steps on his head, producing a knot the size of a small egg, and be back at play within minutes. But a relational misunderstanding can result in a meltdown of epic proportions. His emotional pain is palpable, and it’s hard to know how to help. He gets stuck, not unlike the image of the serpent feeding on its own tail.

This is where I need to remind myself that the Intense World Theory is a theory, and a very early, working one at that. It’s not without gaps either. What do we make of “sensory seeking” (a craving for intense sensory stimulation) autistics (such as Jonah)? I might hypothesize that such people are seeking a way to match the intensity of what’s going on in their brain with a similarly intense experience in their bodies. Jonah seems to have been doing this from the day he was born. He screamed a full hour upon entering the world before exhausting himself and passing out. But I’m no scientist, and my hypothesis might be better categorized as an instinct.

Still, I can’t help but be encouraged and affirmed by the theory and how it aligns with both my understanding and misunderstanding of J. I am also reminded to appreciate his wonderful difference. I especially love his use of language and his palpably tender heart. He is the sweetest soul I know, and certainly his brain has something to do that.

I’ve read several accounts of autistics describing the way they experience people. Kai Markram (son of aforementioned Henry Markram) says “feel them different.” Emma, of Emma’s Hope Book, has told her mother she can “hear” people. Her mother, Ariane Zurcher, writes that “when I asked her what she meant by that, she wrote that she could sense people’s emotions and inner turmoil.  She could hear their moods.” Tangentially, Emma also says that “music is stars for your ears.

Jonah hasn’t expressed himself in this way concerning other people, but when he talks about the woods he uses a similarly deep vernacular: “You know what the woods are? When there’s lots of trees crowding the people so that the sun doesn’t cover their eyes.”

scavenger jonah

 Resources for this post:

The Intense World Theory: A Unifying Theory of the Neurobiology of Autism: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2010.00224/full

The boy whose brain could unlock autism:  https://medium.com/matter/70c3d64ff221

Emma’s Hope Book:  http://emmashopebook.com

Intense world theory raises intense worries:

Jonah is eight

Jonah yesterday morning, after climbing into bed with me: “If I had never been born I would never be eight!”

Jonah is eight. More than with seven, I am going a little crazy with the idea. Eight means ten is coming. Something about fifth grade induces a shift in me, due to my own difficult fifth grade year and how, in a way, my childhood ended then because of that intense difficulty.

“Do I look different?” he asked, snuggling in closer. Funny thing is, he did. Just a bit. I told him so.

For weeks, J has been waxing philosophical. It started with a little bit of fear—of change, of growing up: “I want my childhood! I want to keep it forever!” But in recent days, he’s transitioned to: “I’m happy for my childhood, even if I’m sad to leave it.”

And yes, I assured him his childhood is Not over. I didn’t go so far to say that he might be one of the lucky ones whose childhood is extended rather than shortened because of his nature, but I believe it is so. And yes, his words ring with more than just a little bit of his father’s vernacular, the youngest looking 40+ person I know. But Jonah still means them for himself. Where would we be without other people’s words helping us find our own?

Jonah is eight.

eight cakebat boy birthdayastro open