Kindergarten

Finn,

You’re in kindergarten! At the same time that I’m thinking this is impossible to believe, I also know you’ve been ready for elementary school for some time now. You’re so independent and smart and curious, driven to learn, invent, and teach. You lounge cross-legged in your room as you research fossils or prehistoric animals on your own; you sit intently at the table to write and illustrate your own books, like Dinosaurs Rule! or Dino ABC; you design your own games, such as Dinosaura or  “dinosaur school;” you write and deliver us notes — informative ones about how you want to go swimming, or silly ones about how your eye fell out; and you’re such a wonderful reader! Last year you impressed me by sitting in front of my senior English classroom and reading a real book aloud to my eighteen-year-old students. Of course I wasn’t surprised that you could read to them; I was surprised that you DID read to them. You were so brave that day.

I guess that’s the hard part: managing the fear of something new. There’s a difference between learning within your own comfort zone and integrating into a completely new environment. After three years at the Montessori school, you didn’t want to leave. But we thought the transition would be easier in kindergarten, when your peers would be going through the same thing, too, and we care just as much about your social and emotional development as we do your intellectual growth. So I tried to prepare you as best I could: we talked about it, we visited the school, we met the teacher. I got you a special dino fossil lunchbox and backpack that you loved.

...before we headed out this morning on the way to Finn's first day of kindergarten!

You posed and smiled for me in your big-boy uniform and backpack on that first morning before we left, but you were scared, and as I drove you to school, you clearly documented your feelings from your car seat:

On the way to the first day of kindergarten from Sarah on Vimeo.

I was so proud of you for your self-awareness and honesty, and for the fact that you bravely walked into the school with me even though you were frightened. That’s what bravery IS Finn. It is not the same as fearlessness. To be brave, you have to acknowledge, face, and deal with fear. And you did.

It’s been two weeks now, and you’re still struggling with the transition. So am I. On days three to five, you cried and clutched at me when I left you, and although you were calmer this second week, mornings are hard. Sometimes you insist that you don’t want to go to school even though your teacher says you seem to be enjoying new friends in class. You resist getting out of bed, putting on your uniform, and getting out of the car even though you’re usually happy when I pick you up at the end of the day. It’s the mornings, you say. You don’t like the mornings.

I understand mornings completely, Finn. They will get better — and they will become part of a larger and more complex picture of what school means to you and your everyday life. When this morning I asked you, the 2-week kindergarten veteran, to list good things about school, you quickly replied, “I think my classroom is the best. I love the computers. My teacher is awesome. I like making new friends. My lunchbox and backpack are great!”

YOU are great, Finn. Congratulations on that — and on being a kindergartener.

Summer 2014

This summer started with Finn’s first family road trip. Rather than fly up to visit family in Michigan, we decided on a slow drive with lots of stops. We loaded up the Prius with suitcases, a cooler of snacks, a couple of ipads, and lots and lots of books.

On the road!

Our first destination was the Kennedy Space Center, where Finn stood tall in front of a rocket garden,…

Rocket Garden

…saw the inside and outside of the Space Shuttle Atlantis,…

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Piloting the Space Shuttle Atlantis?

…went back in time to the Apollo mission and unbelievably large Saturn V rocket,…

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…and touched a real rock from the moon!

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After we left Cape Canaveral, we headed up to St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, a masonry fort in the oldest city in the country. The stones were hot. Our visit was short.

St. Augustine

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We spent our second night in Savannah. The early evening was beautiful and as the sun dropped in the sky, Finn kicked a soccer ball around under the moss-covered trees with Daddy and a fellow soccer-lover who just happened to be walking by.

The next morning we drove from Georgia into the Smokies — Finn’s first-ever glimpse of real mountains. He loved the roller-coaster feel of the roads and the tall, shadowy trees that lined them.

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We drove along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, first stopping to watch a mama bear and her cubs:

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Then we parked for a hike up to Grotto Falls — a hike that ended up being over three miles round trip. Finn walked the entire way, climbing over tricky roots and rocks.

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We kept thinking we were almost there since we heard the water long before we arrived at the waterfall. I think the wait made it better.

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We took some photos, ate a snacky lunch atop a big rock, and then explored.

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Our other Tennessee stops were less idyllic (while more expensive), but Finn enjoyed them all the same. Rock City had some pretty overlooks, but was seriously blighted by garden gnomes. I specifically framed my shots to avoid them.

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We also hit the touristy Ruby Falls, where we took an elevator into an underground cave to a waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. Finn pretended he was going back in time to a prehistoric cave and searched for ancient fossils from the Cretaceous time period.

Ruby Falls

He “panned” for fossils again in Pigeon Forge along one of the cheesiest, most commercially-oriented streets I’ve ever seen (imagine putt-putt golf venues lined up next to gift-shops with Godzilla heads sticking out of them). But it was well worth it to see Finn so excited to “find” an ammonite, nautiloid, brachiopod, and fossilized tooth.

A little (fake) mining in Tennessee

After five days of driving and exploring, we were eager to arrive in Michigan, where Finn spent over a week with his Aba and Abuelo and enjoyed time with his cousins and other extended family.

We took walks and waded through creeks…

The kids and a creek

Walking through the creek

…and spent lots of special time at the lakeside cottage where my father grew up.

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Today was our last summer visit to Sugden Lake, and Finn was the last one out there.

Finn visited the cottage in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but this year he was much more independent — a boy off doing his own thing with a net or a bucket or shovel, a boy running around with some of the cousins he hadn’t seen in two years.

At the end of our last trip to the cottage, it was hard to leave.

It was also hard for Finn to say goodbye to a new little friend he’s not likely to see again — a baby raccoon he discovered one afternoon, chirping away desperately under a tree. When we checked back later that night and found the young animal still alone, weak, and very hungry, his mother still nowhere in sight, my father brought him in.

We called him Rocky. A few days later my father managed to find a proper and caring place for him — one that would allow him to socialize with other raccoons and then release him into the wild when he was old enough. Before Rocky left for his new home, Finn held him close to say goodbye, listening to him purr.

A short time later, we said goodbye to all of our loved ones in Michigan, loaded up our Prius, and crossed into Ohio.

First we drove past corn. Lots of corn.

Driving through Ohio. Lotsa corn.

Then we made a very important stop at Caesar Creek Lake Visitor Center to pick up a bona fide fossil hunting permit. We had plans to embark on a real fossil hunt in a 450 million year old Ordovician Sea bed.

Today we did some REAL fossil hunting in a 450 million year-old Ordovician sea bed.

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Although the finds weren’t as impressive as those found in our $25 “fossil bucket” back in Tennessee, the experience was far more authentic. In fact, it was so authentic that after a little over an hour, Finn was reconsidering his long-held goal to be a paleontologist.

The Tennessee Aquarium evoked more excitement from Finn, particularly because the animals there were a little more, well, alive (except for the penguin he’s hugging below).

Spent part of the day at the Tennessee Aquarium

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But then it was fossils and prehistoric animals all over again at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, where we saw a giant Woolly Mammoth skeleton and other prehistoric mammals, as well as a Megalodon jaw:

At the Florida Museum of Natural History

Even more jaw-dropping for Finn, however, was actually something a little LESS real: the 200+ life-sized replicas at Dinosaur World in Plant City. I think I have a picture of him with every known species of dinosaur (but won’t post them all here, don’t worry!).

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Finn's fantasy location: Dinosaur World

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Finn even won a “game show” contest, and corrected the “paleontologist/game show host” on one of the questions, which asked which animal was NOT a dinosaur, a tyrannosaur, a pterodactyl, or a Woolly Mammoth. Finn protested, “A Woolly Mammoth isn’t a dinosaur, but neither is a pterodactylus! It’s a flying reptile!”

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As if that weren’t enough, we stopped in Orlando to celebrate fourth of July and Gram’s birthday with Keith’s family. There were stellar fireworks, decadent desserts, and lots of horseplay with Finn’s cousins.

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Finn and his cousins horse around in the pool

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When we finally got home sweet home, we had been gone for three weeks. While we were away, Finn sometimes cried at night that he was homesick, but upon entering the house again, he cried because it seemed so strange to him. “I’m hotel-sick!” he wailed. “I’m abuelo-house sick!” Then he he walked up to the magnetic board in his room and pulled off an old picture of Willow, Abuela’s dog. “I’m Willow-sick!” he said, real tears down his face. I understand that transitions are difficult for him, and that three weeks is a greater chunk of his life span than it is of mine. Time goes so fast for me these days, it seems.

But it didn’t take long for life to fall into a normal pattern for Finn again. We’ve still spent much of summer doing what we always do:

…swimming,…

Finn and Margot take a break from the lazy river

Summer 2014

…creating,…

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Crazy cupcake making

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Fun today at Young at Art Children's Museum

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…playing games,…

The cousins play a board game -- on a Monday afternoon! It's summertime!

Finn has created a new board game for us to play. It's called (surprise, surprise) Dinosaura.

…exploring the prehistoric world of dinosaurs…

Finn and a triceratops skull

T-Rex cafe' was basically a dream come true for Finn. I just got a little disturbed when the restaurant delivered its tri-hourly "meteor shower" during which lights flashed, the dinosaurs moved, and Finn repeated, "please don't die, dinosaurs!"

…and just spending time with people we care about:

Having fun with cousin Oliver

Back home with friends @nathalia_ruiz

Happy cousins!