Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The (broken) windmills of my mind

(Author’s note: apparently every post this week is going to involve Ethan. I didn’t intend it this way, but it’s funny how things work out. I should consider taking turns with each child. I do have four of them, so I could cover the month nicely with one per week. Something to think about…).

Ethan came into my room early this morning to tell me about a bad dream. George Bush was at our house with a construction crew in hopes of earning our vote through the old “home repair campaign strategy.” (Nice try George). The crew had just chopped down three of the giant old pine trees in our yard and replaced them with an elm. (Isn’t this SO like politicians?) Anyway, in the middle of his story, Ethan stopped and with a horrified look on his face, suddenly remembered that there was a test today to determine his school’s Knowledge Bowl teams.

“No big deal,” I assured him. “I’ll help you study during breakfast and I’ll rearrange the carpool and everything will be fine.” Then I began a mighty search for the Knowledge Bowl study guide, a search which took me through the various rooms of the house, the perpetual pile o' stuff on the kitchen counter, and the school-paper graveyard that is Ethan’s backpack. In the process I came across a note reminding parents that the deadline for applying to next year’s Junior High gifted program was November 13. As in the November 13 that was LAST WEEK. Now this was a big deal. A Very Big Deal.

I had never seen this note before, and more to the point, I had never seen the initial application that had apparently been distributed weeks before. Now the horrified look on Ethan’s face turned to tears and I felt like doing a little crying myself. It wasn’t so much the missed deadline that depressed him and frustrated me, but the pattern of forgetfulness that plagues Ethan’s young life. He is a very bright child, but he feels dumb sometimes because he can’t seem to keep track of things. Ask him anything about naval warfare or the engineering of bridges and he could write you a dissertation, but as for scout meetings, homework, and important notes that could impact his future, these bits of information just don’t stay tacked to the cluttered bulletin board that is his brain.

I am uniquely qualified to empathize with Ethan because I have the same problem. I am hopelessly scatterbrained. Ask anyone who knows me and they will nod their much more organized heads in agreement. Over the years I have learned to cope with my limitations. When I am running errands and planning to stop at the library, I get in the car and put the overdue books on my lap so I can’t miss them. When students ask me for a copy of something, I tell them “When I get home and I walk in the door and am attacked by my children who all need something at once, I will forget. I promise. So you must email me your request” (not that emails can’t be lost too, but I do better). My brain-of-steel husband keeps track of garbage day and does all the bills and car maintenance (I seriously have not filled up the car with gas more than twice in the last five years). And when I want to remember something, I stick post-it notes to my mirror, or the door, or my forehead. Notes like “Do not forget the baby” and stuff like that.

But Ethan has not developed the coping skills that I’ve acquired over a lifetime of hazardous brain lapses. It’s hard on him and I worry about his self-esteem on days like today. (By the way, I called the School District office and all will be forgiven and I can turn in the application late. The director of the gifted program said, “I guess 6th graders don’t make the best messengers.” She deals with her fair share of cluttered minds.)

Most art is focused on a single scene or idea so I feel it doesn’t do enough to express the complex, multi-layered nature of human thought. Perhaps stream-of-consciousness writing and atonal modern music do a better job. But here’s a work that comes close. It’s a photomontage by the inventor of photomontage -- Hannah Höch. The actual title -- (are you ready for this?) Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Epoch of Germany -- reflects the absurdity and political satire that marked the Dada art movement. But in many ways, I think the images and specifically the combination of images – the gears and wheels, the random words, the scattered glimpses of people, places, and events -- make a true portrait of the artist’s mind. All of these things have been cut into fragments and then pieced back together in an arbitrary jumble that makes sense only to the artist herself.

My favorite detail: even Albert Einstein had a lot on his mind (apparently insects and train chassis). But now that I think about it, wasn’t Einstein a poor student and notoriously absent minded? I need to remember to tell Ethan this when he gets home from school.

Now where did I put those post-it notes?


Heth said...

Our sitxth grader owns a school-paper graveyard too! I recently found a papers with deadlines from late October in there. Good gracious.

I'm so glad they are letting his application come in late. Pre teen self esteem is a fragile thing.

Anonymous said...

Picturing you and Ethan sitting side by side with your respective forehead mounted Post-It notes.

Yay for the okay late application, though. That'll be a relief!

Julie said...

So it's a global phenomenon eh? Obviously I should venture into the depths of the backpack more often.

We make quite a pair, but he has a much better forehead for it. My bangs get in the way.

meno said...

I have a mind like a tapioca trap, so i understand. And if my child is any indication, you won't be receiving those notes any time soon.

The Lazy Organizer said...

See, I told you we had a lot in common. My oldest child inherited my forgetfullness too. I'm trying to teach him some coping skills but it doesn't seem to be working. Is there any hope for us?

Julie said...

Oh dear. I was hoping the notes thing would improve with age. Someday they'll do things all electronically and have no need of papers. I'll be in a nursing home by then. Hopefully my kids will remember to come visit me.

I never pictured you as forgetful. Obviously your coping skills are very effective since you've got the whole organizing thing going. If only you could come organize my brain for me. Do you think it would fit in one of those great bags you sell?

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I can relate to this. As a child I could not remember *anything*. My room was a huge disaster area which compounded the problem. I lost things all the time, too. Now that I'm in graduate school, I have become hyper-organized and it has actually helped some. That along with tons of notes to myself. I also force people to email me if they need something because I will certainly forget it otherwise! ;)

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, I think I am going to paper the walls of my house with copies of that photo collage. Before I had a child, I was ever so organized. I set goals and accomplished them; I never missed a deadline. Nothing ever snuck up on me (it's Tuesday already? As in Tuesday when the credit card bill is due?!?)

I don't know why pregnancy and parenting have dissolved my brain into tapioca pudding, but some days I really wish for my old self back.

Julie said...

I'm beginning to think we all have a vast collection of coping mechanisms. It does take a lifetime though to figure out our weaknesses and compensate. This is hard to teach to an 11 year old without making him feel dumb.

I'm a total believer in the "pregnancy saps braincells" theory. Plus it hard to simultaneously live 5 lives (mine and my 4 kids (my husband can take care of himself)) without leaving a few things behnd.