Saturday, December 19, 2015


My son's passions run deep and bring him enormous joy.  My husband has often remarked that we'd all be lucky to feel that much joy about ANYTHING in our lives.  Liam's loves range from our cat, Jake, to countdown videos (his own and others) and, lately, all LED signs and displays, everywhere. 

When we travel, and there's a choice of going the street route or the highway, Liam will beg to go on the highway, just for the chance to see a roadwork LED sign, or a CALTRANS sign with timing/driving information.  "How many minutes to Downtown?"  I'll hear from the back seat.  "Fifteen!"

Imagine the delight when he saw that several, temporary sign boards had been erected to direct traffic around road construction related to the new Harry Potter attraction (coming soon to our neighbor at Universal).  Liam and his dad started to take walks to the signs and make videos.  "Let's do SIGN ACTION!"  Liam would beg.  It was fun, quality Dad-time.  Sign Action usually involved dancing around the signs, climbing them (they were off road on the sidewalks) and even hugging them.  Liam tends to think of them as alive - always waving "hi" to them as we drive by.

Last night, they returned from another "SIGN ACTION" foray without the usual rosy glow. 

"How was SIGN ACTION?"

"There was a problem," my husband answered.

"The signs are missing.  The signs DIED!"  my son chimed in.

My husband described how they'd gone to visit the signs, and finding them missing, went in search of others - ending up at Rite Aide, where Liam has always enjoyed the scrolling displays on the lottery ticket machines.  Reportedly, Liam took this to mean, "Sign Action turned into Machine Action."

When they got back, Liam retreated to his room and I thought I heard him mumbling about the signs through the closed door, but when I checked in on him I found him playing a video and I figured he was OK with it.

Later that night, he wandered out of bed, red-eyed and teary, repeating the refrain "There's no more sign action.  The signs are gone.  The signs DIED.  Will they be back tomorrow?"

I could hear sobbing and low talking as John explained that the signs wouldn't be back - not there anyway.  I was listening to the sounds of grieving.  It was heart wrenching to hear him cry out for his lost joy for nearly an hour, with my husband staying by to console him.  I wandered in later and Liam was ready to change direction, making a joke and holding my hand.

I've been worried lately about how we'll handle the end of his elderly friend, Jake the cat, who is now suffering from early stages of kidney disease.  I hadn't expected his first real grief experience to be for an inanimate (if animated) object. 

Fortunately, I had a surprise for him.  I decided to give him his Christmas present early.  I'd bought him a scrolling, programmable LED name badge.  I couldn't replace the beautiful, huggable displays, but I could give him a display that he could make his own. 

I installed the programming software on John's laptop last night and charged the badge, then left it scrolling it's first message, "H E L L O  L I A M,"  on the dining room table. 

I was glad to have it ready, since the first words out of his mouth this morning were, "Sign Action is over. . ." 

"I have a surprise for you."

He's been sitting there for an hour, programming in phrases and trying to figure out how to hack in and input new fonts. 

I know that he is feeling real grief and that he may bring up the road signs again, but now he has a wearable reminder that there are many signs to enjoy in the world and life goes on. 
Liam playing with his new, programmable LED badge.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Liam loves his new science class at Urban Homeschoolers.  In his Natural Science class last week, Mr. Guest took the class out onto the play-yard and recited the 100 letter word from Finnegans Wake that signaled the beginning of creation.  The students all crushed together into a singularity, exploded into a universe and collapsed back into a singularity by the end of the word.  Liam liked the word so much, I had Mr. Guest record it.  Later, Liam animated the expansion and contraction of the word-as-universe over Mr. Guest's recitation.

It took Liam only seconds to assemble the images and to animate them.  As he was saving the file, I saw dozens of recent creations listed - explorations of different effects and subjects, all with incredibly descriptive and creative titles.  Liam loves language and languages, but he samples them, like he samples images and recombines them - using them in unexpected ways.  The workings of a singular mind.

There is a lot of lip-service paid to the idea of "thinking outside the box," while at the same time trying to get the very minds that are wired to do that, to conform to a predictable "box."  By allowing Liam to follow his passions, however different they may be from the box that we know,  his mind is exploding with ideas.

I recently saw a comparison between the structure of the human brain to the structure of the known universe.  Beautifully similar, aren't they?  Both are complex and can only be grasped by readjusting your expectations of what's possible.  We may never understand it fully, but we'll see far more by widening our lens and letting in more light than by a narrow focus on the expected.

Every day, Liam's singular mind explodes anew.  Or, in the "word" of James Joyce, "Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!"
This image and an interesting article about studies showing how the universe functions like a brain can be found here: