Summer Bird Stories

Family-Friendly Short Stories, Cartoons, and Illustrations

Charlie’s Room: Upside Down and Backwards

“…And we’ll find out what happened to the dinosaur detective in the next chapter.” Isaac put the homemade bookmark in place and closed the book.

Charlie had been quiet all evening. Even now, when the chapter was over, he didn’t complain or ask for another chapter. Isaac was a little worried.

“Charlie, are you feeling okay?”

“Yes.” There was a long pause. “It’s just that… everything feels upside down and backwards right now. I miss when things were normal.”

Being stuck at home indefinitely as the world tried to halt the spread of a pandemic was certainly not normal. “It’s a little scary and you miss your friends, right?”

“You and mom have work to do and it’s boring by myself.” Charlie shifted on his bed so that he could see Isaac better. “Do you have to do so much work? If I help, you could get done faster.”

“That would be backwards wouldn’t it? If you did my work and I did your school? That would be a real upside down and backwards day!”

Charlie laughed. “We could have spaghetti for breakfast and cereal for dinner.”

Isaac made a face. “I don’t think I’d like that. I like cereal for breakfast, or oatmeal. But not spaghetti.”

“Hamburgers?”

“Nope.”

“Pizza?

Isaac tapped his chin with a finger. “Hmmmmmm. Maybe pizza.”

“Yeah, pizza is really good.”

Isaac nodded. “And you could wear pajamas all day, and brush your teeth before you eat, and put your daytime clothes on for bed.”

This time it was Charlie who made a face. “Pajamas all day would be okay, but the rest would be awful.”

“Daytime clothes would be uncomfortable,” Isaac agreed. “And pajamas would be fine as long as you didn’t go out to the garden. The raspberries would rip up your pajamas.”

“And toothpaste before you eat would make everything taste weird.”

“But maybe you could have a treat before dinner.”

“Like what? Upside down cake?” Charlie grinned. “Get it? Upside down cake? And you could serve everything with the plates on top and the food on the table?”

“But what about cocoa? That would get everywhere if you poured it on the table.”

Charlie shrugged. “No cocoa on upside down backwards day, then.”

“But if we can’t drink anything, we’d get thirsty.”

“We could drink out of the faucet.”

“I wouldn’t want to miss out on cocoa.” Isaac thought for a moment. “Would drinking it cold be backwards enough?”

“I guess.”

“If I’m doing your school, do I get to play before I get my assignments done?” Isaac grinned up at Charlie.

Charlie frowned. “Does that mean I have to do your crossword puzzles before I do your job? I don’t like crossword puzzles. I think I’ll play before school, and that’s backwards enough for backwards day.”

“Sounds good to me.” Isaac put the dinosaur book back on the shelf. “Maybe we could read the next chapter in our book before breakfast.”

“Really?’

Isaac smiled. “Sure, if tomorrow is upside down backwards day.”

“Well… I did say everything is already upside down and backwards, right?”

Isaac nodded. “Does that mean I’m serving spaghetti under plates for breakfast?”

“Dad! No. Just the story. And maybe dessert first. And playing before schoolwork. And pajamas, except when I’m in the garden.”

“And cold cocoa, right?” Isaac smiled.

“I guess. Can we do all that?”

“I think so. You could wear your pajamas backwards too. And your shoes inside your socks.”

Charlie laughed. “I don’t want to, but you could do all that. It would be funny for your meetings.”

Isaac imagined wearing backwards pajamas to his online meetings and laughed. “Yeah, probably not. But I think the rest of the things you mentioned sound fun. We can have a upside down backwards day tomorrow.”

“That’ll be great. Thanks, Dad.” Charlie smiled.

“Of course.” Isaac stood up. “Goodnight, Charlie. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Isaac turned out the light and left the room. He had an upside down backwards day to plan.

Routines II

Getting a routine to stick takes at least two weeks.

Is it worth the bother?

I think so. Knowing what’s coming next brings a feeling of safety in uncertain times.

Routines don’t have to be strict schedules. Those are really hard to stick to. It’s easier when they’re adaptable. In my experience, routines need:

to have purpose. Decide what you really need or want to do each day/week/month.

to have order. Fit your planned activities around the set points of your schedule (meals, regular appointments, etc.) in an order that makes sense. I like to vary my activity level—active chores before/after a lot of sitting down, for example.

to have breathing room. Don’t cram your schedule too full. Life happens. You don’t have to do everything every day.

to change when they aren’t working. Get input from those around you. Think about what things you aren’t enjoying—or keep skipping. Check in regularly.

Do you have a routine? How do you make it work for you?

A Love of Numbers

Have you ever heard about the sculptor that fell in love with one of his creations? It’s perhaps more common than you’d guess. For example, there was a baker who fell in love with her gingerbread recipe. She built an entire house out of gingerbread so that she would never be separated from her dearest love. It didn’t turn out well.

Luckily, this story is not about her. Instead, this is the story of a mathematician who fell in love with a math problem. It wasn’t a particularly lovely equation. It wasn’t the theory of relativity or the Pythagorean theorem, or even Euler’s equation.

But it was a fun problem to spend time with. Sometimes it made him laugh out loud. He’d sit on the couch with a pencil and paper, pick a random number and start computing. If it was even, divide it in half. If it was odd, multiply it by three and add one. Repeat with the new number. Eventually, you always, always return to one.

His colleagues didn’t understand. “Isn’t it a little odd to spend all your free time with that one problem? You aren’t going anywhere or learning anything new.”

“And yet no one knows if there’s an exception to the rule. Isn’t that mysterious? Maybe I’ll stumble across it someday. It would be like the discovery of penicillin. I wouldn’t want to miss out on that because I stopped looking.”

His friends didn’t understand. “Why are you spending so much time writing down that whatever-it-is? You should spend time with us. We’re your real friends, not that stuff.”

“The Collatz conjecture has never let me down,” he protested. “It’s always there for me. It’s dependable and loyal, and yet it still surprises me along the way. What else would I want from a friend?”

“But can the Collatz conjecture make you chicken noodle soup when you’re sick?” they asked.

“No, but I can buy soup at the store. Where can you buy loyalty?”

His mother didn’t understand. “But darling, numbers can’t listen to your problems. Aren’t you lonely?”

The mathematician sighed. “Numbers are excellent listeners. They never interrupt, and they are very reassuring. The Collatz conjecture constantly tells me that everything will work out in the end. It’s always there for me. How could I be lonely?”

His dog didn’t understand. It was jealous of the numbers and tried to eat them up. He didn’t have a dog for long. Luckily, it was much happier living with his mother, anyway.

And while the mathematician grew old, his beloved Collatz conjecture remained timeless and constant. One day, the mathematician had to face the facts. Someday, he would die, and his favorite math problem would go on without him, and it wouldn’t miss him at all.

He looked down at his most recent string of numbers and sighed. How loyal was something that didn’t really recognize your existence to begin with? His love for the Collatz conjecture was one-sided.

The mathematician looked around at his empty house. He contemplated his empty calendar. He looked down at the page full of numbers. “Collatz conjecture,” he said sadly. “I will always love you, but I don’t think this is going to work. Can we remain friends?”

And the mathematician, older and wiser, learned that being friends with people was rewarding in ways that being friends with a math problem was not. Even if sometimes it was more difficult and confusing. Luckily, the Collatz conjecture was still there to reassure and console him when times were tough.

He lived happily ever after. Unlike that poor baker. I won’t say that math is always superior to baking, but in this case, maybe it is.

Flashback Video: Little Peter Bluecoat

This story was originally posted on August 10, 2017. It has some references to a few of my favorite Beatrix Potter stories. I really love her stories and illustrations! However, this story has people as the main characters, instead of animals. It seemed to fit the story better.

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