Sunday, April 28, 2019

Minding the Process

I live in New England, where it takes a little longer for spring to arrive than in some other parts of the country. Sometimes this can feel frustrating. It's a slow transition. Spring doesn't always behave the way it's supposed to. How else can you explain snowstorms in April? Mud lingers. Trees stay bare, no matter how much you will them to bloom.

This is all true, but I've found there's something exhilarating about watching spring come alive slowly.

This glorious transition is the sum of many subtle changes. First -- the sight of a few crocuses or daffodil bulbs bursting out of the soil. At night, one mild evening the peepers call for the first time from a nearby swamp. The grass shifts from brown to emerald green. Before the maples ever sprout their broad leaves the shrubs and bushes show life first. It's a bottom up process. The ground thaws and wormholes finally burst through, evidence of life below.

Like a child in the womb, life begins, change begins before we see it.

Some people hate New England winters, but there is something about them to embrace. There is something about each season to love; to learn from.

There is a stark beauty in bare branches and snow that sparkles. There is always beauty somewhere, even in the bleak seasons. I love how in our darkest, coldest January days, the light is already returning to us before we notice.

Conversely when summer is at its peak the days are shortening, as much as the thought saddens us. But this is the way it has to be.

I love how the seasons are cyclical, how there is a constant ebb and flow like the waves. The is the story of our very lives. How perfect that God would make all of nature to comfort and remind us: there will be peaks and there will be valleys. There will be a time to plant and a time to harvest.

There will be times of great change that feel as if nothing at all is changing or ever will change. Yet the process has been set in motion, and in a time not so very far away, we will see. Like the leaves that unfold after the warm spring rains overnight, making us wonder how we had forgotten what they look like.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Autism Awareness

"Oh look, autism awareness month is coming up," I mentioned to Ethan while rifling through his backpack. There was a flyer. The school was doing a lot -- asking people to wear blue; sponsoring a door decorating contest; displaying puzzle piece posters.

Ethan barely registered interest. "So," I asked him. "Do you think you're going to say anything this year?"

Back in second or third grade, or maybe both, during class discussion on autism awareness day, Ethan had volunteered that he was on the autism spectrum. Kids at that age either said that was cool -- or that they were, too. I didn't consider these moments earth-shattering breakthroughs, but was impressed that he'd spoken up. Ethan's always been pretty reserved.

But that was then. "Eh," he said in response to my question. "I don't think I'm going to."

"Why not?" I wondered if it was because we were easing our way into THAT AGE...the one of embarrassment and peer pressure and not wanting to stand out.

"I just don't think my autism affects me that much anymore," he replied. "Not the way it did when I was little. I don't think I need to talk about it." He ambled off to do something -- probably read his coding book.

I stood there looking at the flyer and feeling a swirl of things:

Elation, because he was right. Ethan has learned to manage the more difficult aspects of his type of autism well, particularly at school.

Trepidation, because he wasn't completely right. His autism still affects him in subtle ways, ways that a typical person might pick up on when he might not.

Gratitude, that he was even able to sit before me and voice his feelings about the whole thing so articulately.

Wistfulness, because my role as parent is changing. It's his decision to share this information with others. It's his decision not to. These are the wee baby steps of self-advocacy. But his version of self-advocacy may look different than mine. I'm Mamma Bear. I will err on the side of making excuses to everyone so people will be less likely to make fun of my child. Or to think he's just "weird."

Shame, because those kind of thoughts of wanting to protect my son also reveal my own lifelong struggles of caring too much what others think.

April 2 is Autism Awareness Day. Ethan's autism has made ME so much more aware of so many things in the nearly 10 years now (can it be?!) since his diagnosis.

I'm aware of how a child's special needs can both expose your own ugliness and also shape you into something much more beautiful. It can reveal our ultimate lack of control and beg the question: who do you trust? For those with a faith walk it prods you to ask: is God still good and do I love like Jesus? It asks you to reconsider what we really want for our children, our lives, our selves, and what gives someone value.

Today a big stack of papers came in the mail. Results of Ethan's tri-annual testing, this time in preparation for (can you believe it??) middle school. There was a whole ream of assessments with multiple acronyms. I came to the last result. It was a repeat of the first test they ever performed on Ethan. He's taken it about five times over the years. For the first time ever, he scored just one point below the cut-off for being labeled "officially autistic." Whatever that means.

Because that is yet one more thing I've learned through all of this: the amazing, widely varying spectrum that autism is. Ethan and my brother are about as far apart on it as one can get. Yet thanks to the ways Ethan thinks and acts, the perspectives he shares, I understand more about Andy than I ever could have. I also see some of the beautiful things about autism that are harder to recognize when someone is very significantly impacted.

People with autism have an incredibly different way of perceiving and processing the world around them. It's amazing and baffling and funny and painful all rolled into one.

Ethan says autism doesn't impact him that much anymore. I don't how true that is. Time will tell.

I do know that it has always and will always deeply impact me. And I'm incredibly thankful for that.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Just Do the Right Thing

Back when I was in grade school I started subscribing to the belief that I was a victim of what I called "The Goody Two-Shoes Curse." What that meant was, everyone else could get away with something habitually while the ONE time I tried to bend the rules, I would get caught.

This started way back in second grade, when some older kids used to sneak across the street and get candy from a convenience store before we had to go inside the school. The one time my friend and I tried, we were busted well before we got there. Next I tried reading a book under my desk instead of paying attention and got caught first time. Acting out towards the whining neighbor kid: his mom saw me and told my parents. Punishment ensued.

This continued through high school. My best friend and I were at a golf course trying to find where the popular people were hiding and partying when who got stopped by the police but us -- while they continued blissfully partying. The officer threated to bring us back home in his cruiser.

Over time I realized that I wasn't very good at being bad anyway, would never possess much of a rebel personality, and had a screaming loud conscience, so why not just listen to it and not try to be something I wasn't? And so I never smoked a cigarette or got inebriated. Most of my bending of the rules has occurred with speed limits and red lights (and even then, I've gotten caught -- multiple times!).

I say all of this to say I should have known better, the day before Christmas break, when Ethan had a musical event at his school and the parking lot was jam-packed. Everyone was in a festive mood. I was running late because Chloe had to gather her Christmas light necklace and blinking headband. Even though we lived just around the corner we drove there and I realized there was nowhere to park, we were late, and since I didn't feel like traipsing from way in the back of the school, I was going to just park on the grass in the front as several other parents had done.

I took a deep breath and went over the curb and onto the grass, looking around slyly for anyone protesting my actions. All clear. Chloe and I booked into the school and managed to slide into some of the few remaining seats. Kids sang and holiday cheer was spread around, and then it was time to go. The school day had ended and we were left pushing through the mass chaos of hundreds of kids dismissed for their holiday break. At the car I buckled the kids in and we were off...only, we weren't.

There was something I'd forgotten when I parked on the grass. It may have been December, but we'd just had a little warm spell and a boatload of rain. The snowless ground was not frozen but very, very wet and muddy.

My tires spun. And spun. And spun. I got out of the car as other parents climbed into their properly parked cars and began driving away. I looked down at my tires. They were inches upon inches deep in mud.

"MOM? What's going on!" Ethan demanded. "I want to go home!"

I tried again. Nothing except the smell of burning rubber. "Ethan, get out of the car and help push," I hissed, exasperated. What I expected to accomplish, I don't know. The kid is as skinny as a rail. I thought of the parents getting into their cars whispering, "What is she doing, having her son try to push the car?" But I couldn't exactly ask him to get behind the wheel while I pushed.

Chloe started crying and asking, "When are we going??" I pressed the gas pedal harder, twisted the wheel back and forth. Mud was shooting up and spraying all over the van. My shoes were caked with mud. I looked out at the buses loading up kids and parents and students walking to their cars. I knew there was only one thing we could do.

"Kids," I announced. "We have to walk home." You can imagine how this went over. I ignored the wailing as we gathered backpacks, papers, and gifts from teachers. Outside it was now raining and we hunched under our hoods, trudging in our mud-covered shoes past parents who weren't dumb enough to park in the mud. There were a few other cars still parked next to us on the grass, but I'm pretty sure they had four-wheel drive.

Our walk home is literally a tenth of a mile, but it was long enough. We walked up the hill behind the school as parents in the car pick-up line looked on, curious; flung our things over the ladder attached to the fence that divides our neighborhood's property from the school; and slogged down the hill through the backyard.

"MOM GOT US STUCK IN THE MUD!" Ethan took pleasure in announcing to Dan, who'd been home with a migraine, and Anna as we got inside.

The fun was only just beginning. Anna took charge of the house while Dan and I rode back to the school in his car. He took one look at the car and how far sunk in the mud it was and asked incredulously, "What did you DO?"

After a few minutes of him attempting to get me unstuck it became obvious -- I was going to have to be towed. We drove back home and called AAA while the kids asked when we were going to have dinner. AAA called us back 15 minutes later to say they were on their way, so back we drove to the school in the quickly growing darkness. I could see the lights of the tow truck approaching just as I saw the vice principal coming out to his car to leave. Further I slunk under my coat, hoping he wouldn't recognize me. In the school I could see the lights in the principal's office were still on -- and thought I glimpsed the shadow of her head peering out the window as the truck pulled up.

"Well, well," said the driver as he examined my mess. "You got yourself stuck pretty good." I loved the way the flashing yellow lights reflected all over the school building and even onto the houses across the street. Just the attention we needed.

As he uncoiled a very long chain to connect to my car, I noticed there was a woman sitting in one of the few cars left in the parking lot. "Did you see that woman?" Dan asked a moment later. "She was sitting in her car laughing at us."

After more lights flashing and beepers beeping my van was hauled out of the mud -- 3 1/2 hours after I'd originally parked it. The janitors in the schools were sweeping the halls. The stars had started appearing.

Looking at my mud splattered car the next morning I sheepishly realized that I needed to stop going on about the Goody Two-Shoes Curse and just do the right thing. Even the little stuff. Our kids are watching. But even when no one's watching. You do what's right because it's right.

The other night we went to Ethan's school for his band concert. It was another warm, soggy kind of evening. I looked up at those risk-takers parked on the grass and eased into my "legal" parking spot. Humiliation really is one of the greatest teachers.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The (Christmas Tree) Saga Continues...

The other morning Ethan issued a big sigh -- one of many he's emitted lately. 

"What is it?" I asked. 

"Why did we get this tree?" he demanded. "It's the worst Christmas tree ever." 

And truly, it is. We cut down our tree on December 1, immediately got it into a stand, and began faithfully watering it. No matter. The entire bottom of the tree is completely bare. The cat walks underneath and needles rain everywhere. The needles are so thick on the carpet I'm afraid to use the vacuum for fear of breaking it. 

"All of the needles are going to be gone before Christmas!" Ethan wailed. 

"Ethan, stop. No they're not." I heard more needles rain down. Hopefully

He followed me into the kitchen and I began to prepare Chloe, who happened to be jumping and dancing around the room singing "Jingle Bells," a bowl of cereal.

"Why can't we just buy a new tree?" Ethan begged. 

"Ethan we are NOT spending money on a completely different tree at this point..." I was interrupted by Chloe slamming accidentally into my arm, mid-song. The bowl went flying into the air before landing on the floor, splashing milk and Life cereal everywhere. Chloe ran into the other room, shocked at what she did. I found her sitting huddled in a rocking chair next to the tree. Needles were still raining. 

"It's okay hon, it was an accident," I tried to soothe her. 

Ethan had followed us in. "No one is allowed to go near this tree until Christmas," he announced, glaring pointedly at Chloe. 

"I can't stop the cat," I told him, heading back to the kitchen to wipe up the cereal mess. 

"That's it! You need to give these people a bad review online," he decided. I'd thought about it. But that seemed so...Grinchly. 

After breakfast, I looked up the tree place on the computer as Ethan peered over my shoulder. "Five star reviews!" Both of us were incredulous. "Why are all these people giving them freakin' five stars?" Ethan screeched. 

"Stop with the freakin'"...I said automatically. Five stars. Sheesh. Maybe it was their family members rating it or their closest friends. There were only six reviews after all. 

"Mom, you have to do it." 

"Ethan, I can't." I kept picturing the happy couple at the tree place, walking up to our car, ready to hand us a saw. They were a very small tree farm. I didn't want to put anyone out of business. 

The pestering continued until I told Ethan I wouldn't review the place online but would give them a little call to express my displeasure with the tree. As the sun came up and threw light into the room, it looked even worse. Never mind the spider webs on the star. 

Later in the afternoon, I had a chance to dial the number. You Scrooge. Who calls to complain about a Christmas tree? What did I want them to do, anyway? Refund me? Just as I was about to hang up, I heard more needles pouring down. Soldier on, I told myself, gritting my teeth. 

Only -- no one picked up the phone. The voice mail cheerily announced that the tree farm was now closed for the season, and "Merry Christmas!" My guilt momentarily disappeared. THAT figured. Maybe I SHOULD go online...only the reviews were so nice. IF they were real reviews. They talked about how kind and helpful the owners were. I couldn't do it. We were just going to have to suck it up.

I wondered about tinsel. Maybe I could buy some tinsel and wrap it around the bottom. That might make it less noticeable. Only -- putting tinsel on would mean touching the tree. And even more needles would pour down.

"Mom, I kind of was hoping I'd come home from school today and find a new tree in the living room," Ethan confided that evening. 

"Eeth. It's a week until Christmas. Do you think I have time to completely take apart this tree and set up another?" I exclaimed. 

"But this tree is sooo bad..." he whined. And there we had it. The day had come full-circle.

The next morning began with more of the same. "This tree looks like a dead man's fingers," Ethan said glumly. He had trouble motivating himself to get dressed, he was so upset.

"Look, you're going to be late for school. You HAVE to get dressed," I said through clenched teeth.

"Ethan, the tree discussion is closed," Dan added.

He lay on his bed, staring sadly at the ceiling. I was starting to lose patience.

"Listen. We can't do anything about the tree. But there are LOTS of people this Christmas who can't do anything about things that are really, really sad. Like maybe they lost a loved one. And they can't do anything to bring them back, and it's hard for them to celebrate Christmas."

"You're not helping me!" Ethan exclaimed.

"I'm trying to give you some perspective," I muttered.

That evening we sat in the dark for awhile looking at the glow of the tree.

"I see more webs," commented Chloe.

"Mom, can we put that yellow caution tape around the tree until Christmas morning?" Ethan asked, as more fell off, inexplicably. This time I saw him cracking a smile. And a little laugh. Progress.

It was time for Ethan to go to bed. "I'm just worried because I don't know what the tree is going to look like on Christmas morning," Ethan confessed. "I'm so worried about it."

"You're worried because you don't know what's going to happen. You can't predict what's going to happen," I told him. "I understand. We all have worries like that. It's one of the hardest things about life because we don't know how things are going to turn out sometimes. But we can't let that steal our joy."

"Can we pray the needles stop falling off the tree?"

"We could, but that's nature, Ethan. How about we pray instead for peace? So that no matter what happens, we can be a peace with this, and you can sleep instead of worrying about the tree, and we can still enjoy Christmas. That's what the peace that passes understanding that they talk about in the Bible is all about."

And so we did.

Today, needles are still falling. We're soldiering on towards Christmas. And Ethan was able to leave for school with a smile on his face.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

We'll Always Be Broken

This year we decided to be traditionalists and cut down our own Christmas tree. It had been a few years. Dan Googled this place in town and as we turned the corner I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.

"I think we've been here before..." Vague memories of a scruffy, diseased tree that lost its needles way too quickly came slowly back to me. There was no turning back now. The tree farm owner had spotted us and waved, grinning happily at seeing another customer.

"Where are the big trees?" the kids were asking from the back, craning their necks.

You know it's a bad sign when they're actually advertising, with a hand-written sign, "Charlie Brown Trees."

They weren't ALL Charlie Brown trees. Just most of them. But after walking for awhile we found a big fat one. Cutting it was difficult because the needles were so sharp.

"Aren't these the needles that really cut us all up?" I asked, but the saw was already through the trunk. We were committed.

Getting the tree onto the roof of the van took a considerable amount of huffing and puffing. So did getting it off the van at home and into a tree stand. Then there it was hogging a corner of the living room until we could decorate it the next day. "Let's call her Plumpy," someone suggested.

The next afternoon we put on Christmas carols and took out our decorations.

"Mom!" Ethan called out, just as we were about to start. "There's a spider on the star." He looked more closely. "There are LOTS of spiders on the star."

Cue screeching. Someone got a broom. Chloe ran to get her little broom and started waving it around wildly. I got the vacuum, ready to attack. "It's not working!" I cried out. Those creepy critters kept crawling away and getting to the back of the star where I couldn't reach with the attachment.

Dan took down the star and he and Anna started counting the little spiders on the star ("two, three...eight, nine...twelve"). We were horrified.

"That star is NOT going back up on the tree," Anna insisted when it was washed out.

"It HAS to!" Ethan yelled. "That is our special star." After a few minutes of arguing, he started crying. I mean wailing. "We HAVE to put up that star! It's been up forever!"

"Ethan, we got it last year. It's hardly a family heirloom," I said. It took him a half-hour to calm down, and he and Dan went off to Job Lot to get a new star.

A few days later, as Ethan was glancing over at our nice, plump, scratchy tree, Ethan said: "Mom? There's another spider on the star."

Now I knew it. The tree was infested, not the star (I'd thought maybe spiders had gotten into it while it was stored in the basement). The horror.

Ethan looked at me expectantly. "Well, there's nothing we can do about it now," I sighed.

Two days later I was out doing a freelance job and Anna was watching Ethan and Chloe. I arrived to Ethan running out the door, barefoot and stressed.

"The tree fell over!" he shouted. "I was just trying to fix the star from being crooked and the tree fell and water went everywhere and there's ornaments all over the floor!"

Well. Welcome home.

Inside a sorry sight awaited me.

"Thank God you're home," Anna said. "He was running around crying and went outside and hid in the tree."

"I'll help, mommy!" Chloe kept saying, trying to pick the mammoth tree up while dancing around glass ornaments on the floor in her bare feet.

Ethan, Anna and I tried to push Plumpy back up, to no avail. We lay on the floor and attempted to fiddle with the screws on the tree stand. Exasperation and sweat followed, and the tree remained slumped on the floor. The lights started falling off, too.

"This tree is cursed," I decided, vowing we were going back to that simple place next year right on Route 5 where the trees had no spiders, stayed in place, and had needles that didn't cause allergic reactions on my hands. I had tiny cuts everywhere.

Eventually Dan righted the tree, but it still didn't look right. It leans...but no one dares fiddle with it. The ornaments are clumped in various places because Chloe keeps taking them off and putting them somewhere else. (She's also lost half of our stockings, at the moment.)

Our tree debacle reminds me of past ones, and there have been many: the gravy 911 a few Thanksgivings ago; the time our toilet broke while I was fighting to bake a pie crust; many cookie experiments gone awry; the bag of goodies that we gathered for homeless people that ended up being something we'd snack from in the car since we never gave it away. To this day, Chloe calls the brand of gum that was in it "homeless gum."

Those are the lighter ones. But we all know the dramas that have played out over so many holidays and family occasions that shatter us all the more because they happen at those times that are supposed to be "joyous." Missing faces and disagreements and addictions and illness and loneliness and broken promises and things not being anything like we thought they'd be.

"I can't fix this tree," I muttered to myself. "It's a mess."

Everything's always going to be broken, I heard in my head. This world. Our hearts. Our plans and dreams sometimes.

And that's the point. That's the ultimate Christmas story.

The manger and the savior. The ultimate gift. Peace, goodwill and reconciliation with God. The promise, the truth that we can't do this on our own -- and that whatever we can't fix, whatever we don't see realized, will one day fade in the light of God's glory.


There's a better place
Where our Father waits
And every tear
He'll wipe away
The darkness will be gone
The weak shall be strong
Hold on to your faith
There will come a day
There will come a day

- Faith Hill, "There Will Come a Day"

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Resilience and Persistence

Our youngest one has a personality unlike anyone else in the family. Oh, Chloe. In a family of introverts, she's the outgoing one, always looking for friends and ready for a party. She's blunt while the rest of us border on passive-aggressive. She whines (wait -- so do I and the kids, so scratch that). She will NOT take no for an answer. She's an optimist and a problem-solver (well, Dan has some of those traits, too). I tell her she should be a sales person because she will not stop needling and bartering to get what she wants. And she's four!

In stores there are times when she sucks every last bit of will out of me. It's one thing for a child to ask, "Can I have that?" several times. I'm used to that. I remember that, when Anna and Ethan were younger. But Chloe has taken this to a whole new dimension. I honestly did not know a child could ask for something as many times as she does in the space of 60 seconds, in so many varying ways. "No," is returned with "Just ask the sales people what it costs" and "What about next time?" or "What about THIS toy?" and on and on and on. I dread going into stores with her in a way I never did with the other two.

All of this feel a little old at times -- the tears, whining, sobbing, lying on the floor, complaining and begging.

She is relentless, I thought one day recently. But then in a flash the sentence came to me again. She is relentless. It was like watching the coin flip. You could call her behavior stubborn or strong-willed. But the more I watched her in action the more I saw it as an ability to not be deterred or defeated. Big deal, you might think. What's so great about someone who digs her heels in?

Well, possibly lots of things. We don't like to think about our kids being unflappable or unmovable in terms of bad choices or behavior. But what about in pursuing a dream? Overcoming obstacles? Facing discouragement? Suddenly being relentless isn't such a bad thing.

One day Chloe was trying to figure out how to do something; I think buttoning her pajamas. "I can do this," I heard her whispering to herself. "I'm going to do this." My mouth nearly dropped to the floor because I realized no one had really taught her to be this way. She hadn't tried to button her pajamas before. Dan and I hadn't constantly been cheering her on. What came out was something hard-wired. She was espousing positive self-talk without having to think about it. And as someone who has always naturally spouted out the opposite -- "I CAN'T do this" -- I found this absolutely amazing.

Somehow watching this made me ease up a little on myself. I'm not sure I've ever pep-talked myself without consciously forcing it. I'm a pessimist. That's my natural leaning. And while I don't need to stay there, there's something comforting in knowing that some people are actually born more or less confident. I always wondered why I had a hard time psyching myself up to do stuff. It's not natural to me, just the way it's not natural for Chloe to want to be alone if there are friends to play with. It's okay -- but we can all make adjustments, as necessary, in order to learn and grow.

Since Chloe was a baby she's had this uncanny ability to fall down and then laugh (unless she's in a mood to milk the incident for all it's worth). She epitomizes "bouncing back" sometimes. If we're at the store and she doesn't get the toy she wants, she'll leaving telling herself, "We'll get it next time." She thinks of something positive to end the experience on a high note.

Meanwhile, I have often reacted to disappointment or discouragement not unlike George McFly in the Back to the Future movies. You know, when he stumbles on up to Lorraine and almost gets the courage up to ask her to the Under the Sea dance, only to see the bully Biff burst into the room, and then slinks away quickly, like a dog with its tail between its legs.

Unflappable. Not perturbed. Resilient. Can I have some more of that, please?

Years ago I bought an amazing book called The Unthinkable. It's all about people placed in various tragic circumstances (9/11, a mass shooting, hostage situation, and so on) and explores why people respond the way they do. Of those who had been through something traumatic and were handling life well, a common trait was resilience.

"Resilience is a precious skill," the author writes. "People who have it tend to also have three underlying advantages: a belief they can influence life events; a tendency to find meaningful purpose in life's turmoil; and a conviction that they can learn from both positive and negative experiences."

Yes, yes, and yes. This is grit, as Ethan's first grade teacher liked to emphasize. This is perseverance. This is living like the victor rather than the victim. This is what can come out of my feisty, strong-willed daughter -- if we just keep fine-tuning and pruning. This is what I can learn, as I'm along for the ride.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Try to See it My Way

"Can't you have a little bit of empathy!" Ethan cried out, exasperated. He'd asked for gum and I'd said no, not at the moment.

At school they'd been talking about seeing things from other people's point of view. This wasn't a social skills thing. This was an everybody lesson, because really, all kids need help in this area (who are we kidding? -- adults, too). "You're supposed to understand how much I want that piece of gum," he said accusingly, and sadly.

"I do," I told him. "But you're supposed to understand that it's time for you to leave for school, not to be digging around for gum!"

This empathy thing, this trying to place one's self in the mind of another, has been big in our house lately. No more so than the way it relates to Ethan's new favorite video game. Namely, he's obsessed. And we're trying to kindly communicate that not everyone adores the game as much as he does.

It's hard to put his favorite game, Baldi's Basics in Education and Learning, into words. I say that because it's a spoof game. Baldi's Basics does not have stunning graphics or a complex story line. It's actually design to be a scary/funny take off those old "edu-tainment" games that became big in the 90s and often came on CD-ROM. You know, the whole "let's make learning fun" concept with a kindly voice talking you through the game and helping you to solve puzzles or answer questions. I just don't know what to say about a game whose main character (Baldi) looks like this:

Baldi's Basics takes place inside a school. The object of the game is to solve math problems and collect seven notebooks placed throughout the school. Only -- some of the math problems are purposely unsolvable, and when you get a problem wrong, Professor Baldi begins  begins chasing you around the school. There's a host of other characters including a principal and janitor, and the entire game is badly drawn, poorly executed and downright ridiculous -- especially when Baldi catches you with a "jump scare" and buzz-saw sound. This is, of course, what makes it absolutely entertaining to 10-year-old boys.

Or at least to Ethan. He spends most of his screen time coding his own version of Baldi games. He has been known to bring a ruler to school and slap it against his hand, Baldi-style, and chase people as if he's Baldi. We caught him up at 4 a.m. one morning; he'd been sneaking Baldi videos on YouTube for hours.

"Ethan," I confided one day when he asked me to view one of his Baldi coding projects again, "I hate to say it, but I'm getting a little tired of Baldi."

"What?" he exclaimed. "But Baldi is my heart!" My confession really bummed him out, so much so that an hour later he was still talking about how sad he was that I didn't like Baldi as much as he does.

"I don't think ANYONE likes Baldi as much as you do," I told him.

"But why? He's so great. It's so funny..." he began a detailed description of all the items you can gather in the game, Baldi's different faces, game glitches, and so on.

"Eeth, remember all that stuff you've been talking about at school about seeing things from other people's point of view?" I asked. "You have to apply that to Baldi, too. People just may not like it as much as you do, no matter how hard you try."

"But why??" he demanded. "I'm so sad."

I wracked my brain and then it came to me. "Come here," I urged him from the computer, where I was going to YouTube. I typed in the two words that had brought me so much joy, circa 1988. Growing Pains.

"You see this?" I asked. "THIS was my absolute favorite show when I was just a little older than you. I LOVED this show. I had posters. Scrapbooks. I memorized the intros. I gave every episode a GRADE. I learned the theme song on the keyboard."

Ethan's eyes were already glazing over at the theme song and then a scene in the Seaver family living room.

"But Ethan?" I continued. "I couldn't get ANYONE to like this show as much as me. No one in my family liked it. I didn't even try. They thought it was so cheesy."

"What is THIS?" he started moaning as the canned laugh track kicked in.

"You see? See, this is just what I mean," I said excitedly. "You are so bored watching this. That's just it. That's how other people feel about Baldi sometimes. I can't MAKE you be obsessed about Growing Pains. You couldn't care less. And that's okay. It's just what they were talking about at school. Can you see from my point of view?"

Ethan looked at the computer screen, unconvinced. "But Baldi is the best. I want other people to like it." He drifted away from Growing Pains. I could see we were back to square one. I wondered if this obsession would fade before most of the other kids at school tired of it. I wondered if it would ever fade for Ethan.

Then I watched Growing Pains for a minute, because when I did I remembered sitting on the floor two inches from the TV and not letting anyone speak so I could catch every bit of dialogue, and calling my friend during the commercials, and my Kirk Cameron: Dream Guy unauthorized biography, and the TV Guide article about the show I carried crumpled in my pocket in seventh grade. 'Cause yeah. Like Baldi, it was corny and predictable and no one in my family liked it like me. And yeah, Growing Pains still kind of is my heart.