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.

Amen.


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.




Sunday, September 30, 2018

Not "I should" but "I get to"...

I was at someone's house recently admiring the d├ęcor and thinking, "I should really do something like this." Then I realized that wasn't exactly what I meant. The should needed to be removed. What I was really thinking is, "This is great. How could I take some of this and make it work for me?"

There's a big difference. Let me back-track.

For all of my life, really, I've noticed that women (I guess this could relate to men as well, but I see it far more often with women) tend to go all or nothing when it comes to stacking themselves up against other women.

Very often when we look at how another women dresses, cares for her kids, decorates her house, moves up the corporate ladder, whatever -- we either want to completely disparage her choices because they are so far from what we would do...or we completely disparage ourselves for not measuring up.

And so, there are times during interactions when a silent dialogue is going on in our heads. And some could range anywhere from I would never let my kids stay up that late to I could never pull off wearing that outfit.

I feel as if for as long as I can remember, I've heard two messages. One is that we should live and let live and what other moms or women may choose to do is not our business -- we should be confident and secure about the decisions and hobbies and overall ways we decide to live our lives.

But I'm starting to think there is another path, and it's one on which I'd prefer to tread. It looks at another woman and maybe thinks, You know, that's not that way I would handle that. Without superiority, just an acknowledgment. Without approval, because it's okay to disagree with someone and still love them and value them. Somehow I feel we've fallen so far from this in our culture.

I can also, and this is what I've really enjoyed discovering, look at another person and see everything she's doing right, and make room for admiration. This can be so. darned. hard. It's so easy to swing from, Wow, this house is so beautifully decorated to I suck at of this homey stuff and always will. Comparisons will leave us dry and lifeless and they keep us self-focused. Not only that, but comparisons are about measuring up; admiration or appreciation, on the other hand, acknowledge a gift, a talent, a way a person is living that is just done well. And when I'm able to do that, I'm able to not so much think about how I could be that person, but rather how I could a take piece of that and make it my own.

We are not meant to be clones. We each have a unique calling and purpose. But rather than a clean slate I wonder if we aren't each more like a patchwork quilt. Our lives are beautiful collections of experiences, memories, failures, joys, tragedies, irritations, and interactions. We are still one of a kind even as we emulate that person who's so good at hosting or cut my hair like a friends' or make a meal for someone like a neighbor did. Even our Pinterest fails make us richer.

It's not about just letting it all hang out and letting people learn to have to deal with you. It's about being secure enough to know maybe you don't have it all figured out and there are other people who may have pieces you're missing. But they may not. It's not that we have to try improve ourselves. It's that we have an opportunity to grow, if we want to, if we so choose. If we see it less like a bad verdict on our worth, and more like having an adventure.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Longings

There are times these days, with the sticky days of summer rolling on and on and all of the kids in the house, when I feel I'm talking, but no one is listening.

With Chloe, her "selective hearing" is a matter of defiance. She often doesn't WANT to hear what I have to say, so she avoids me and keeps doing what ever she's doing.

Anna does hear what I'm saying. But these days we tend to not have much in common, and I don't think she has too much interest in what I have to say. So I would say she listens politely.

And Ethan? Ethan is literally not listening. As in, most of the time this summer he spends in his own world. It's a world of coding, video games, facts he's learned from one of his giant fact books, or quotes from Captain Underpants. I can push and prod for him to leave his world, and he will, under protest. He has to be in the right mood. He has to be the one who feels like chatting. He has to have had enough screen time to leave him not cranky but not too much as to leave him insatiably craving more.

Sometimes, I feel it's only fair to give him a break. He has to be "on" all day, every day during the school year. Thanks to good reports from his teachers I know he does jolt himself out of his inner world during school hours. His desire to be a rule follower is too strong. But at home, he's free to be Ethan. And that means the autistic side comes out a little more.

I don't mind this. I'm thankful he has the ability to articulate that he doesn't feel like talking right now because he's thinking about a coding project. I don't take it personally. But these days, with every kid off in their own direction, with each one having a strong will, strong feelings, and varying obsessions and idiosyncracies that I feel I'm always tending to, sometimes I just wonder if anything I say is sinking in. I wish I didn't have to work so hard.

As I was thinking about that, I was wondering a little bit if that's how our Creator sees all of us. He longs to have a relationship with us. He longs to speak. He is speaking.

Are we listening?

Do we set our affections elsewhere? Do we run away in our minds to safer, more commonly tread places? Do we resist?

Yet still He longs for His people to have a relationship with Him...for us to not just see Him as the man with a beard wagging a finger at us from the clouds. I don't think He cares much for communication out of guilt and appeasement and obligation. I know it's kind of deflating when Ethan sighs, "FINE!" and rolls his eyes when we ask him to chat with us.

We find so many things to fill up our days and our moments and our minds. And still He pursues...still He speaks...still He waits for that moment when we might get out of our heads and our selves and listen.

Still He loves...

...as I will always love my children, through frustrations or when I wish they'd make different choices. Still I long for that connection. And like those days when, for instance, Ethan shares for the sake of sharing, not because he is coerced....in the moments those true connections are made, well, that is something fantastically beautiful.



Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Letting Go of the Wheel

The other day I moved a cabinet to dust for the first time in way too long and saw something covered in dust. After brushing it off, I realized it was this:


Most people who have a child in speech therapy or with special needs will recognize immediately what this is -- a PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) card. Children who are not yet verbal can use them to communicate. They're also helpful for creating visual schedules. This is why Ethan's speech therapist made them for him. His speech was catching up, but PECS was great for reinforcing ("first you take a bath, then you can have a snack") and showing him what was going to happen in any given day. We had a binder with a piece of Velcro attached and you could stick various cards (i.e., Library, Lunch, Computer) across in a row to show the order of things. I find it hysterical that the last of the cards to survive is "Computer" for Ethan, Lover of Screens.

This could be a post about how far Ethan has come since the days of those pictures, and that wouldn't be a bad thing. That is, really, what first came to mind when I saw the card. Those days of therapists in the home or going by a visual schedule seem like a long time ago. I am really grateful Ethan can speak and make his requests known, as well as his feelings.

But after a few seconds a whole other host of emotions came to mind. I thought of the parents out who might find something like this years and years later and have to face the reality that things hadn't changed all that much. Maybe their child is 12 and still has to use them to communicate. Maybe they are still showing these cute little pictures to their 20-year-old to indicate what's coming up next.

Then I thought about how many of us parents (and I would include Dan and I in this category) are so thankful for the amazing strides our kids have made...but with every accomplishment, new challenges present themselves. Often with autism, one obsession is overcome only to be replaced by another. One obstacle is conquered but a new one crops up. It's kind of like that whack-a-mole game. In Ethan's case -- there's no denying he's doing incredibly well. We're so proud of him. But he is getting older, and that means there's more intense emotions, more intense obsessions, and greater demands socially. He holds things together really well at school. He just saves a lot for us, I guess because it's safest with us. The way it should be. In that respect, the picture of the computer seems kind of quaint. We've had more violent outbursts about our computer these days than I would care to count.

But even beyond that -- as I looked at the picture I realized how in some respects this is something all parents deal with. The challenges that seem really insurmountable when your child is three (potty training; tantrums) don't tower so large when they get older. In part that's because they're replaced by new ones. The demands when they're little can take so much out of you physically. As they get older, I think it's our minds and emotions that are often challenged: "Did I say the right thing? Should I have let her do that? Will he remember what we've taught him about that? Will he stay on the right path?"

I'll be honest here: there are days I wouldn't mind dealing with some issues that are a little more cut and dry. And there are times it seems parenting can become heartbreakingly more difficult.

I hate to write this to sound like a downer or to scare parents of younger kids. I think one thing I've learned is nothing is wasted -- the "littler" things you go through with your kids when they are young may seem huge at the time and not so much in retrospect, but no matter what they are, it's training for what's ahead. It's training in how to make wise decisions; work together as parents; help your child as an individual.

And as the years go by you learn to balance that pressure of I-am-the-parent-and-am-utterly- responsible-for-the-outcome-of-this-little-being to letting them go to become their own person.

Sometimes this will involve a lot of pain, prayers and tears.

Sometimes it will take everything in you not to blame yourself for your mistakes.

Sometimes you'll shine with joy at the steps they're taking as they begin to walk on their own.

Sometimes your heart will be ripped out of your chest.

We will always have a part to play. Parents of those with special needs often have an even bigger role. But in the end, in some way, shape or form, we have to let them go while simultaneously hoping, praying, and loving. Let go of the futures we had planned for them, the dreams and expectations, and know that life can take all sorts of interesting twists and turns. We can believe eventually they will ride the rough waters to land on the right path -- but when they do, it won't be from everything we "made" happen.

In the end, it can never be just up to us. That's too big of a burden to bear.

When I see that little picture from a long time ago, I'm thankful for God's grace...for the progress we've seen in all of our kids, and the patience and fortitude to wait for the change we still hope to see.

There's a beautiful song by Jason Upton I used to love that he wrote to his firstborn son, Samuel when he was born. Part of the lyrics  go:

There will be days you feel like flying

There will be days you feel like crying

Never give up, never stop trying


And it struck me that while those he is singing to his child, those are words God sings over us, too, on this wild adventure that is parenting. And so we walk on, with faith, with joy, with expectation, but not so much with the control we like to think we have.