Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Boss of the World

So Ethan has this new interest in people in charge and "authority."

In some ways it's distain (he came out of Sunday school a few weeks ago after a lesson on the authority figures in his life and declared "I HATE your authority").

I get this. Sometimes for a kid it feels like life is all about many, many different people telling you what to do.

And of course this interest in bosses and being the one in charge has everything to do with power -- which is really appealing to a just-turned nine-year-old boy. Those who wield the most power (aside from parents, who are asking him to do things he doesn't want to do) are to be admired.

Gaining an understanding about authority happens when you begin to see that there is a structure and reporting system or chain of command in all of the entities in this life that either directly or indirectly affect him -- school, government, even church.

This may have begun when we were talking about the superintendent of schools and how he visited Ethan's school one day. I remember our superintendent when I was in elementary school. A stern man with a big balding head, he terrified me.

"Do you know Craig Cooke is in charge of all of your teachers?" I asked him.

"I thought the principal was in charge," he replied.

"Well yes, but Craig Cooke is HER boss," I said. This gave him pause. "Who is Craig Cooke's boss, then?" he asked.

As often happens in these situations, I didn't quite know, which had me tossing around answers without really knowing what I was talking about. This seems to happen often, as a parent. "Umm, the state education commissioner?" I pondered.

"No, the Board of Education!" Ethan replied, as I wondered where he gotten that from (some book, apparently). I wondered: was he right? and then lamented I didn't pay attention more in that State & Local Government course in college.

Despite not receiving true resolution on Craig Cooke's boss, Ethan felt confident enough about the matter to discuss the whole thing with his principal a few days later. Apparently the principal filled in one afternoon for whoever takes the students who walk home from school over to the crossing guard. She and Ethan got to chatting, and, Ethan announced proudly, "I told her Craig Cooke was her boss. But not the crossing guards' boss." (We'd talked about that, too).

I don't know how many times Ethan has asked me who's in charge of the police; the firefighters; the people in a hospital.

Of course when the election came around there were ample opportunities to talk about the way government works (or doesn't) and who reports to whom. Once again he stymied me as we talked about our town's mayor and town's manager. Wait a minute? What's the difference? I'm still wondering, and realizing even now how incredibly dumb and uniformed children's questions can make you feel.

Trying to explain "checks and balances" and the three major branches of government is a bit much for a third grader (and my somewhat lacking store of knowledge). But I've made an attempt, several times.

One day he asked me about the Supreme Court. He loved to hear that it was "the highest court in the land." Even better -- that the president even could not overrule something the Supreme Court decided. "The Supreme Court," I heard him saying to himself, smiling. Oh, the power!

Another time recently he asked, "Is the United Nations the boss of the president?"

"No!" I answered, probably too vehemently (shudder). "The U.N. is not the boss of our president."

"Well, who is?"

"No one, really."

"The Supreme Court is."

"Well, not really. They don't tell the president what to do." I felt another discussion of the three branches of government coming on.

"Wait, I know who the president's boss is!"



And well, that was that. He has a point. Even when it doesn't feel like it.

It's great when kids make you think, and when kids make you learn, and when they help you remember things that were once more difficult, and yet easier to understand.

"In the Lord's hand the king's heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him." - Proverbs 21:1

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Not-So-Glamorous Life of a Freelance Writer/Mom

The moment I realized I was crying -- outwardly weeping -- because I could not find my sunglasses and I needed to go outside and get Ethan from school and didn't want people to actually SEE I'd been crying was when I acknowledged that yes, it had been a very bad afternoon.

What's worse than a toddler who doesn't feel like napping but rather engaging in destructive practices? A toddler who doesn't feel like napping but being destructive, WHILE mom is trying to do work.

I do have another job, right now, even though I've tried to keep it to a minimum, working primarily around naps and early in the morning. Sometimes this all goes splendidly and I'm living the balanced life of being at home while still using my brain in a different way, and all is good. Other times? Well.

What happened that afternoon? The question should probably be what DIDN'T happen. I desperately needed to be on the phone scheduling things, while Chloe desperately wanted to stay up and wreak havoc. In every room. She left no stone unturned. Books off shelves? DVDs on floor? File folders emptied out and spread randomly all over the dining room? Sure, why not. I could not SEE her bedroom floor. Then, there was the potty no-so-much-of-an-accident. Things get really, really ugly when they don't have a diaper on. The horror! And all of this while I was attempting to reach people who ignored deadlines and were infuriatingly unreachable. Good times.

I always have to add a disclaimer, when people ask what I "do" for a career, and I tell them I mostly stay at home with my kids, but that I'm a freelance writer/editor as well.

"It's not as glamorous as you might think. I mostly write health care articles," I sometimes say, in case their idea of a freelancer is that I'm dashing off magazine articles or possibly novels. Or, maybe they are like my eighth grade self, who figured it just might be possible to stay at home all day, keep an eye on my children, and become fabulously rich writing about young adult characters. I had stacks and stacks of my "books" lying around my room -- stories about "Jessica" and "Tiffany" and the trials and tribulations of middle school.

That vision lasted a few years until career day in high school, when I attended a session with quite possibly the most depressed journalist on the planet. "Don't do this," he essentially told us, which I thought was rather strange on a day designated for kids to explore their dream careers. His demoralized attitude got me thinking, and before I knew it I'd decided to pursue psychology in college instead of journalism. Only, after a year I was disillusioned with too many crackpot theories, and particularly by psych professors who seemed more depressed and disillusioned than that journalist back in high school. So after winning the freshman essay contest, I decided to switch to an English major, which led to everyone in the world asking me, "Oh, are you going to teach?"

"No, I want to write," I'd tell people, which they thought was rather hysterical. Even my advisor, well-meaning as she was, suggested I pursue a health career. That's where the jobs were, she reiterated, and asked if I'd consider becoming a nutritionist. Which -- to this day -- is so laughable I'm not sure how I respectfully exited her office.

Yet somehow I DID become a writer (with some video producing thrown in for good measure), and wouldn't you know, a writer on health care topics, after taking a last-semester internship in Marketing and Public Relations for a large local health system. A year later I was hired, and when I left seven years after that when Anna was a baby, I began taking on projects on a freelance basis.

Which is where we are today, and I am immensely grateful to have a chance to be home with my kids and get to write, and get paid for it (even if I'm not writing books but rather articles about medical procedures). I've learned a few things on this 10-year plus journey through freelancing and mothering. Sometimes, unfortunately, I forget what I've learned, which leads to days like above. But in my more wise moments, I remember:

1) There are days you just have to turn on the TV for a little while for your child so you can get your work done. Your child will not be permanently scarred. You will finish whatever you need to get done infinitely more quickly than with someone tugging on your sleeve and asking for more juice. Again.

2) When dealing with people who are convinced of their superiority (this happens sometimes -- not always! -- with physician interviews in particular) it's always best to admit your ignorance up front. Willingly own your lack of knowledge, and they are immediately disarmed and a bit more sympathetic and patient when you don't fully understand their "medical speak" and ask them to elaborate.

3) When I'm on conference calls and think there could even be a chance of being interrupted by a young child, I give everyone a heads-up. Because there's nothing worse than talking business and then having a little voice pipe into the conversation, "I have to go pee-pee!" This, sadly, I learned from experience.

4) When a big project takes over, something's got to go. In our case, it's the house. I've got not choice but to put some of the less essential cleaning chores on hold. The way I figure: I'd rather my kids recall me putting the household chores aside rather than putting them aside to vacuum.

5) Working from home means never fully escaping your job -- which can be the greatest blessing, or curse. I love the luxury of answering emails at 5:30 a.m. I hate the pressure of knowing I COULD be working on a Saturday, if I really needed to.

There are always going to be days like last week's nightmarish afternoon. I am still trying to get questionable smells out of our living room rug. And I may never publish a novel about Jessica and Tiffany, or have that newspaper column I always dreamed of (who reads newspapers, anyway)?? But I am so glad to be able to do this work thing and kid thing, as crazy as it may sometimes be. Tears and all. I can work in my jammies while sipping tea. How could I possibly not be thankful for that?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Visit to Room 2

I'm convinced teachers have one of the most entertaining jobs in the world.

The other day Ethan's class invited parents to come in and hear some of the writing pieces they'd been working on. Wouldn't you know, Ethan was completely fine with this UNTIL we were walking down the street that morning and I was about to say goodbye.

"I don't want to do this. I don't want to read in front of everyone," he said, literally standing at the stoplight waiting to cross the street. Nothing like procrastinating about your fears.

"Ethan, it's okay. You're going to do great."

"My writing is awful! Ask her if this can just be optional!" Now he was really upset.

First, I straightened him out about his writing. It's not awful. Of course, as his parent, I wouldn't tell him straight out if it was, but Ethan writes surprisingly well. His teacher was really amused by some of his stories last year.

But that out of the way, I felt the conundrum again. I think every parent feels this. How do you know when you're pushing your kids too far? You don't want them to think saying "no" to difficult things is always an option. But you don't want them to be tormented with fear, either.

He had to cross the street, so I just called out something about emailing his teacher and tried to act upbeat to cheer him up. When I wrote to her, I said what I always end up saying: that we push Ethan to stretch himself sometimes, and will make accommodations for him, but it shouldn't be the first option.

She said she was fine with having him come up front and if he was still too nervous she would read with him standing next to him. That sounded like a good plan.

And so we arrived at 2:15. Chloe had christened herself with green glitter glue just before we left that would only partially come out of her face and hands. Lovely. We traipsed into the classroom and sat down to hear what was on the minds of 20 third graders.

I love, love, love this age. They are still too innocent to criticize each other's stories or to roll their eyes. They each wrote about a moment that was important to them: sleepovers, Six Flags, trips to visit relatives. I loved the kid who scored "30 touchdowns." He I believe was also the child who recounted the day his dad stepped on the gas instead of the brake and crashed into the car in front of them.

I wonder if his dad knew what he had chosen to write about? And this is when I think again of teachers, and of all of the stories they hear, the statements about home and parents and families that they must take in day in and day out...and try to mask their amusement, or perhaps shock. How much of what they are saying do you really believe, when you are an elementary school teacher? That thought provides a little comfort. I can only imagine...or don't wish to imagine the things my own child has blurted out. Sometimes I wonder -- do they look at us at parent-teacher conferences and think about us pressing the gas and not the brake? Do they constantly have to shake certain images or statements out of their heads? Have they just learned to laugh most things off because much of what a child may say is truth wrapped inside a whole lot of fiction?

One child shared in passing about how messy his mom's car was (as I've written about my own messy car in this very blog, you can bet I was thinking it was only chance that that wasn't my kid -- this time).

And somewhere in there was Ethan's story. He stood next to the teacher (wearing his coat! Of course he wouldn't answer when I asked why he still had it on; it was 80 degrees in there) and she began. He had decided to write about our cat getting run over.

Geesh. Nothing like a really morbid topic to end of the school day. I hoped no one would start crying.

I'm not surprised Ethan would choose to write about that day. It was obviously traumatic. Not only did he have a 104-degree fever but his cat got hit by an oil truck.

It's amazing the way I found myself editing internally as he was reading. He mentioned he was home sick and then that he went to the store before going to the doctor.

Wait, that implies he really wasn't THAT sick. Or does it imply I have no problem taking my child to stores when they are sick? Wait, we only went to the store to get medicine AFTER the doctor!

Then he talked about the moment I looked out and found our poor cat lying near the street. "And his eyes were OPEN!!!" he had written.

Eeth, you kind of left out the part that I thought he was sleeping, and then I noticed he wasn't blinking. But then again, that was even more creepy. God forbid the kids go home with nightmares.

He concluded it all with, "And we will never forget that fateful day." Which sounds an awfully lot like something he heard from somewhere. I couldn't help but almost start laughing, which sounds really awful when the kid just read about the day his cat died.

Then we all had some snacks and it was time to clear out of there as the end of the school day was fast approaching.

I left thinking, as I always do, that I don't know how teachers do it, day in and day out. I'd be so exhausted by the end of the day I probably wouldn't be able to do anything but meet my basic needs. But they also must have a wildly entertaining time of it sometimes. Maybe that's just a small part of what makes it all worth it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Comparison Game

Lately Ethan has discovered more than ever before that there are very real differences between himself and other people -- and I've found myself quoting all of those parental clichés that are annoying to hear when you're a child.

Let me be clear -- I don't mean differences that have anything to do with autism, but rather Ethan is noticing that different kids have different rules, different talents, different strengths and weaknesses.

A lot of this has come out, ironically, due to another kid in Ethan's class who is on the spectrum (I believe he too shared this information with his classmates last year). We'll call him George. Apparently they get along well enough in real life, but for some reason Ethan is often commenting on George. First it was the Doritos. Ethan was furious because George gets Doritos every day for a snack. Doritos are Ethan's all-time favorite food. If we had them in the house all of the time, they wouldn't last long. We try to save them for parties or other special occasions. Ethan was perfectly fine having fruit snacks at school -- until he had to sit there and watch George tantalizingly crunch into Doritos every day.

One afternoon after a particularly rough day that also involved an unsuccessful Minecraft venture Ethan started yelling about how unfair it was, that every day George ate Doritos, that I gave him horrible food, and that I was yes, a "Meanie." I wonder if I should consider that a badge of honor. He also gave me an earful about another friend who had a TV in his room, and a friend that got to play Wii before school.

"I'm sorry you're upset," I told him, "but that's the way it goes sometimes. Different families have different rules." I may have also thrown in the "life isn't always fair" line, trying to break some kind of record for the most clichés packed into one sentence.

The thing is: it's true, and there's no way around it. We're not putting a TV in his room; if he plays Wii in the morning we'll never make it to school; he doesn't need Doritos every day. Although I did go out not long after and get some "healthy" ones from a local company that were actually darned good.

This comparison stuff hasn't just been about material things, and it hasn't just been about Ethan feeling bad comparing himself to someone else. The other day he blurted out, "No offense, but [George] is a baby. He's still reading Berenstain Bear books at reading time. And he goes to bed at 7:30 at night."

Side note: I just love how he starts off with "no offense," as if to say "I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but I'm about to trash you." I hope he's not copying that from me. Eek.

So then we had another talk about how everyone is at a different level and has different strengths and weaknesses (never mind that he reads Berenstain Bear books for fun at home!), and how some people need more or less sleep and that doesn't make them a "baby," and most importantly how would he feel if people were calling him a baby because of something he said or did? It saddens me to write this, but there may be kids doing that right now in his class, and he just hasn't noticed.

I've been thinking a little more about this whole comparison game. I know it's part of human nature and human development. In middle school it gets even more intense. Everyone has to know what everyone else is doing so they can do likewise, or better. Anna was telling me how utterly mortifying it was last year to watch a girl show up on Halloween in a bumblebee costume -- the only person to arrive at school thinking it was okay to dress up. My visceral reaction hearing the story (I felt my entire body cringe) reminded me of how often I too still struggle with comparing myself to others or appearing different.

Yes, kids will be kids, and part of growing up is discovering your life and family are different than other people's. Sadly, part of life in our culture also seems to be realizing there is a norm, a place where you "should" be and other areas where you should never tread, lest you want to invite ridicule. When that's where we learn to fix our gaze, it's time to take stock.

There's that saying that "comparison is the thief of joy." It's also the mirror that reflects when we aren't really confident in who we are.

I thought about the girl in the bumblebee costume. I wondered what it would be like to walk the halls hearing whispers and giggles and just.not.care. I had to correct myself.

"Anna, we're laughing and feeling sorry for that girl, but I think we need to be more like her," I said. I thought about the message at church that Sunday from a young guy who really has a passion to see people touched by God. He'd had the guts to go up to people at a mall and ask to pray for them. And a number of them said no. Yet he kept asking, because he cared about other people more than he cared about their opinion of him. Could I do that? Could I, the one who is still stressed if I say the slightly wrong thing or am a little over or under dressed to a party?

Comparison steals our freedom. Someday someone might snicker at Ethan and his unconventional way of doing or saying certain things. It's comparison that wants us to meld into the crowd like a chameleon.

I hope each of us will aim to be the bumblebee.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Best Encore Performance Ever

Ethan, almost 3, with one of his therapists, Amber
Back when Ethan was almost exactly the age Chloe is now, before he started preschool and when he was still receiving therapy at home, we decided it would be a good idea to have him begin attending one of the playgroups held each morning in the town's schools. It would be good preparation for preschool, his therapists suggested, and one group was in the actual school he'd be attending, which would help familiarize him with it.

Yes, all of us thought this would be a great idea -- except Ethan. Ethan wanted nothing to do with the playgroup. The set-up was simple: moms or other caregivers and their babies and kids up to age 5 would come play for about a half-hour. Then everyone would pick up, have circle time, do a craft, eat a snack and leave.

Simple was not in our vocabulary those days. The first week it took 15 minutes to get him in the door. Once he finally inched inside, Ethan wanted nothing to do with the toys. The sink, microwave and light switches were much more appealing. When I'd convinced him he could NOT play with any of the above, he eased his stress by smushing his entire body onto the floor and pushing himself along, like a snake.

I looked at other parents actually able to converse while their kids occupied themselves, playing contentedly at a table with blocks, and getting up eagerly to go sit for circle time, and told myself I was never going to take small moments like that for granted again. This playgroup thing was HARD. I was drenched in sweat from the effort of helping him keep it together and not run out of the room.

The next week I came with reinforcements. One of Ethan's therapists, Amber, attended the group with us and was able to give me some pointers and help Ethan calm down a little. He was just ever-so-slightly better. Another godsend was the playgroup leader, "Ms. Betsy" (a legend in town to this day!). I'll never forget her own patience and understanding, from her warm smile and greetings to Ethan (which would often go ignored) to the little ways she tried to make him feel more at ease.

Every week for the two months leading up to him starting school went on like this. Playgroup was, well, work. Ethan paid no attention to other kids. He would rarely play with toys except for Play-Doh and puzzles. We got him to ease closer to the circle but never fully participate. Pushing his body against the floor (now understood as a definite sensory-seeking behavior) was still a preferred activity. I wondered how in the world he was going to do in school when he'd be ask to sit and focus for much longer.

Of course over time Ethan did start school and did do well. The next year when he switched to afternoon pre-K we returned to a few of the playgroups and he coped markedly better. By then I had a better handle on the areas where therapy and school had really helped him mature (self-regulation; focus) and which areas would most likely always be a struggle (creative play; initiating social interaction). Ethan went on to graduate from the playgroups and start full-time school, as all kids do, and we left them behind until Chloe and I began attending together last year.

One of the groups we attend regularly is at Ethan's new school this year, and when he found out that kids can earn tickets for good behavior and have a chance to read books during story time to the playgroup kids, he was on a mission. There was nothing he wanted to do more than read to his little sister.

Last week, less than two months into the school year, Ethan earned enough tickets to be a playgroup reader. He brought two books about pumpkins home to practice. I talked to him about remembering to turn the book around and read loudly so the littles ones could see and hear the story. And on Monday morning, Ethan arrived in the room with the books in hand and a big grin on his face.

And yes, I may be biased, but I have to say he did a pretty darned good job. An amazing job. I couldn't stop smiling. "Ms. Jen," the playgroup leader, mentioned that it was the first time she'd ever  had a child who'd once attended her playgroup come back and read to the littler ones. If someone had told me this six years ago as I held Ethan to keep him bolting out of the playgroup door, I have to admit: I'm not sure if I would have believed it. But here we are, by the grace of God.

Every once in a while I see other kids with similar struggles at playgroups and their moms or caregivers who are struggling with them...struggling to get their child to pay attention, not wreak havoc, and sit still enough to take part...or struggling to not feel frustrated or exhausted because their child isn't like a typical kid and this shouldn't be so hard. I am glad that my experiences with Ethan have fine-tuned my radar. If the opportunity is right, I do what I can to smile, to encourage, to let them know they are not alone. The toddler and preschool age is tough -- for all kids, and particularly ones on the spectrum. Sometimes it's very hard to believe your child's behavior is going to get any better, or any more calm. I know every story is not exactly like Ethan's. But I also know that with time and therapy many behaviors DO improve.

I try to remember to be Amber, the therapist (Where are you now? It's been years!), to be Betsey with the kind eyes. Someone might really need a dose of hope.

Ethan reading to the playgroup, feeling proud, and showing his sister some love

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Lost Art of Pranking

"Mamma, do we have a funnel anywhere in this house?"

We'd just finished dinner. Ethan's soccer practiced had been cancelled and he had a gleam in his eye. The request piqued my interest.

"Why do you want a funnel, Ethan?"

"Because I want to do a prank." He'd just been reading a Captain Underpants book. Don't ask, but apparently Captain Underpants is big with boys his age...and also provides plenty of fodder for kids interested in pranking others. I'm not so sure this is a good thing.

"We don't have a funnel anymore, Ethan. Or maybe there's one somewhere in the garage. You're not going out there to look for that now." It was almost dark.

I heard him rummaging around but was focused on cleaning up the dinner dishes. A few minutes later, he called me.

"Okay, I'm ready to do my prank!"

"Um, Eeth. Usually you don't TELL someone before doing a prank. It kind of ruins it."

He ignored me. "Walk past the closet door!"

"Okay," I sighed. "Here I am..."

He burst out of the door. Something wet that smelled exceedingly of fake pumpkin hit my face. Febreeze.

"Agggckkkkhhh!" I yelled. The small headache I'd already had grew exponentially. "What are you DOING?" I tried to calm down as he stood there looking at me serenly.

"Ethan, if you're going to do a prank like that, you can't spray something with chemicals in it in someone's face. That's dangerous. You have to spray water. Pranks are supposed to be harmless."

He put away the Febreeze and was suddenly outside in the growing darkness, looking for something.

"I wanna do that!" Chloe yelled. Chloe's always yelling that. A few minutes later he was back, with Chloe, in the bathroom with the door closed. Water was running. I had just cleaned the bathroom a few hours before.

"Guys, you need to get out of there!" I urged.

"But I'm doing my prank!" he yelled. A few minutes later, he commissioned me to walk by the closet again. This time he accosted me with two water guns...the big kinds, that release a whole gush of water.

"Hahahah, gotcha!" He grinned. I looked down at my clothes, still damp with Febreeze; now with water. In the bathroom the sink was half-full with clogged water and bits of dirt and mud from outside. My clean bathroom. Sigh...

"I wanna fill that with water!" Chloe was yelling.

"No, these are DONE for the night," I ordered, asking Ethan to put them back outside. When he got back in, I told him he needed to do his nightly reading. I was about done with pranks for the night.

"BUT...I was wondering. Do we have a long, thick rope?"

Here we go again. I shook my head.

"How about a short, thick rope?"

Anna appeared. "Let me help you Ethan. I know how frustrating it can be to have an idea but not be able to find the products around the house." Which I thought was quite charitable of her. Except I didn't even want to think about what he'd be using the rope for. She pulled out the proverbial "junk drawer" in the kitchen, which then almost crashed to the floor. Something is wrong with the drawer, most likely because so often children are digging in there looking for treasures like thick ropes.

Alas for Ethan, there was no rope to be found. He got working on something else in the other room. There was more suspicious silence. Silence and children never go together, unless they're reading.

"Mamma, come see my magic trick!" He held out his hand, hiding his thumb. "See my thumb is missing, and I will make it appear. Something was poking into his brand new shirt, under the sleeve. "See how this screw is going right through my hand..." He was pressing a very sharp screw right into his shirt.

"STOP!" I cried. "That's a brand new shirt!"

"AND HERE'S MY THUMB! IT APPEARED!" I think he was looking for applause. I tried to be enthusiastic while simultaneously cautioning him that he could not do tricks that involved sharp items.

"I'm painting, I'm painting," I heard from the other room. Chloe had searched through the craft supplies and was dolloping brown paint all over a paper. At least she had remembered to paint paper instead of the table. Somehow an incredible amount of paint was smeared into her hair.

Deep breaths. "Ethan, you need to do your reading. Now. Tricks are done for the night." A part of me felt bad. We ARE always encouraging him to leave his screens behind and try new things. But I was DONE.

Into the bath went Chloe, after I attempted to wash off some of the paint in the sink. Brown flecks danced with the dirt from the squirt guns. In the bath, too. Brown paint everywhere. My nice clean bathroom. Well, for two hours clean.

Ethan went to read. Chloe got clean. And I remembered why I always feel so tired once we hit about 7 or 8pm. And then I had to laugh.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Now I Know What Happens When You Lose Your Child at Target

This incident happened a few weeks ago, so I've had a little time to, I guess you could say, recover.

This is what happened: After Ethan finished his soccer game two Saturdays ago we headed to Target (along with Chloe) to pick up a few things. Dan and Anna had other plans that morning.

After we walked in, Ethan clumping with his soccer cleats, and took our first turn towards toiletries, Ethan asked if he could go to the toy section. During the summer, I would let Ethan and Anna go off without me for a little while and head to that part of the store. I'd wind around and meet up with them a few minutes later. Ethan would always, and I mean always, head over to the WiiU console they have set up over there and start playing, with Anna just a few aisles away.

There have been a few times Anna hasn't been with us when Ethan asked to head over there on his own. With trepidation, I said yes -- and tried to make sure we hurried over there even more quickly than usual. The few times he'd done that, he was, of course, at the WiiU playing.

So Ethan headed off to the toy section, as I called out, "Don't leave that area!" It was the very last thing I said to him. You can see where this is going.

Chloe and I picked up some of the things we needed at the front of the store. Only, we were moving more slowly than usual, because now Chloe has decided she doesn't like to ride in the cart. She's pretty good in the store, but she is a dawdling toddler. As a result, getting back over to the toy section took a bit longer than I would have liked.

Side note: I realize there are some people who will not approve of my decision to leave Ethan alone in the store at any time. I understand that; it's one of many reasons I wasn't particularly eager to write this. But I also know that lately we've been trying to extend his "leash" (for lack of a better word) just a little. He's been great in supermarkets, finding food for me and promptly returning. We've had many talks about strangers or "tricky people" to the point of almost scaring him. And he's such a darned creature of habit with that WiiU I honestly didn't think letting him head over there was THAT big of a deal.

We walked up to the WiiU. He wasn't there. My immediate thought was to check the Minecraft aisle, his second-favorite spot. Nope. Empty. My heart did a little skip.

Next I checked all of the toy aisles, you know, in the department I told him not to leave. Nothing. My heart started beating faster. It's no secret I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life and have an extremely overactive imagination. I had to use every ounce of strength to slow my thoughts down for a moment and just THINK.

The bathroom. I wondered if he'd decided to walk down to the restrooms near the store's entrance. Normally he uses the family restroom. It was empty. I knocked on the door to the men's room and called his name. Nothing.

Well, maybe I missed him and he's already back at the toys, I told myself, walking faster and faster. Chloe kept protesting, so finally I plopped her into the cart. She started screaming as we pushed way faster than normal through the aisles. People were starting to stare.

The toy area was Ethan-less. I wondered if he went to look at the Halloween costumes, so we whizzed over there. Nope. I pushed randomly down aisles, calling him. Chloe joined in, too.

There are times when I wish I was one of those people who could maintain calm, give off a little chuckle, and just think, "Well, the kid's got to turn up SOMEWHERE around here."

But no. No, I am the one whose favorite book throughout high school was The Year Without Michael, an acclaimed young-adult novel about a 14-year-old boy who just disappeared one Sunday afternoon walking to his friend's house. They never found him.

Wouldn't you know, I had just come across that book, plunked high on a shelf, a few days before. The scenes ran through my head.

In retrospect what I should have done next was probably calm down and take a very careful walk through every aisle of the store, calling Ethan's name constantly. But no. I suddenly had The Year Without Michael drilled into my mind. Flyers on telephone polls. TV news. Police interviews.

This is what they call, in the behavioral health world, "all or nothing thinking." It's not healthy obviously. It's also a very hard habit to break. Especially if you've been doing it for nearly 40 years.

We pushed past about half of the store as I called Ethan with of course, no response. My next thought was to go to customer service and tell them I couldn't find my son. I figured (silly me!) that maybe they would overhead page him, tell him his mom was looking for him and to report to the front of the store or something.

"You can't find him?" the woman at the desk asked again, to be sure. Then she took out her walkie-talkie and started radioing someone. "Hey, we have a Code Yellow."

I have never seen the team members of Target act with such military precision. "Post someone at the doors!" I heard the radio crackle, and two employees appeared out of nowhere, blocking the exits. Several others took up posts all along the front of the store, near the Starbucks café and bathrooms.

"What does your son look like?" someone asked.

I can't believe this is happening, I thought, as I stuttered that he had dark blond hair and was wearing his soccer uniform. Cleats. I wondered if the police were going to appear. I saw myself being interviewed by the news ("And the last I saw of him, he was still wearing his soccer uniform"...).

Two other employees appeared and said they were going to comb the store for him. They took off after getting a description, and I stood there with Chloe and waited. I wondered if I should call Dan and tell him I lost our son. I wondered: could someone, some awful freak, could possibly have ushered him out of the store? Adam Walsh, Adam Walsh, ran over and over again in my head. Of course we are all familiar with the story of the little boy whisked away from a store when his mother turned her back, and later murdered. His father went on to launch the show America's Most Wanted.

This all sounds rather comical in the retelling, but I think most people realize that it's not at all. Not when you live it often. Not when you often know what you're supposed to do but your mind gallops off in another direction almost before you know what happened.

There is a Bible verse that talks about taking every thought captive and making them obedient to Christ. Basically it relates in a very real way to learning how to train your mind to not immediately chase down rabbit trails. It's the antithesis of "all or nothing thinking." It also is a discipline. And for some of us who have trails well-worn with bad habits, it's not as simple as quoting a Bible verse and going on your way. It's as hard as training for a marathon, in some respects. Sometimes anxiety really just does feel easier.

But I knew, in that moment. I had to stop. This was completely out of my control. I whispered a prayer, staring at the scores of people unloading carts, pushing their way through the aisles. I prayed and prayed because I knew there was nothing else I could DO. And then, for a few moments, something happened. The pounding of my heart and of my thoughts faded to something dull and almost unrecognizable. I felt it. Peace.

A few minutes later the two employees who'd taken off to search appeared in the distance, with Ethan walking between them. He was completely oblivious, meaning he had no idea how worried I was or that the store was up in arms looking for him. Where had he gone, by the way? To look for Minecraft books.

"But I told you not to leave that section!" I exclaimed.

"I thought the books WERE still in the toy section," he said, maybe because sometimes Anna went to look at them.

I thanked the Target team profusely, and everyone went back to their regularly scheduled Saturday morning.

But I was bothered. I felt provoked. My nerves felt jittery for hours after. And after catching a glimpse, even momentarily, of what it felt like to have peace in the midst of a storm, I knew I wanted more.

This is not so much a story about losing your child in Target. This is a story about working on overcoming anxiety...or maybe, learning how to better respond to life's curveballs.

I stepped back and realized: There were things I could have done better, but at least I was trying. Any parent would have had at least some level of freak-out.

This is what we must keep doing: we must be kind to ourselves, and we must keep trying. God knows: we're fallible; we're mere dust. I'm thankful, as the verse says, that we have a high priest that sympathizes with our weaknesses, because this one's a doozy.

But I'm not giving up.