Wednesday, February 15, 2017

He Just Doesn't Quite Get It...But Then, Neither Do We

We were there at the pediatrician's office; annual check-ups for Ethan and Chloe. Ethan went first to "be a good example."

The doctor did all the usuals: heart, lungs, eyes and ears. The kid's grown almost three inches and gained more than five pounds. The latter seems hard to believe. He's our beanpole.

Then we launched into the developmental stuff. Ethan was half-listening. Yes, he's doing great in school. He's already where he needs to be at the end of the year in math and reading. Yes, he's no longer receiving speech, just does a social skills group. Yes, he has friends and participates in sports.

Every time we get to this point in the appointment, these last few years, the doctor does almost the exact same thing. "His ASD is virtually invisible," he says, shaking his head in amazement.

His developmental pediatrician would beg to differ, I think. She's the one that can point out signs of ASD from the way you fill out a coloring sheet or don't follow up properly on a casual question.

Ethan heard the term "ASD" and perked up. He's full of questions lately at the doctor ("How does the strep test work?" "Why do people have to get shots instead of just taking a medicine?"). "What does that stand for?" he asked the doctor who's seen him nearly since birth. "What's ASD?"

The doctor tried to dance around this. I don't know why he always does. I told him last year Ethan is fully aware of his diagnosis. We talk about it all the time.

"You know, autism," I told him. "Your superpower!" Yeah, I know that's a little corny. Autism certainly isn't always a superpower. But we hear all of the time about the way it's a deficit. He'll get that in time -- the least we can do is point out the positives now, like his laser sharp hearing or his amazing ability to memorize.

The doctor went on, almost in his own world. "This," he said. "This is what early intervention can do..."

And I smiled and noddded, because I know he's been a pediatrician for about 40 years and when he thinks he knows something, he knows something. Which is why he tried to blow me off at first when I mentioned having some concerns about Ethan. Ethan didn't seem like a classic case, his red flags weren't that big of a deal, he had some good skills, etc. He was surprised when we walked back in with a diagnosis of moderate autism when Ethan was two. But he's been even more surprised lately.

I nodded quietly in agreement, but what I wanted to say is that Ethan's successes may in part be due to early intervention. But there are thousands upon thousands of worried parents who raced to developmental pediatricians, had their children diagnosed as toddlers, and saturated them with as much therapy as possible, opening their homes to therapists for hours on end or shuttling them to countless appointments. Sometimes both.

They did everything they could. I tried, but didn't even involve Ethan in all of the therapy he could have gotten.

Early intervention was a piece of the puzzle. A piece. Not the secret key to every autism story.

Does it have something to do with Ethan's IQ? Every therapist and teacher he's had has mentioned that he is very, very smart and learns very quickly. I witnessed this at his basketball practice recently. The coach gave instructions that confused me. I would have had to stop and ask him to clarify. He heard them once and repeated each step perfectly. He's amazingly smart, can memorize, can pick something up just like that...

...but many, many kids on the spectrum have high IQs. They can do college-level math in 2nd grade or construct or design things my mind can't begin to understand. Some can't even speak but are amazingly smart. So this is not just about intelligence. Could it be the way he's able to harness his intelligence?

When I tell people Ethan's story, particularly parents with younger kids on the spectrum, they want to know his secret. In third grade and mainstreamed, above grade level? A little quirky, a little trouble with eye contact and an obsession with video games, but for the most part blending with peers, for now at least? This is what a parent dreams of when they get a diagnosis.

And my heart is full because I so want to tell them a secret formula that will assuaged their worries and fears, and I just don't have one. Was it playing on the floor with him often? Refusing to let him sink into ruts of sameness? Was it just the grace of God?

I thank God every day for Ethan's outcomes thus far. I do believe His hand is in all things and that He has worked greatly in Ethan's life. But I can't attribute this only to "having faith." That's a slap in the face to every parent who has worked and prayed and pleaded and begged and tried everything and sees no significant change in their child's prognosis.

I wanted to tell the doctor all of these things, that we don't really know the why and we will never completely know. But he's a 70-year-old pediatrician who is indeed looking at a miracle of sorts in front of him. Ethan is a not-so-typical kid out of not-so-typical kids.

We finished up our appointment and headed into the waiting room. A mom was there with a boy about Chloe's age. He was being difficult -- all over the place, banging on the fish tank, whining, trying to go into the back where the exam rooms were. He didn't seem to have many words and was kind of half-whining, half-moaning and flapping his arms a little. "No! You can't go back there yet!" the mom said, exhaustion and stress in her voice. The kid blocked our way, seemingly unaware, as we waited patiently for mom to help move him. I tried to head out quickly, as I didn't want the kid to dash out the door -- or for the mom to see Ethan and Chloe staring. The last thing this mom needed was stares.

Outside the air was crisp and cold. "Mom, that kid??" Ethan asks incredulously. "Why was he being like that?"

"Ethan," I said as we scurried across the parking lot. "I'm not completely sure, but I think that boy might have had autism. You may not believe it, but when you visited Dr. Milanese for the first time, that was how YOU acted."

I waited for a response, but it never sunk in. At least not that time. He jumped in the car. "Let's find something good on the radio!" It was time to drive home and get a jump start on video games.

I wish I could have shot the mom a smile or an encouraging word. Whatever difficult behaviors her boy was doing at this age, he most likely wouldn't be doing at nine. Only -- I don't know. Sometimes challenging behaviors morph into new challenging behaviors. Every kid takes a different path. The autism trajectory is so ridiculously broad. That's where the stress comes in, what parents of typical kids don't always get. If they knew it was just a phase, they could bear those hard years better. It's the not knowing.

With all of us, it's the not knowing.

So we do what we know to do, trust, pray, hope, and keep going. That is all we can ever do.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Re-Writing History

When Super Bowl 51 kicked off, Chloe and I were sitting in the Emergency Room at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, goofing off with the bead maze toys while alternatively squirting ourselves with antibacterial soap. Chloe had picked a heck of a time to trip, fall, and split open a cut near her lip (at her own birthday party and family Super Bowl party), and apparently she wasn't the only one to have been not feeling her best that evening. Sniffling, coughing, wincing and half-sleeping kids were all over the place, most wearing pajamas.

A lifelong Patriots fan, I looked around to see if the Super Bowl was on TV anywhere, but alas, only some sorry Disney Jr. show I didn't recognize was flickering on all of the screens. Thank God for smart phones. I kept checking the score as we went into triage, came back out into the waiting area, were called back again into an exam room, to sit and wait, of course, and as the doctor decided she needed three stitches and wanted to numb her up first.

I wasn't missing much at home (except family, which I'd hated to leave behind). The updates on my phone kept telling the same story: the Patriots were behind by 7, then 14, then (ouch!) 21 points. "Everyone just left after that last touchdown," Dan texted me. "Ethan's not doing so great right now."

Ethan, who lives and dies by Patriot wins and losses (of which, thankfully, there have been so few in his lifetime). A loss usually means a tantrum. He HATES it. It's as if every negative emotion we feel when we're really mad at our team blowing it, he feels exaggerated by about 10.

I figured he was probably sobbing at home, maybe rolling around on the floor and screaming about how "dumb" the Patriots were being for not scoring. Maybe the ER wasn't such a bad place to be, at that moment. The doctors gave Chloe a sedative that turned her into the drunkest-looking three-year-old you've ever seen, and then sewed her up (two of the three stitches would end up disappearing by the next day, but that's another story...). It was past nine o'clock, Lady Gaga had already wowed everyone at half-time, the Patriots were now down by 25 points, and we were free to go. I guided my wobbly girl across the echoing parking garage. One minute in the car and she was out cold, fast asleep for what would be the rest of the night.

Ten minutes later we were just about home. I marveled that yes, there were people actually out and about on Super Bowl Sunday, not glued to their TVs and stuffing their faces with pizza and wings. At home Ethan was sitting serenely on the couch. I believe the score was 28-12.

"Ummm, how you doing, bud?" Less than a month before he'd been screaming and crying when the Patriots played poorly in their first playoff game vs. the Texans -- even though they were ahead the entire game.

"Mama, they just scored a touchdown..." he said.

"- And missed the extra point. How do you DO that?" Dan interjected.

Ethan wasn't rattled. "They're coming back. They might even win."

"Well, I don't know about that..."

"Mamma. All they need is two touchdowns and two two-point conversions to tie it."

"Oh, is that all?" I replied, although he paid little attention to my sarcasm.

We sat there and watched quietly as the Patriots slowly chipped away at the enormous hole they'd dug themselves into. The more we watched, the more confident Ethan became. Calm, cool and collected. Kind of like Tom Brady.

I stared at him as if he were a specimen to observe. What WAS this I was seeing? There was, for whatever reason, no panic. No pessimism. He wasn't even completely convinced his precious team was going to win. "They might lose," he conceded. "But I think they're going to win."

What would it be like? I wondered. What would it be like to approach not just sports like this, but LIFE like this?

I have grown up as the queen of worst-case scenarios, lacking in confidence, very easily rattled, quick to give up and get discouraged. Growing up as a big football and baseball fan in New England only reinforced those same attitudes: we always lose, things never work out, don't get your hopes up because you'll just be disappointed.

Our brains have programs written into them at a very young age. It's difficult to clear new paths instead of retreading the familiar ones that are already there. Difficult, but not impossible.

Sports are just games, and I don't see athletes as heroes. I'm not here to talk about deflated footballs, revenge seasons, or how many trophies and rings. I don't worship these people, but I'll tell you this: somehow, in some crazy way, something began chipping away at my entire approach to life 15 years ago now, when this underdog team stunned everyone with a last-second field goal and won their first Super Bowl.

Two years later the 2004 Red Sox looked at impossible odds and 86 years of disappointment and kept going with the mantra, "Why not us?" Why couldn't we believe we'd win instead of lose? Why not live with expectation instead of dread?

This has nothing to do with wishing what we want into reality. It's more about living lives with calm assurance rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That was Ethan, watching the Super Bowl through to its thrilling conclusion. This kid has only seen this team win, for the majority of his nine years. And for all of his yelling and screaming during most games, that night it came down to this -- he knew even if they didn't win, it was possible.

This is the kind of life I would like to live: not with regret and resentment that the seemingly impossible didn't occur...but with hope, belief and confidence that it just might.

THAT is truly living.

Final score? You know it. Pats 34, Falcons 28, OT.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Game Show Therapy

Last week Ethan and I were attempting to watch the Pro Bowl, but after realizing it was a joke of a football game we began flipping through the channels and stumbled upon a game show. This one was called "To Tell the Truth" or something like that, and featured a number of B-list celebrities attempting to guess which of three guests were telling the truth about themselves.

I'm pretty sure this is a remake from a game show about a zillion years ago. Essentially it consists of a statement like, "I once survived falling out of a boat and treading water for 24 hours before I was rescued." Then three people come out and get quizzed by the celebrities who try to guess which person is telling the truth.

"I think it's the third guy!" Ethan called out. I think in that round they were trying to find out which person jumps out of airplanes.

"Why?" I asked him.

"Because of the way he said, 'um,' before he answered," Ethan replied.

That's when I had the epiphany that this kind of show was ideal for people with autism who want to learn more about how to "read" others. What could be better? The whole point of the show is to draw a conclusion based not on what a person says but on other things you can infer...things like body language, tone of voice, the demeanor of the person, etc. It's about following your instincts, about paying attention to not just the words but the context of the words. The guy who fell out of the boat, for example. As the story went, he was fishing alone when it happened. So one of the celebrities asked each one if they liked fishing, and one said he'd only been fishing one other time. So of course that made people suspicious. Who goes out fishing alone in a boat having only gone fishing once? someone asked.

It's a game show, but this is high level stuff here. This is a more advanced version of what Ethan is starting to have to do in school -- read about certain characters and explain why they behaved the way they did, or what you can predict about a character based on their prior actions or things they've said or thought.

We watched for a while. I tried to explain the way the way a person who's providing a higher-level of detail about the subject might be more likely to be the one telling the truth rather than one who provides more vague answers. Only, it gets more complicated than that, because one strategy is to ACT like you're the one telling the truth by giving a lot of detail to make yourself sound knowledgeable.

And then there was the person who completely stumbled over her words and acted like a total failure, who ended up being the one who actually WAS telling the truth (about not only being a twin married to a twin and having twins). So this wasn't an ideal set-up, except maybe to show that people are unpredictable, and that sometimes the person who seems so confident is actually lying, and the one unsure could indeed be the truthful one.

When all was said and done, Ethan scored better than I did, getting two out of three guesses correct. It could have been just luck, who knows? I'm not really a fan of game shows, especially ones with annoying celebrities (Hollywood Squares? Aaaaarrggh!). But this one stimulated conversation and got both of us thinking. I'll take that any day.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Letting Him Go (Across the Street)

This year rather than an extremely long bus ride from school or much quicker ride in the car there, Ethan's had a chance to walk to and from school. I've mentioned this before. The walking to school thing is just one more item on Ethan's list of Why the New School is Better than the Old One (older kids; cooler mascot; a school store; and shouting pep rallies in the gym with the principal, to name a few others).

I enjoy the fact that Ethan's school is close enough to walk to, too, except for one small issue: I feel as if some days he's nearly risking his life to cross the street to get there.

To explain: we live on a busy street that crosses an even busier one, where the school is. All Ethan has to do in the morning is cross our street, walk an eighth of a mile, wait to turn right when the Walk light goes on and the crossing guard helps him get across and over to the school. Simple? It would be, if people didn't constantly 1) speed down our street 2) run red lights and try to turn on red lights and 3) constantly turn right on red even when the sign says not to.

As a kid I was walking with a friend (no parents) on our own to school by first grade. But we lived in a tiny town with no stop lights. Until this year I've always driven my kids to school. I'm not used to this. And yeah, I'm not quite sure how much to trust my kid.

Crossing our street in front of our house scares ME sometimes. So I don't feel too anal or helicopter-ish wanting to help Ethan get across. And truthfully, he's a smart kid, but once in a while he'll get in his own head and lose focus. You can't forget to look both ways when you cross our street. It's more like, look both ways and then do it again. And run.

What I want to be able to do is help him get across and then watch him walk off to school. I can see the intersection from my house. I can see the crossing guards. It's these crazy drivers that have stopped me every time. There's been close to 10 times already that the crossing guards have had to start screaming with their hands out, at cars turning, coming way too close as he's inside the crosswalk, walking with the blinking Walk sign. This makes me so mad I can't think straight. It also makes it harder to let go.

A few weeks ago was the worst of such incidents. There was Ethan, in the crosswalk, when a car attempted to race through a red light and turn left directly into where he was walking, oblivious. "ETHAN!!!" I screamed, at just about the same moment the crossing guards were screaming at the car, "STOP!!!"

In that moment when I screamed, I realized something. Ethan had been startled by my yell and the crossing guards coming from two different directions at the same time. As a result, he sort of froze in place rather than moving.

My overprotectiveness had in fact just made the situation more dangerous.

"Why were you yelling?" he asked me that afternoon.

"Didn't you see the car?" I asked.


The other day I had an early appointment and Dan was the one to see Ethan off to school.

"Mamma, I don't want daddy to walk me to school," he protested in advance.

"You'll have to talk to daddy about that," I told him.

Sure enough, later on he told me that daddy watched him cross the street (on his own!) and then watched as he walked on his own to school.

Just like that.

I'm still most likely going to keep walking with Ethan to school in the morning. I don't mind getting a little fresh air, and I like to chat with him on the way.

I'm also probably going to put a call in to the police department about the drivers at our intersection. Several people (including the school) have suggested it.

And I'm going to keep talking and reminding Ethan about tricky cars and unsafe situations, and which directions to look when crossing; to pay attention.

But he is nine years old. I have to let hold of the reins just a little bit. In this case, that means letting the crossing guards do their job. They're very good at it. They're looking out for my child. A lot of wonderful people are during the school day.

I always have to trust that he IS learning better to watch out for himself; to think; to be responsible.

This is what letting go is all about: teaching, giving them the tools, and then stepping back just a little to see how they do. Not too far. Baby steps...for both of us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Explosive Offense

I was watching football the other day when I heard them say it, again. Every time I hear the phrase, I almost start laughing. It's been more than 20 years (seriously?!) and I'm convinced that sometimes the most irritating things that happen to us actually end up being a gift.

To explain (cue flashback ripple, a la every 80s sitcom you've ever seen):

I had a rather unconventional college experience. I didn't live there, and that was fine with me. My whole in-bed-before-11, up-before-7 sleep habits really don't fit well with a dorm lifestyle. That and the fact that I basically hate the taste of alcohol and only drink wine once in a while if I want to pretend I'm sophisticated. So I commuted to Westfield State (also known as "cheaper than UMass"). A lot of people did. Only: I didn't have a car right away. That's kind of a long story. So my only choice at first was to take several buses up there until I secured my own transportation.

This was an adventure in itself. On the bus there was some good people-watching for this introvert, let me tell you. And there were a few other sorry souls like myself who were also stuck taking the bus up to Westfield. We nodded perfunctory "hello's."

And then there was, well, let's call him "Bob."

Bob had also gone with me to high school, although we'd rarely crossed paths. He was that kind of quiet, nerdy, glasses and all kind of guy I normally liked and got along with (I'd run in the other direction from over-confident jocks!). Bob seemed nice enough. Bob also really, really liked the Buffalo Bills football team.

Really, really liked.

This was back when the Buffalo Bills were acting like the Red Sox of old and getting heart breakingly close to winning the Super Bowl but never quite pulling it off. They were a good team, for sure. Certainly much better than the embarrassingly bad Patriots. The Buffalo Bills were awesome, and Bob made sure he brought that up all of the time. I'd see him climb on the bus, and inevitably he'd end up sitting near me, and somehow, always, the conversation rolled around to football. Maybe he was especially happy that a "chick" liked to talk sports. All I know is, before long he would launch into his spiel about why Buffalo was the best, why'd they'd win on Sunday, why this time they'd win the Super Bowl. The only specific evidence he ever shared to back this up was because they had an "explosive offense."

And there you have it. Explosive offense. I'm not sure how many times I heard that term, but it may have been 3,251. Give or take. I didn't really understand what it meant -- I still don't -- but whatever it was, the Buffalo Bills had it. And Bob was going to let me know about it.

All of this would have been just mildly annoying, if it weren't for one thing. I would have politely listened and maybe done an invisible eye roll and that would have been that. But it's what happened a few months later that always got to me.

You see, my pal Bob managed to get himself a car before I did. And suddenly, he had something new to talk about. Not on the bus, of course, because he was driving to school now. But no, every time we'd run into each other, he'd announce, "Well, I've got my car now. I'm looking forward to driving home. Too bad you're still stuck. Have fun on the BUS!" with a smirk and a knowing look.

Every. Single. Time.

This guy literally lived about a mile from me. I remember the day I missed the bus and was sitting forlornly, waiting.

"Well, I'm headed home," he announced, sauntering by, not acknowledging my plight in the least. "Have FUN waiting for the bus!"

I stood there glaring at his back, fuming, thinking about how he could have offered me a ride. Then I realized I really didn't want to sit in his car and talk about the Bills for 45 minutes. Explosive Offense!

In retrospect, I wonder if Bob had some kind of Asperger-ish thing going on (the repetitiveness; the obsession with one subject). That never dawned on me until I started writing this. Maybe I should have been a little less irritated and a little more compassionate
My run-ins with Bob went on for awhile, until I finally got my own car (a 1984 Ford Tempo that, as it turns out, was infested with spiders). I found that of course I loved the luxury of coming and going as I pleased, but I did miss some of the characters on the bus. The older lady that worked at the dry cleaning place. The lonely man that washed dishes at Abdows. The veteran who would regale the bus driver with stories, many involving his medical ailments. Gus, the brilliant guy from my poetry writing class who enjoyed writing about vampires.

I can't say I missed Bob, because it was nice to not have to grit my teeth and bite my lip. Once he heard I had a car, he had little use for talking with me when we'd cross paths on campus. But to this day, when I hear someone talking about the Buffalo Bills, I think "Explosive Offense!" without even thinking. For Dan and I, it's become a sort of buzz word. He throws it around whenever he's trying to act like he cares about sports. ("The Celtics this year? Oh, yeah, uh, they've got an explosive offense!").

And every time they say it on TV, about whatever team they're talking about, and whatever it means, I laugh to myself and remember this lesson I seem to have been taught several times now. There will always be things that happen that don't seem very funny at the time, but in retrospect are sort of hysterical. I can only think also of our neighbors in our three-family house when we first married, the ones who hated us for no reason and claimed we walked on the floors above them purposely with "one shoe on and one shoe off" to bother them. In 1998, pure hell. Today, a story to tell our kids and laugh about. Again!

Things don't always work out this way. Some stuff happens and it's just crummy and there's no redeeming it. But we can mine our lives for these Buffalo Bill moments. They are out there. When we look at life in that way, it's a lot less miserable and a lot more fun.

So thank you, Bob, from all those years ago.

Go Bills!! (Next year, that is...)

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

My house is bordering on disaster, the tree is raining needles, and I haven't started my New Year's diet -- yet. This Christmas Anna received a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, "Perfectly Imperfect," and that just about sums up this Christmas. It was perfectly imperfect.

But then, isn't that how it is for all of us?

We went to the Living Nativity and once again the kids started arguing right in front of the carolers serenely singing "Angels We Have Heard on High." Ethan heard the song and said, "Hey, they took that from our song we're doing in kid's choir at church!" and I had to inform him that the carolers didn't "steal" this classic Christmas carol from eons ago.

We went to a Christmas light display and there was actual snow on the ground this year! Everything looked so festive. Chloe oo'ed and ahh'd at the lights. Anna and Ethan fought over who should sit where in the car to get the best view. Yes, the stop in the middle of the park at "Santa's Village" or whatever it was called was highway robbery (three dollars to roast ONE marshmallow over an open fire -- whaaaat?!) but Chloe loved riding the Merry-Go-Round (as I slowly froze in the 20-degree temperatures, holding on to her).

My grand plan once again for getting the kids excited about donating money to send animals (i.e. sheep, honeybees) to people in Africa to help them work a trade fell through once again. I lost the pamphlet and forgot to even give them allowance for weeks (to their credit, they didn't even ask me for it). But I did buy some things so we can make little plastic bags full of toiletries and other items to give out to the homeless. We haven't done it YET, but then again, why are we doing everything at Christmas? People need things throughout the year.

This year we finally got on board with having Anna and Ethan get gifts for each other, using their own money (including the allowances I'd forgotten to give them). This was interesting to watch, and the payoff was rewarding. I knew there was some selflessness in there, I thought when one child was about to use all of their allowance saved up rather than the $10 I'd suggested.

We lit the advent candle at church one Sunday and Chloe didn't run away and wreak havoc. She may have stood with her back facing the congregation almost the entire time, but I'll take it. Ethan once again refused to sing a solo in the kid's choir (he has a great voice and had lyrics memorized months ago) but he didn't spent the whole time looking at his watch while on stage (that was a few years ago). Another little girl had a fun time pulling her dress over her head and dancing in circles while they were singing, but that's what made it precious. I almost forgot the words to my Christmas solo due to sheer nerves, but pulled through. And didn't trip while walking across the stage, because I wore my ugly flats rather than deciding to get adventurous.

I found myself several times telling people what I continually tell myself: "It's okay, it'll be fine, you'll do great and if not it's okay because it's not about that." That's not what Christmas about; church is about; God is about.

Christmas break kicked off with Ethan getting sick and throughout the holidays all three kids came down with variations of the same virus. Everyone was hacking and nose-blowing. Ethan and I missed the Christmas Eve service with Dan's family. Chloe was an angel for the kid's Christmas pageant. She actually walked down the aisle. She didn't run in circles but looked very quizzically at the baby Jesus (a.k.a plastic baby doll) lying swaddled in front of her. We didn't get out much to do special things with everyone feeling sick, but we were able to do Christmas with both of our families.

And yes, this Christmas as we celebrated with those close to us I thought of those in my life who have lost loved ones in the past year. There have been some really horrific, difficult things that some have faced this year. And while I've often wondered how they continue to hold on, I'm not going to lie and say that there aren't times like these when my own faith is rocked. There are times when I have to fight to not ask over and over and over: Why?

For a long time I was very hard on myself about this. I hate to be one of the Doubting Thomases of the world.

But more recently I've decided that thinking people are going to ask questions. What matters more is what you do when you feel the answers don't add up the way you'd like them to.

There's been some backlash out there against those who decide to rail against the perfect Pinterest Christmas, about people who have started to "let it all hang out" online, the moms who are in defiance bragging about how inept and messy and imperfect their family is, darnit, and we need to relish in that. It's gotten to the point where some people are asking, "What's wrong with me if I like a neat house? Or if I enjoy doing crafts with my kids? Or if I managed to host a nice party? Do we have to glorify being imperfect now?"

There's a difference, though. There is a difference between reveling in your imperfections vs. accepting them.

There's a difference between being satisfied and willing to stay right where you are vs. knowing you are heading on a path somewhere but you aren't there yet, and along the way you are going to stumble many, many times.

We had an imperfect Christmas and I have an imperfect faith. And we'll keep trying to keep the focus on the right things and to love each other and to love God but sometimes we will miss the mark spectacularly. And the one thing that is perfect about it is God's grace carrying us again and again and again...through loss and failure and yes, in my case, questions, lots of questions.

Being perfectly imperfect means loving yourself right where you are -- but that doesn't mean you have to stay there. I'm going to keep walking.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ethan Meets "Fake News"

A few weeks ago Ethan asked to play on my phone for a few minutes before school. This is a sometimes-privilege granted when he's completely ready for school, chores done, good attitude, etc. He nearly always goes to YouTube and looks up videos about Minecraft.

This day seemed different, however. And while I'd like to say I monitor every moment my child is online (because God knows what's out there!) I don't always see everything he's doing, especially if he's on for a brief period of time. It wasn't until we were walking to school that he sighed, "My greatest wish in the world is to be able to fly." This isn't the first time he's said this, along with sharing his love of bald eagles and how he wants to be a bald eagle -- so he can fly, of course.

But this time there was more. "Mamma, do you know there IS a way you can fly? For real?"

"And what's that?" I asked slowly, suspiciously.

"Well, I saw it on this video..." Warning bells went off. Loudly.

"What video?" I asked, my voice rising.

"On YouTube."

"Is that what you were just doing??"

"Yes. There are these videos, and the people said if you do it you really will be able to fly, and they weren't lying. And they even showed them flying. I swear!"

I didn't even know where to begin with this. "Ethan, what did they say to do?"

"Well, one said you had to think really hard about being able to fly, and drink a lot of water, and then say these words and spin around, and you would really start flying."

Again I was left speechless, and yet it was almost time to see him off to school. How to start a discussion with a very literal child about the evils of the internet, about not everything you see online being true, about special effects and people who will say anything to get followers and about when someone is kidding or doing a little "spoof" versus real life?

All I could think about was when I used to work for the hospital full time, and they had the "Safe Kids" program that was dedicated to child safety and educating people on issues like drowning or choking. They had an ad campaign called "Kids Can't Fly" that highlighted the way some children, in their longing to be superheroes, were actually seriously hurt trying to do things like jump out of windows, believing that yes, they could indeed fly.

"Ethan, I'm sorry, but people can't fly on their own. And you can't believe anyone who tells you that. I need you to come to us always and check before you try something you see online." He said he understood as he headed off to school, but I wondered.

In fact, I fumed about the incident on and off while he was at school. Yes, there are practical jokes and parodies. But where do they cross over to downright dangerous? What if one of these "tip videos" had (even jokingly, which he might miss) told my child to jump out of a window, or do something else that bordered on unsafe?

The first lesson is, of course, to know what my child is watching, or not allow him to watch at all. True. But I can't always be there. Already he has the opportunity to Google sometimes at school. I can't always see what he's taking in.

So, as with all kids but even more so, we have to give him the tools to distinguish between fantasy and reality; to use his judgment; to not take things at face value; to go to his parents or another trusted adult and ask before just believing.

These issues have come up in other ways already. Recently he started quoting some fact that I knew was inaccurate. I asked who told him that and he said a kid in his class. When I told him the boy was wrong, he insisted that was impossible, because this person had told him, and he'd found it online.

Ethan thinks Google is a person. He's not yet completely convinced that the internet is run by people -- people with all kinds of different biases and motives. He sees it as almost an all-knowing God-figure. "Just ask Google," he'll say, not wanting to believe that it's actual people feeding the information TO Google.

Later that day I caught Ethan closing his eyes really tight and saying something. He got embarrassed when he saw me and acknowledged, yes, it was something about being able to fly.

"I'm sorry, Ethan. You can't fly..." I really do feel for him.

"But they said...they promised they weren't lying!"

"I'm sorry, buddy. They were."

I hate that he has to learn this, yet I'm desperate for him to learn this. Such is the world we live in.

To cheer Ethan up about the flying thing, we are seriously looking into indoor skydiving. I told him that IS a way he can fly. Who knows? This could be next year's birthday surprise.

But I'm not naïve enough to think this isn't going to come up again. I just pray, in time, he has the tools, the discernment, to navigate these murky waters.