Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why Questions

Anna and Ethan before the Harvest Party at Anna's school, October 2008

This morning I caught Ethan standing on top of the back of the couch, trying to make his "snake" string climb up one of our surround-sound speakers.

He has two toy guns now that he calls "shoot guns" and likes to aim them at us (in good fun, not maliciously) and make shooting sounds.

We're going to look for Halloween costumes in a couple of days, and all I can think is, "If only my parenting self five years ago could see me now."

I was never one of those parents who devoured every article in Parents magazine and every page of the What To Expect books, who made my own baby food and bought only the five-stars-for-safety-rated car seat. But I tried pretty darned hard. More than that, when Anna was a baby, toddler, and preschooler, I fretted about any and all things parenting-related.

How could we get her to eat more?

Should we let her play with Barbies?

Should I be worried that she doesn't know her letters yet?

As a Christian parent, more worries came on thick:
Should we send her to public or Christian school?
Do we do the Santa thing?

What about Halloween?

That last one really got me. Apparently since I didn't have anything more pressing to worry about, I actually used to toss and turn in bed at night, pondering the Halloween question. Halloween wasn't a big deal as a kid. We dressed up and went to the town party. We were Christians and didn't celebrate gory stuff, but we didn't go around denouncing the holiday, either. But then there I was, 30 years old in a church where the pastor discouraged celebrating the holiday, and I didn't completely agree, and I just didn't know what to do with that.

It sounds so silly now, but really the underlying issue was my confidence as a parent, and the answer to these questions: What was driving my decisions? Why did I believe what I believed?

For the longest time I never stopped to answer those questions. Then autism came along, and most of the things I had previously worried about dissipated. The questions that had previously seemed of such consequence now seemed nearly insignificant. Do I really care, for example, if my child is playing with guns, as long as he is actually playing, and attempting to delve into pretend play? My concerns about not being too rough on furniture are outshadowed by the fact that Ethan is standing on said furniture calling, "Mom! Look at me! My snake is climbing up high." The part of me that longed to hear my son call to get my attention has trouble being bothered by the precarious and irreverent way he sometimes treats furniture (hello, one little monkey jumping on the bed).

My son has to attend a public school to receive the services he needs, and they recognize Halloween. He is learning about a seasonal custom and last year for the first time ever after knocking on the neighbor's door for candy started to ask to visit them. Halloween is a social rather than satanic experience.

Don't get me wrong: as parents we must have limits, and we must have values and standards we urge our children to follow. If Ethan gets obsessed with guns and killing people, perhaps the guns will go away. He has to know he can't jump on other people's furniture. And on Halloween my kids are not dressing up as skeletons and witches, going on zombie walks, and visiting the fortune teller on the town green.

But again, a few years of experience and an encounter with autism have shown me it's wise to question why we do the things we do.

Do we parents of ASD children choose certain therapies because "everyone else is doing it" and the pressure is great, or because we're driven by fears and the need to just do something, or because we truly believe it will best benefit our child's individual needs?

Do we allow our children to do or not do something because we hold a personal conviction about the issue or because we're afraid of being judged by other parents?

Do we bring our children up in a faith and belief system simply handed down from our own parents, or are we living out a faith birthed from of our own encounter with God, our own experience, our own convictions?

I don't always make the right decisions. Sometimes I have to go back and readjust, reevaluate. But I can't stop asking the questions. I can't stop thinking that it's just like the way we develop as kids, that area many children with autism struggle with: Asking "why" questions and beginning to answer them is a major milestone. No conviction is truly a conviction, no belief is truly a belief, if we don't know why we believe it.

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