Ethan started getting "into" trains awhile ago, meaning that whenever we'd be at the library or Barnes & Noble, he'd spend a good deal of time at the Thomas the Train table, pushing trains around the track. When a friend mentioned on Facebook before Christmas last year that she was selling a train table and tons of trains, I thought we should leap at the opportunity.
So I drove out to her house and figured out how to wedge the thing into the back of my car.
I lugged it into the garage and Dan put the pieces back together.
I attempted to pry off the old track glued on there, meeting with limited success.
I spent a great deal of time attempting to fit their assortment of different brands of train tracks into some sort of layout, which was infinitely more difficult due to the scattered tracks of various sizes still glued to the table that I somehow had to incorporate as well.
I spent WAY too much time on that part.
We presented the table to Ethan on Christmas and after the holidays moved the table up to his room, where, lo and behold -- he rarely played with it. He would for a few minutes, or if someone else was playing. But anytime he was left alone in his room, I'd inevitably hear him start smashing the tracks.
So I mustered up some determination and glued the tracks down.
He smashed them again.
So I glued them better.
And he smashed them.
So I decided, with some guidance from Dan, to screw the tracks in to the table. Even on my best day, I'm possibly the least handiest person in the world. Somehow I managed to split a number of tracks in two, but I did eventually get things screwed down.
But somehow Ethan managed to break those tracks off, too.
Some days I'd leave the table a jumbled mass of tracks, washing my hands of the matter. Every once in awhile, Ethan would say, "The tracks are broken," and I'd half-heartedly put most of them back together.
I wondered when exactly along the way all of this had begun to feel like a battle.
Last month all was quiet in Ethan's room on a Saturday morning. Too quiet. I went in there to find he had peed on the train table.
This is not something he does often, peeing on toys or ruining toys or books. Every once in awhile he will, but thankfully Ethan doesn't tend to be destructive. Every time he is, however, feels like a punch in the gut.
Every time he does something like that, I remember being a kid, and Andy and his bathroom incidents all over the house, the clothes and furniture he destroyed -- not out of malice, just out of frustration; confusion; not understanding.
Every time Ethan does something like that, I fight getting a very bitter taste in my mouth.
With Ethan watching, I began to rip up the train tracks, furiously cleaning, tossing things into a garbage bag. That was it. I was waving my white flag. I was admitting surrender.
When I was a kid, for whatever reason, one of my favorite stories was Pinocchio. In the story, a fairy tells Pinocchio the wooden puppet he can become a real boy if he proves himself "brave, truthful, and unselfish." The part I always remember and always loved is the end, when Pinocchio is jumping around for joy, so thrilled and awed to be a real boy.
The more I thought about the train table fiasco, the more I wondered: had the train table been for Ethan, or had I been pushing the whole thing in my own vain efforts to mold Ethan into a "real" boy? A typical kid? Someone who would meet my ideals and expectations?
One of the most painful things about having a child with special needs is really nothing about the child. It's the way the experience turns a spotlight on your insides, your motives, your intentions...and highlights every impurity, every darkly selfish part.
It's okay to grieve. But what if the greatest tragedy was to spend life pining for the wrong dreams; longing for the things that aren't even real, things that don't actually bring us the ultimate fulfillment we're all searching for?
I can't forget something Beth Moore once said, and I'm paraphrasing: God's plan for each of us is not that we're a perfectly happy and content, but that our lives have meaning and purpose.
I DID need to surrender, just not in the way I had thought.
Ethan IS a real boy. Ethan is my boy. He loves music and computer games and trains (when we're not at home), cul-de-sacs and bells. He loves...he shows love...and he shows love unashamedly, without conditions. I am the one who can be hollow inside; not genuine.
Pinocchio finally becomes a boy when he chooses to sacrifice his life for his father. He lives out the fairy's admonishment to be brave, truthful (after some slip-ups!), and unselfish.
To be brave, not filled with fear, in the face of challenging circumstances. Truthful with not just others, but myself. Humble and unselfish, loving people for who they are rather than what they can do for me.
This is what it means to be real.