Monday, March 31, 2014

Reality Check

So Dan and I have this running joke every July after baseball's All-Star game. Dan, who cares little for sports, always starts singing that hokey Christmas song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" because that day or two during the break is the only time all year that no professional sports are in session.

I could create my own version of the song every year when we go with Ethan to visit Dr. Milanese, the developmental pediatrician. Except the song would be modified: How about -- "The Most Deflating Time of the Year?" Or to quote another early 90s staple: "Back to life, back to reality..."

It's not as if Dr. Milanese takes joy in bursting the bubble. She always says straight out that she's not setting out to be critical...but just looking with a careful eye at things the school at times wants to "gloss over." Her job is to point out what still needs work, where Ethan's still struggling, and what might cause issues for him down the road. Call it the "Yes, but..." factor.

Dr. Milanese doesn't care if he's reading at a DRA level of 12 when they need to be at a 6 by the end of kindergarten. She doesn't care he's in the advanced math group, has no need for a paraprofessional, transitions well, or has several close friends.

Her job is certainly not to pat us on the back or offer accolades. She is there to note, for example, how Ethan has trouble with conversational exchange, interrupts in a manner more akin to a younger child, and doesn't really focus on reading others' cues.

Beyond that, she knows her role is to point out how these issues now can lead to trouble down the road...with peers misunderstanding him in the later grades; with a job interview gone awry because he couldn't look the interviewer in the face.

There is nothing she said that wasn't true during Ethan's visit last week. So why was I bothered by it? Why am I always bothered?

Maybe it's because most of the year, I am blessed to hear Ethan's teachers and therapists gush about him; his smarts; his progress. This is wonderful: until we go to Dr. Milanese, and I wonder where the truth lies and why I hear two different stories. This makes me start to believe either Dr. M. is exceedingly negative, or the school says things we want to hear or to make themselves feel or look better. I'm guessing the latter.

Dan says I'm going about this all wrong, and asks why both sets of observations can't be true. I suppose that's the healthy, realistic way of looking at things.

I don't know. Maybe it's this: That every year I get lulled into this little bubble reinforced by people like the swimming instructor ("I wouldn't have known he was autistic unless you told me") or the parent of a classmate at a birthday party ("Really? I had no idea..."). Then I'm reminded that we are in the easy years, that (as Dr. Milanese pointed out) the bar only gets raised higher, the social expectations more complex. That's not to say she didn't think Ethan couldn't reach them, in time. Just that he's going to have to continue to be taught.

Then I made the mistake of going home after the appointment and not but a few hours later watching this.

In this clip at about 32:00 from a recent episode of Parenthood, Max, the character with Asperger's, had insisted on going on an overnight class field trip without his mom chaperoning. He ended up needing to be picked up after completely melting down. The parents find out why: another kid peed in his canteen. In this scene, for the first time, Max not just realizes that the other kids don't like him or that he's different, he cares, and it breaks both his and his parents' hearts.

I sat there and watched and (as I often do with Parenthood episodes), cried, because as easy as things seem to go these days, as Dr. Milanese portended, I could see that being Ethan in a few years. And I knew that was why I don't like these visits -- because she cares little about the now. She looks to the 10 years from now, even when we don't want to.

After awhile, I put the visit with Dr. Milanese back into its usual corner in my mind: not too far back, not right in front of me. Somewhere right in the middle, where I can look to see if there's anything we can do today to impact tomorrow, without going crazy, without sacrificing Ethan's childhood by throwing him into social skills groups every day of the week. We always to some extent have to at least halfway let it go, because of course we don't know where Ethan will be in five or 10 years. We can be optimistic or realistic but it doesn't do too much good to be completely pessimistic.

And, as Beth Moore once said, God doesn't give us the grace to deal with "down the road." If Ethan has Max-like moments then, there will be a way to bear it. Then, not now. Grace for the moment. And in this moment, that means grace to get to the next one and the next and the one after that, without bowing to the constant chatter of worry, the continual wonder of what ifs as we gaze ahead at a great unknown.

No comments: