Monday, April 27, 2015

Bad Words

So, we don't do a lot of swearing in our home.

I have my vices and negative points, for sure (Complaining and whining? Uh-huh. Worrying and nagging? Procrastinating? Yes. Loving food too much and exercise too little? Absolutely.) but cursing isn't one of them. Same goes for Dan.

And so it goes that we haven't had to deal with the swearing issue the way many parents of both typical kids or verbal children on the autism spectrum do.

Until now.

It's simple: Kids repeat what they hear, whether it's from their parents, other kids at school, or on the TV, radio or online. Kids with autism have a special talent for filing away certain phrases or words and pulling them out and repeating them later (i.e. "scripting"). Which is why we can be driving with Ethan and he will throw out the slogans he's picked up from car commercials every time one drives by ("Nissan. Innovation that excites!").

In our house we're always on a quest to find shows we can watch as a family (and I don't mean some Disney Channel series that will turn my brain to mush). It's slim pickings out there, but recently we found that Netflix has a gazillion episodes of The Amazing Race.

I love The Amazing Race. I live vicariously through these world travelers doing things I'd be too chicken or airheaded to accomplish. The kids have really gotten into it, too. Overall, it's a pretty benign show, but of course sometimes people get tense and stressed and lose their tempers with each other.

The other day Ethan was playing a game on the Wii when I heard him bark out at one of the characters on the screen, "What the hell are you doing?"

It wasn't just the words, it was the inflection of his voice. I knew exactly who he was mimicking.

"Ethan, did you hear Jen and Keisha from The Amazing Race saying that?" He acknowledged yes.

This brings me to my next point: How in the world do you explain which "bad words" not to use to someone who is so completely innocent and literal?

Right around the same time, someone on the episode called someone else a "bitch."

"Bad word!" I called out. I'd decided to just straight out identify the words he couldn't say.

"Why is it a bad word?" he asked.

And of course I was completely stumped. Anna sat there, looking expectantly at me as if she were waiting for an explanation as well.

"Well, there are certain words, and they are considered rude when we say them to people. They're not polite, and we don't use them..." This was quite possibly the lamest explanation I'd ever given as a parent. I briefly considered looking up swear words on Wikipedia. How DID these things come to be known as the "bad words?"

A few days later, we were watching Back to the Future and I knew I'd have to be on Bad Words Patrol. Now, I know conventional wisdom is to not overreact about your child saying something inappropriate or it will encourage them to keep saying it. But I did feel I needed to instill a little dose of healthy fear into Ethan. I could just see him getting mad at his teacher and demanding in his best Jen-from-Amazing-Race-voice, "What the hell are you doing!?"

I love Back to the Future. For years it was one of my favorite movies. We've been waiting to watch this with the kids. While it has a few "questionable moments," it's pretty innocent, overall. I knew some of the stuff would go right over Ethan's head. But when we got to the part where Doc Brown starts revving up his Delorean time machine in the mall parking lot and says, "When this baby gets to 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious sh..."

"...Bad word!" I called out again, realizing how ridiculous this was.

"Don't say that word at school. You could be sent to the principal's office," I said sternly. Ethan looked at me quizzically.

I'm just grateful we haven't (and won't be) watching anything with the "F" word.

I guess this is one of those times where that old adage about the parent not having to offer their child explanations about everything, or reasons why they are being disciplined, applies. "Parents do too much talking these days," I heard a wise woman who counsels parents and families say not long ago. I was glad she reminded me that sometimes, it really is okay to just end a statement with, "Because I said so." It doesn't mean I'm turning into a tyrant, or into my own parents. It's just part of life and parenting. Some things can't be explained. Like how sh%$# became a swear word. I just can't go there.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Sweetest Things

The kids have school vacation this week (unlike most of the rest of the state, who had vacation last week). The forecast is cool; rainy. I've been wondering, as I often do with three kids of such varying ages and interests, how to keep them all happy.

I used to be one who craved excitement. I couldn't just take a vacation, darnit, it had to be an adventure that jammed and crammed more locations than physically possible into one week (which is why, at one point on a trip in Utah years ago, we found ourselves trying to squeeze visits to three national parks in one day).

It's vacation week, and everyone around here people seems to have grand plans. Or if not grand, at least, getaways for every day to keep the kids occupied. The science center. The dinosaur place. The indoor water park. There are times I look around and think, I don't know how to do any of this with three. Never mind the money. It's that they'd want to go in three different directions. Even hiking. How I long to hike with the kiddos. Only -- Chloe can't really trudge across long distances yet. But she's so big for her age that putting her in a backpack can be really taxing.

So these days (including vacation week) we spend more time than we ever have at home, or in our backyard, and sometimes I feel bad about that. Like the other day, when our big plans were going to Stop & Shop. In the rain. And I bought them pickles while we were there. Because they really like pickles.

After the groceries had been unloaded, pickles (and other lunch items) eaten, Chloe had gone down for a nap and the other two had tired of bickering, I noticed the rain sliding down the glass. I was wrapped in my favorite fuzzy blanket on the couch. "Guys, look at the rain," I said.

Getting comfy while watching Superstorm Sandy, 2012

I was reminded of the day a few years ago when they were home from school due to Superstorm Sandy. After they'd danced out in their bare feet on the soggy back deck, we laid down on the carpet and looked up at the trees in our backyard. The branches danced wildly; the sight was almost hypnotizing.

I remembered the walk on a frozen brook with my dad on a long ago winter day; the warm spring evening we dug up worms for fishing the next day...the cool of the mud on my bare feet.

I thought of picking dandelions in one grandmother's backyard, the rhythmic hum of a sawmill in the distance. I remembered the small cup of hot tea in my other grandmother's kitchen, and the summer evenings she'd pick basil from the garden and bring the bunch to my face so I could take a fragrant whiff.

I remembered playing Chutes & Ladders on Saturday nights with my parents, my hair still wet from the bath, and running around the bandstand on the green of a nearby town on Sunday evenings, playing tag as the music played and cars honked their appreciation.

I could hear my grandmother tucking us in on nights when she babysat. She would always, always sing "Jesus Loves Me." Then "Jesus Loves the Little Children." And I have never felt so safe.

"Kids, just sit here and listen to the rain," I said again. They didn't really want to, because they were afraid I was going to make them have some "quiet rest and reading" like we used to do when they were a bit younger. But that was okay. I had had a moment to be reminded that when I remembered the best things about childhood, the trip to Disney was never the first thing to come to mind. Neither was any visit to a museum, aquarium, or amusement park.

Instead I remembered after dinner rides for ice cream and hide and seek just as it was getting dark and my dad sending a beam from the flashlight into the sky and telling us how the stars we were looking at may no longer be there.

Life can't be so much about trying to acquire moments as making the most of the little ones we have.

The rest of the afternoon we did not do much of anything special. I'm pretty sure even Chloe was bored (she brought me a shoe as if to say, "Enough of this -- let's go outside"). But we did partake in a pretty good game of Jumping Off the Couch Cushions.

And who knows? Maybe their minds, their memories snapped a picture. Maybe they will pull it out and dust it off some day, when they look back and think about all of the sweetest things that have helped them become the people they will be.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sometimes Messing Up is the Best Thing You Can Do

"This summer," I told Anna the other day, "You are going to submit something to Story Pirates."

We learned about Story Pirates from the kid's station on XM radio. Kids submit stories (sans any help from parents) and they pick the best ones to not just read, but dramatize during a weekly show.

Anna's an amazing writer. Her stories are clever and humorous and far better than most of what I was writing at her age. Yet she's never tried to submit a story to any sort of contest or publication.

"But what if it's not good enough?" she asked.

"That's not the point. The point is to do it."

She was afraid, as all of us are, of rejection. Of trying and failing. Of her pride being wounded.

Oh, how I knew.

I thought back to just a few days' prior. At church. I was singing. There was a song I was supposed to sing while they were collecting the offering. Well, we all were singing it, but I was the one starting it. I have always, always feared launching off into a song in the wrong key. The fear has actually almost paralyzed me. There have been times I knew the note just fine, but the thought of missing the note almost took my breath away so I couldn't sing at all.

I was probably being a little ambitious the other day. I'd never heard the song played at church before. We were having the guys strum just one chord of the song before I was supposed to jump in. The first note was a little high for me anyway, which was throwing me off, and so, yeah...I plunged into one of my greatest singing fears: starting on the wrong note.

But this, this is what I started telling Anna: I survived! I corrected myself. I kept singing. Maybe not well, because I was so flustered, but I kept singing. Mortified, but singing.

"Anna, you've got to do this, not because you've got to win. But because you're a good writer, and it's time to face that fear," I told her.

I knew it wouldn't be the first time she'd try and (possibly) fail. But the greater tragedy would be not trying.

There was more.

I thought about the other times I'd seen various people up on the stage make mistakes. There was the day we ended up doing a special song earlier than we'd anticipated -- and the lead guitarist was in the bathroom. I felt so bad for him as he returned a few minutes later, 300 pairs of eyes on him, waiting for him to start the song. There was the time the worship leader not only started singing the song in the wrong key but also tripped on stage and knocked over some equipment. There was the young guy who fainted right in the middle of the "Hallelujah Chorus" in Handel's Messiah one Christmas.

In retrospect, these were not the events that defined them. But what they did do was encourage me. They encouraged me to get up and keep going. To not beat myself up too much over a mistake. To have fun. To laugh (as hard as this may be) at myself. To know perfection is not the goal -- especially in church, where it's so not about us.

I was reminded, as I spoke to Anna, that our mistakes may not be just for us to learn from. They may be for someone else, too. Maybe there are people who need to see we spectacularly failed but didn't give up...we went ahead and wrote the article and had it rejected again and again and again...took the test and failed but kept studying for next time.

Maybe someone else just needs to remember we're all human.

And the best part? When our failings mean something, they become useful rather than just random crummy things that happen. They have a purpose. More and more, I learn this: whatever; whatever happens to us can be redeemed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Things That Matter

We were lost. Again. In the 5 1/2 years Ethan has been seeing Dr. Milanese, the developmental pediatrician, her office has moved three times. This year the confusion was my fault. It probably would have helped if I'd looked at the reminder card from her office more carefully, so I wasn't searching for a building number that didn't exist.

I wanted but didn't want Ethan to go to this appointment. I enjoy checking with Dr. Milanese -- she's fabulous at what she does -- but in the past our appointments have seemed to be mostly about what Ethan can't do, what makes him still have a diagnosis, etc., etc.

There was that. But more.

A few years ago, she kept pushing for Ethan to have some sort of genetic testing. She kept throwing around ruling out that Ethan doesn't have Fragile X syndrome, which from my limited Googling skills doesn't seem to make too much sense, as usually it's linked with developmental disability, and Ethan has a super high IQ. ("You know, with your family history of autism," she has said for multiple years. "And it would be good for your daughter to know. And you aren't planning on have any more children, are you?"). Not that she'd said it in a judging way. Although who knew what she was thinking?

Another year, and we hadn't gotten the testing done.

Now here we were. And with Chloe, and Dr. Milanese's watchful, judging eyes.

I don't have any overwhelming concerns about Chloe and autism. There are times when she will do or not do something and I get a little worried, but I think that is natural for anyone who has had a special needs child. I also think that because Ethan's form of autism is so mild, and because I've already seen some positive things Chloe is doing, socially speaking, I feel a bit more at peace. And an autism diagnosis doesn't seem as scary.

I have grown to accept Ethan's autism. I know it may not be as easy when he is older, and I may not feel that so much. But right now, I am sitting with a feeling that took a long time to get to. Autism isn't constantly hanging over our heads, whether we're talking about Ethan or Chloe. Which is why I don't want to get the darned genetic testing. I love my sweet boy. I don't care about his genes. Only I don't know how to tell this to the professional, to the one with the laptop and the clipboard, because I can't share my heart.

As I suspected, Dr. Milanese started chatting with Ethan while keeping an eye on Chloe. At one point she called her name, asking her not to touch something, and Chloe turned to look at her.

"Ahh, I see how she understands the cadence in my voice," she remarked.

This scrutiny, while not unexpected, made me rather uncomfortable. I do appreciate having the connection so that if red flags appear we have an "in" with the developmental pediatrician -- no waiting around. I just felt as if the entire appointment was a test.

I felt as if my life and choices were being put to a test.

She continued to chat with Ethan, offering up tidbits about herself to see if Ethan would comment; pointing out things to him; asking him questions.

She watched the way he interacted with Chloe -- getting her toys, offering her snacks. They sat down at a little table together playing with a wooden stacking toy. It was meant for older kids but Chloe was trying her darnedest to get the balls around the pegs. Ethan was becoming frustrated that she wasn't stacking them by color.

"Does Chloe have any words?" Dr. Milanese asked Ethan, not me.

"She says 'maaa' when she wants milk and 'baba' for bottle," he answered. She does have some other words, but I wouldn't say she's had her language explosion yet.

"It's good to know she is using her words to communicate rather than just labeling things," she said to me.

The appointment went on, a jumble of conversations interrupted by Ethan interrupting or the baby getting into something or Ethan getting silly and rambunctious. "This is our life," I said kind of jokingly but seriously at one point, and I wondered.

This is the point where everyone in the world will tell me I shouldn't care and that it's none of her business, but I wondered if I was being judged.

I wondered if the medical, logical side of her brain was wondering why we would have "risked" having another child, why we kept blowing off this genetic testing that she'd once again mentioned?

Our time was almost up. For the first time in a long time, Dr. Milanese surprised me. Instead of telling me the things Ethan should be doing that he wasn't, she said, "Ethan seems more conversational than last year. Have you noticed that?" I agreed.

"I have no concerns about Chloe right now," she continued. I knew she'd been watching.

She sent us on our way, encouraging me to follow up with the neurogeneticist. "They'll provide additional neuropsych testing so you'll have that to stack against the school's tests," she said.

I wanted to tell her I was a little burnt out on them all. CARS, ADOS, any and all of it. I had spent too long watching numbers and seeing if they'd inch in the "right" direction. And they would always inch and there was always improvement, but it was pretty obvious at this point she wasn't going to remove an autism stamp off his forehead.

I have traveled a long path that I am still traveling. One that has been slowly worming its way out of the habit of wanting MY child to be the best, the smartest, the most adjusted, the most popular, the most talented, the most advanced, the most loving and giving and generous.

I have fought hard battles against thoughts birthed in childhood that my family was different, something was wrong with me or them, that we were somehow defective.

I don't want my son's genes tested right now. I just want to learn how to love him fully and truly.

If Chloe started showing delays we would of course get her help, but I am, God help me, trying to enjoy our last one. I don't always want to have eyes like a developmental pediatrician. I don't want our play time together to constantly be like a Dr. Milanese appointment.

If I could tell her how I really feel, I would have asked: Do you know what it's like to miss your son's babyhood because you were afraid something was wrong with him? Do you know what it's like to live most of life dreading things that might never happen? Do you know what it's like to be learning how to take risks and to let go and to learn that love is not what your child does or how they make you feel? Do you know what it's like to be blessed with a gift that you never thought you'd have?

This is why we have another. This is why I am done with tests right now. This is why we only see you once a year, doctor. Because I respect you, but you are all about the diagnosis. We are doing life. And I am resolving to love every last imperfect, lovely, scary, awesome, unpredictable bit of it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pain and Dependance

I threw out my back the other day. Badly -- as in, I took a hot shower to try to ease some of the pain and ended up on the floor unable to move for a good half-hour.

This is not the first time this has happened. Sadly, I seem to always forget to lift correctly, and having a young child in the house once again means I have been constantly not lifting her correctly. One wrong move getting her out of the high chair did me in.

As I sat there on the floor, Dan kept asking me how he could help. Only I didn't know what to tell him, because I knew moving would mean excruciating pain. It reminded me of being in labor with Anna, when everything we'd learned in the childbirth class went out the window.

After a while my muscles stopped spasming enough for me to inch my way slowly up to my hands and knees. I thought of how pathetic I must look. Crawling, my hair still wet. I thought about all my plans. It was the day before Easter, darn it! I needed to get to the store! I needed to get the Easter baskets together!

I wasn't going anywhere for a while. Never mind the store -- I wondered how I'd make it to the bathroom.

As I ever-so-slowly tried to get myself off the floor, I thought about pain. I thought how no matter how hard I tried to recall, I couldn't articulate what labor pain (14 months ago, without the benefit of any drugs) had actually felt like. In retrospect I only know it left me feeing nearly delirious. This pain was completely different, yet the same. Both left me desperately dependent. Humbled. Wanting to do little else but curl into a ball, except --

Except the only way out of pain was to move.

When in labor they tell you the worst thing you can do is to hold your breath. Yet extreme pain causes us to do just that. The flow of oxygen actually helps ease the pain, but it's not in our nature to keep breathing free and easy when we feel like we're dying.

Sometimes, when you're giving birth to something, the only way out is literally through the pain.

Treating back pain, having been through this before, is strangely counter-intuitive. You think that you've strained yourself and sent muscles spasming, and the best thing to do is rest. Don't move. Sink into the couch with a heating pad and call it a day. Yet not moving is actually the worst thing you can do. That's when things can seize up on you even worse than before. It's only when you begin to move and keep moving that the work of healing begins.

How funny is that: that the times we are in the most pain, and are most dependent on someone besides ourselves, are sometimes the times we are expected to, that we have to move?

I thought about my faith walk, about what faith is: being expected to take steps trusting soley on God rather than my own feeble efforts. Faith without movement really isn't faith at all.

I thought about grief, and fear. There are stages of pain and loss and mourning, yes. Like the pain I've dealt with for five days now, it doesn't heal on an even trajectory. It ebbs and flows. Two steps forward, one step back. Or worse -- one step forward, two steps back.

And fear. Oh, fear. I procrastinate a lot about the things I fear. But not moving will never truly eradicate the anxiety. I must face things. What did Eleanor Roosevelt say? "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." This is what I say to my kids, whether it's eating mashed potatoes that make them want to gag or getting up on a stage. I want them to be brave. But I have to be brave, too.

My back. It still hurts. Yeah, I went to the doctor (have I mentioned -- I really, really hate going to the doctor). I have some muscle relaxants. I have exercises. But while I'm working on that, I'm going to try to remember to not forget to move. Even when it hurts. Even when it's scary. It's the only way through. It's the thing I must do.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April Fools Was No Joke

I've decided next year we're boycotting April Fools Day.

Let me just say right up front I have never been a big fan of the "holiday." I don't really enjoy tricks and jokes and pranks on people. I usually end up feeling really, really sorry for them. It wasn't until a year or two ago I began to wonder if part of my aversion to most kinds of trickery, and especially April Fools Day, might have something to do with the "fun prank" some relatives decided to play on me and my dad when I was about 8 or 9. Let's just say it involved pretending a car that someone had jacked up to work on had actually come off the jack and was crushing the person underneath, until everyone popped up with, "Just kidding!"

Yeah. Hardy-har. I was in hysterics with my heart pounding out of my chest.

So I'm a real dud when it comes to pranks, and on the flip side Anna loves April Fools Day. She claims it's one of her favorite holidays (really?). She really loves teasing almost anytime, and the fact that Ethan is so gullible makes it easier. Dan, like me, isn't big on jokes, and a while ago both of us got pretty annoyed when one sweltering evening she offered to bring us glasses of water -- only it turned out to be vinegar.

This April Fools Day Anna was super-motivated to fully participate. We heard her rummaging around in her room and the bathroom the evening before. At one point she was still at work on...something...when she was supposed to be in bed, sleeping. I had told her not to go too crazy. I also had told her she had to clean up all of her messes.

In the morning I found some kind of lovely floury, crusty concoction smeared on several door handles. Then Ethan came bounding down the stairs.

"It's April Fools!" he announced. I knew they'd been talking about that at school. In fact, the kids were supposed to tell some sort of joke when they wrote their "short share" that morning.

Ahhh, Ethan and jokes. This has been a process. Humor in general is a process. It's not that Ethan doesn't like to laugh. He can be hysterical sometimes and get silly and giggly himself. It's just that he usually finds different things funny. Some of it's just typical boy stuff -- of course he's going to think slapstick, people falling or throwing pies at each other or whatever is going to be funnier than some sort of subtle, sarcastic humor. But this telling jokes thing? That's been interesting.

"What kind of joke are you going to tell for short share?" I asked.

"Mama, what happened to the watch that someone sat on?"


"It was on time. Get it? Because the watch was time and someone was sitting on it? Someone in my class said that."

"Ahhha, funny." It seemed he hadn't said it quite right, but okay. I got the gist. I thought I'd remind him of a joke I'd told him so he'd have one in mind to tell. I was hoping to maybe steer him from a knock-knock joke, because he just doesn't quite get how to tell them yet. Not that the other first graders would really care.

"Ethan, remember the train joke?"

"Yeah...what did the train say to the bubble gum?"

"'s what did the train carrying bubble gum say?"


Yeah, there you go. Funny. Ha-ha. Eh.

Anna came into the kitchen. "Ethan, I have a cookie for you," she said way too happily. He grabbed it and I waited to see how this would play out. He started chewing. He didn't flinch.

"The frosting is toothpaste!" Anna yelled out hysterically. Ethan shrugged. "I like it," he said, and kept eating. I have the feeling he swallows toothpaste for fun whenever he's brushing.

Now, this would have been the time that as an attentive parent, I should have stopped Anna in her tracks and banned anymore pranks involving food. But Ethan seemed unscathed, and I began fuming about the messes I was now finding in the bathroom and hallway due to Anna's shenanigans. "I thought I told you to clean this up!" I called after her.

Then I began ruminating about April Fools Day again. About my loathing of pranks. I started thinking about that stupid day when I was a kid and thought my uncle was dying under the car. Anna was prattling on while I was failing at Parenting 101 by only half-paying attention. We were rushing to get ready and I thought I heard her say something about bringing another cookie to school. And maybe something about chocolates. She mentioned putting a tiny bit of toothpaste inside. Again, some sort of "Danger, Will Robinson!" alarm should have been going off in my head. Perhaps my subconscious had decided that toothpaste wasn't such a bad prank after all compared to pretending someone's body had been mercilessly crushed. Whatever the case, I dropped her off at school and went on my way.

Two hours later, the phone rang. The school. Darn. I wondered -- was Anna sick?

No, that would have been much less humiliating. It's always a good sign when the teacher nervously starts with, "I really hate making these calls, but..."

Apparently Anna had handed out a toothpaste-filled cookie to one friend and a number of toothpaste-infused chocolates to a good deal of others, which was quite obviously what she'd been working on the night before.

"I'm all for a good joke, but I had told the kids they couldn't do anything involving food," the teacher was saying. "With all the food allergies nowadays, and especially with it being toothpaste, which they're not even supposed to ingest..."

Ahhh, the mortification. It wasn't just that my kid had done something wrong and I'd gotten the infamous "call from the teacher" for the first time ever. It was that some part of my mind had known about it and just hadn't done anything. Another Parenting Fail.

So then came the apologies and promises that we'd talk to her and it wouldn't happen again. Then I hung up the phone and scraped crusty flour mixtures off the doorknobs and wiped up the toothpaste evidence in the bathroom. I wondered how Ethan's joke had gone. I hoped he hadn't done something like attempt the "joke" he'd made up about a gun and who it was going to get.

We are not doing April Fools Day next year.

That is all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Scrapbooks and Cooking Lessons

"Have you ever been to the wild, wild west?" Ethan asked me recently. I'm not sure why he is calling the west the "wild, wild west" but I'm pretty sure the reference came from a book or TV show. I told him yes, I loved the west, and had been out there several times.

"I even have scrapbooks full of pictures. You can look at them if you want," I said hopefully.

Here's the thing: I am a really sentimental person. I save stuff (as in, too much stuff, and I really need to get rid of it). But it's hard. I love the collection of postcards from my grandmother's travels, my pile of newspapers documenting most major news events spanning from about 1988 to 9/11, my magazines commemorating the Red Sox and Patriots' first championship wins. And then there are my scrapbooks of all the fun trips Dan and I took before having kids.

I love my stuff, but so far no one else in my family has appeared to be the type who likes to browse and reminisce. They could care less. I have the feeling I'm totally doing the baby books for me. They'll probably end up trashing them someday. The kids barely care about looking at their own baby photos.

So here we were, at a moment of opportunity. Ethan kind of shrugged and we went back to watching an old, old rerun of The Amazing Race on Netflix.

But the next morning -- joy of joys! -- he asked to see my scrapbook. I raced to get it out before he lost interest. I grabbed the one of our trip to Wyoming/Montana because I thought he'd like the picture of the grizzly bear we'd snapped at Yellowstone.

We spent a good 15 minutes flipping through the pages. I showed him the "Beware of Poisonous Snakes" sign I'd snapped in South Dakota. He especially liked, as I knew he would, the pictures of highway signs for routes he'd never heard of. I showed him the elk, the deer, the Badlands, the waterfalls.

And then, then, when we'd closed the book shut and I mentioned I wanted to make pancakes for breakfast, he asked, "Can I watch you make the pancakes?"

No big deal, right? Most kids have sat in the kitchen or stood at the counter and watched their parents cook. Only -- with Ethan this has been like pulling teeth. After a while, I gave up. His idea of helping cook is to quickly dump some sugar in the bowl and then beg to lick the spoon. He has not once sat to watch the steps of how you actually make something. He just hasn't had the focus.

Side note: I explained to him that each time you make another four pancakes in the pan it's called a "batch." Not long after I heard him asking when I was going to do another batch of laundry, and then I had to explain with laundry it's called a load. But then I wondered why it couldn't be called a batch. This kid always keeps me thinking.

And so, we started from the beginning. He read the recipe and I got out the ingredients. We talked about improvising when ingredients are missing (darn, even today I still haven't bought the baking powder!). He witnessed butter melting in the pan for the first time. He saw what goes into the batter, and how batter turns into a pancake. He barely ate the pancakes, but that's okay. They weren't that good (too much baking soda to compensate for not enough baking powder).

While I was getting breakfast ready he asked to cook dinner. "I've never done that before, and Riley is eight," he said, referring to the youngest contestant on the most recent Master Chef Junior. He insisted on flipping through the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and picking out a recipe that sounded, well, eh, but I didn't dare say a word. I promised him: Monday night we'd cook, after I'd gone to the store and picked up some of the (questionable) ingredients.

And then I glanced up at the heavens, as if to ask, "Seriously?" We were having so much fun.

We all have these moments. You know them. You know, when you push and push your kids and then just let it go because you know pushing is not going to do anything. And then you can be going along perfectly fine and satisfied when out of the blue, they decide they're ready. And maybe they're ready to tackle more than one thing. And they're happy and proud of themselves and it didn't take all of this striving and stressing, and you weren't even asking for it.

This, I know. This is what grace is. Blessings undeserved. This time it took the form of pancakes and pictures. Oh, how I give thanks.