Wonderfully Made

Last week Collier said something to me that broke my heart. While on the way home from speech he turned to me and said, “Mom I wish I didn’t have autism. I wish I was normal like all the other kids.” For a moment I couldn’t breathe, I almost felt like my heart had stopped beating. A virtual tidal wave of emotions flooded over me.

You know how sometimes in a movie thirty seconds of action will be revealed to have taken place in just a few seconds in a character’s head? That’s how the next ten seconds felt for me. I found myself playing through a million different things I could say and how I should respond. I finally threw up a Hail Mary prayer and opened my mouth, still a little unsure of what exactly to say. How to best let this incredible young man know just how awesome he is.

I let him know that he is perfect just the way he is. I pulled out Psalm 139 and reminded him that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, that his autism just adds to who he is. That he made our family complete and that we love him to Pluto and back infinity times (one of our “I love you” routines includes distances to planets). He blushed a little and gave me a little “Mooommm,” and then started talking about his favorite Dude Perfect videos. Whew, I thought, not too bad.

But the next morning during my quiet time as I thought about it again, I really started to think about what he had been saying. My son basically told me, Mom I don’t like who I am. This person that I absolutely adore, that changed our world, and has taught us so much… struggles with who he is. I couldn’t also help but think, is this my fault?

While we started homeschooling to help him learn at his own pace, did he think it meant we didn’t believe he was smart enough? Does the way we slowly and deliberately teach life skills come across to him like we don’t think he has the ability to live on his own? Has he seen our trying to find supplements and medications that help him regulate his emotions and body as us saying something is wrong with him? Has my trying to help caused more harm? While I’ve been preaching autism acceptance to the world have I shown autism opposition at home?

For me, part of being a special needs parent has always meant suffering from “not enough-itis.” I’ve never felt like we’re doing enough…whatever. We’re not doing enough life skills, or providing enough social interaction…or going to enough therapies…and the list of “not enough” keeps going on and on.

The words I had told Collier the day before about how he was fearfully and wonderfully made came flooding back into my mind. I knew then if I really believe that, I needed to start reflecting it more. To stop worrying so much about the future, and start enjoying the gift of today. To show my son that I love him right now, just exactly how he is. To make sure he knows that autism is a part of who he is and a part of how he was woven together.

Right then I asked God to forgive me of ever making one of his creations feel less than precious and I laid my “not enough-itis” at his feet. I’m trying hard to leave it there. I’ve discovered that if I’m tempted to pick it back up, a well-timed game of HORSE helps distract me. Maybe one day I’ll even beat Collier. In the meantime I’m committed to making sure he understands autism is just a part of who he is; like his blue eyes or cute smile. And to make sure he knows we love ALL the parts.

Empty Tomb Rolls – AKA Resurrection Rolls

One of our favorite Easter activities is making Empty Tomb Rolls. They are really easy to make, a fun way to tell the resurrection story, and you end up with a tasty treat  – can’t beat that! This is a great visual for younger kids to help them see the miracle and excitement of the empty tomb.

I was a little hesitant to make them this year; after all, we have reached the “cool” teenage years, but as we got into the process I realized that you are never too old to be amazed at the empty tomb. And that certain parts of the story (such as the burial spices) hit in a different way as you get older. It turned out to be one of our best years since he is really beginning to understand the sacrifice, so to me it’s a great activity for any family!

I usually do the first one while we are telling the story, then I let Collier do the rest of them. That’s also a great chance to have the kiddos repeat the story back to you as they walk through the steps.

The ingredients for this activity are pretty basic:

  • One can of crescent rolls
  • Marshmallows
  • Melted Butter
  • Cinnamon and Sugar Mixed
Pretty easy ingredients list!

Steps:

  1. Take the crescent rolls and separate each triangle. Flatten it a little so that you have plenty of dough to wrap around the marshmallow. As you are separating and flatten the dough, talk about how it represents the tomb they laid Jesus in. Read Luke 23:50-54.
  1. Talk about out how the marshmallow represents Jesus. Read 1 Peter 18-19. Discuss what it means that while he was without blemish, he willingly took on our sins even to death.
  1. Dip the marshmallow in butter and then roll it in the cinnamon and sugar. Read John 19: 38-40. Talk about how the butter and sugar represent the spices and oils that were used to prepare Jesus for burial.
  1. Place a marshmallow in the center of each roll and wrap the dough around the marshmallow.  Read Matthew 27:59-60. Talk about how the tomb was completely sealed. Roll the dough in your hands to make sure the marshmallow is completely covered and all of the dough is sealed.

It is important that all of the seams are sealed up or the marshmallow will leak out. If the kids are doing their own it is probably a good idea to go behind them on this step.

  1. Place the rolls in the oven and cook according to crescent roll package instructions, usually 13-15 minutes. While the rolls are baking we talk about what it must have been like for the apostles and other followers of Jesus in those days after his death. How did they feel? Were they scared? Were they confused? What do you think you would have done?
  1. After the rolls have finished baking, take them out of the oven and let them cool down for 5-10 minutes. The cinnamon makes the kitchen smell amazing and the kiddos will probably want to cut into them immediately. This is a great time to talk about how hard waiting is. Remind them that just like we can’t rush to eat food that’s too hot, we can’t rush God’s plans either.   
  1. After the rolls are cool enough to handle, let them break one in half. The marshmallow has melted and the tomb is empty! Read Mark 16:2-6. Talk about what the empty tomb means to each of you.

While I love how perfectly this activity helps explain the empty tomb, the rolls are also really good! Collier and I finished all eight rolls at one time. You can’t really go wrong with any recipe that includes crescent rolls, butter, and sugar!

Yummy!!

The only tricky part to this recipe is making sure all the seams of the dough are sealed VERY good. Since the marshmallow liquifies, ANY part that isn’t sealed tightly will break open and allow it to ooze out. You can also put them in a muffin pan instead of a flat cookie sheet, that can help keep them together better and puff up more. If you have a few that break open just save those for your late night snack!

Happy  Easter!

Walking Water Experiment

We are currently studying Soil and Water Conservation in science. One of our suggested activities was to show the actions of water in relation to soil and plants. We decided to use the “walking water” experiment to show how trees and other plants get water from the ground through their roots.

It’s a really simple experiment that you can probably do with items you already have around the house.

Here’s what you need:

  • 6 Small Clear Plastic Cups
  • 3 Paper Towels – I used the “choose your size” type and selected the smallest size
  • 3 Different Colors of Food Coloring (or more if you want)
  • Water

Experiment Steps

  1. Fold each paper towel into thirds lengthwise and then cut about 1-2 inches off (this will help it sit in the cups better).

2. Fill each cup about half-way with water.

3. Add the food coloring by putting about 4-5 food drops of one color in three of the cups. We used red (it was actually neon pink, more on that later), blue, and green. Then pair each glass of colored water with a clear water partner.

4. Place a paper towel from each glass of colored water over into the clear glass.

5. Repeat for the other two glasses.

6. The water will start “walking” very quickly, and it will take about 30 minutes for your first colored water to reach the clear water. Here’s what ours looked like after about 30 minutes (along with a cute model who was proud it was working 😊 ).

We let ours go for several hours and then came back and checked it. About two hours in we had a really great mixing of the blue and green. But the red (pink), not so much. This is how it looked then:

Since it looked like we were getting closer, we decided to put a few more drops of red in the glass and then let it go overnight. But the next morning the red still didn’t reach. We broke down and added some of the dye directly to the paper towel and we watched it finally reach the water.

Tips for the Project

We finally got the red color!!
  • The more food coloring the better. I would say you could even go 6-7 drops to make your secondary glass really show up.
  • Definitely stick to primary/dark color food coloring. I think the reason our red didn’t work was because it was actually the neon pink. Despite how red it looked in the glass, it really just wasn’t strong enough to reach the second glass.
  • For an even more fun twist, put paper towels between all of the glasses to see what cool colors the clear water makes when two colors are “walking” in.

This is definitely a fun (and easy) hands on experiment. It’s basic enough for even the smallest kiddos to be able to help with and understand, but entertaining enough that the big kids can enjoy it too (even Brian left his office a few times to see how it was “walking”). If you are looking for a low mess, high success experiment-  this is a good one.

Broken Bones and Opened Eyes

Collier recently broke his arm. We were very lucky in that it wasn’t a bad break and he hasn’t been in any pain at all since it happened. Actually, it only seems to bother him when it’s time to do school, boys right? But it was the timing of the break I found so ironic. Brian and I had been praying that he would be more independent and willing to do things on his own. Then….a broken bone. .really God??

The first couple of days our routine had to completely change. We had to make him breakfast, get his medicine together, help him wash his face and brush his teeth, comb his hair, and make-up his bed. In school handwriting came off the plan, and I became his scribe for all his other subjects. His allowance went down because he could no longer unload the dishwasher, sweep, mop, dust, or do laundry. He needed help getting snacks and drinks ready. He became frustrated because he couldn’t play basketball or ride his bike. And let’s not ask Brian about how fun it was to go back to helping a 13-year-old boy bathe. 😊

After a few days, I found myself becoming discouraged and frustrated as the list of things he needed help with grew. One morning I started down a David-like rant with God listing all the things he couldn’t do right now. But suddenly those two words stopped me in my tracks, right now. But he COULD do those things just a few days ago and WILL be able to do those things again soon. I started turning that list over in my mind: making his breakfast, brushing his teeth, washing his face, taking a shower, dusting, sweeping, laundry, bike riding……and lots of others. And suddenly I felt a rush of memories.

The first time he tried to make oatmeal and it ran over causing a huge mess in the microwave.

The first time he tried brushing his teeth and thought 10 seconds was plenty of time.

The first time he took a shower on his own and we decided a timer was necessary if we didn’t want million-dollar power and water bills.

The first time he washed his face and I wasn’t sure if he got more water on his face or the countertop.

But with hard work and lots (actually it feels like millions) of repetitions, he eventually mastered all of those things and more. Those memories were an instant confirmation of how his hard work had paid off. And a reminder that what we have been praying for is actually happening right before our eyes, even if some times it happens so slow it becomes hard to see. Psalm 143:5 says, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.”

It was in that early morning silence I was suddenly humbled when I remembered all of our “days of old” and the work that the Lord has done in Collier. I recalled all of the things we weren’t sure he would be able to learn, that today he does with no prompting. Everything from talking to household chores. I was also reminded that He isn’t finished with Collier yet.

And suddenly that broken bone became a gift. It became a mile marker of just how far Collier has come on this independence trip. It made me stop and realize just how extremely proud I am of him for all of his successes and even more so for how hard he’s worked to achieve them. Then I began to really appreciate him for how he has become such a helper around the house.  

It also has helped me to remember that we’re not really on a time limit for learning living skills at our house. I know Collier isn’t heading off to college at 18, and that’s ok. So we don’t have to cram in the 9,986,000 things I still feel like are on our skills list during the next five years. If it takes us longer, that’s fine. We WILL get there.

So thank you broken bone for reminding me of how far we’ve come and helping me see that my prayers are being answered even when I’m not paying attention.

**But not you medical bills, you can &%$#&*&^%.**

~Amye

Scrabble for the Win

Ah, game night. That lovely experience where someone by the end of the night inevitably throws the game board in the air, scattering all the pieces all over the living room. You may play yours differently, but that’s how we always played when I was growing up. Game night looks a little different in our household now. You have to let Collier win, or at least try to let him win.  

We have a ton of board games – Collier loves them. We have the classics like Twister, Connect Four, and Shoots and Ladders, and some that are focused on working on his dexterity, like Sneaky Snacky Squirrel. Some of our relatives can attest to this, since that’s what we tell them he wants for Christmas and birthdays. Recently he got Scrabble, and we played it for the first time the other night. Let him win?

I won. That’s right! I WON! In your face, Collier! Wait, what’d you expect? I’m an English teacher and an old Words With Friends junkie. Still, it was a great night.

Why was it a great night? Well, there were a number of reasons, and none of them revolve around me winning. I was the winner numerically, but we all won because Collier played. You see, for years, as we have been playing all of these games, Collier usually takes help. By that, I mean that either Amye or I always sneak around to his side when it’s his turn and help him play the best card in Uno, or advise him on what noodle to pull out in Yeti In My Spaghetti. Not so with Scabble night. He wanted to do it all on his own.

I even got up once to go to the bathroom and he shielded my view of his tiles. He wanted to play the right way, and he actually did really well. Amye and I both beat him, but at the end of the game Collier walked away with 84 points. That’s not bad considering that he’s been in speech therapy of some kind since I can remember, and still reads on a lower level than most of the kids his age.

There was a point near the end of the game where he said, “I give up,” but to be fair, so did Amye. I was the only one determined to see the game all the way to the end. To officially end the game, you have to run out of tiles or every player has to pass twice. The first time he had to pass, he thought the game was over. And to add to that, the game was already running longer than previous games we normally play.

You may be saying to yourself, “I get it, Brian, you smoked your thirteen-year-old son in Scrabble, so now you’re getting ready to write the next Great American novel. Shut up, already.” But here’s the thing – that’s not the half of it. You don’t realize some real positives that came out of this. Yes, I can see word connections better than my son who’s on the autism spectrum. Fine.  Normally, though, we let him win to avoid a scene where he’s distraught, or we have to talk to him about having good sportsmanship, congratulating the winner rather than sulking over defeat, that kind of thing — but there was none of that with Scabble night.

He played the game to the best of his ability, and he was competitive at a game that was not just dumb luck like Shoots and Ladders, and he did respectable, and had the right kind of attitude at the end of it. We all had a good time as a family on family game night. Isn’t that the point?

Collier used his critical thinking skills to look at a game board, and he had to think about his words and spelling, which letters words ended with, how they would connect to the game board, all that stuff. In the end, he did a great job. He played a game that he didn’t win, and he congratulated the winner. He was a good sport.

I think we could all use a little of that. Now that I know he doesn’t need help, he better watch out.

I’m really gonna drill him next time. No mercy!

~Brian

Peaceful Chaos

We built and moved into our house almost 15 years ago. While neither big, nor fancy, I had envisioned it being a place that would be as attractive and nice as we could make it. I had a pretty good career then, and while our budget wasn’t limitless, we could definitely afford a large majority of our wishes. In my mind there would be nice furniture (mostly in white like they have in all the Southern Living dream homes), plush towels (monogrammed of course), long stemmed wine glasses, a well-kept lawn, and all-around sense of serenity, calmness, and peace. I could see us hosting dinner parties with friends while our perfectly behaved and flourishing children showed off all their talents.

So how is my original dream holding up 15 years later? Well, there’s an old blanket covering my couch to keep it safe from the dog and cat (and the couch is also brown – best decision ever when you have a boy) and my towels are holding on by a thread (see what I did there?). We do keep our grass mowed, but it requires about 30 minutes of pre-cutting activities that include moving all the basketballs, frisbees, bats, and baseballs. The closest thing we’ve had to a dinner party in years is when Collier used to have his Christmas cookie decorating party. Which is probably about the same time we last had adults that weren’t blood relatives in our house. I do still have the long stem glasses; they are currently collecting dust and I’m pretty sure the last time they were used was for Collier’s New Year’s Even Grinch punch in 2019.

And that career? Gone now. In 2012 I became one of the numerous of special needs parents who left the full-time workforce in order to give my son additional support. I’m extremely lucky I was able to do it, but it definitely required some lifestyle adjustments. I worked part-time from home for a few years but last year we realized as he is getting older, he needs more support and attention. So now I’m completely out of the workforce until we can get this new stage figured out. Yet more lifestyle adjustments.

As for serenity and calmness….. 😊😊😊I’m honestly not sure anyone with kids actually has these, but I think their absence in a special needs house reaches an entirely different level. Our house can go from relative stillness to utter pandemonium because we’re out of pizza bagels, or our favorite pair of underwear is in the dirty clothes, or plans change. And do not get me started on what happens when Netflix takes a favorite show off. And in these cases, I’m not talking about a storm that blows through quickly, this can be a hurricane that stays and brews for days. We still have to talk him down from getting upset about Phineas and Ferb not being on Netflix anymore, and it’s been gone for a few years. Somedays between autism, homeschool, pets, a never-ending to-do list, and a packed schedule it can feel like we are teetering on the verge of total chaos. Oh, who am I kidding? Most days we do a running swan dive over the edge.

But what about peace? Now that I have. After reading the last three paragraphs you may be thinking, yeah right. But to me, peace is not something you get, it’s something you create. Something you are. And in today’s out of control world, it’s something you cannot live without. I can look at so many things that have happened to me in my life and see how my past was perfectly ordered and arranged to get me to exactly where I need to be today. Do I know what’s going to happen tomorrow? Nope, but I’m finally to the point where that’s ok to.

I know a lot of people who have no peace right now because they are constantly worrying about a million “what ifs” about tomorrow. There’s really no arguing about it, right now is a scary time in our world.  And while I know I should probably insert a very spiritual Bible verse about the future, instead I feel the need to quote Hagrid in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” I can’t control a virus, the government, society, or anything else outside my front door (and thanks to autism and teen hormones sometimes things inside my front door either). The only thing I can control is my reaction to all of it. Admittedly, there are sometimes when I really feel like freaking out, panicking, and making long dramatic Facebook posts about all the things that might, possibly, probably could go wrong…..but what good would that really do?

So… if a CNN inspired, social media freak out won’t make you feel better, then what will? Well try turning off the TV, closing the computer, and putting the phone in another room. Maybe even go one step further and pick up a good book, call a friend, or (if you’re blessed enough to have one) talk to your family. Who knows? You may discover you actually like the people living under your roof; stranger things have happened. Regardless, unplug for a little while and find your peace. And once you do find it, don’t let anyone or anything steal it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Susie Sunshine who refuses to see reality. I know my life is going to still be crazy, politicians are still going to make decisions I disagree with, Netflix is still going to betray me and take off whatever Collier’s current favorite show is, and there will probably always be more month left over when the paycheck is gone.  I know that the laundry will pile up as homeschool takes priority, science experiments will leave my kitchen in shambles, and the odds are pretty good Collier’s bedroom floor is not currently visible. So, what am I planning to do about it? Well, I’m thinking I might just sit down on the blanket-covered sofa, eat some pizza bagels, and enjoy an ice-cold Coke in those long-stemmed classes. Surrounded by my peaceful chaos.

~Amye

A Baseball Friend Goes Home

A friend of Collier’s passed away from Covid-19 complications a few weeks ago. He was thirty-four years old, but still a peer of Collier’s, as they played on the Achiever’s League baseball team together. You may have heard or seen something about him on Facebook – his name was Chris “Yep Yep” Pettiford, and he worked at the Birmingham Zoo, and was proud of his job. He was a good man with a golden heart, and it broke my own heart when I heard of his passing. I knew it would break Collier’s as well, since he had been praying for Yep Yep every night since we found out that he was sick.

I remember reading the news on Facebook on a Thursday morning. I came in the bathroom to tell Amye about it with tears in my eyes, and when she saw my face, she knew the awful truth. We decided to hold off telling Collier for a few days as to not disrupt his school week. By holding off until the weekend, we reasoned that it would give him more time to process it. When we finally told him, with the three of us sitting on the couch, he cried a little and buried his head under his mother’s arm. My big thirteen-year-old with hairy legs and the beginnings of a Patrick Mahomes mustache faded before my eyes, huddled in a fetal position under his mother’s wing. After a few minutes, he recovered in a seemingly quick fashion.

There’s a myth or misconception that folks with autism and those with special needs in general don’t feel emotions like the rest of us, or that they don’t understand emotions. In some cases, they may find it difficult to grasp the magnitude of what’s going on, but don’t we all? Isn’t there a moment of stunned silence that follows for all of us as we process what it all really means? I know there is for me.

I knew that weeks or months later Collier would think of Yep Yep again and really let loose, as he has done with my grandparents and others that have passed away.  I was telling a colleague about this – one who met Yep Yep once when she was volunteering at one of our ball games – and I mentioned that it would be months or longer before it all really sank in for Collier. She told me that it was that way with her. It had been years since her grandmother passed away, and she still thinks of her every now and again and tears up. I guess that’s the way it is with all of us.

A week after his passing, Yep Yep’s family held a celebration of life. We decided to get there early and stay just for a few minutes to help with keeping the crowd down. There’s still a pandemic going on, after all. Amye and I walked with Collier up to the casket and nodded to the family, paying our respects without physical contact in this new era of the coronavirus. Collier handled it well. At this point, we were probably the only non-family guests there. We started to walk out, but Collier hesitated. He wanted to stay for a few more minutes. We took a pew in the back of the chapel.

It didn’t take long before Collier really started to cry big, crocodile tears. We assured him that Yep Yep was with Jesus, but just like when I was a kid, that didn’t seem to help all that much. He got up and walked back down to the front of the chapel. I could hear the bubbling of snot from up under his mask. As he was getting one more look at his friend, Yep Yep’s mother and aunts noticed him and came over to console him. Seeing him crying reminded them of their own grief, but more than that, I think it was a shared love for a life taken too soon, of a young man they’ll miss in their lives just like Collier will miss in his.

Seeing all this confirmed to me that there’s no validity to the notion that folks with special needs don’t feel emotions or have feelings. I saw it on my couch that day when we broke the news to Collier, and I saw it in the shared experience the day we celebrated Yep Yep’s life.

It’s not only pain, though. Collier has a wide range of emotions. I see it every day –  when we celebrate birthdays and holidays, or when one of us gets our feelings hurt, or in a myriad of other instances. In many cases, Collier is MORE emotional than the average kid. I think he probably gets that from me.

This is a great reminder for me, and maybe you, too: It’s important to presume competence of folks on the autism spectrum. Just because they may not show it, doesn’t mean they are not feeling it. They may not be able to verbally share what they are feeling, but that’s true for a lot of people, not just people with autism. Feeling pain and grief is, unfortunately, part of being human.

Fortunately, it’s not the only part.

~Brian

Best-laid Plans

Saturday morning started out a lot like other Saturday mornings. Collier and I went to karate, and I was practicing my form after our class. (Yes, I started taking karate with Collier this month as a parent-challenge the karate studio is doing. That’s another blog post entirely. I’m thinking of titling it “Snap, Crackle, Pop” as a tribute to my knees and shoulder). While I was practicing, the instructor asked Collier to go through his form to earn a stripe on his belt. It takes so many stripes to be able to test for your next rank. He missed a step or two and didn’t earn a stripe. To be fair, an adult brown belt student didn’t earn a stripe either. Stripes were hard to come by that day. But that wasn’t the only disappointment to come.

Afterwards, the instructor talked to Collier, and she told him “I want you to work on your confidence. You know this, but you need to build your confidence up.”

As a parent, I’m sure I’m not the only one who looks for teachable moments with my son. I thought I could help Collier build some confidence, and on the way home, I thought of the perfect thing. I told him I was going to quiz him. He would have to direct me on where to turn and guide us home.

“I don’t want to be quizzed!” he insisted. It would be fun, I told him. “No!” he repeated. I told him I couldn’t remember how to get home, and he’d have to navigate. Pulling out of the Chevron, I asked him, “Okay, Collier. Which way? Left or right?”

“Right.” I followed his direction. At the next red light, there was a fork. Again I asked, and again he delivered the correct answer. This went on and on, all the way home. Now, we have driven this road hundreds if not thousands of times, and I knew he knew the answers. And he did. Still, every so often he would balk and insist he didn’t want to be quizzed. But he did so well! I was sure that when we pulled in the driveway, I would have this powerful teaching tool about how even though he had never driven a car, he successfully guided us all the way home. That he just had to have confidence in knowledge that he already had. I knew it was going to be great. I was going to have this great dad moment and shared experience with my son. So I thought.

We pulled in the driveway.

“You did it! You got us home! Good job!” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. Then, I started the lesson. My powerful teaching moment!

“Collier, have you ever driven a car?”

“No”

“But we’ve driven that route hundreds of times. Maybe more.”

“Okay.”

“My point is, you knew it. You just got to build your confidence up about what you know. Just like with karate. You know your form. You just got to get your confidence up. I should quiz you on the way home more often.” I had more to say in the lesson, but never got the chance.

“No! I don’t like being quizzed! Do NOT do it again.”

“Why?” I asked. I didn’t understand. He did great.

“Because.”

“Collier, you did great!”

“No!”

“Why not?!?”

“Because it makes me feel humiliated.”

Y’all.

It was all I could do to not burst into tears. I had this perfect teachable moment where I could let him gain some confidence. He knew the way home, and I knew that he knew the way home. If not, I wouldn’t have quizzed him. And somehow, even when I thought I was doing the right thing, I crushed him. Instead of building him up, I hurt him without even meaning to. And that crushed me.

After a few moments of pained silence and choking back tears (for both of us), I said “Collier, I love you more than anything in the whole world. And I would never, ever, ever do anything to hurt you, or humiliate you. You know that, right?”

“Yeah.”

By the time we were done, I had talked to him and boosted him up a little, and he was smiling about having led us home, and he gave me a fist bump, but I knew he was hurt. I was trying to teach him, but it was me that got the schooling that day. I learned about Collier, and I learned about autism.

You see, Collier’s not stupid. He knows he’s different. He knows he has memory problems. And by forcing him to play along with this memory game or quiz, he thought I was mocking him. I don’t think there’s any pain that I’ve ever felt that has hurt as much as this. I feel like no matter what I do with him, it’s wrong. I know the old saying that kids don’t come with instruction manuals, but if they did, Collier’s is in Sanskrit.

And he’s such a good kid – one that at times I feel I don’t deserve. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. When people are hurting, he hurts alongside them, and when they rejoice, he does, too. He even does his chores around the house without complaining. I know he’s in a constant battle to not live inside his own head, and to stay in our world, and to not stim, and to pay attention, and to remember things. And here I am, messing up and failing at every turn at a job that’s supposed to come naturally.

I felt ashamed of myself. Amye and I have been to all kinds of conferences on special needs, ranging from how to advocate for your child to special diets to accommodations to bolstering self-confidence – and then here I go. Messing things up. As a parent you are supposed to protect your child from humiliation! There are many reasons why we chose to homeschool Collier, but somewhere on that list is protecting him from kids who can be mean to those who are different. Protecting him from those who don’t understand him. I do understand him, and I felt like I had betrayed him. I was reminded that he sees things differently, and I learned that lesson the hard way.

I was also reminded that phrasing matters. Words are important. After talking to him that night, I asked him if we had played a game about how to get home, if that would have been alright. He said that it would. It’s a matter of phrasing. By simply calling it a quiz, I inadvertently associated what I thought would be a confidence-boosting exercise to something he struggles with – school. As if he wasn’t already down on himself about forgetting some karate moves, here I go making things worse.

Parenting is hard, and parenting one with autism is harder. There’s so much to learn, and once you learn the rules, the game changes. I was about to score a touchdown, only to realize I was on a basketball court, holding a tennis racket.

Saturday’s lesson is one that he’s already forgiven me for, but it’s one that I’ll never forget.

~Brian

Ouch

A few days ago, I was driving with Collier in the car. As is often my luck, we got behind someone going about 10 miles an hour below the speed limit. All the sudden Collier yells out, “Come on and move it you ding dong.” So often I don’t see myself in him but, all of the sudden, in his angry outburst there I was.

Ouch.

I knew without a doubt where he had learned his impatience for other drivers; I could see that teacher staring back at me in the rearview mirror. Oh, I could have tried to make myself feel better by pointing out that at least the worst insult he could come up with was “ding dong”; I mean that could have been MUCH worse. Or that he hadn’t been wrapped up in the world inside his head and had actually been paying enough attention to notice we were going slower than we should have been (and if I’m completely honest I am a little happy about that one 😊).

But at the end of the day, I was so disappointed in myself. Some of my goals as a parent include teaching my child empathy, love, kindness, and patience.  And there inside one sentence and ten seconds, I could see exactly how big I had blown it. Now I had talked about those things, and even prepared some character trait lessons over the years that included them. But obviously, when I get behind the wheel of a car, all of those things apparently escape me. Right there in front of my eyes was a living, breathing example of “kids learn what they see” and not what they hear.

So, now what?  Well, first I have to forgive myself. Even though I know that as long as I’m on earth I’ll be making mistakes, it’s a different kind of failure when it involves your kiddo. Then I’ve got to start living out all of those traits I want to see in my son. Not just talk about them, or teach them, but LIVE them.

And not just give them lip service. Kids are too smart for that. They can recognize hypocrisy a thousand miles away. But like Romans 12:9 tells us “Love must be sincere.” I have to plant them into my heart so deep, they flow out in every situation. That regardless of what happens around me, even if the person in front of me at the grocery store writes a CHECK (seriously people what is this 1986??), I respond with patience and a smile.

Now usually in January I would be setting goals for the year that revolve around the scale and my jeans size (and yeah, I probably still need these), but I think this year my goals are going to revolve around my heart. I want to see myself reflected in my son when he shows mercy, not cruelty. When he reacts with empathy, not apathy. When he displays patience, not frustration. I know this won’t be a goal that is marked quickly off the to-do list, but I also know I don’t just have to depend on my strength alone to reach this one.

Psalm 28:7 says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.” Boy, I’m not sure he realizes how much help I need. Well, actually he absolutely does but he promised, so I’m taking him up on it. Anyone else out there needing to work on their heart this year as well? I feel like this year may be the year that empathy, love, kindness, and patience are needed more than any other. And even if meeting my goal for the year doesn’t change the entire world, as long as it changes Collier’s actions it will be all worth it. That will change my ouch into overjoyed.

~Amye

Simple Season

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one of the strangest years most of us have ever seen. Honestly, it seems like each month tried to outdo the one before it for craziness. And now we’ve finally made it to the Christmas season. Now I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love the Christmas season. I usually start sometime in October planning our advent activities and organizing our calendar so we can fit in ALL of the activities we enjoy.

But of course 2020 is….different. And that calendar is looking pretty empty. So I’ve decided that instead of being sad or upset about everything we’re missing, to embrace the difference that is 2020 and really use this Advent season to reflect on everything it means. Maybe one of the most overused phrases this time of year is to remember the “reason for the season.” But I’m going to make it my motto this year and focus fully on faith and family. To use this different season to focus simply on the manger and everything it means to me.

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Silent Night.” Its words were originally written around 1816 by the German priest Josephus Mohr. The German title is “Stille Nacht” which can also (obviously) be translated as Still Night. And while I’m pretty sure that first Christmas night wasn’t silent (what with a newborn and animals around) I can just picture that there probably was a moment of absolute stillness in heaven as the realization that this one event, this one birth, had just altered human history forever.

And if I’m being brutally honest, in previous Christmas seasons it’s been hard for me to even slow down long enough to read my Bible, let alone get still and focus on the THE story. But this year I really have no excuse to not be still. Without festivals, and parades, and plays, and tree lightings, and a million other things on our calendars, we are left with a much simpler Christmas. And that’s ok.

After all, that first Christmas was about as simple as it gets. And God used that one to change the entire world. I hope he uses this one to change me.

~ Amye

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