Burdens and Blessings

I have held off blogging about The Enigma in the hopes that she would blog for herself; such a thing would be extremely challenging, and I’ve seen some kids do it who are then attacked by their commenters as being fakes.

There is a process called “facilitated communication” by which one person holds the brain-injured person’s hand at the wrist and this helps the brain-injured person “type out” a message on a board. The reaction from the casual bystander is to think the facilitator is doing it, not the brain-injured person. (Of course, anyone who tried to force The Enigma to do anything would realize how silly an idea that was.)
You can read about one aspect of the controversy here. The Enigma is one of those kids who has gradually gained independence in facilitation. For some things, she doesn’ t need any help at all any more.
In the previous post, Troop mentioned something about having crosses to bear, and it reminded me of a discussion I’d had with a friend when The Enigma was around ten. He was talking about a basketball player or movie star who had a handicapped kid (maybe adopted one, even).
“They say it’s a blessing? Is it?”
“Having a special needs child. Celebrities are always talking about what a blessing it is.”
“Are you nuts?”
I thought—and I still think—this is just a stupid celebrity thing. I mean, what are they going to say: “Every day is a soul-crushing burden”? (Not that I have felt that way, but I’ve certainly seen parents who did.)
It’s hard to enumerate the costs. Financially ruinous, of course, several times. (Most recently, shortly after being reduced to a part-time employee, The Enigma incurred a $12,000 dental bill.) My own health shot (or at least diminished), as I’ve spent 15 years tending her at nights because she doesn’t sleep well. (Health experts disagree on a lot of things, like nutrition and exercise, but they all seem to agree that not getting enough sleep will kill you.)
To say nothing having missed many of the joys of a normal life with her, and feeling that loss acutely as each of her siblings grow up.
A blessing?
But then, it has to be said that if the condition is horrible, some of the fallout has been decidedly positive. The Enigma attended a special school where they said their ABCs and motored her through doing cut-outs; at twelve, with the help of the Institutes, we put her on a home program, where she ultimately developed the ability to comprehend over 20 different languages.
So, her siblings also have been homeschooled. The Boy was a particular beneficiary as he could’ve skated through school on charm.
Also, looking into alternative approaches to handling The Enigma’s condition led to the elimination of my allergies, and seems to have The Boy on the road to recovery for his diabetes.
Now, I’ve come to understand The Enigma somewhat better over the years. We don’t really understand these kids—I’ll get into why in a later post, but curiously tantalizing fact is that blood tests on them have revealed compounds similar to hallucinogens—and it’s true that they are alien to us, in the sense of their experience and intelligence. (Homo sapiens bases its idea of intelligence on the ability to speak.)
But even respecting that difference, let’s not pretend that brain injury is not a deficiency. Even if it results in hyper-intelligence in certain areas (as I believe it does, which is something else I’ll get into later), let’s not go down the deaf route of declaring some kind of legitimate lifestyle choice.
It’s a challenge. And a struggle. But as Troop points out, there are many crosses to bear. If there’s a sin, it’s allowing yourself being defined by the burdens rather than the blessings.

The Fearless Tooth Fairy Vampire Killer

I was at my mom’s not too long ago listening to a debate between The Flower and her cousin, wherein The Flower vigorously defended the existence of such non-corporeal creatures as Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and so on.

The Cousin, who is quite opinionated on, well, everything, was raised for most of her life in some sort of Mennonite sect. 19th century clothing, little exposure to any sort of electronic media, and The Man In The Red Suit.

Let me step back a bit: I have been, in my life, quite strident on the matter of honesty between parents and children. At least, I’m pretty sure I have. I’ve been strident on a lot of things, so this was probably one of them. At the same time, I’ve always been a big fan of letting kids work things out for themselves.

So, when The Boy started talking Santa, I dealt with it the same way I dealt with other things, “People say…” or “That’s what they tell me.” Also, “I don’t know” and “How could that be?” have been useful.

But, but, but—factually speaking, Blake, factually, you do know.

And yet, I never even gave some things a thought. The Boy used to be concerned about vampires, so I told him I had killed them all. It wasn’t like he was going to believe there weren’t vampires, so I told him what he could believe: That I had removed the threats he was worried about. (Which I had, when you think about it.)

In fact, I used to see monsters. The Boy loved monsters, so I’d suddenly look to one side and put on a big show of having seen on running across the yard. When I crawled under the house to network it, I called up in the voices of different monsters.

The Boy, who has had problems with his health and energy his whole life, would light up like a million watt light bulb when I did this.

The Flower, on the other hand, boxed us into an even more interesting corner: She wrote to the Tooth Fairy. Well, really, what could I do? The Tooth Fairy had to write back! The two have exchanged forty letters over the course of a couple of years.

When I was a child, I’m told that I was very upset on discovering the factual nature of Santa Claus, but my dad claims to have this discussion with me about it. I was beating on him and yelling “You lied to me!” And he said, “Well, okay, but you had fun, didn’t you?”

Yeah. I had fun.

And I’m still having fun. The Boy gets what we do and why, and the Flower will, too. (That time is nearing, and I’m already missing it.) When The Barb’s preferences become clear, be they the Easter Bunny or the Great Pumpkin, I’ll be there quietly encouraging her to enjoy it.

I’m much less interested in a semantic debate over whether this can and should be called “lying” versus the impact it can have on children.

I adore my niece but she’s a joyless child. Her emotions are muted and flat, and she often strikes me as being an old person in a tiny body. I’ve never seen her get excited over anything. She’s a know-it-all who does poorly in school, despite the service paid to “truth”. And I don’t attribute this to Santa, one way or the other, but creation is joy, and frankly, few things are more traditional than for parents to try to crush out that joy by burdening a child with “reality”, when “reality” is all too often the same tired notions about the world that have been crushing joy from the beginning of time.

“Put away those foolish notions,” says the parent, and so shuts the door on a better and more interesting future.

And (as I say with my niece) it’s not just Santa: Parents who are so convinced they have the one and only grasp on reality aren’t just taking that from their kids; they’re taking the kid’s right to create his own reality, mistakes and all. You could foster a love for all things fantastic (or not yet real) without Santa; people have and do.

But your reasons shouldn’t be “because it’s a lie”. When you tell a kid a story, he’s going to internalize it, whether you tell him it’s true or not. Nobody told me superheroes were real, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be one. Nobody tells kids that their toys are “real”, yet kids imbue them with life and personality and character conflicts, with more conviction than the average adult believes that the person standing in front of him has a real life and personality.

I mean, do you feel the need to go around and remind the kid that her Barbie Dream House isn’t real, and anyway, Barbie couldn’t possibly afford it unless Ken’s her sugar daddy? I mean, realistically.

Kids have their own realities. As a parent, you can hardly help but squash them, but it’s nothing to be proud of. And in service to what? A reality you’re so convinced is true and worthwhile, it merits cutting off an entire avenue of joy for your child?

Shame on you.

And I just add this last part to prove that I can be strident in the service of something I was previously very strident against.

Wherein The Boy And I Have “The Talk”

No, not the Birds and the Bees talk. That’s what the Internet is for.

I’ve been musing about the difference between free markets and Capitalism. I’m very for free markets: People + stuff = trade. That’s pretty much how things work, and the closer we keep to that, the better off things seem to be. I don’t see the struggle we’re undergoing now as “Communism versus Capitalism” but “Slavery versus Freedom”.

Capitalism arises as organically from free markets as free markets do from people + stuff. Naturally some people are going to want to trade money for more money. And just as naturally, some people are going to end up just trading money for money. This leads to people saying “Hey, those guys aren’t doing anything but making money offa us!”

This, in turn, leads to upsetting or compromising the free market, even revolution.

Well, I was trying out this logic on The Boy, and he would have none of it. He pointed out that problem wasn’t Capitalism, but envy. Or ignorance. And I pointed out that Capitalism had always failed, ultimately leading to less free markets. And he pointed out that the State was always involved in the failure.

And so I said that if the system always failed, how was that different from Communism?

Well, The Boy wasn’t having any of it. He was quite deftly arguing his point, puncturing my arguments and standing his ground. But I didn’t let on that I basically agreed with him.

An hour or so later, he emerged from his man-cave and said that he’d always thought I knew everything and had all the answers magically. Now, of course, I’ve done everything I can to discourage that notion, gently, and he’s been coming ‘round to my less-than-divine status for years, but I’m not sure it fully dawned on him until that night.

It’s a very good thing.

He did reassure me I was still magical, though, just in a different way.

sniffI promised myself I wouldn’t cry…

If You Let Me Play Sports

Back in the heady days of the ‘90s, Nike used to run an ad with a bunch of girls saying “If you let me play sports….” Followed by all these marvelous things that would happen. You know, “If you let me play sports, I’m 40% less likely to be depressed.” Or “If you let me play sports, I won’t leave you unconscious in a hotel bathtub full of ice missing your kidneys.”

Of course, I sat there weeping saying, “OK! I’ll let you play sports!!”

On the other hand, I thought Tatum O’Neal had resolved all that.

Anyway, in the murky mists of genetic pasts, insofar as they’re known, The Flower’s great-grandparents were athletic. Semi-pro ball players, a great-great grandparent who bicycled across the country and wrestled into his 60s, that sort of thing. But somehow, none of the grandparents were athletic. To say nothing of the parents.

The Flower is not particularly athletic. As much as I puff up about her skills, I realize that she isn’t one of these kids that is just a natural. They pick a ball and can dribble, kick it soccer-style, run with it, throw it—whatever. And that’s not The Flower.

Kind of interesting, since she started out fairly athletic. We did the IAHP program for her and she excelled, but more pressing matters took precedent and a lot of physical excellence diminished.

But—and I guess this isn’t surprising from an IAHP point-of-view—since she started playing sports, she’s gotten more physically excellent. Until now, she’s managed to do well by listening to her coaches and following their advice. But she’s gotten more confident, surer of foot, and I can generally see this change into “a naturally athletic person”. That is, I can see someone ten years from now thinking she is “naturally gifted,” with its implication that something was given rather than earned.

In her current season of basketball, she can’t do the Wall of Flowers, because they’re playing on a smaller court and the rules prohibit her from playing defense mid-court. I thought this might be a setback for her, but no: She’s come up with an equally effective defensive strategy.

To wit: She’s noticed that most teams have one really strong player/scorer that the rest of the team relies on. The strategy at this level is Pass to Johnny (well, Juan) and he shoots. She figures out who that player is and shuts them down. While she’s on, the other team has a hard time scoring. If she’s not (she actually missed one game so she could visit her cousins), her team takes a beating.

What’s particularly nice, though is that she’s seeing her hard work pay off, and it’s paying off fast enough that I’m less worried she might be boxed out of sports as they get more competitive.

She continues to pursue her other interests opportunistically. The other day she put together a Banker’s box and the hard part was getting Grandpa to not direct her…

The Flower Builds Things

I’ve mentioned the The Flower’s knack for putting things together and got some great suggestions on how to encourage that. What’s kind of cool is that it seems pretty apparent that I don’t need to encourage it; it will emerge whenever and however it can. (And I have a post percolating on her current basketball season, too, so if you hate parents bragging about their kids, you might want to skip the blog for a while.)

Anyway, submitted for your approval: Projects the Flower has spontaneously put together.

A few months ago, she cut up some boxes, got some duct tape and made an A-frame:
The door works, as does the shutter. The duct tape is both ornamental and functional. I think that’s transparent tape as the doorknob.

Then for my birthday, she employed Popsicle sticks and glue to make a box.
I’m sure this was a birthday present, so I’m not sure why her jewelry is in there. I haven’t tried it, but I’d bet money this would float.

But I’m most impressed by her latest creations. She started making duct tape wallets–The Boy even requested one!–and then decided to get more ambitious. That’s a purse made out of gorilla tape. It has a sleeve for a wallet, and another for a cell phone, and she’s planning to dress up the handle with some duct tape.

Again, I think this is so cool because she just gets it in her head to do things and then does them.

I got a good feeling about this kid.

The Boy Gets A “B”

The Boy was very pleased to discover he’d received a “B” in his first college course. I’m–well, I come from a family where “A"s were expected, and barely noted, but I was pleased because there was a lot of work and pressure associated with this grade. He went from keeping his own schedule and deadlines to keeping someone else’s very quickly.

And what’s more, he learned stuff. He can talk about movies now in a fairly erudite fashion. I often found more than a bit of disconnect between classes I learned from and classes I got "A"s in.

Anyway, I learned stuff, too, about what he needs work on. And, not surprising, it’s just more reading and writing. That’s what education used to be, mostly: reading and writing. And, mostly we’re talking form and style, with a few grammatical/punctuation issues. The content of what he wrote was pretty damn good. (He wrote a "memoir” of himself from the perspective of his shoes. Funny guy.)

Homeschooling or not, exposing your kid to a college class ahead of time is probably a good idea. Recommended.

The Five Dollar Baby

No, not a million dollar baby in a five-and-ten-cent store. A five dollar baby. The five dollar baby. Follow:

I mentioned here that The Boy and The Flower are both lawyers.

It’s not hard to figure out: They both learned quickly that they couldn’t get what they wanted through tantrums. An appeal to an authority called “The Parent Rules” dictated that, if a child had a tantrum, no matter how much a parent wanted to, there was just no way a child could get what he wanted.

This is an effective, if initially confusing, strategy. Because you say, “Oh no! Now I can’t give you the toy because you had a tantrum! I’m so sorry!” And the child becomes confused because he was sure you were the one keeping the toy from him, and yet here you are expressing regret that you can’t give him the toy.

But, you know, that’s really the truth. You want to give your kids what they want. It’s just good parenting that prevents you from doing it.

Anyway, this doesn’t work with The Barbarienne. The slightest refusal–and there are many in a three-year-old’s life–sends her into paroxysms of grief and/or anger. I haven’t quite figured it out. She doesn’t get what she wants from it. But there’s obviously some “reason” she does it anyway.

But it wasn’t always this way. Babies are funny things. There are things you can see on Day 1 that are there on Day 10,000. Essential characteristics. My sister started screaming the day she was born, and she’s still screaming. I was quiet; I’m still quiet.

Some babies cry a lot, some sleep easily, some fuss, some like to be held more than others, and so on. The Barbarienne seldom cried, and slept like a log. Nothing bothered her.

One summer weekend, when she was six months old, we went up to some friends who lived across from Magic Mountain. We barbecued, swam in the pool, and watched the fireworks go up from the park. In five hours, the Barbarienne didn’t cry, until the very end of the night when she was exhausted and needed to be changed. And as soon as she was changed, she went right to sleep.

My friends, who were debating whether or not to have children of their own, got into an argument. (Not a bad one; they’re the sort of couple that has cute arguments all the time.)

The wife said, “You see, babies aren’t that hard. They’re not much trouble.”
The husband replied, “This is perfect-baby. She never cries. Regular babies are difficult!”
And the wife responded, “Lots of babies are just like this!”
Finally, the husband said, “Five dollars! I’ll give you five dollars if you can find another baby like this!”

Hence, the Barbarienne became The Five Dollar Baby.

She was definitely rare, in my experience. I’d like to think it was the culmination of nearly 20 years of experience with the whole gestation/delivery/infant management process that made it possible, but it could just have been luck.

Anyway, at eighteen months, she completely changed and became The Barbarienne. “So, she’s going through terrible twos early,” I thought. My kids do that, so no big deal.

Er. Yeah. It’ll be two years of terrible twos pretty soon here. Why do I feel like this is going to be my life ten years from now?


Previously I linked to Knox’s comment where she linked to the Glenn and Helen show where they interview Robert Epstein on adolescence, and a test designed to measure how adult one is. As you can see here, I just got carried away snarking on the test, which is actually pretty interesting.

More importantly, I agree with the basic topic: Adolescence is a bad idea. I’ll never forget sitting down to my first college course and thinking, “WTF? We could have done this five years ago!”

Even allowing for my high level of comfort with school–I’m a chronic test taker, read for fun, quite good at sitting still for long periods, basically made for school–college is way too late for just about everyone. The Boy, while fine in school, is nowhere near as comfortable and casual about it as I was, and he’s doing just fine in his class. (And he got a strict teacher, he has to turn in his notes, etc. This will work out excellently for him in terms of giving him real world experience for taking more classes.)

Anyway, I love the way the guy, Epstein, attacks the “teen brain” thing. That kind of stuff–the sort of vague assertions made by some segment of brain scientists–always smacks of phrenology to me. Teenagers used to be plenty responsible. Inexperienced, but not stupid.

In fact, the most plausible suggestion I’ve heard about adolescence is that it was created by trade guilds (unions) as a way to eliminate competition.

Well, let’s be honest: It’s hard on the ego. If we let teens work, they’d end up being better at what we do than we are. I mean, sure, we have experience, but they have energy, alertness, enthusiasm–and putting them to work early is the best way to blunt that. Wait, no, that’s not what I meant to say.

Seriously, though: Teens will work hard, for little money, and they’re eager to assume more responsibility. Adults should be afraid of them entering the workplace sooner–they would threaten our ability to slack!

Of course, if we were shrewd and up to the challenge, we could harness their energy in useful ways, and create a brand new, powerful, responsible demographic, and use our experience to direct them in ways ushered in a new era of wealth for everyone.

As always, the kids are all right. It’s the adults that are the problem.

The Boy Goes To College

We had planned to send The Boy off for the winter session, but it’s a really, really big deal around here to get a 13-year-old in. The Dean has to give personal permission, papers must be signed, oaths sworn, etc. This all magically vanishes at 14.

Bureaucracy is a wondrous thing.

Not complaining, mind you: There’s still plenty ‘round here to teach him.

Anyway, The Boy is at his first class today. Summer session is a dicey time to start. Classes are relatively intense (two hours a day, every day) and, of course, you have the “teacher factor” magnified. An easy teacher is probably going to be extra easy in the summer, while a harder teacher is going to concentrate all the work he’d normally give into half the time.

He wanted to take a business or economics class–he’s got his eye on an MBA before 20–but they were full. I suggested the cinema class. I figure that it will be interesting, and I hope not to grueling–but it will get him used to being on campus. (And get him some legit university credits.)

Update to come shortly.