Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Shared Joy is a Double Joy

Yesterday I took my kids through a drive-through car wash for the first time in their lives.  It was, to Josh, a revelation.  He was immediately deeply engaged by the experience, exuding a sense of awe that one might have when observing the Grand Canyon or the earth from space. The brushes going back and forth, the spray of the water, the squirting of the detergent, the vibrating rumblings of the machine that ensconced us, these things were absolutely enthralling to him.  

This blog is called "shower heads and hairdryers" because those have been two of Josh's absolute favorite things since he was very little.  Many autistic individuals have a special interest in unique things such as elevators, trains, or dial tones.  Showers have always been the zenith of interest for Josh.  He can spend a good part of a day drawing them.   One year for his birthday, we printed out dozens of images of shower heads and hairdryers and put them up all over the house.  It was better than a trip to Disneyland for my son.  

 As the carwash brushes whirled by spraying florets of water, I could hear Josh whisper with a voice of wonder, "shower head." 

"Yes, Josh" I said. "It's like we're in a shower head.  Like a car shower."

"Like a car shower," said Mr. Amazed.  "Like a car shower."  

For the next 10 minutes, Josh yapped happily about his experience, savoring the sounds of talking about what he had just seen.  

"Like a shower.  Like a brower.   Like a shower head.  Like a dower.  Is it like a zower?  Drower?  "

After a while, Josh's annoyed sisters coudn't tune him out.  "Josh, please stop."

But there was no stopping him.  Home boy was on a roll.  "Zower.  Like a shower.  Shower head. Brower.  Would you like a dower?  It's a car shower.  A car brower."  

"Girls, let him talk.  He's happy."  I said, taking in Josh's exuberance.  

Yes, Josh was very happy and he wanted to share it, in his own way.  And this filled me with joy, even though it was a little bit like being swallowed by a Dr. Seuss book.  My son was sharing about something.  He wanted us to share in something that he was experiencing. 

When I serve in our church's nursery, one of the things that tears my heart a little is watching little 9 month babies point to things.  Pointing is a sign of something very important in a child in terms of his or her neuro-social development.  That child is wanting to share about something with another person.  Pointing, eye contact, shared attention on another interesting object, these are things that naturally happen in a typically developing child, even at a very young age.  It is a critical building block of learning and connecting.  A child points to something then an adult says, "Yes, that's a train. It's Thomas the train.  And this is Percy.  Percy is green!" With a facial expression, tone of voice, and eye contact the child takes in the nuances of meaning.  The experience of sharing attention is a magical portal for learning.

Most autistic children have a very low impulse to have shared attention.  They are often content to experience things on their own, thus, their worlds tend to develop in ways that are not very connected to most people.  This was true of Josh.  I don't ever remember him pointing to things.  He rarely wanted to share his interest or joy in something that was interesting to him. Shared interest has been, to Josh, a very, very thin thread in his developmental life but it's there. 

Yet, in this moment, even in his ramblings, I could tell that Josh was trying to express to us that he had experienced something extraordinary: a shower in a car.  I longed to milk this moment of shared attention and shared joy for all that it was worth.  

This morning as I woke Josh up, I said to him, "We were in a car shower yesterday, huh, Josh?"  He smiled a little smile and said, "Car shower".  And I thought that there was a split second of eye contact as he said it.  

A professor once told me that a shared joy is a double joy.  And even though I need to be at work in a few minutes, I have to post about this moment because I want to double, triple, quadruple my joy.  My son had a moment of joy and, in his own way, he wanted to tell me about it!  It brings me such happiness to reflect on it, to relive the moment!  ZOWER!

May you have a moment of wonder today and may you have the grace-joy-synergy-energy to share about it.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I'm Having a Very Good Life

One of my favorite movies in the world is a little known film called Mi Familia (or My Family).  I love it because it’s a beautiful snapshot of Los Angeles, a city that I deeply love, and about three generations of a Mexican family, a culture that I love.

I saw this movie when it first came out 21 years ago and since then, at least every couple of months I think about the final scene of the movie.  The matriarch and patriarch of the story, Jose and Maria, are sitting together in their golden years reminiscing about their past and they say, “God has been good to us, we've been very lucky, and our life it has been very...very good.” 

I remember being totally shocked by that scene because in their lives, Jose and Maria have endured many horrible, difficult things such as illegal deportation, the LAPD gunning down one son in front of another, several children going to jail, gang violence, the death of a daughter-in-law as she gave birth to a grandson, all kinds of racism, poverty, back-breaking work etc.  But somehow, near the end of their lives, they are grateful people.  They are grateful to God.  I remember thinking that it was some sort of miracle or parable --- to have a very difficult life but to be able to see it as good.  To have a glad and grateful heart even after having endured so much sadness and evil is shockingly striking.  The memory of this scene has been deeply planted in my mind.

I want to be like Jose and Maria. 

As someone on the journey of parenting a child with special needs, it is easy to see your life as less than good.  There are difficulties, isolation and so many things that you just can’t do.  I find myself wondering, “What is the next crisis that will come along?”, "Will I find poop in random places in my house?", "Do I have the strength today to battle with various systems that seem take a pound of flesh from me before giving me the meds that my son needs?"

It is still so easy to fall into comparison with other people, other families.  And then there is the future.  What will Josh do when he is booted from the school system?  Who will take care of Josh when we are no longer able to?  Will I ever not be parenting someone who functions as a toddler?  Anxiety, discontentment, bitterness:  these things offer themselves to me daily like shiny fruits from the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden of my life. 

But I am beginning to get a glimpse of what it might mean to be like Jose and Maria.  On some days, I look at my beautiful son and I find myself thinking about how lucky I am to get to be his mom.  I see him as the overwhelming gift that he is to me.  Through Josh I have learned compassion, servanthood, slowing down, being needy, waiting, the blessed state of being a dependent child.  I would not trade these lessons for anything.  I imagine myself, at the end of my life, thanking God and giving him unending praise for having the wisdom to give me a child like Josh for the sake of my own sanctification.  I picture God laughing that I could share His joy in the great gift of my son. 

As my mind stretches out to meditate on contentment, I remember a book that I read years ago called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This "rare jewel" of a book, written almost 400 years ago, addresses the basic problem of human discontent and suffering. True contentment, argues the author, is achieved by surrender to God.  I feel the hardness of my heart and the smallness of my brain whenever I approach this book.  But I also feel the warmth of the truth in it's contents and I am strangely attracted to it.  

I might be a complaining, entitled, cranky person tomorrow or even an hour from now but right now, I see and I submit to the reality that God knows what He is doing.  He loves me and wants more for me than I can even dare to imagine.  I am having a very, very good life.