Friday, December 31, 2010

The End: The Beginning

Didn't we just do this? Wasn't New Year's last month?

I've thought so much about what I wrote last year, it still seems fresh in my mind. A year ago, huh? Doesn't seem possible.

Do you look back on the previous year and fill out a mental scorecard, tally up the results and draw a conclusion? Do you let the most impactful events of the year determine the score? Or do you judge a year based on vague impressions about what you think happened, ignoring those things (good or bad) that don't fit into that preconception?

When I was younger, I defaulted to "yeah, last year sucked." Now I default to, "it was a pretty good year." Most of the things I used to judge the years of my youth matter little now. The things I use to judge the years now were unimaginable in my youth. In both cases, I've tended to ignore the things that didn't fit into my preconceptions.

Like with most history, most snap judgments prove to be erroneous. These judgments are made too soon after the history was made. There isn't enough time to fully digest what's happened and/or how they will shape the future. The emotions surrounding the events are too strong or we conveniently forget the less pleasant things. I'm pretty good at the latter.

This year, I completed my goal of reading at least one biography of every president. It was an enlightening experience. Historians are a lot like we are. They make their judgments either on incomplete data or by focusing on the things that fit their preconceptions.

I found that my preconceptions about most presidents ignored plenty of things. The great presidents had their faults. The worst had their strengths. I no longer accept the greatness of some - Jefferson, Jackson and Wilson - without reservation. I no longer ignore the lessor known - Polk, McKinley, and Coolidge - now that I understand the contributions they've made. Like years, there are those who were great (Lincoln, FDR and Washington) and those who were lousy (A. Johnson, Pierce and Buchanan) but the great had their faults and the lousy ones had strengths.

Similarly, the years in my life I've judged to be great weren't without challenges and setbacks and the years in my life I've judge to have sucked weren't without blessings and accomplishments. Sometimes the things that sucked look like blessings when seen through a longer lens of time.

This is a blog about dealing with my son's autism. Something I can judge as a setback or a blessing. At first, it was a debilitating setback. But it was always a blessing because Robbie's a blessing, no matter how hard things have been. I don't need a longer lens to see that now, but I did at first. My lack of blogging about the topic is an indication of how well things have gone. I haven't been inspired to share the "normal", everyday of it all because, well, it's been normal. I'm going to judge that as a very good part of the year.

There is one area I filled out a scorecard and tallied up the results.

Around the end of March, I finally found the strength to attack my weight problem. Nine months and fifty-five pounds later, I'm pretty happy with the results.

Based on this alone, I'm prepared to judge 2010 as a great year - ignoring the blessings and setbacks that occurred along the way.

I'm not going to make any predictions or resolutions for 2011, though I'm hoping there's a book deal in my near future. All I can do is set goals and pursue them to the best of my ability. Twelve months from now, I'll determine whether or not a great or bad year was had. I may or may not be accurate about that.

Time will tell.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Holidays: Things Change

This holiday season, I thought a lot about what I'd written in the memoir Kicking and Screaming regarding Christmas, and how much had changed since I wrote it. It's as if someone else wrote that story. Rather than retell those feelings, I thought I'd include an excerpt.

It begins in the middle of the discussion about our concerns about Robbie's behavior and focuses on that behavior around Christmastime. I've included pictures of Robbie from this Christmas to demonstrate the wonderful contrast. If you're reading this on Facebook or via another device, click here to see the photos:

Since my head was literally and figuratively thousands of miles away during Robbie's early years, I didn’t internalize the concerns Joy was expressing about his development – or in some areas, lack thereof. I focused on those areas where he was excelling and they provided me great comfort.

One of those areas I focused on was his intelligence – he was smart. But there were some behaviors, including gut wrenching moments, I was unable to overlook.

Joy loves Christmas. She and Santa Claus conspire to give our kids almost everything they would like, within reason.

Kelly greets every Christmas with this same enthusiasm, an enthusiasm so strong she can’t contain herself. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, she exercises her powers for snooping.

On more than one occasion (read: many) she’s stumbled onto a few presents (which pisses Joy off). But I’m not in any position to throw rocks – I used to snoop for presents as a kid. The night before, she can’t sleep a wink because all she can do is think about presents. Christmas morning Kelly would wake up at the crack of dawn doing everything she could to speed up the process.

Unlike his mother, his big sister and even his tired and grouchy father, Robbie just didn’t care. He didn’t stay up late on Christmas Eve. He didn’t wake up early on Christmas day. He didn’t like the day. It was difficult to get him to leave his room, come down stairs and open any of his presents. Joy pushed package after package in front of him and encouraged him to open it, only to be ignored.

“Look, Robbie! Look what Santa brought you!” she’d implore.

Eventually she would open a package for him and try to get his interest, but that failed, too. Kelly tried to encourage him to open a present. Sometimes, she’d open it for him. When Joy did get him to open a present, he was unaffected by it. He was ambivalent regardless what was discovered under the wrapping. He was bored by the whole thing. He showed no interest in any of the toys.

He might look at one of them for a moment or briefly play with one of them (after Joy had taken it out of the box and set it up in front of him and done everything in her power to interest him), but soon, he’d put it back on the floor. It wouldn't take long before he retreated back upstairs to his room, closed his door and wrote on his doodle board. It was horrible.

The two worst years were when he was three and four years old. The idea of child those ages possessing so little interest in toys was incongruent with anything we knew. In those days, the only things that interested him were his doodle board and the TiVo remote control.

This lack of interest in “things” may sound good from an adult altruistic, anti-materialism perspective, but for a child it was just flat wrong. Kids like toys – the more toys the better. I remember being sad about this, but I tried not to let it trouble me too much. I lied to myself and assumed this was just his way.

Robbie’s Christmas behavior crushed Joy. For the woman who loved the holiday more than any other, it wasn't fair. She was heartbroken. It reduced her to tears. A child not being interested in Christmas or toys is a big neon sign saying there’s trouble.

I may have missed it, but she didn't.

Christmas 2010:

As the pictures show, this Christmas was different.

Very different.

Unimaginable only four or five years ago.

I must confess that the pictures are misleading. Those depicting Robbie decorating the tree and wrapping presents that he bought were real. The one of him opening present on the right was not.

That picture was a staged reenactment. What really happened is that Robbie barely slept the night before Christmas. Too excited to sleep for long, he woke up his conspiratorial sister, went downstairs, opened all of their presents and began playing with them. By the time Joy and I awoke at 4AM (due to the clatter), it was all over.

Less enthused about the moment at the time than I am now, the children were required to re-wrap their presents and go back to bed. Christmas take-two was postponed until 10AM.

And it was still wonderful.