D – 11 (This is the first day of the rest of second grade)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Aug 3, 2004, Beth’s age: 7

Beth is a tough nut to crack, but she’s even harder to read. The lead into the new school year had all the emotion of a new pair of socks. (What do I have against socks? Why am I picking on socks in general? As a child, I was permanently scarred by the cruel and unusual gift of socks on Christmas morning.) It was so unlike my experience. I remember the first day of elementary school with all the fondness of replacing a Mac with a Dell. Yet, I remember the first days of a new term at UF with eager anticipation. These were two very different experiences, but they had one thing in common: emotion, a commitment to one side of the wellbeing spectrum or the other. Surely Beth feels something about the big first day?

“So Beth, how do you feel about the first day of second grade?”
“I dunno.”

“Are you nervous?”
“I guess so.”

“Are you excited about meeting your new teacher?”
“Not really.”

“Have you now, or have you ever, committed to one emotion in particular concerning your scholastic career?”

I haven’t decided if that last question was too sugar coated with sarcasm for my own good.

D – 12 (What do you fear?)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Jun 18, 2004, Beth’s age: 6 (almost 7)

Death? Taxes? The Yankees wining another World Series? A six year old child with an attention deficit, a pinch of hyperactivity, and a bow and arrow?

Yes, Beth had a busy day on Wednesday. I was picking her up from camp and her group leader was explaining all of the activities they participated in that day. They started with a hike through a local park, followed by some canoeing, another hike, swimming at the pool, and an archery class.

Beth’s group leader was running down the laundry list of activities while I was packing up Beth’s stuff, preparing to herd her out the door. Growing up with two sisters, I have a well honed talent for tuning people out. It is my blessing and my curse. As a result, I didn’t realize Beth’s group leader had used the word “archery” until I was pulling up the driveway at my house.

Surely they weren’t using real arrows. I guess we’ll never know, unless we’re served with papers.

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D – 13 (No)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Apr 6, 2004, Beth’s age: 6

Recently my daughter told me I say “no” too much.

I told her there was a simple solution to her problem: she should ask questions she thinks might have a different answer.


D – 14 (Labels)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Feb 16, 2004, Beth’s age: 6

Last year our daughter’s school suggested testing for intelligence. They offered to test her to determine if it would be appropriate to place her in the Gifted Program. Cheryl was all for it. I wasn’t so sure.

How much harm does it do a child to be labeled? Does it matter if the label is good or bad? Is the end result the same? Are expectations placed on someone that may not be appropriate or to the child’s benefit?

Well, Beth was tested and apparently she tests REALLY well. Now she’s in the Gifted Program. In fact she’s gifted among the gifted. Based on her test results her teachers claim to have one explanation for some of her odd behavior. Before, her behavior was a distraction and a cause for concern. Now it’s still a distraction, but rather than a cause for concern it’s just an eccentricity of an intelligent child.

In the meantime, the behavior continues.

We visited her teacher today for a conference before school. Her teacher was concerned, but not about her academics. She was concerned about how she related to the other kids. She is worried her behavior has isolated her from the other kids. They notice she is different and treat her differently, and not in a good way. She’s not making friends. She tries to interact, but she tends to be avoided.

I worry because it fits. I see Beth taking with other kids in church, and I see the same indifference in the other children’s faces. Although Beth sometimes talks about “all of the friends I have,” I see her compensating. She does have a couple friends around the neighborhood. But, I also see her after school… in tears because she wants to go somewhere else where she can make new friends. What do I tell her, that it may not be any different somewhere else? Do I try to tell her she’ll get past it all, even if I know from my own experience it may not be true?

She excels in school academically so they will not help with the behavior. Insurance concedes it’s a real problem but insists that it’s a “long term” problem, making it ineligible for coverage. Lest you scoff in disbelief, let me reassure you this is really the reason for non-coverage. To paraphrase their denial letter… “coverage for therapy shall only be approved if the condition will show significant improvement within the first eight weeks of treatment.” Translation… if it is a short term problem that you probably could have paid for on your own anyway we’ll cover it, if not you’re on your own.

In the meantime the behavior continues.

I don’t feel like a “victim of the system.” I don’t feel an overwhelming sense of entitlement to services we’re not getting. I’m just a frustrated parent who doesn’t have all of the answers. I’m just a saddened parent who can’t always take away my child’s pain.

No Beth, daddy doesn’t know everything. I’m so sorry.


D – 15 (This is a test)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Nov 4, 2003, Beth’s age: 6

Did you know that doctors will prescribe medication for something other than it’s originally intended purpose? An example is the hypertension drug minoxidil. People taking minoxidil many years ago may have noticed one of the side effects: “… may result in increased hair growth…. ” Doctors later figured out you could smear some on your head… and the rest was history.

Everyone is familiar with the standard reasons for having children: leaving a legacy in this world, extending the species, having a family, enjoying the pitter patter of little feet, and so on. Many parents will tell you that there is another, lesser known reason for having children: namely to test the structural integrity of your home and its furnishings. Parents of the world, who among you is not familiar with the crashing sound of falling objects followed by the “apologetic chorus” (as performed by your offspring)? Refrain: “I’m so sorry, so sorry….”

Five years ago, when we first moved into our new house, I hung my bicycle from the ceiling in our converted garage. I suspected at the time that I might have only grazed the outside of the stud in the ceiling, without hitting it dead center. It seemed solid at the time, so I didn’t think about it any further… until last night.

From the other room… “daddy, your bike fell down.”
Running from the other side of the house “Beth, are you o.k.?”
“I’m sorry daddy.”
“Beth are you o.k.?”
“I’m o.k. daddy.”
“Beth, do you know how the bike fell?”
Suspicious… “Beth, did the bike fall all by itself or did it have some help?”
Sheepishly… “It had some help.”

Always remember the second law of raising children: “any household implement that can be used as gymnasium equipment, WILL be used as gymnasium equipment.”

Bookshelves WILL be used as a step ladder.

Hanging bicycles will be used as a flying trapeze.

It doesn’t matter how well you raise your child, the temptation is there every waking moment spent in the house. No amount of conditioning can defeat that kind of temptation. Please plan accordingly.

And for God’s sake, PLEASE make SURE you hit the center of the stud with your anchors!

D – 16 (Because I can)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Oct 31, 2003, Beth’s age: 6

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Beth has known this from an early age. Now what do you think happens when the shortest distance between two points is also the hardest traveled distance between two points? If you are Beth, and the shortest distance has scaleable living room furniture in it’s path, then this is desirable. No, make that damn near impossible to resist.

I foresee a rearrangement of furniture in our future.

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D – 17 (Family differences)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Aug 11, 2003, Beth’s age: 6

Over the years Cheryl has sometimes been a little quick to claim: “Beth is just like you John.”

She might be referring to any of a number of little things.

Beth saying something smart. Beth sitting in strange, contorted positions while watching TV. Beth exploring the limits of her abilities, improvising when necessary to achieve a goal (usually something Cheryl doesn’t want her to do). These are all examples of when Cheryl might invoke the “you’re just like your father” excuse for her behavior.

To me, these moments can be gratifying and frustrating. Seeing someone taking after you is one of the great joys of parenthood. It is a given your kids will inherit some things from you. It’s quite another thing to actually see this little person grow into their own, with just a pinch of you thrown in the mix. But just when you are patting yourself on the back for molding a precious little child… you see her do something else that you recognize – something that you don’t like. Do you put yourself in time out too?

Then there are the moments when you wonder if your child was switched at birth. Cheryl and I are both relatively quiet. We tend to shy away from attention. In school I was voted “least likely to raise my hand.” When asked about me, my former teachers recall a kid that sat in back and didn’t say anything. They may recognize my face, but I gave them no reason to remember my voice. Now here comes Beth, the original whirlwind of activity. In many cases, life is one great big performance for Beth.

What brings all of this up? We were sitting in church Sunday morning. All of the children of the congregation were called up to the front for the children’s sermon. The first thing you need to know is there is nothing subtle about Beth’s march to the front of the church for the children’s sermon. Her gait is a cross between a high-stepping march and a sprint. The echo of her stomping feet on the concrete floor, reverberating through the sanctuary, sounds as if the congregation broke out in applause. Once everyone was settled (and the clatter died down), the pastor asked all of the kids to imitate different kids of animals. Two kids went before Beth and took the obvious choices: cat and dog. Beth was called on next. Her parents waited with morose anticipation. Did we really want to see Beth at the Improv, with the symbol of Jesus’ crucifixion lurking in the background? She got down on her hands and knees and went “naaay…. nay”. After a moments reflection the pastor replied, “what a great horse your doing Beth.”

Beth indignantly replied, “I’m not a horse, I’m a unicorn!”

Never in a million years would I have thought to pick a unicorn when placed on the public spot like that.

Never in two million years would I have chosen to correct the pastor in front of a full houses.

No, Beth’s choice was not that extraordinary, nor was her decision to correct the pastor. It just struck me that it wasn’t me standing up there. It was another person, a work in progress. That person is a little of me, a little of my wife, and a whole lot of herself.

You may be thinking I’m easily impressed by the mundane. You may be thinking that I have a flair for pointing out the obvious. I’m thinking that life is 90% mundane and 75% obvious.* I think trick is finding the miracle in the mundane and working a little fun into the obvious.

* Statistical analysis with the assistance of the great Yogi Berra.

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D – 18 (Eyes wide open)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Jul 10, 2003, Beth’s age: 5 (almost 6)

We have been thinking about Beth’s birthday present for some time now. Tonight we took action. Cheryl called around to see which stores had the item in stock. After a couple of disappointments we found one that had it. Cheryl took off this evening after dinner to pick it up. When she returned we were both eager to open it up and see what all the fuss was about. Sitting on our bed, gathered around this thing like a couple of thieves admiring their stolen treasure, we opened it up. After dispensing with the requisite “oohs and aahs” we put it away. Just as we were closing the box Beth appears in the doorway with a question. The item was small so it was easily hidden.

“What are you guys doing?”
“We’re wrapping your birthday present.”
“What is it?”
“We’re not going to tell you.”
“Is it a Game Boy?”
“Beth! Just go to the family room and close the door.”

Well, as a general rule I don’t like to lie to the kids… but I wasn’t about to tell her the truth. However, this was one of those times I wondered if Beth was pushing certain buttons on purpose.

D – 19 (Cars, front seats, and airbags)

I thought a lot about this one, whether I wanted to keep the tone light, or round out some of the experiences we’ve had raising a child on the autism spectrum (high functioning though she may be). I wasn’t looking for a fond, proud, or pleasant moment. I was thinking about throwing in one that represented the opposite of all those things.

I finally decided on a compromise. In a way, I’ll leave it to you to decide. I’m posting a lighter post first (re: the name of this post). Afterwards, I’m including a post called “Venom,” which I’d originally intended to post this morning. If you’re not in the mood for a darker turn, please don’t feel like you have to keep reading.

“Cars, front seats, and airbags”
Originally posted: May 5, 2003, Beth’s age: 5

You might have heard that we were having trouble with Cheryl’s lemon Saturn.
When Cheryl’s car goes caput, I go to my parent’s house for a loaner. This last time the loaner was none other than THE MR-2. A little two door, mid-engine, sports car made by Toyota. My dad has a fun little manual five speed.

The next morning I realized an opportunity for some daughter-father bonding, so I suggested to Cheryl that I could take the kid to school. Since I’m the one that usually drives the loaner, this meant I’d be taking Beth to school in THE MR-2.

Beth and I walked out the door. Beth went first and walked up beside THE CIVIC. I took the route less traveled, and went to unlock THE MR-2. Beth exclaimed, “are we going in grandpa’s car daddy?!?”

“Yep,” I feigned casual.

Beth ran up to the passenger side of THE MR-2 and cautioned, “daddy, grandpa’s car doesn’t have a back seat and I’m not supposed to ride in the front.”

What’s a father supposed to say to that? I try to explain things to Beth when she asks, even if it won’t be entirely understood. I said, “well Beth, most cars have an airbag that pops out when you get into an accident, but it’s only in the front seat. Airbags can be dangerous for little kids because kids are really little, and airbags are really big and really fast. But, grandpa’s car doesn’t have airbags, so it’s not like our cars, and in some ways it’s a little safer for kids in the front seat.”

Beth wasn’t just o.k. with this explanation, she reveled in it. During the five minute drive to school, my normally talkative child uttered just one sentence:

“Daddy, this is REALLY cool!”

She sat in that seat like a queen on her throne, looking all around, unaccustomed to the unobstructed view.

Now fast forward to yesterday. We finally decided to send Cheryl’s lemon Saturn down the river. It was well past time we took a do-over, so we bought a car. (Yes, we bought; but that’s another story.) Cheryl and I left work early, but the deal still wasn’t done when it came time to pick up Beth. Since we were close, I left to get Beth and brought her back to the dealership. I brought her up to speed on the way back, and she was eager to get a close look at mommy’s new car. We went inside and walked up to the equivalent model in the showroom. Beth walked around to the passenger side, opened the front door and climbed in. She turned to me and asked in an innocent and hopeful tone: “daddy, does this car have airbags?”

Is it better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all?

Ask Beth.

– – –


Originally posted: Jun 17, 2003, Beth’s age: 5 (almost 6)

Camera number one shows the layout of the scene. It’s a retirement party. Everyone is saying goodbye to a Department of Corrections cohort. We are outdoors, in someone’s front yard. I am between conversations, observing the crowd from a lawn chair in the middle of the yard. Beth is walking around aimlessly, but not being disruptive. She is the only child at the party. Cameral number two (from a low angle) focuses on two women in the distance, from my seated perspective ten feet away. There are other conversations going on all around us, but the sound picks up the women’s conversation – already in progress. “…that child, her parents can keep her.” Flash to camera number three (no transition), close-up on my face; my eyebrows arch with interest. Flash to camera number two. The women resume their conversation, the previous speaker elaborates on her last statement, “I share an office with her mother. I KNOW things.” Now flash back to camera number three. There is a subtle change in my expression. Something has changed in my demeanor. There is a look of suppressed emotion on my face.

A narrator speaks:
“I KNOW that I am angry.”
“I KNOW that I have just heard part of this conversation out of context, so I must stay cool.”
“I KNOW that my mind is rushing to conclusions anyway.”
“I KNOW that people come as a package. You take some bad with the good. There are parts of my daughter’s package that I could do without, but I wouldn’t trade the whole for anything in the world.”
“I KNOW that I just spent an afternoon with my daughter that was just precious, one of too many to count.”
“I KNOW that everyone has their faults. The trick is to know what they are, and keep them in check.”
“I KNOW I have them.”
“Do YOU?”


D – 20 (A kid being a kid)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Apr 30, 2003, Beth’s age: 5

Stop me if you have heard this story before:
A little kid goes potty and has a little too much fun with the toilet paper. Three towels, two liberal applications of disinfectant, one roll of paper products, and at least half a dozen months of life expectancy later… the bathroom floor was dry again.

Every child must learn what volume of solids a toilet can handle on their own. Unfortunately for the parents of the world, it’s a trial and error process.