No Rules, New Rules, One Rule

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So last night, the Fourth of July, held a minor victory as our oldest kid did pretty well facing his fear of fireworks. All the kids did pretty well, in fact, with each one showing a little more improvement in the sensory processing realm. Plus, they got to stay up later than usual. Mind you, we didn’t go anywhere for fireworks. We’re just talking about the small-time crackers and roman candles that some folks in the neighborhood set off. Still, progress is progress.

Anyway, this morning we ended up paying for the late night and the extra stimulation. As we were trying to get everyone ready for Mass, we were presented with two very strong tantrum-melt downs from two different kids, one stubbornly tired kid who could barely keep his eyes open, and another one exceedingly anxious about the her siblings’ potentially bad behavior in church.

We tried to roll with it. We really did. But after a while we realized that Mass just wasn’t going to work. It was too risky. So we played hooky. Sort of. Rather than go to our local church, which is only a half-mile away, we loaded everyone in the van and drove twenty miles to Mount St. Mary’s University–my alma mater of a Catholic college.

A Mini Pilgrimage.

The van is a safe zone. Each of them can enter their own world, whether by staring out the windows or by putting on their head phones and listening to music or by taking a quick nap. It’s one way to help them press the reset button, and that’s pretty much what happened. By the time we arrived, they were doing better. Not great, but better.

We spent about an hour there, walking the nearly empty campus and visiting the Grotto, which is a replica of the shrine to the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, France. We ended with a visit to the grotto chapel, where I had the kids sit as quietly as possible for as long as possible (5 minutes) and told them to try to pray. Then we read the Gospel reading they would have heard if they had gone to Mass, I said a few words about it, and we left. Nothing big. Nothing dramatic. And no other people around.

The kids did pretty well overall. We did have to deal with some sensory issues and low-level anxiety. And our toe-walker started to complain about pain in his legs from all the uphill walking. But I was glad that they got the message that Sunday is more than just another day. It’s still the Sabbath. It’s still the day that we honor God as a family. They saw that the alternative to missing Mass isn’t a free pass to video games.

A New Rule Book.

I don’t like skipping Mass. I really enjoy the closeness to God that I feel there. And for the most part, I can see how it helps the kids. But as far as I could see, there really wasn’t an alternative.

This is one thing that I’ve learned again and again as an autism parent: you have to learn to live by a different set of rules. It seems that everything we do—from church services to school, to recreation to family gatherings—we do differently. And there are times that we have to throw out even our modified rule book. But that’s okay. Because the only rule that really matters is this: Love and accept your kids where they’re at, and they’ll be more likely to follow where you want to lead them.

Who’s Leading Who?

So today is Father’s Day. In honor of the day, I thought I’d dust off a post from a few years ago, update it a bit, and repost it. (That, and I’m too busy being a dad today to write something new.) So here goes:

Who’s Leading Who?

In one of the lesser-known resurrection accounts in the Bible, Jesus tells Peter: “When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” The passage goes on to explain that Jesus said this to signify “by what kind of death he [Peter] would glorify God” (John 21:18-19).

This passage has always had special resonance for me, to the point of being a kind of interpretive key to almost all of the major events in my life. It sounds kind of grim, doesn’t it? All this talk about being led where you don’t want to go and dying—even if that death glorifies God. But that hasn’t really been my experience. Rather, I’ve found a surprise or two along the way as I’ve seen these words unfold in my life.

One major surprise came when I realized who it was who would end up leading me along unexpected paths: my own kids! Now I’m sure that many parents can relate. None of us really knows what to expect when we hold our first child. We can never fully appreciate how much our lives will change now that we have welcomed this new person into our lives. How much more when you are blessed with six children! And how much, much more when it turns out that all six children are on the autism spectrum!

Unexpected Paths.

I named an earlier post “A Little Child Shall Lead Them,” and I meant it as something more than a clever play on words. I can testify that my kids—all six of them—have led me in ways I never expected.

  • They have led me to the waiting rooms of psychologists and psychiatrists and speech and occupational therapists as I have sought to understand their challenges and help them make sense of them as well.
  • They have led me to school conference rooms, where I have advocated for them and labored mightily to convince unimaginative, one-size-fits-all educators to give them a fair shake.
  • They have led me to my knees in prayer—not desperate prayers for their healing, but impassioned entreaties that God will grant them a future full of hope, a future where their gifts are welcomed and where they can make a difference for other people.
  • They have led me down rocky paths as I have helped them work through sleepless nights; relationship challenges; full-scale tantrums; days-long depressive episodes; and anxious, hours-long perseverations.

Death and Freedom.

Now, Jesus told Peter this stuff as a way of hinting at the kind of death that awaited him. And that has proven true for me as well, in a more figurative way. No, I’m not writing from beyond the grave! But my kids have definitely led me to experience other kinds of “deaths”—

  • The death of my dream for a Brady Bunch kind of life. It was a pretty self-centered, self-indulgent dream anyway, and I’m glad it’s gone. Now I don’t have to worry about how clean or dirty the house is. Or about when my kids are going to record their first pop single.
  • The death of any rigidity or legalism I may have brought to my ideas of parenting. I have learned to become much more flexible and creative in my parenting. “So what if she wants to wear all black clothing to church?” “You want to stay in your bed to avoid the noise of the dinner table? Knock yourself out! Just make sure you eat afterward—and clean up your plate.”
  • The death of a few close friendships due to some people’s lack of willingness to “get” our family’s dynamic. This was especially hard at first, but I realized that it’s in times of difficulty that you learn what your friends are really made of. That’s when you have to decide who is really worth your time.
  • The death of a romanticized take on the spiritual life. There are no simple answers. There are no guaranteed formulas. And yes it’s true; sometimes God does give you more than you can handle. That’s why he gave us each other. It’s also why he created wine.

It’s ironic, but each of these deaths has made me feel a little more alive and free. Little by little, my kids have led me to a place of surrender. Not defeat. Not resignation. But acceptance. I have learned so much about myself; about human nature, both the bad and the good; and about God that I feel like I’m a very different person now compared to who I was when our first one was born. And that leads to the final part of this passage.

An Unforeseen Glory.

According to the story, Jesus was pointing to the way Peter’s death would glorify God. Well, I’m not about to think that I give God all that much glory. Not unless he is glorified in huge messes! But I do think that the deaths I listed above have helped me to see God’s glory in new, unexpected ways.

  • I see his light shining through my nine-year-old’s unassailable innocence, both when he’s in full melt down mode and when he’s completely aflutter with the joy of something as helping Katie cook dinner.
  • I see him shedding a tear when my fifteen-year-old gets himself tangled up inside and needs to be talked down from a ledge of self-condemnation.
  • I feel his arms around me every time I dive into yet another parent-teacher conference or begin yet another bitter disputation with the insurance company.
  • I see his covenant commitment every time I come home and watch Katie coaching the kids in homework, making dinner, and trying to help the six-year-old overcome his loud, insistent perseverations all at the same time.

So yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff that comes from these little, unlooked-for deaths. Leave it to religion to be so delightfully paradoxical!

This Is My Body.

 For those of you who don’t know, I’m a Catholic, so this last one comes from my faith tradition. More than anything else, I see God in the bread at Mass as he says, “This is my body.” But I don’t just see and believe. I’ve also found the audacity to pray in return: “Hey! Over here! This is your body, too—this precious family you have given me. We’re part of you, and we all belong to you. So don’t pass us over or forget about us. You made my kids this way, so you’re stuck with us.”

Then I go one step further and tell him, “And here is my body, my life. It’s nowhere near the image of you that it’s supposed to be. It’s still too much shadow and not enough light. Still, I offer it to you. Go ahead and keep leading me, even if it’s where I don’t want to go. With all of these little deaths, you have found so many ways to empty me. And I guess that’s fine. But now I need you to fill me and raise me up so that I can give myself—body and blood, soul and humanity—back to my children.”

And the Lord reaches out his hand to grasp mine, and responds: “Amen.”

Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

Crafting a New Narrative

The Doctor–Stories in the End

We had a dear friend over for dinner a couple of nights ago. I’ve known this woman for nearly thirty-five years, and we have worked together for thirty of those years, both as teachers and in our publishing company. She’s a delightful British woman with a heart of gold. She’s involved with prison ministry, she feeds homeless AIDS victims, and she writes children’s books. She’s also very easy with the kids. Nothing fazes her. And to top it off, she even looks like Julie Andrews!

So why was I getting increasingly eager for the evening to end? And why was I so exhausted after she left?

  • Because I’m unused to people visiting our home. We tend not to have people over because it can feel like so much work.
  • Because Katie and I have let ourselves get so wrapped up in this autism thingy that we can lose track of how to relate to people outside of the “tribe.”
  • Because I caught myself wanting to talk about the kids and their challenges, even when it wasn’t necessary or germane to the conversation, and it took energy to stay on topic.
  • Because, much as Katie and I love this person, we inhabit different worlds, and I don’t know how to “be” in her world any more.

Moving Beyond “Past Performance.”

These are all viable reasons. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw that something else was going on. I saw how I’m always on edge around other people—especially when I’m with two or more of my kids. I’m always worrying about which kid is going to act up next and which unique  aspect of our lives I will have to explain this time. Sensory issues? Social missteps? The “oncoming storm” of a tantrum or melt down? World-class perseveration? So I avoid these situations. I don’t look for opportunities to get together with other people or to get the kids out and about as much as I should. And that’s not good.

The thing is, even though I fear the worst, it’s not a foregone conclusion that something bad will happen. It’s true that when things do go south, they head there with a quickness that can make the head spin. But that’s not always the case.

Thinking about this, I recognized some other assumptions or expectations I have—and not just about visitors. “We can’t all go out to dinner; it’ll get too messy.” “I know that Mass is going to be a disaster this Sunday because so-and-so had a rough week at school.” “Another IEP meeting? What’s going to go wrong this time?”

See what I’m doing? In each of those situations, I’m accepting a negative narrative for our life, and I’m letting that narrative drive my decision. Of course, some of my concerns are justified. Things can get pretty challenging for us. People can (and often do) misunderstand us. School teachers and administrators still have a way of minimizing our kids’ challenges.

So yeah, we’ve got some history to draw from. But just as those investment firm commercials tell you, past performance is not necessarily an indication of future results. And the worst thing I can do is expect bad results. Sure, there are some things I know will cause immediate problems. But a lot of other events and situations inhabit that gray area where the outcome is far from predetermined. The problem is, I’ve been painting that gray area black recently, with the result that our kids aren’t getting the opportunities to develop their social skills and coping mechanisms—not to mention the fun they could be missing out on.

Make It a Good One.

So here’s to branching out. Here’s to taking steps—baby steps at first—toward exposing our kids, and ourselves, to new experiences. It’ll probably be a bumpy ride, but they’re usually the best ones. As The Doctor once told Amy Pond, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” So here’s to changing the narrative so we can make it the best story in the world!

There’s No One Like You

Glaceon

This morning, I was greeted by an e-mail written by my fourteen-year-old daughter. I liked it so much that I decided—with her permission, of course—to post it below. Take a quick look, and you’ll see why I’m so proud of her—and all my kids!

Have you ever felt worthless, like you don’t belong in this world and the world would be a better place without you? Well I have felt that way sometimes. I have what’s known as Aspergers Syndrome, another form of autism. I’ve always felt left out, like I’m not good enough, even though I know that’s not true.

I used to go to a private school in Florida for kids just like me until my family moved to Maryland. Now I go to a public school with a lot of kids who aren’t like me. Not only that, but I’m now with a group of friends who are all atheists, and I’m the only religious person in that group, so I really feel like I stick out. And that can make me feel bad about myself again.

I’m not saying that my disorder is a bad thing; no, it makes me special. I have the right to live no matter how bad I feel sometimes. Aspergers is just one of my many special qualities and you can’t take that away from me! I will live the rest of my life with this disorder, but as of now, me being a teenage girl, I’m young and insecure, I’m on a wire balancing my dreams, hoping ends will meet their means, but I feel alone, uninspired.

I might like things that others don’t, for example Pokemon, Anime, Creepypasta, and FNaF. I do sometimes feel worthless and left out. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even alive. But am I going to give up? NO! I will stick with myself. I will surpass all of my fears, difficulties, insecurities, and faults! Even when I go into high school next year, I will walk through those doors with confidence, and if I don’t then shame on me!

I need to look at the positive side of life. My past might haunt me, and my brothers might make fun of me, but I am a YouTuber, a DeviantArtist, an honor roll student, and a good friend. I would help anyone I know through problems that they are having, and if I can’t, then I would tell them that everything is okay and help them back up.

I might be very different from everyone else, but just know one thing. If you feel worthless, look inside of yourself and see how much you matter to God. So please look at life in a good way and try to ignore the faults of humanity. Have confidence, be yourself, and if anyone tells you otherwise, ignore them and follow your own path! You are you, and there is no one like you!

Hope. Faith. Love.

Groovy Love

For those who don’t know, I’m a Catholic, and I take my faith kind of seriously. I also like to laugh at how quirky Catholicism can be at times. Among all the Christian denominations, we have got to be the most precise bunch. It’s likely because of our ties to the Roman Empire. Compared to the Greeks, who tended to be more philosophical and flexible, the ancient Romans were legal-minded sticklers for precision. How else did they manage to conquer the world?

Off the top of my head, I can think of two ways that our Roman roots show up. First, there’s our almost innate desire to define doctrines to the umpteenth decimal point: mortal versus venial sin, degrees of cooperation with evil, specific requirements for fasting, for receiving communion, and all that. Then there are the numbers. So many numbers. Just look at the sevens for an example: seven deadly sins, seven corporal works of mercy, seven spiritual works of mercy, seven sacraments the Seven Founders of the Order of Servites. Then there are the threes: Father, Son, and Spirit; poverty, chastity, and obedience; Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. And, of course: faith, hope, and love.

It’s this last trilogy that struck me today. I recalled how St. Paul talks about faith, hope, and love being the only three gifts of God that last, and how “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). And it got me to thinking about how these three virtues are the most important things we need as parents—and doubly so as parents of special-needs children. Forget Doctor Spock. Forget Doctor Phil. Even forget Doctor Who. All those self-help books at Barnes & Noble? Rubbish. All those listicles about parenting on Buzzfeed? Worthless. If you have faith, hope, and love, you’ll do just fine.

And because I’m Catholic, I will now tell you the right order in which you need them. *Clears throat*

Hope.

Every parent begins with this one. A child is born. He is beautiful, innocent, full of promise and potential. We look on this tiny person that is the result of our love, and we are gobsmacked. We have such high hopes for this little baby. Not necessarily that he’ll be an astronaut or a top chef or a CEO—although that would be great. We hope that he’ll grow and flourish and find happiness and love. That she’ll find her own special someone with whom she can make a family of her own. We dream of school plays and soccer tournaments and Christmas trees and family trips. We dream of (and dread) the driving lessons, the first date, the prom, and graduation day. Holding this little blessing in our arms, we can’t help but dream of the future.

Then the child grows up, and we see things that challenge our hope. Perhaps speech is delayed. Maybe he takes far too long to learn how to walk or use the potty. Maybe she doesn’t know how to mingle with her classmates in preschool. Maybe he always cries at the doorbell or any sudden noise. Something’s not quite right, and we worry about the future. Then the word “autism” enters our vocabulary, and we feel hope draining away. What about the prom? What about graduation? What about finding love? Is it all possible?

That’s when we look to . . .

Faith.

It’s faith that keeps our hope alive. Faith in our child’s innate goodness. Faith that he really does want to do well and to succeed. Faith in the team of care providers that we stumblingly assemble to give him every chance at a full and rewarding life—whatever that means. Faith in a God who would never abandon a child of his.

That faith sees us through the melt downs, the tantrums, the tone-deaf schools, and the unthinking or unaware neighbors. It lifts us up when our kid begins to go south, whether because of regression or oppositional behavior or depression or anxiety. It sustains us through the long, wearying days and helps us sleep at night. When hope begins to fade, faith tells us that despite what we are seeing now, better days are ahead. It gives us assurance that what we hope for will come to pass (Hebrews 11:1). It may not look like what we expected, but it will come. And so we press on, fueled by faith, toward that vision that we have hoped for.

But what happens when even faith wavers? What if the child we have worked with, prayed for, fought for, and even clashed with, simply is not making progress? Maybe he can’t overcome the next hurdle, or maybe he just doesn’t want to. Whatever the case, what do you do when hope has dissipated and you can’t place your faith in any of the resources you once relied on?

You still have . . .

Love.

And in the end, you know that’s all you really needed. Your dreams may not be fulfilled. Your doctors and therapists may be at an impasse. Your prayers don’t seem to be working. Nothing is going right, and you don’t know if anything good is on the horizon.

It doesn’t matter. He’s your son. She’s your daughter. And you can’t help but love. Even when you want to throw up your hands in despair, you know that this is your child, and that knowledge brings you back to sanity. It softens your heart, if only just enough to let you take the next step forward.

No matter what happens, love wins out. It may take years, but it will win. Because a child who knows he is loved, no matter what, will always have a glimmer in his heart, and that glimmer will offer some protection, some encouragement, some guidance in the dark days. Just as God looked at us and couldn’t help but love us, even when we felt lost and hopeless, we can’t help but feel love when we look at our children.

So even if he never learns to use the toilet, even if she never speaks a word, even if he ends up living all alone or in your basement, there’s always love. Good old, stubborn love. Because it’s the one thing—the only thing—that will matter in the end.

How I Learned to Love the Drugs

Kids' Meds

Here’s a snippet of a conversation I had yesterday evening with my little girl.

Her: Daddy, why does F take medicine?

Me: It helps him not feel so sad all the time.

Her: Okay, so why does L take medicine?

Me: It helps her focus in school and not be too worried.

Her: Well, what about C? What does his medicine do?

Me: It helps him keep calm in school and at home.

Her: And what about B? He takes medicine too.

Me: His medicine helps him not get too angry.

Her: So when will I start taking medicine?

With an internal sigh, I brushed off her last question and changed the subject. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we were going to start her on a drug trial in a couple of weeks—to help her deal with her anxiety. I figured she’d have plenty of time to think about it when the trial actually began. Nor did I tell her that her little brother was going to start his own trial around the same time. Again, the less said, the better.

So there it is. By the middle of May, all six of our children will be on some kind of psychotropic medication.

Surprised by Sympathy.

It’s interesting. I shared this little dialogue with a couple of autism parenting support groups I belong to on Facebook, and I was kind of surprised by some of the comments. Many posted the symbol for a virtual hug: (((you))), and a few said something like “It’s hard” or “So sad.” But my wife, Katie, had the best response: she laughed. It was, after all, a cute exchange, and it showed how innocent our girl is.

It never dawned on me that this conversation would elicit words of sympathy, but now that I see it through these commenters’ eyes, I think I get it. See, I’ve grown so used to our routine that it seems, well, routine to me. I don’t think of it as unusual, hard, or sad at all. In fact, it’s the thought of not medicating my children that fills me with fear and trembling—for my sake as much as for theirs!

An Evolution of Sorts.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2007, when our pediatrician first prescribed a medicated patch to help one of our girls with ADHD-like symptoms, I resisted mightily. I hated the idea of introducing mind-altering chemicals into her sweet little brain. It didn’t help that the doctor told us we’d likely need a prescription steroid to help control the skin irritation that often accompanied the patch. Great! A medicine to counteract the side effects of the original medicine. What could be better? Eventually, however, I gave in.

When the patch didn’t work, we began a three-year odyssey of various other trials (under the direction of two different pediatricians and two different psychiatrists) to help her not only with ADHD but her growing anxiety. One made her giddy and made her gain a lot of weight. Another gave her terrifying nightmares. A third got her so agitated that she ended up biting me on the shoulder in the middle of Mass one Sunday. There were other failures as well, but I can’t recall them now.

It wasn’t until we began working with our third psychiatrist that we found the right combination. Her anxiety diminished considerably. She lost the extra weight. Her grades began to soar. And her demeanor at home, while still needing some help, became much more manageable. The tide was turning, and I was happy—happy enough to let three of our other kids begin their own medicine trials. Thanks be to God, there was a lot less initial drama with them and generally positive results.

Six for Six.

So now our two youngest ones are on the verge of getting prescriptions. Their therapist tells us that she can do only so much with them as they are right now. The little guy is too hyperactive and the little girl is too nervous for any talk therapy to have a lasting effect. “If we can just take the edge off,” she told us, “we might be able to make some headway. But as it is, the cascade of emotions is too strong for them to work through.”

It was a bitter pill to swallow at first, this thought that all our kids need psychiatric medicines. Not only does it get expensive, but it emphasizes their otherness and the challenges they face. Still, it didn’t take me long to adjust. I’ve been down this road a few times already! Plus, the sheer everyday nature of the routine helps a lot. Maybe that’s why my little girl can be so nonchalant about it. She has seen her siblings take medicine twice a day for as long as she can remember. It’s just a part of who we are and how we live.

Embrace the Mess.

That’s probably the way it should be. For everyone. You work and work and work until you find what works for you. You let go of the “picture perfect” life you had envisioned for yourself and your family, and you embrace the beautiful, horrible, glorious, maddening, sanctifying mess that God has given you. And as you do, you find that he’s embracing you as well.

He’s probably laughing, too.

The Domino Effect

IMG_1729 See that? That’s my Little Guy being as silly (and ADHD) as ever. Not a dinner goes by without him doing something completely and engagingly out of the ordinary. From running around the kitchen table twenty times to dancing in place on the bench to ceaselessly tapping his spoon on the table, he can’t sit still to save his life—and it bothers his older siblings immensely. You know, the ones who are particularly sensitive to noises, extra activity, and anything out of the ordinary. One or another of them will end up shouting at him at every dinner, but he just keeps on keeping on, happily expending his energy.

That’s the fun of having multiple children on the autism spectrum. Some are ultra-sensitive to their surroundings while others are completely oblivious. That usually leaves Katie and me with the unenviable task of trying to mediate between the two factions. It’s not always easy, as the two most averse to noise and other sensory excitement also tend to be the most emotional ones. So they respond with a level of anger and frustration that far outstrips the gravity of the situation—that is, the gravity that we perceive. For them, their younger brother’s acrobatics are thoughtless, careless assaults on their frayed nerves. But for him, being hyperactive is his default position.

And so begins the Domino Effect. Child Number Six’s hyperactivity sets off Child Number Four’s aversion to the unexpected, then Child Number Four begins yelling at Child Number Six, which sets off Child Number One’s aversion to noise, which causes Child Number Two to cover her ears and yell louder, which causes Parental Unit Number One to try to calm down Child Number Six, which only causes Child Number Six to increase his jumping, which . . . well, you get the idea.

A Wild Rumpus.

I wish there were some way to solve this, but for the moment I’m baffled. We could, I suppose, have dinner in shifts, with two kids at the table at a time. But that can eat up a lot of time. Plus, how will they ever learn if we don’t help them work through this stuff? So we’re left trying our best to keep the little jumping bean from pushing too many buttons while also trying to help the older ones practice self-calming and emotional regulation.

Of course, some days are better than others. There are those times when the Little Guy is more subdued, or the older ones are more forgiving. But then there are the times when all Katie and I can do is raise our wine glasses to each other and smile wearily as the wild rumpus unfolds.

And then there are the worst days: when we unthinkingly rush into the fray and end up fanning the flames instead of extinguishing them. That never ends well. We’re getting better at checking ourselves, but there are times when you just can’t help it—or when safety concerns demand a forceful intervention.

Welcome to the Vortex.

This, I think, is one of the hardest things for ASD parents—keeping calm in the midst of a swirling vortex of emotional outbursts. We love our kids so much that we hate to see them upset. But the one causing the upset is another one of our kids, whom we love just as much and who we know has a hard time sitting still. So we’re torn. Plus, as parents, we want to see our kids get along, or at least be civil to each other. That’s kind of hard when they all see each other as threats to their well-being.

So we try the best we can, dreaming of that magical day when all eight of us will remain at the same dinner table for longer than our average of five minutes. Seriously. It’s not uncommon for them to run out of the kitchen not long after dinner has started. Either they’re giddily chasing each other or they’re desperately trying to get away from the noise or they’re taking advantage of the chaos to sneak back to their video games.

Collateral Blessings.

As challenging and dispiriting as this can be, the Domino Effect does have one positive side effect. After the peeling-off, there’s usually one kid still hanging out at the table, and it’s quite common for a conversation to develop. It’s not much, and it’s not long, but it’s real contact. And in a big family like ours, those moments are important.

It never ceases to surprise me the kinds of topics that come up in these impromptu encounters. From our oldest girl’s questions about two girls in her class who seem a little too affectionate with each other (this is 8th grade) to our nine-year-old telling us about the math teacher who yells at his students, we learn a lot, and we can share a little. Sometimes we laugh together, other times we offer advice, and other times we commiserate. But we always try to listen.

As I said, it’s not a lot. But it’s something, and it’s precious. Even our most sensitive kids are able to hang around for a short time—even if there’s full-on chaos in the next room. When they know they have both their parents’ attention, the other stuff recedes into the background. They know we’re listening. They know we’re on their side. They know we love them. And love always wins.

So keep on jumping and stretching and dancing, Little Guy. You have no idea how much good you’re doing!