Friday, October 26, 2012

The Reality of Assumptions

Parenting, like much of life is about assumptions.  We get through our daily lives on the basis of the things we take for granted. We don’t even realize how precious these things are until they aren’t there for some reason.  Take for example electricity.  We just assume that the lights will come on, that the toilets will flush, and that we can watch television until there’s a storm that takes out the electricity.  If it is a big enough storm and we have to go for several hours or even days without electricity we can really start to appreciate how grateful we need to be for electricity each and every day. 

As a parent or to-be parent, we assume that a long list of things will happen: our child will be healthy, will learn to walk, will talk, will tell us that they love us, will give us hugs and kisses, and so on. It’s what happens in those “what to expect from your newborn/toddler” books, what happens in advice columns in magazines, and what generally happens in shows and movies.  It’s all around us because for the most part, like our electricity, these are things that we can assume will happen. 

Maybe it’s our assumptions or maybe it’s the constant barrage about what normal looks like but when these assumptions aren’t your experience, reality comes crashing down like a house of bricks.  Take playing with toys.  Caden has bins and bins and bins of toys. Yet on any given day he’ll play exclusively with either his ipad or the wii.  For a while I thought we had done something wrong; that we had raised one of those technologically addicted kids who was bored with plain ole have to use your imagination toys.  I have even gotten frustrated  enough a few times to say if you don’t play with these toys I’m going to give them to some child who really wants them.  Then Caden cries……………and I feel bad……really really bad

Recently though a light bulb clicked and I finally understand his choices.  As I have talked about dozens of times, Caden sees the world in black or white. He’s a concrete logical thinker.  Wii or his ipad games have a clear cut way to play them and there is a definite right or wrong way to tackle each game.  Video type games make sense in his world.  The toy box though is a sea of uncertainty. First you have to choose what you are going to play and inherent in every choice is the possibility that you’ll choose incorrectly.  Then you have to choose how to play with the toy. Imagination is a rainbow of vivid colors without a lot of road markers; for a child who sees the world in black and white this isn’t just overwhelming, it is terrifying. This fear is paralyzing to Caden and he’d simply rather not choose than to risk making the wrong choice.  He’s delighted to play with his toys when we choose one for him to play with as long as we also include the how to play directions. So if I tell him to get his cars and race around the dining room table, he’ll do so quite happily.  He’ll giggle and laugh and have fun but he can’t start that process on his own.   

So we’re working on making choices and learning how to play right now.  At the moment we are picking out a toy and giving the directions to see if Caden might start spontaneously going to that toy knowing that he can and does understand how to play with it.  Eventually we’ll branch out into a choice of toys with options in hopes that one day he’ll be okay going over the toy box and picking out toys to play with on his own.  But I have to say that this is one of those assumptions that is pretty tough to swallow when it doesn’t exist—we are teaching our child how to play.  Can’t say that I ever saw that load of bricks coming. 

But these kinds of experiences make the little things that do happen seem like the world.  Honestly I won the emotional lottery this week, Thursday morning to be exact, when Caden out of the blue said “mommy I want a hug and a kiss” as he headed out the door for school.  There was no prompt or no scripting—this was totally and completely spontaneous affection.  That’s a huge deal that I can’t begin to put into words and I think we can appreciate it because we’ve learned over the last 6 years that it isn’t something we can take for granted or assume will happen.  Another win this week was when Caden walked out of the restroom and announced that he had fastened his jeans…by himself. I didn’t expect this to happen and in fact we’ve been having him wear pull on pants more frequently because they give him a degree of independence at school. But he did it—spontaneously and out of the blue.  And because we couldn’t assume that it would happen, we can savor and appreciate the moment for the huge overwhelming deal that it is.  

Learning not to take things for granted is a pretty big life lesson and honestly it’s one that I’m not sure most people every really learn. I think that lesson is hitting home pretty hard in our family but how couldn’t it…..after all we have an amazing little boy to teach us.  I don’t know for sure how much he is learning from us but it is fair to say that we learn something about life each and every day from him.  Who knew that Caden’s tale would be such a learning experience.