Cancellations, Delay, Need

Last Saturday, Adrian and I had plans with another couple, close friends, a minister and lay person. They have a teenage son, Jacob, whom they adopted years ago, after the boy had suffered neglect and horrible abuse in foster care. Predictably, their son has lasting behavioral and emotional challenges, which our friends have weathered with grace. The day before we were set to go out, I received an email from the minister half of this couple, offering regrets that he needed to stay home because their son was bolting again: running away when he sees the chance.

I wrote him this note, which seems appropriate to share here, with permission:

Friday, when I saw an email from you arrive, I knew before reading what it would say. I’ve written the same email so many times these past six years—“I was really looking forward to our lunch, but Martin’s having a tough day . . . ,” “I can still make dinner, but I have to miss the movie. So much anxiety, he won’t go to sleep unless I’m home . . . .” Your cancellation, not unexpected, got me reflecting on our children, and what they’ve meant to our paths and relationships.

I never expected parenting to be the burden that it has become. Burden, yes. I mean the word without the negative connotation, or at least without only the negative connotation. Burden the way completing an education is a burden, or getting up to go to work is a burden. We carry these burdens in order to build a life. Some are heavier than others. Upon Martin’s diagnosis, parenting became heavy. Too heavy, sometimes.

People tell me that God makes special children for special parents, or that one day I will understand why Adrian and I were “blessed” with a child with autism. No way. I will never believe that a loving God afflicts children in order to test or to uphold their parents. Instead, I think our kids suffer the sins of this world. In Martin’s case, we have corrupted the food supply, toyed with earth’s natural abundance, believed we can overcome sloth with science, and set aside worldly order until we triggered sick kids, lots of them. Jacob’s tormentors—addiction, abandonment, abuse, neglect—are less modern but no less man-made. Autism and PTSD didn’t “just happen”; in both cases, our sons are left to absorb the sins of others.

—Which of course means that we as their protectors and caregivers are left to clean others’ messes. We chose parenting. We did not choose this parenting. But that, I suppose, is the nature of sin: Once we engage (as we must) with the world around us, there lurks evil. The Christian’s job is to fight back, and for whatever reason, you and I have Jacob and Martin as both the incentive for and the locus of our struggle. I wish it weren’t that way. I hate autism. I wish sin would have left my son out of it. Alas. For now, I try to be grateful for the weapons I’ve been given for the battle.

I’m not saying much with this note, and certainly not preaching to the preacher. I just wanted to share these thoughts, and through them to share my unceasing appreciation for your friendship and example.

Needlessly Suspicious

Another post along the lines of “Terrified.” Sunday morning at church, during children’s time when the kids gather around the chancel for a few minutes, the pastor asked if anyone knew who Martin Luther King Jr. is. One girl answered but confused Martin Luther King Jr. with Martin Luther. (Understandable. We’ve already started commemorations for the 500th anniversary of the Magisterial Reformation, and that was where the pastor was heading, eventually, with the discussion.)

Next, Martin raised his hand. Raised his hand! Good work! When the pastor called on him, Martin launched a soliloquy on MLK’s birthdate, major accomplishments, “I Have a Dream” speech, assassination date, and the holiday honoring him. Indeed, Martin held court at some length, monopolizing children’s time and oblivious to the pastor’s attempts to segue from MLK Jr. to Martin Luther, Reformation Leader.

The congregation seemed to love Martin’s facts. They always do. As Martin was carrying on, and then when we passed the peace, and again after church, adults complimented me on Martin’s MLK Jr. fact base. No one mentioned him usurping half of children’s time from the hapless pastor.

During coffee hour, one parishioner asked me where Martin is in school. I replied that he’s in second grade at our local elementary. She said, “His teacher must be really good.”

Now, reader, what would you think she meant?

I went right for the worst: She must be asking where we found a teacher who can handle Martin’s interrupting and talking past his turn, habits that clearly flummox our pastor.

I asked, “What do you mean?”

She replied, “He knew about Martin Luther King when none of the other kids did. She must really be teaching well!”

Oh. Of course.

The following morning, Monday, Halloween, I brought Martin to the bus stop in his costume. (He was an astronaut.) After the kids got on the bus, as the parents were saying goodbye, one remarked, “See you at the parade!”

The parade? What parade? “The Halloween costume parade at school. You have to go—all the kids look for their parents, and Martin will be upset if he doesn’t see you.”

I had no idea.

“Didn’t you receive an email from your class parent?”

No. Come to think about it, I haven’t received any emails from our class parent all year, despite adding my name and email address to the class list at open house. No wonder I’ve been in the dark about different events, and occasionally blaming Martin for not telling me in advance.

Now, reader, why would you think I haven’t received any emails from the class parent?

I went right for the worst: The class parent knows that the high-need child is mine, thinks he usurps attention from other pupils, and is subtly excluding us from activities.

After the Halloween parade, it turns out, there was a classroom event with parent volunteers. Even though I wasn’t on any volunteer list (because, well, I had no idea . . .), I weaseled my way into the classroom event, where I spoke with the class parent. “Tell me your name again?” she asked. “Oh, yes! Yes, my emails to you keep bouncing back.” She pulled out her mobile phone and asked me to double-check my email address in her contact list.

My email address in her contact list had a typo. Although the error was obvious— was written—it seemed unintentional error, not aimed at excluding the special-needs family. Still, I needed a little more confirmation.

As if on cue, the class parent around and asked, “So, which child is yours?”