Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Tell Your Kids: What You are Now, You are Not Forever
It’s time to unleash a random stream of consciousness that seems like stuff for parents of teens, but I’ll argue matters from birth.
First, watch this video of a young man with autism who was asked to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park. Although it was Disability Awareness Night on June 30, 2007, that doesn’t fully explain the crowd’s reaction.
Here is what transpired… Peter Rometti sang the Star Spangled Banner before a baseball game at the invitation of Horace Mann Educational Associates (HMEA) of Massachusetts, a nonprofit that serves children and adults who have disabilities. Halfway through the song, Rometti began giggling, or stuttering, perhaps laughing nervously. Initially the crowd cheered and clapped Rometti on, and then when it became apparent he might not complete the song, the fans sang with him as he composed himself and finished the song. The New England Sports Network later interviewed Rometti and described him as “moved” by the experience. Cool, huh? Maybe every baseball game should start in group song, representing a participatory democracy instead of being spectators.
Second, the Fenway video sparked a memory for me of something seemingly unrelated, a quote from Matt Stone, co-creator of the South Park TV series, in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine documentary. Stone grew up in Littleton, Colo. where two high school students went on a shooting rampage in 1999, just weeks before their graduation. It seems the two were habitually picked on by bullies.
No, I’m not suggesting a link between autism and rage. Stay with me here.
So, Stone was discussing the killers when he said:
“You wish someone could just have grabbed them and gone, ‘Dude, high school’s not the end.’ [...] They just beat it in your head. [...] Whatever I am now, I am that forever. Of course it’s completely opposite. All the dorks in high school go on to do great things and all the really cool guys are living back in Littleton as insurance agents.”
The point I glean is that, to children, their current circumstances are the universe to them. A homework assignment ends on Tuesday, but the struggle to understand math is one long doomed existence. Or being bullied is an insufferable agony with no light at the end of the tunnel. It seems like a feeling quite close to hopelessness, and hopelessness is the most dangerous feeling for an individual.
Third, I go back to thinking about the young man singing at Fenway Park. There he is experiencing what is one of the highlights of anyone’s life when he begins to falter in what could become a horrible memory to haunt him forever. But then 36,000 people back him up. He surely has faced many struggles in his life related to autism, like, say, being understood on a daily basis by strangers. Then I see him singing and I think life always gets better. Or at the very least, life gets easier.
When Rometti got nervous, he laughed. When things got worse, he stayed at the mic and kept trying. Something tells me his parents prepared him well for life. Conversely, two able-bodied teens in Colorado took their strife and turned it into hatred and death.
How do we convey to kids that life is not only worth living, but that there is always hope?
Sure, it seems silly to toss around a grand philosophical outlook in the context of a baby blog, but this issue begins at birth. How your child faces challenges is influenced by how he or she observes you facing challenges.
This public service message, Children See, Children Do, hits the point home:
No, I’m not suggesting a link between reading Thingamababy and being hate-filled wife-abusing bigots. Stay with me here.
I assume you already generally treat people with love and respect. But what about the car in front of you that you saw traveling very slowly toward the stop sign and sluggishly responding as the line of cars ahead took turns proceeding through a 4-point intersection, and then you watched that slug of a driver sit at the the stop sign with no opposing traffic anywhere in sight for what had to be a whole 5 seconds, and then a few choice words shot from your mouth in extreme frustration as you realized your 3-year-old daughter was sitting in the backseat. Me. Yesterday.
If I can’t handle a stop sign, how will I teach my children to face real challenges?
My point is a question for you: How do we convey to our
children to live with hope, face challenges with strength and see a future that lays beyond today’s troubles? Doesn’t that require you to be at your best, and to start making changes in your own life the day you see your baby’s wondrous eyes?