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, RomettiĀ  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?

Comments

18 Responses to “Tell Your Kids: What You are Now, You are Not Forever”

  1. adrienne says:

    Wow, AJ. Nicely written.

    That scene from “Bowling with Columbine” really stuck with me too. I felt the same way as Matt- like those sad idiotic boys were a few months from real freedom from oppression and just lacked perspective.

    When I worked in university advising, I saw students emerging out the other end of the childhood pipe. Their parents attitudes had huge implications for their own stress reactions. It’s really hard for a child of a parent who flips out to be mellow even if they have a more even temperament. They know at some point they are going to have to answer/explain to their upset parent and that’s very stressful.

    Anyway, I read a great book (ScreamFree Parenting) a few months ago that addresses a lot of attitude/behavior modification FOR PARENTS. I strongly recommend it for anyone who needs a guide in becoming more mellow in the face of adversity. I certainly did. My childhood home was a torrent of yelling, outbursts, and tantrums (from all members). Any mellowness I had as a parent was destroyed along with my general sense of well-being when an F3 tornado ripped apart our town (and our house) a couple months after our son’s birth. Our insurance company work hard to cheat us out of benefits we needed to restore our home to working condition. I spent much of our baby’s first years off-the-charts-angry and completely stressed out. What a loss that looks like now… possibly the worst of the tornado’s impact on my family.

    November 28th, 2007 at 6:25 am

  2. Abraham says:

    This is probably one of the best postings at this site! Your application to daily driving situations was particularly convicting. Thank you.

    November 28th, 2007 at 7:24 am

  3. Priscilla says:

    You state: “Sure, it seems silly to toss around a grand philosophical outlook in the context of a baby blog, but this issue begins at birth.”

    It’s not silly…this is exactly why I try and find blogs to read. While I enjoy things such as toy and book reviews, this is the kind of post that challenges me to be a better parent. That is the point, isn’t it?

    Thank you.

    November 28th, 2007 at 7:37 am

  4. Diana says:

    “If I can’t handle a stop sign, how will I teach my children to face real challenges?”

    Thanks– I needed that.

    November 28th, 2007 at 7:43 am

  5. Chelsea says:

    Acknowledge that life is difficult and sometime we get frustrated.

    That stop sign moment is probably a very real moment for each and every one of us. My daughter always asks why is Daddy or Mommy saying that if we make a comment while driving.

    We acknowledge that we are frustrated and that there are probably better ways to deal with it but we talk about it. Now I’m not saying that I talk to my 3 1/2 year old with the same language that I would to an older child or even an adult. But I think the thing is that we acknoweldge our feelings and that people get frustrated and it’s okay. But talking about it is how we can figure out how to do it better next time.

    November 28th, 2007 at 8:20 am

  6. redheadedhowler says:

    Wow, that video at the ball park was pretty amazing. Thanks for this post. My dad always said, “Things are never as good or as bad as you think they are” — and I think he’s a pretty wise man.

    November 28th, 2007 at 9:00 am

  7. Deana says:

    I had to share that video on my page…what a great video! Thanks for the link!

    November 28th, 2007 at 10:30 am

  8. Christy says:

    That was a very thought-provoking segment, AJ. The other week in church our pastor was saying how our children learn from us. His example was if we are apathetic towards the church sermon, our kids will learn to be. That got me thinking. I am generally not a bad person and neither is my husband, but sometimes we make comments to one another about how some people may dress or act. I told him we have to stop doing that because if we do it in front of our son, he is going to think it is ok to make fun of people and it isn’t. I was mercilessly picked on growing up and most of the way through high school. I was quiet and withdrawn because of it. I am nowhere near that person I was back then, but that doesn’t give me the right to pass judgement on others. I want to make sure I don’t conveny the message to my son that peoplpe who are different than us are fodder for our jeers and snickers. It made me reevaluate myself and things I say and do.

    November 28th, 2007 at 12:54 pm

  9. Chief Family Officer says:

    This reminds of an incident a few years ago when a young girl sang the national anthem before an NBA game. She forgot the words, so one of the coaches, Maurice Cheeks, came over and sang with her, got her through the song.

    I realize every day that parenting is all about example. It would be so much easier if it were more “do as I say and not as I do”!

    November 28th, 2007 at 1:20 pm

  10. Amber says:

    Awesome post. It really got me thinking about what I do in front of my daughter. Even though she’s only 6 months old, I need to handle things in life how I would want her to. Thanks for sharing!

    November 28th, 2007 at 7:16 pm

  11. Stefania/CityMama says:

    Amazing post.

    November 28th, 2007 at 7:23 pm

  12. Shakkina says:

    Hi,

    I read your blog, when ever I get a chance. I am a mother of a 3 year old boy, but placed in a very different social, geographical and economical setup than most of the readers who comment here. I find a lot of difference, some good and some not so good in the way kids are raised in your and my country.

    I belong to one of those countries where safety of human lives is not given as much importance as in yours. Majority of my country men/women deal with more basic struggles – for food, shelter and clothing. An average person here is busy providing for his/her family. Most of the issues raised in this blog wouldn’t even come any where near his/her worries. For us, as far as kids are concerned, education is the most important asset to be provided. Sadly, the education as viewed by most of us is, what is learnt from schools. Many don’t see it as a continuous process, absorbing from everywhere. Education is very often looked as a path to lift you to better financial status.

    Having said that, I admit I see a lot of change now, especially in the urban population who are a lot better off, financially. But again, they try to mimic everything as in west, which again doesn’t fit always in our setup. If you were wondering, I am not from China, I am from India.

    With this background, let me tell you my views on this post.
    When we try to be ‘model parents’, ‘model human beings’ and all that is ideal, what we forget is that these kids will be exposed to the outer world sooner or later where they will have to face and learn to handle many things ‘not so ideal’. I agree kids emulate parents and others in family whom they dote on. It is extremely important that they showcase their best behavior in front of kids.

    But it is also fine to show your real emotions because you need to also teach them not to suppress feelings and frustrations. The hope that you are referring to stems not only from the way parents teach/show to handle situations by saying/behaving ‘correctly’ always. I feel it is also important to show that we some times falter, but we should be ready to correct. We should show it is okay to have strong emotions, but the behavior stemming from that emotion should not be a destructive/disruptive one.

    The point is not suppression but rational behavior. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy asserts that one’s emotional behavior stems from one’s belief system. It is the belief system that we need to inculcate in a child. A child should know to be kind and accommodative but should also know that there will always be people who are not so. Dealing with them may not be on the same level.

    I know this got a bit too long. I hope you find it interesting.
    I enjoy reading your views.

    November 28th, 2007 at 8:48 pm

  13. bombaygirl says:

    Boy did that hit home. I routinely yell out cuss words to dumb drivers and flip people off. And feel fine about it because my children in the back seat consist of a 3.5 yr old with an autism spectrum disorder and a 1.5 yr old typical child. So, they won’t copy me because the 3.5 yr old doesn’t really get it and the 1.5 yr old is too young. Yeah right. Keep thinking that, bombaygirl. Thanks for this post. I have to learn to keep a lid on the rage RIGHT now.

    November 28th, 2007 at 11:53 pm

  14. dgm says:

    Your children can help you become the person you really want to be. I’ve always got this voice in the back of my mind that says, “The kids are watching.”

    November 29th, 2007 at 5:58 am

  15. Evette says:

    OMG..The first video brought tears to my EYES! My sister used to teach autistic children which enabled me to learn more about the disease. The second video….I love it! I mean..not because it’s sad…but because it is a perfect example of how your kids love you so much..they want to be and act JUST like you! AND THEY DO! I’ve never read your blog before and you just made me subscribe to your feed!

    November 30th, 2007 at 12:18 pm

  16. Saint says:

    Wonderful writing. Thank you.

    December 7th, 2007 at 7:47 pm

  17. Pippin says:

    Just found this site a month ago and I have enjoyed it very much.

    This post is so thought-provoking. I have a one year old, and I worry about behavior that I don’t even realize that I’m teaching her- like today I yelled at my dog, (my old, wonderful, had-her-before-I-married, jealous-of-the-baby-now dog) for something trivial. And I stopped and thought, “your child just heard you yell at a defenseless animal that solely depends on you for her care”. And it floored me that perhaps I made some kind of impression on my child that it is ok to yell at family (we do call the dog her sister- we’re that kind of crazy…) for trivial things.

    Then I ran across this post, and it really, really made me think. Thank you, and please keep up the writing.

    June 2nd, 2008 at 8:05 pm

  18. tina says:

    wow, this is one of the best blogs ive ever read. thanks for the eye openers.

    June 11th, 2008 at 7:37 am

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