Friday, March 22, 2013

The Lesson I Learned From My Freezer

There they sat in the freezer, directly in plain view, carelessly stacked on top of popsicle boxes and bags of frozen vegetables.  They were works of art and scientific studies at the same time.

They were, all five of them, created by our then-8-year-old son.

There was nothing convenient about the placement of the cups that held his treasures.  Dangerously tipped to one side or the other, they threatened to fall with even the slightest movement from any one of the other items on those shelves.  I was unable to get to anything without risking the entire effort.

And so, in the middle of my day, with an impossibly long list of things to do, these ill-placed experiments stopped me along my path, forcing me to live in the moment.

I blinked and looked at the cups.

Filled to varying degrees with orange juice, water, and milk, some thickened with different kinds of flavored syrup, they were each so carefully constructed. I peeked over the edge of them all and found that just beneath the thin layer of ice on their surfaces was an array of marbles, Legos, chocolate chips and fruit--things so different in size, scale and density that they provided absolutely perfect
conditions with which to conduct a study regarding the freezing point of different matter.

I took a step back, looked to the counter that stood across from the items in the freezer and smiled. There, ready for duty, sat a digital timer and a hand made log which our Little Scientist planned to use in order to collect his findings.

Which cup's contents would freeze faster and why?

I turned again to gaze at the cups in the freezer and realized that they did have one thing in common.

Planted in the center of each experiment was one of his favorite Lego men, his special toys, their presence putting into perspective for me the entire scene.

This was his play.

He was a kid just being a kid...the only way that he knew how. This is what his brain naturally liked to do when left to its own devices. In many ways, he was so far ahead of his peers. In other ways, he struggled more than his outward appearance showed.

He was the child who, at four years old, told me that my dangling, wet strands of hair looked like cirrus stratus clouds.

He was our expert on natural disasters by the age of five.

He was someone who could tell you everything there was to know about the mating habits of leopard geckos.

He was the boy who said this week that his jar of slime looked like ectoplasm.

 At his age, I'm pretty sure that I compared my jar of slime to snot.

This child was a child unlike any I had ever known. Yet, as with many children diagnosed with developmental delays and disorders, much of his life until that point had been focused on what was going 'wrong' with him.

We needed to know this. I don't deny that.

However, why there exists some mental shift in those who approach children with needs--why the forefront becomes clouded by the problems and not the positives--I do not know.

I am guilty of it.

"Hey, Buddy," I called out to him. "This is some very impressive work here!"

"Yeah," he said as he casually shrugged his shoulders, "I just wondered what would happen to the liquid molecules if manipulated and then all put in the same temperature below freezing."

But, of course.

Wanting to talk to him about how brilliant I thought he was, I gingerly asked him, "If you were to explain to the world what autism was, what would you say?"

"Autism is like a remote control for the brain," he responded thoughtfully. "It disables a lot of things--like scissors cutting a wire." I found it interesting that his definition of autism explained how it prevented people from doing things.

Both practically and clinically speaking, yes, we also needed to know this. However, as impressive as I found his answer to be, I also wished that his life had shown him more of the positive things that can accompany autism.

"Very true," I told him in affirmation of his words. I knew that he was thinking of his older brother who was low-verbal had faced many challenges due to his autism. "And, did you know that autism can also enable you to some really cool stuff?"

He shook his head.

"The way that you can learn every single fact about any topic that interests you?" I suggested. "That is likely a trait of your autism.  Heck, let's also remember that you know everything about the Japanese railway system. What kid knows that?!"

 He smiled.

"And, the way that you can look at something,take a mental image of it and store that exact image in your brain as it was the first time you saw it?" I shot him a look of complete admiration. "How about how you remember the day and the date of just about practically everything?!" I reminded him. "Very impressive, my friend. That, too, is all likely due to autism. It is your autism. This is how autism looks in you.  Pretty cool, huh?"

That day I realized that I had an obligation to our children to not only continue to shape the way that society viewed autism but to also shape the way that the boys viewed themselves.  I guessed that, because life often seemed to be thrown to me at warp speed, I wasn't so great at taking a step back and planning a more deliberate attack.

It often seems that I am flying by the  seat of my pants.

I do not have autism, and I do not have to function in society with that label attached to me for the rest of my life. However, our boys do.  What mother would want to send her children into the world feeling that a label had made them any less important than any one else?

I leaned down and planted a kiss on our Little Scientist's head.

"Wow," he said to me. "I didn't know all of that. I wonder if anyone wishes that they had my kind of autism?"

Right there. Right then, in that very moment and in our little world, everything with this child seemed at peace.


This entry was written and submitted LATE in response to last week's writing prompt from the Group Blogging Experience 2 (GBE2): "In My Freezer".  Let's hope I don't earn detention for my late submission.


  1. I don't think there will be any demerits for this post. First because you are Beth's pet and secondly because this is superbly written. It is a wonderful perspective and a reminder to us to remember each life is blessed with something special and unique. Your boys are no exception.
    As for you remembering to point out the positives more often, sure you should make that effort, but never think for one second that those boys will grow up with anything other than a positive attitude because children learn what they see.

  2. Oh, how wonderful! This is a beautiful post on so many levels. You both amaze me!

  3. Is is that obvious that you are my pet? All this time I thought I masked my preferences pretty well and my list of favorites was a well-hidden secret. Huh. ;O)

    In any case, Jo is right (is she ever not?) about my affection for you and the quality of both your writing and more importantly, your mothering. Your boys are so very fortunate. They are blessed with uncommon gifts and parental love so deep and true that it must surely permeate their every cell. That's the stuff that will carry them through their challenges--and that's not just about the autism. Having a parent who sees us and celebrates what's there is a gift of immeasurable value. That love stays forever; it promotes courage and truth, it buoys us in hard times and gives us wings for the rest. You, Amy McMunn Schindler, are all sorts of wonderful.

  4. This is amazing! I love it. Just started reading your blog regularly. We have a mutual friend, eneslp!

  5. Once again my friend, you reach out with your words and teach us all a lesson in parenting and life. I struggle daily to look for the positive and this lesson will go a long way. Your boys are lucky to receive all your goodness first hand and the "moments of peace" that you make possible. Beth is right...all sorts of wonderful. :)

  6. Once again I find myself wishing I had read your blog before Elizabeth did. She expresses my thoughts so much better than I do, but sometimes I'd like to make HER say ditto to my comments for a change! Oh well. Ditto to what Beth said!

    Have you ever heard Proverbs 22:6 Amy?
    "Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it."

    A lot of people think this means something like "Make your kids obey the same rules everybody else has to, and then you can be sure they will be good citizens." But my understanding is that it calls parents to pay close attention to their kids, so they can discover and KNOW what individual path each individual child is built to follow. And then to help them along that way.
    This can be a challenge for every parent (assuming first that they even care to try), but the marvelous miracle of your Mothering Amy, is that you are doing exactly that with your boys despite great barriers to communication.

    Having said all that, my favorite line is still: "At his age, I'm pretty sure that I compared my jar of slime to snot."

  7. This is great, Amy. I really liked how you asked him what he thought autism was, and then how you explained the opposite views. Awesome!