Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Roller Coaster...of Love

Today's New York Times has an honest, positive, and well-rounded article by Annie Lubliner Lehmann whose book, The Accidental Teacher: Life Lessons form My Silent Son, we will all have to read.

The title of the article, "A Roller Coaster to Acceptance of A Son's Autism," caught my eye because it was the very same metaphor I used to describe our adventures in autismland to a group of mothers of preschoolers (MOPS) recently. Their theme for the year is Adventures in Motherhood and each month's speaker was asked to orient their topic around a theme park ride.

Here's an excerpt from my roller coaster talk:

My house, and I’m sure some of yours too, has “never a dull moment.” Toddlers and preschoolers are by definition “on the go” which makes for an abundance of activity and unexpected surprises.We had a favorite song when my kids were preschoolers, a Scottish folk song by Bonnie Rideout. “Oh such a Hurryburry , oh what a din, oh such a hurryburry our house is in,” it went. Just when I think those days are gone some craziness happens again.

My kids are technically teenagers now, 14 yr old boy/girl twins. My son, Reid, has autism and maybe some other labels if we wanted to pin them on him—OCD, bi-polar, ADHD x 10. You name it, he seems to have a touch of it. So the hurry burry goes with the territory. In many ways our lifestyle is still as unpredictable as yours with toddlers—we are still working on language development, social skills, turn taking, sharing, using your words, even potty training. Autism affects social, language, and behavioral development—so mastery of those skills will be a lifelong pursuit for Reid.

Just last Saturday, the hurry burry set in when a friend dropped by unexpectedly (Reid thrives on structure). As I walked her to the curb, another friend walked by with her small dog. Our big dog saw the little dog through the window, which spurred a barking frenzy. Since Reid has hyper-sensitive hearing, this brought on a screaming jag and an explosive reaction. Doors were slammed and a garage door opener thrown. I am grateful to have some pretty exceptional friends who understand when I yell BYE and suddenly bolt for the door to salvage the house before my husband blew up too. Sound familiar? This is not unlike what you do with toddlers when you get off the phone abruptly, “gotta go” because of a loud noise from the other room.

I tell you all this not to bash my son or complain-- but simply to establish why I chose the roller coaster as my theme park. Most roller coasters start with a very long twisting line.

Our experience of parenting started with a very long wait –7 years of infertility followed by the twists and turns of adoption before…in total ecstasy we finally adopted TWINS—a boy and a girl no less!

Around 18 months, I had a gut feeling that something was not quite right with Reid and began asking questions of the pediatrician…wanting to be told that it was nothing. I raised every red flag on a checklist of autism symptoms.

Can you picture those hard, full-body restraint seat belts they lower over you and click into place when you get in a coaster car? That’s what it felt like when Reid was gradually diagnosed with autism around 3 years old. With no choice in the matter, we initially felt trapped, stuck, a little tricked by God, and like surely we were going to die.

Thus began the steep ascent up the first hill.
We white knuckled it up every hill climb and blind turn, telling ourselves I can do this, freaking out inside, trying to fearing the future, trying to silence our second thoughts and all the "what ifs".

The slow, click, click, clicking sounds of the machinery remind me of how painstaking it is for Reid to master every new skill and developmental milestone . You can practically hear the gears turning in his brain and feel the traction that’s required to do what seems so simple for everyone else—utter a sentence, throw a ball, tolerate clothes on, blow out a candle, ride a 2-wheeler, tie his shoes.

Then the coaster
goes into that free fall and drops-- along with your stomach.

Everyone around you is screaming; air is whooshing and machinery sounds seem to be turned on full blast. Reid’s body is often out of sync. He has a myriad of sensory integration issues. Background and foreground noise are one in the same for him. He hears fluorescent lights and I believe the neighbor’s television sets. When he is on overload, it becomes our reality as well. One thing can lead to another in rapid succession then, and there is no way to get off the ride.

OWHH! Then along comes a sharp turn. Your neck jerks and you are thrown around. For us, this happens when there are problems at school. We’ll have to find another one. Or when the daily phone call from school includes an “incident report” or “problem behavior” documented for the record. Turn after turn. Hang on!! When will this end?

(Can you tell I don’t like roller coasters?) Here’s why I think God allows them…or what I’ve learned about God from the one I’m on!

First thing I’ve noticed about coasters—even from the ground level where I usually just sit and watch-- is that even the people who love them, mostly love them at the end. When they are over. Waiting in line, they’re scared, anxious, tense, and insecure. It’s not until the final braking and coasting into the station that the smiles form across their faces. It’s only when they’re de-boarding the vehicle—taking all your belongings with you—that they say, “Let’s do it again!”

1 John 1:4 says “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, we proclaim to you also, These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

Our joy does tend to come at the end. God’s seems to indicate here that our joy will be complete at the end of the ride, not necessarily at every climb and twist and turn along the way.

Secondly, God doesn't leave us alone. I can count on one hand how many coasters I’ve ridden. One was at the Del Mar Fair. My daughter reallllly wanted to go on one. No dad around. You can’t put an 8 yr old on one of those rickety rides by herself so, I had to buck up and do it. In total self-sacrifice and protection, I said yes. I didn’t ride that one because I wanted to, but because she asked me to! I don’t think I would be on this ride-of-my-life if God had not asked me to take it. And, moreover, He goes with me, which really does make it all OK.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:5-7

Another time I found myself on Space Mountain in Disneyworld. The only thing worse than a fair roller coaster is one in the dark where you sit single file! This time we were with courageous boy cousins and a grandfather who pressured Allie and I into taking it. Papa Jim, her grandfather remembered it (from 30 yrs prior) and assured us it was very tame…nothing really. Well, we believed him until we entered the first dark tunnel. It was not tame! Allie was mad. She won’t trust Papa again…at least in theme parks.

Lastly, God doesn’t betray us. He clearly indicates that there will be trials along the way: in this world. He doesn't want us to be surprised; he doesn't talk us into things, He talks us through them in His Word.

"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing" 1 Peter 4

"Just think—you don't need a thing, you've got it all! All God's gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.
1 Corinthians 1:6-8 from The Message


  1. Andrea, sounds like a great talk. I attended MOPS earlier this year and thought my home compared to a roller coaster as well. I love how you compared the click, click to the hard-won steps of progress for our kids. A wise college friend once told me, "Life's a roller coaster so you better learn to trust the Maker of the tracks."

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