Tuesday, March 27, 2012

If You Chance To Meet A Frown

While raising a child that does not talk and only knows about two signs, Alice and I frequently find ourselves wising that we knew what Christopher was thinking. As I have written in some other posts, Christopher frequently sings and expresses himself by voicing "uh, uh, uh" sounds with various intonations. The bathroom seems to be one of his favorite places to sing. Water is one of his favorite activities. This evening while I was giving him a bath in the bathroom, he began singing. After a few seconds, I recognized the tune: "If You Chance to Meet a Frown." I do not believe I have ever heard him sing this song before, nor have I heard this song sung in his presence. However, he has an IPAD (thanks to his Grandma), and one of the APPS allows him to select numerous children's songs and play them. Christopher has his favorites that he will play frequently, and others, he will only play a few beats before he selects another. He evidently has listened to "If You Chance to Meet a Frown" long enough to learn its melody, and chose that song to sing while enjoying one of his favorite activities. The notion, as expressed in the song, of encouraging happiness by getting rid of frowns is so consistent with Christopher's personality and the positive influence he has on people. I am confident that there are numerous people who have had the courage to get rid of frowns because of Christopher's influence. I have first hand experience.

After Christopher finished singing the song once, I pulled out my phone and waited for him to sing again. With a little coaxing, I was able to get the song on video although it wasn't as good as the first time. Here it is:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Big House Small House

Our family has been blessed and we are fortunate to be able to afford a small condominium in St. George, Utah where we particularly enjoy vacationing during the cold winters in Springville. During our three trips to St. George over the past three months, my wife, Alice, and I have noticed some interesting things regarding our family's interaction with each other. Our home in Springville is 6,000 square feet, and our condo is 1,100 square feet. In our condo, we find ourselves in the same room with our children much more often, and as a result, have much more opportunity to positively interact with them. We find ourselves playing more games together or even viewing television programs of common interest more often. In our big house with multiple televisions, our family frequently becomes divided as one or more family members choose to watch different programming in separate rooms. We also noticed that with the much shorter distances from bedrooms to kitchens, to bathrooms, etc., the time it takes to get our family ready for church on Sunday is considerably less in the condo, and again, we interact more in the process.

Of course, there are things about our big house that we enjoy, but when we spend time together as a family in our small house, I find myself wishing that life was simpler. During my childhood, there were far fewer societal expectations of children and parents, and considerably more opportunities for entire families to engage in activities of common interest. With softball, baseball, basketball, tennis, piano, gymnastics, horse riding therapy, and all of the other activities our children engage in, there is simply not enough time for as much family interaction as there should be. The solution seems simple, right? You just need to reduce the number of activities that kids are involved in. However, the simple solution is easier said than done. When children see their friends engaging in various extracurricular activities, they often want to do so themselves, and frequently are saddened if they cannot. While I do not believe it is wise for a parent to allow their children to participate in one or more activities just because the Jones's kids are doing so, I also do not believe it healthy to set children up to not develop some skill and talents in activities that their friends are doing. I also see considerable value in facilitating children in striving to develop skills and working to improve them. It just all takes time and inevitably results in a trade-off of time that could be spent together as a family.

With the numerous trade-offs of time, there is some appeal to raising children in a small house because of the opportunity to maximize the family free time by turning it into family together time. We previously made choices and built a bigger house which we do love, and are well into the process of raising our kids. But if I had a "do-over," I may seriously consider raising my children in a small house.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Its All About Perspective

Christopher was a little sick today and had a couple bouts of diarrhea. Each time that I cleaned up, he sang one of his favorite songs in his "uh, uh, uh intonation style." I could not help but chuckle on one occasion as I was cleaning up the mess that ran down his leg and got all over his clothes, he was singing the children's song, "It Shouldn't Be Hard to Think About Jesus." That was not exactly the moment that I was inclined to think about Jesus, but for Christopher, he does not let anything distract him from thinking about Jesus and choosing to be happy--not even an upset stomach and diarrhea. Christopher has taught me so much from his simple example. Today, I was reminded of the importance to think about Jesus always--whether things are going well or challenging. I am going to endeavor to be willing to think about Jesus all the time regardless of where I think things are going subjectively good or not!

To Stare or Not?

Through the years as we have raised our boy with disabilities, we frequently observe people staring at us or Christopher. Typically, when we adjust our gaze to make eye contact, the other person quickly looks away and pretends to not have been staring. While we do not take offense at someone who stares (at the way Christopher walks, squeals, or giggles), we do very much appreciate those who choose to approach us and ask questions, or simply wish us a good day. Even if we have caught someone staring, we would love them to  say 'Good Afternoon" rather than shield their eyes and walk in a different direction.

As we traveled to St. George last night, after we changed a blown-out tire on our trailer, we stopped at a Maverick in Santaquin, Utah. I topped off our Denali with gas, and then took Christopher in with the rest of the family to use the facilities. I held his right hand, and allowed him to walk. It is slower than if I simply carried him, but I believe he truly loves to walk, and it gives him a measure of freedom to choose his course or direction. As he walked, I noticed a big burly farmer watching with an ear-to-ear grin on his face that rivaled Christopher's. He did not turn away when I looked his way, but continued to smile and walked into the store.

Shortly after Christopher and I got in the store, another older, burly farmer approached and commented on what a special boy I had there. I wholeheartedly agreed and jokingly said that my boy wasn't for sale.  The farmer said, "but I need to get me one of those, he sure is special." He continued to interact with Christopher as if he had known him for years rather the seconds. Not long after the second grizzled farmer walked away, we walked by the first on our way to the facilities. He stopped, ran his hands through Christopher's hair, and commented on what a fine boy he was.

I have never spent much time in Santaquin, but if half the people are as nice as these two grizzled farmers were, I have definitely been missing out.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Like the Lorax

Last night our family went to a movie together. We have taken Christopher to a number of movies in the past, but he has never seemed to watch a movie like he did as he watched, "The Lorax" in 3D. Being blind in his left eye, the 3D portion of the movie does not likely excite Christopher, but the bright colors, catchy jingles, and fast pace of the movie did for sure. He giggled and squealed from start to finish. As I sat next to Christopher, I could not help but see a number of parallels in the message of the Lorax as compared to the lessons Christopher exemplifies through his life. The Lorax says:

                    I am the Lorax, and I'll yell and I'll shout
                    for the fine things on earth that are on their way out!

Christopher teaches us that nice cars and nice things and perfect bodies are not necessary for happiness; rather, joy simply comes from the opportunity to live another day. Whether Christopher is surfing behind the boat or swimming in the water at Lake Powell, or at home flicking a door stop and feeling the vibration and hearing the reverberating noise, he is happy.

In light of Christopher's special circumstances, Alice and I have approached his life similar to the message of another quote by the Lorax: "It's not about what it is, it's about what it can become." Christopher's life could have been a reclusive and sedentary one controlling our family dynamic where he is helped from bed each day, fed three meals, taken to the bathroom every two hours, and put to bed until the same agenda began again the next day; we were not content to let Christopher's special needs dictate our life. We strive each and every day to treat Christopher similar to our other two children, and engage in the same family activities that we would even if Christopher was not physically and mentally challenged. As you can see from the videos posted on AdventuresWithChristopher.com, we engage in many activities that most would not think possible with a little boy who does not walk and does not talk, and we are happy.

Finally, the Lorax says:

                    Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
                    nothing is going to get better. It's not.

Like the Lorax, Christopher naturally shares a message to the all those within his sphere of influence that one can choose to be happy regardless of his or her circumstances in life.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Thrill of the Squeal

Last week, Alice and I went on a Caribbean cruise. We had a wonderful time basking in the sun and snorkeling in the blue ocean waters while it was snowing back home in Utah. As exciting as our vacation was, we both were ecstatic to return home and be reunited with our children. I believe all three of our children were equally happy to have their parents home. Interestingly, Christopher's inability to communicate with words leads to a heightened ability to communicate his emotions. When we returned and saw Christopher, he kissed us over and over. However, in my opinion, one of his most power means of communicating exquisite joy is his "squeal."

Christopher squeals when he is engaging in an activity that brings him great joy. His squeal is filled with emotion that clearly communicates his pleasure. His squeal pierces the souls of those who hear and infuses an electric ray of hope and happiness.

When I came home from work on the first night after we returned from our vacation, Alice was feeding Christopher at the dining room table. As soon as I voiced my greeting, Christopher let out one of his most joyous squeals and wore a smile from ear to ear. I interrupted his dinner, hugged him, and praised the Lord for the blessing of having such a special child in our home. Christopher is a happiness machine spreading pure joy to all those within his influence. I am so lucky to be around him every day!