Thursday, November 10, 2016

I will not teach hate

About a month ago, we began using a communication device to help Greyson learn to speak, as well as communicate his current needs. Because he has apraxia- his brain and his mouth don't always communicate, and sometimes the words come out jumbled. There is no greater pain in life than to be misunderstood. I've been working to fully program and customize the program he is using (Proloquo2Go), selecting which words to include, and which to exclude based on the things I believe Greyson would like to communicate about.

When I got to the "Feelings" folder, suddenly it became so crazy clear. The world stopped and I could hear buzzing in my ears, Hate is something that must be taught. And that realization became frightening and freeing all at once. I almost didn't even want to include the button as an option.

Hate is not innate. We are not born with it. We have no definition or capacity for it as a baby. Interest, distress and disgust are the the only three emotions most researchers agree are present at birth. While it's tempting to ascribe grown-up feelings and motivations to even very young babies, there are huge differences between adult and baby emotions simply because emotions are tied to cognitive and physical development. Since babies haven't yet gained the experience that adults have, they are unable to experience emotions in quite the same way.

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Out of all of the emotions that you see here, only love and hate are verbs. That's why they are green. Verbs require action. They take our energy, and require something from us. The rest listed are simply adjectives used to describe. Just as they are options on this screen, love and hate are selections we can make in real life too. And the older I get, the more I realize that hate takes so much more out of me than love.

Learning in our house looks very different because my two boys have autism. They must learn everything about the world in tiny, pared down steps. Things that typically developing kids pick up from the environment. How to respond yes. What prepositions like on, next to, behind, under and on top look like in a variety of controlled situations in a structured environment. What it means to be empty or full. How to sequence a series of events to make sense of the world. All of it, painstaking broken down and taught, data is kept, skills begin to emerge and finally, they are mastered. After being taught in a structured and controlled environment, they then learn how to apply that knowledge to the outside world and the people in it. That truck is red. That box is empty. That book is on top of the table.

As I was programming Greyson's communication device I realized the great power we as parents have in teaching our children. I felt a grave responsibility as I programmed in the worlds he will have access to and use for his lifetime. For the most part, if it is not specially taught to him, he will not learn it. (Expect for nose picking. Ugh. SOMEHOW both boys learned that skill all on their own.) I realized, our children are truly, truly what we show them. What they see over and over again. Even less than what we say, our children are what we teach them by doing. And like ABA- it is first learned in the house and then generalized to the outside world. 

When it comes to parenting, many of us can talk a good game. But what's really important- can we live that same good game out loud? Can we try our best? Can we defend our principles kindly? Can we love people who are different than us? Can we make decisions with a morale and ethical compass? Can we do the right thing, even when it's the hard thing to do? Can we stick up for what's right, without tearing another down? I will not program hate words into my son's communication device, any more than I will show them with my own actions and words.

Whatever is the question, the answer is often love. Especially if the question is fear or hate.

Today my oldest son, Greyson, had a jog-a-thon at his school honoring first responders, veterans and active duty servicemen and women. There was a sea of children, framed by heroes in uniform. Greyson and I began to walk a lap around the field as I soaked up the stimulating environment. There were squeals of delight by the classmates watching Grey's class walk by- a constant cheer that filled the air with vibration. I could hear the music over the loud speaker that filled my chest with a hum. The golden sunlight was peaking through the trees just right, and I knew I was in a place of magic.  We walked behind a highway patrol man holding hands with one of my favorite little guys who was bopping to the music and wearing a smile so big it filled up the whole outside. The children that were surrounding us as we walked by, were awestruck with admiration for the officer in front of me. With eyebrows raised high in anticipation, they wiggled their arms out, desperate for a high five. 

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They were desperate to be seen, something even grown ups crave, yet have trouble admitting. And that officer saw them, and he too, in exchange was seen. Feeling seen for the greatest parts of who we are, is one of the best feelings in the world. It helps us feel understood.

My eyes, thankfully blocked by my sunglasses, instantly filled with tears that I had to work hard to blink back. I had tears for the joy and admiration these kids felt in the purest of forms. Tears for the bullet proof vests I saw on many officers, which is their day to day reality, due to their calling to protect and serve the communities we live in. They go to work understanding that people want to kill them. Their family kisses them goodbye, with a painful and constant pestering thought- that this could be our last goodbye. Tears for this feeling of community, and love- that these first responders are part of our village, and their jobs require skills and resilience that I can't truly fathom. I wish I could have thanked them up close, but my feelings were bubbling near the surface and I had to contain them as to not simply overflow. It was all too much and just right. 

There was so much love in the air, it was impossible for my mind to comprehend that these same officers that are being gazed up at like rock stars are also the target for so much hate. In the sequence of life events, where did it all go so wrong?

I will not teach hate because of a few bad cops and a few bad criminals. I will not teach hate if your basic life choices are different from mine. I will not teach hate if you want to marry your same sex spouse. I will not teach hate if your political views do not line up with mine. I will not teach hate, even if you hate me. And even if you don't return your damn cart to the cart corral at the grocery store- I will not teach hate.

I won't program in awful words in my son's device, but more importantly- I will not teach my precious boys with my own words or actions. I will teach about kindness and love and having a sense of humor when things turn to shit. I will teach them about resilience and sacrifice, compromise and understanding. I will teach them how good it feels to love other people and to appreciate the gifts they bring. I will also show them I am human, imperfect and make frequent mistakes. I will teach them that how you react and recover is oftentimes more important than the mistake. 

Before the event even began, Greyson's eyes instantly saw a glorious, red and silver fire truck, and it was all he could think about. Before we even took our first lap, Grey did not want to do the jog portion of the jog-a-thon, because he just wanted to be near that truck. Fire truck, fire truck, fire truck- he told me over and over and seriously 1,000 times, over again. First walk, then fire truck, I responded, one million and eleventy hundred times. And as we approached our second lap, we hear the shiny red engine roar, and then see it begin to drive away. Surely it's just parking somewhere more convenient, I thought to myself. I see it drive through the field and into the parking lot, quickly approaching the exit gate.

Greyson starts to cry a loud, eyes wide in terror, type cry. Fire truck, fire truck, fire truck! He yelled urgently through his tears and pleading to me with his eyes.

My heart began to pound. For the previous 30 minutes straight,  I offered my son a prize he completely earned, that didn't exit. The loud noises, the music, the crowds, the change of schedule- all things that are a huge challenge to him- he endured for the silver lining of the fire truck. 

And it was leaving.

So we take off. Greyson, his aid and I, running like we are being chased by a bear. I run like if I go fast enough, I can stop Greyson's heart break, knowing there was no way we were going to catch them. I need him to see that truck more than I've needed anything in a long time.

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Greyson as the fire truck drove away.

We caught the tail end, and I hoped just seeing it for a second would be a good consolation prize. But it wasn't. It wasn't the goods that were promised. 

And suddenly, slowly I see a fireman guiding the truck through the gate, and he saw us too. And they stop the truck, and graciously invite Greyson inside, despite the fact that they had somewhere to be. My heart felt like the top of a roller coaster and my eyes again threaten to overflow. 
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Love and kindness was all around us, and it felt like a magical, shiny red fire truck, three gracious Firemen,a field full of clear slate children, and the happiness of one little boy. 

It's a scary world out there, and it's so easy to become discouraged.  But love feels so much better than hate. Anytime I feel overwhelmed by the bad, the world always shows itself to me. The world that is built on a foundation of love. Love that is everywhere. We just have to be willing to look, and if need be, make a run for it. 


  1. This is beautiful. Thank you for writing it.

  2. so glad Grey got his truck!

  3. Oh Chrissy. Love is amazing! That's why I chose it as one of my words for the year! See, I told you I was reading backwards! LOL I'm so so thankful for that fireman who saw you and Grey and chose to stop and let him on. My heart is so full reading this! Much love to you guys!