My Autism is worse than your Autism…Autism, Shmautism.

Poor Jerry. I bet he didn’t know what kind of a ruckus he’d be causing when he guessed that he might fall “somewhere on the spectrum” due to his difficulty in social situations. Once again a bunch of parents in pain had to rise up and remind us all that, according to (ahem) them (authorities that “they” are on all things neuroscience), people can only have autism if they are self-injurious, are extremely obsessed with train schedules, can memorize phone books or insist on buying their underwear only at K-Mart.

Lies.

Unfortunately we are now at a crossroads and it isn’t necessarily a good one: autism has become a household word and everybody thinks they know something about it when the truth is that even the people who have spent a lifetime studying it don’t know that much about it. We haven’t even agreed whether it’s a medical disorder or a mental illness or if it has something to do with biochemistry or allergies and auto-immune disorders. Now they’ve switched up the whole diagnosis to the point that even people who are qualified to diagnose it need to go back and take workshops just to figure out what it is, so can we all just sit back and take a collective breath about the whole matter?

Whatever it is, it is real and it’s stressful. It’s stressful if you can talk and it’s stressful if you can’t talk. It’s stressful if it makes people stare at you and it’s stressful if it makes people snub and ignore you. I’m guessing it’s stressful for Temple Grandin and if Jerry Seinfeld is on the spectrum then it’s stressful for him too.

I know that I often say things out loud that I’m probably not supposed to (and imagine that- I’m directly related to several people with autism…) but if one more parent goes on and on about how “quirky” children don’t have “real” autism I’m not sure what I will do. Whatever it is, it will not be pretty or socially acceptable.

FACT: If you are a child who has extremely obvious autism, life may be hard for you and most likely is very difficult for your neurotypical family members. You may always require services and supports and it could be that you will not live independently, even as an adult. On the upside, nobody will ever question your need for that support. Some people might be rude or even downright mean to you, but many people will give you great heaps of extra patience and tolerance because they can see that you struggle.

FACT: If you are a child who seems typical in many ways, but randomly freaks out if someone kills a bug in front of you or…say…goes up to strangers in restaurants and tells them that they have yellow teeth, life is going to be really, really hard for you. People will look at you, assume you are neurotypical and then get all weirded out when you don’t know how to carry on a regular conversation. You will need support to get a job, keep a job, get friends, keep friends, etc. etc. but you will not qualify for that support because you are just a titch too normal. Nobody will think you are “quirky and cute” when you are a 25 year old man who skulks in corners staring at cute girls but has no idea whatsoever how to interact with them or any other peer for that matter, and your boss really won’t think you are cute when you attempt to argue with her about how each part of your job is to be done because her way doesn’t seem at all logical to you. You may get fired. Multiple times. It will also not be cute when you come off as rude to everyone in parking lots and stores because you can’t seem to be able to perceive how to give anybody personal space or you loudly guffaw at things that simply aren’t funny to neurotypical people. It won’t be cute when you talk out loud during silent spells during church services or when your co-workers snicker behind your back because you just seem odd to them in so many ways but no matter how hard you try you can only perceive your oddness in retrospect and you can’t seem to prevent it. And, apparently, your quirkiness will go WAY too far should you one day attempt to step out of the “high functioning autism closet” as a means of explaining yourself. The neurotypical people will NOT think that is cute, nor will it ever occur to them that not perceiving that you should not say what you said may, in fact, be a sign that you really do have trouble perceiving what is and what is not socially acceptable in the general public…that might be too logical for them.

I can’t even end with something clever here. Can we please just funnel our energy into helping all people who need help, even if those people are able to do stand-up comedy, and call it a day?

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My Near-Death Experience: Cue the Twilight Zone Theme

thK4CW4WDR
There’s this story that I don’t tell a lot of people. It’s not the kind of story you whip out at a party to wow the crowd and it’s just not the kind that you discuss over dinner; I often choose carefully the people to whom I will tell it based on how open minded those people seem to be.

But I’m reconsidering being selective as I sit in a hospice house with my grandmother and realize how little death scares me; it has occurred to me that people need to hear stories like this. So, here goes: consider me cuckoo if you must.

When I was 16 I was in a car accident. A friend (the driver) and I (the passenger) were going 45 miles per hour when another teenage driver, also going 45 miles per hour, suddenly crossed the line and hit us head-on. Neither driver had time to hit the brakes, making for a 90 mile her hour impact. The driver who crossed the center line was killed on impact. My friend and I found ourselves sitting in a van but unable to figure out why it was not moving or what was happening around us. We were in shock and although I don’t remember actually seeing the other car come toward us, I do remember a feeling of confusion followed by an intense feeling of fear, then another intense feeling of confusion as I tried to figure out why there were people running toward us and my friend was spitting bloody teeth into the palm of her hand and why it was so hard to breathe all of the sudden.

Somehow, in the time between the impact of the car crash and when I “woke up” in the unmoving wreck of a van, something happened that forever changed the way I regard spirituality. life and death. At the time what happened felt so natural that it didn’t occur to me to think about it any differently than I might think about what I ate for breakfast or brushing my teeth in the morning. But as I tossed the memory around in my mind in the days that followed the accident I realized how extra-ordinary it had been. Despite the realization of what a unique experience it was I never once questioned whether or not it might have been my imagination or a dream. That time was the most vivid few moments of all of my time on this earth so far, although whether or not it even occurred on earth is questionable.

Here’s what happened: first, a literal storm of memories all came running through my mind. I began remembering, in vivid detail, all kinds of things that had happened all throughout my life with one marked difference from a normal memory: I could feel the feelings of every person involved in the situation instead of only my own. I remembered sitting in my third grade desk and the boy in front of me turning around to whisper, “Can I borrow a pencil? Mine broke.” As I remembered smiling, reaching in my pencil bag and handing one to him I could literally feel his relief, happiness and thankfulness. The feelings were as strong as if they had been my own. A string of memories like this followed, which sounds like it might take forever but it seemed to happen all in an instant. Then, suddenly I was nowhere.

Just like that, there was nothing around me and I found myself feeling really confused. Where was I? What had happened? Why was I in this place with nothing around me? Really, there was nothing. No walls, floor, ceiling…just nothing. And oddly it didn’t feel like I was floating or anything. Gradually I became aware that there was a woman near me. I looked at her and she said, “You don’t need to worry. Be at peace,” only she didn’t actually say it. She projected it right into my thoughts, and it wasn’t even in words or any language. It was as if this woman could “hear” what I was thinking and could convey wholly formed ideas and suggestions straight into my mind. Right after she suggested the idea of letting go of my fear and confusion and embracing peace, I did. The peace I felt wash over me is also indescribable in earthly terms. I know this is going to burst somebody’s bubble, but I did not care one whit about what was going on anyplace else. Once I let that peace in I was at home and ready to stay there, “nowhere” though it might be, forever.

Next I noticed that there were some people in the distance: there were three of them, two men and a woman. As soon as I became aware of them it was as if I could “hear” their thoughts too. I knew those people, not just a little bit, but it was as if I’d known them my whole life and hadn’t seen them in an extremely long time. It felt so good to see them and they were just as happy to see me as I was to see them. I wanted to get closer to them, but I clearly knew I couldn’t move closer just then, as if there was some kind of understood boundary between us.

A strange sound began to make its way toward me from the distance. It sounded kind of like howling or wheezing and it started getting closer and closer. The feeling of peace began to dissipate and once again I felt very confused and a little afraid. The noise came closer and got louder until I opened my eyes and realized the sound was me trying to breathe.

A world of pain hit my chest and I realized that I was slumped against a car door and couldn’t move. The rest is history. Lots of other things happened, but that short experience of being “nowhere” is a memory more vivid than all of the rest of the menial things I can relate like being chopped out of the van, riding in the ambulance, seeing the worried faces of my parents in the hallway, sleeping in the hospital… For real. All of those things? Traumatic, yes. Memorable, yes. Still nothing in comparison to my strange being-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-groovy-peace-filled-telepathic experience. Describing it like that belittles it, I realize, but there is no way to compare it to anything here. There aren’t words in any language I speak to describe it.

As an odd after-effect, for weeks I could hear people approaching my bedside, coming in my room, even having conversations with one another as if I wasn’t there. They were not people I could see with my eyes, but they were there. Slowly that faded too.

Well, some people will now dismiss me as a new-age freak. Some will wonder if I’ve ever taken mind-altering drugs. Some will assume I watch a lot of Sylvia Brown and call the Psychic Friends Network on a regular basis. Some scientifically-minded people will explain it away with a long soliloquy about the brain under stress and its incredible ability to adapt and survive in extreme situations. Some people will wonder about the possibility of oxygen deprivation and its effect on my mind.

I, and anyone who has experienced such a thing, walk on with the calm assurance that whatever it is that happens when our body’s life ends, something else begins for the essence of us. As I’ve had to let go and watch people I love step off this earth I’ve had that same calm assurance.

When I stood at my brother’s bedside I knew he could hear me even though I didn’t speak out loud and he was non-responsive. As I stand at my grandma’s bedside I know that soon she’ll be experiencing the same thing. If I can stand there with dry eyes, that’s why. Even as I watch her body lose strength, I know her soul is about to become stronger than her body ever was. If I cry it’s because I will sorely miss the feeling of her hands and the sound of her voice during the remainder of my time on this earth, not because I am afraid this is the end of my grandmother and I will never see her again. There is no wondering whether or not I will ever see her again, or if “this is all there is” and whether all that is left of a person after she dies is the legacy she passed on to her children and her children’s children.

Wonderful though that legacy may be and as much as I treasure the memories of what we had together here, I already can’t wait to see her again, and I walk in the calm assurance that I will.

Which school is cool?

thCATNW7R0Yes, I kind of chose that title because it rhymes. Also because using the word “cool” makes it sound like I’m not about to write an APA style paper, and that makes me happy. You see, school can be cool but it was rarely a place I was happy as a kid. Where was I happy, you might ask? (Or you might not ask, but I am going to tell you anyway).

I was happy in the forest being amazed at how many colors and textures of moss can grow at the foot of trees. I was happy by a lake learning about water bugs as they skated across the silvery surface. I was happy in fields full of grasshoppers by day and fireflies by night. I was happy canoeing in the boundary waters or dancing across the floor of the ballet studio. I was happy watering the garden with my grandpa and eating fresh cucumbers as a mid-summer snack. I was happy in my warm, cozy bed huddled under blankets with a flashlight and a good book in the wee hours. I was happy playing with my little brothers and teaching them things I’d figured out while doing all of the above.

I don’t know you personally, and maybe you’ve never been that excited about bugs or multi-colored moss, but I’m willing to bet your happy place isn’t in an office cubicle. Some parts of life are the have-tos and some parts are the get-tos. That’s just the way it is. Learning isn’t all about happiness (some of the hardest things we’ll go through will stretch us and grow us more than all of our joy-filled experiences combined will), but learning doesn’t have to be separate from happiness either. Finding ways to balance the drudgery and the joy is key to a life well-lived.

We, as a family, are struggling with the schooling issue. You know, the issue when you sit together with your co-parent and try to decide where you will send your offspring to learn things. I, being society’s definition of a complete nerd, keep going back in my mind to all of the historical facts I’ve gathered during all the years of reading under my comforter when my parents thought I was asleep. Funny, I didn’t go back to facts I learned reading the third grade social studies text. What I mainly remember about those texts was desperately trying to read my own book through the crack of my desk while also trying to keep track of where we were in the extremely boring text so I wouldn’t look like I didn’t know where we were if I was suddenly called on to read out loud. Remembering this is not helpful, by the way, when thinking about what educational choices to make for my own children.

So, to sum it up, what I learned in social studies class was how to multi-task while looking like I knew what was going on when I actually had no clue. Which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty important life skill. I’m just not sure it took all of that time and all of those years to become proficient at that, but whatever. My parents could go about doing their grown-up stuff like working in an office cubicle and I could do my kid stuff like sitting in a desk all day trying to pretend I was thinking about the things I was being asked to think about.

And while riding this thought train I realized that while some good learning took place at school, most of the learning I did (at least the learning that stuck with me) took place in the relatively few hours I spent outside of a classroom.

Once upon a time there were no schools. Children learned what they needed to know in order to become good citizens by watching grown-ups doing the jobs of life, being given chances to try those jobs out with guidance from adults, then practicing those skills on their own. Somehow they grew up and became productive citizens without a text-book to tell them how. Now imagine that!

At some point people started figuring out that reading and learning equal power. Parents realized that in addition to knowing how to get along with siblings, cook, clean, mend clothes, tend babies, care for animals and thresh wheat that maybe their children would be better off if they also learned to read and ‘cipher.

Throughout history we see people alternately providing literacy as a gift to empower other people and also purposely preventing people from becoming literate so they could have power over them. Schooling was seen as a good thing: parents who were able to send their children to school were providing them with a gift that allowed those children to live fuller, richer lives. They were ensuring that their children would not be ruled over by people who were “more learned” because they themselves would be learned.

Somewhere it all took a very different turn. When we started up the first public schools parents began to feel entitled. Schools that provided free education for all children began to be seen as essential, rather than a blessing. The government was depended upon to produce literate citizens and parents lost the feeling of responsibility to equip their own children with the gifts of literacy and academic studies they once had. Once upon a time parents strove to teach their children because they wanted to provide them with a gift. Nowadays parents look for a big old building to which they can conveniently ship their children so that somebody else can school them; it’s not a gift. It’s an entitlement. And what is underneath it? Well, the children had better learn their ABCs and their 123s…but they’d also better be conveniently cared for all day long so the grown-ups can do their grown-up stuff without being bothered with the task that has been handed off to teachers.

It’s just the way our culture works now: when kids are five we send them to school where someone else will equip them with all they need. Some folks would like to see that to happen at age three or four, just to make sure that they are ready for that monumental five-year old milestone of starting to learn in a big building with a bunch of other kids.

But when I step back in time and try to see the whole thing from the perspective of a mother in history who lived prior to the existence of public schools (I told you I was a huge nerd) the whole thing kind of baffles me. Why should I even put my kids on a huge vehicle that has ninety unsupervised kids on it and is driven by some random person whom I’ve never met at all? Why does it make sense to send my kids to some big building that is run by a bunch of people whom I don’t know on a personal level and allow my children to learn from them all day long? If I was going to hire a nanny I would interview her. But when it comes to schools I just assume my children’s teachers are competent to raise my children all day long just because they have a college degree and passed a background check within the past five years.

Who decides what is important for our children to learn? What are they actually learning? When will I have time to teach them all of the critical things they need to know before they leave our nest? There is more to living than long division, after all. There’s cooking (a long-lost art to the great detriment of our overweight, diabetic fast food nation), cleaning (an art obviously not passed down by the prior generations which is clear to see if you step into the nearest dorm room), getting along with other human beings (touched on, but not actually taught in schools and arguably the skill set that will make the greatest difference in the lives of our children): all of these things are more important in being prepared for independent life than, say, being able to write a paper APA style or being able to properly diagram a sentence. A nice tidbit to know? Yes. Pivotal to a life well-lived? When is the last time since your grade school years that you calculated when two trains, leaving from opposite ends of the nation but going two entirely different speeds would pass one another? (OTHER THAN WHEN YOU HELPED YOUR THIRD GRADER WITH HIS HOMEWORK) Yeah…I thought so.

Getting back to the present… because there are schools now and our family has to (awwwww) live in the now…

Soul-searching questions I’ve been asking myself about making schooling decisions for our crew:
*What do we want our children to know? Why do we think they need to know those specific things?
*How will the school atmosphere and culture affect our particular child/ren?
*What will our children learn at school that has nothing to do with the content or the curriculum? What will we do to either counter or support those underlying values and messages that are being absorbed?
*Will our children be physically and mentally safe at school?
*Are our children physically and mentally safe on the bus?
*What does “safe” mean to us?
*Does it make sense to us to send our children to a big building to be educated? What are all of the viable options for our family? What are the “deal-breakers” for us in deciding on a school setting?
*If we do choose a traditional school setting for our children, which things about the school experience do we value most? Do we want our children to have fun? Is academic achievement more important than enjoyment to our family?
*What things aside from academics will our school support? What things aside from academics are most important to our family?
*Is our school supportive to families in general? Does it, in its decisions, policies and actions support parents as the primary educators of their children? Does it welcome family involvement and promote a sense of community among its students?

All the while I consider these things I also realize how very blessed we are to live in a time and place in which we have the privilege of choosing. Some people didn’t. Some people still don’t.

What are your thoughts about educating children? If you could erase all that you know about our current education system and name the most pivotal things that must be learned to live life well, what would they be? Can those things be taught in schools? If so, how could we do it better than we do it now?

You can’t talk to anyone if you don’t speak their language.

Lovely.

Lovely.

It stinks to be misunderstood. It stinks when you can’t understand someone. On the other hand, when you find someone who GETS you it’s like a long, cool drink of water on a really hot day. If you’ve ever found a person like that, the kind of person who really gets you, who speaks your language and understands you to a T, you’ll love spending time with her. Then there are the other kind of people. Somebody somewhere must love those people, but you’re just not feelin’ it. They say things that end with, “…you know what I mean?” and you smile and say, “Yeah!” while thinking, “Ummm….yeah. No.” Odds are you aren’t making time in your schedule to spend time in this person’s presence.

Being the parent of someone with autism means that you are inundated with the words that describe your child’s deficits. What’s wrong with your kid? Oh, well she lacks perspective-taking skills. He is lost in his own world. She is non-verbal. He gets fixated on things. Her speech is disordered. He is uncoordinated.

Next, you are told how to go about trying to fix it all. One idea would be to invite loads of people into your home and pay them to teach your child the right way to do all of the things that she can’t do correctly. All day, every day. Will it work? Maybe. Will the child learn to “fit in” and act like the people tell him to act? If he wants to have a pleasant day he’ll do his best.

Will it change him into a kid who is like the herd of kids running down your neighborhood street?

Well, let’s think about it this way: When your husband went to the ballet with you because you really loved ballet and he sat with you, held your hand and said, “This is great!” did it actually turn him into a ballet lover? Why did he do that? He wanted to please you. He loves you. You’d been asking to go and he wanted you to be happy. He still likes fishing better. Chances are pretty slim that he really entered into it and saw and experienced the beauty that you do when you watch it, just like chances are slim you really take the time to enter into the joy he feels when he sits in his garage and works on collector cars for twelve hours straight. Is that so bad? On one level, no. But what would it be like for us in our relationships if we really took the time to do that?

Do those people teaching your child speak your child’s language? Do they *get* him? Do they take the time to enter into what the world feels like, looks like, smells like for her? Do you? Just who has the perspective-taking problem in this scenario?

Lately in walking through this world the thing that keeps rising to the top over and over and over again is that problems with perspective taking are the root of most, if not all, of OUR problems. And by that I mean your problems. And my problems. Not your autistic kid’s problem. Not your husband’s problem. Not your son’s problem. Not your friend’s problem. Not your mother-in-law’s problem. Yours. Mine.

Can you step inside of your child’s day and imagine what it might be like? Not from your perspective: from his perspective. What do you know about your son? Have you taken time to feel what he must feel? Try to think how he might think?

What about your husband, wife or partner? What is it like for him or her? What appeals to him or her? How can you speak his language? How does he understand what you’re trying to say to him? Are you saying it in your language, or his?

The other day I was laughing to myself as I looked at a Facebook post of a friend who speaks a language that isn’t written in my own alphabet. To me it looks like a line of funny symbols. When she looks at it she sees meaning. Looking at those funny little characters makes her smile, laugh out loud or cry. I started thinking about what it must be like to be able to easily and fluently move back and forth between two languages and two entire systems of written communication! I knew she was smart but I started realizing how really very brilliant she was. Then I started thinking about all of the people who have emigrated to this country and how other high-on-their-horses people who were born here often snub those people who don’t speak English well. They even turn up their noses at people who speak English it pretty well but speak it with an accent. Some people are downright nasty about it. One day I saw a license plate that said “Speak English or go back to the God-forsaken country you came from.” No lie.

Guess what? If you only speak English, the hotel maid from Nicaragua who speaks three fluent sentences of English is smarter than you. Deal.

Here’s where the rabbit trail comes back to the point. If your child with autism had learned to reasonably fit in with the rest of society much better than he used to, it’s probably because he’s got better perspective taking skills than the rest of us. She’s learned that if she wants to please people, she needs to speak their language. He’s learned that if he wants to get through his day and he wants it to be at all pleasant, he’d better bow to the people around him who lack the perspective to walk in his shoes. She’d better fake it. He’d better do it the way that is “right” in the perspective of his teachers, parents and friends.

Hopefully he will have the good fortune to one day meet up with someone who has perspective-taking skills. Someone who sees him and loves him for who he is. Someday she might find someone who allows her to be herself and learns to speak her language. And when he does, it will feel like a cool drink of water on a really hot day.

We, The Sheeple

Let's say it all together: "Awwwwww!"

Let’s say it all together:
“Awwwwww!”

Sheep are so cute and, well, wooly. There is nothing cuter than a little lamb, especially one frolicking through a field of flowers!

I love the references in Scripture that remind us that we are like sheep who need a shepherd, because we are. Haven’t you ever noticed the way we immediately look to someone to lead us? In my way of believing it’s because we need God to lead us, but I know that different people feel differently about that idea. Some people might see it as evolutionary fate: we’re social animals, and like most pack animals we have alphas and we have…well, sheeple.

Sheep follow something. If they have a shepherd, they follow the shepherd. If they don’t maybe they follow each other aimlessly around? That’s kind of like people, right? “Look at the skinny girls on the runways! They are all wearing skinny jeans! Let’s wear them too!” Sheeple. (Technically, maybe it should be spelled “sheople”?)

Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn’t a sheeple at all. In fact Jesus pissed people off all of the time by pointing out how they thought they were awesome but they were actually fools. If you’re a Christian you might think, “Well, duh. He’s God, so he can.” Yeah, but…it makes me wonder what it actually means when we’re called to be “Christ-like”. I think Christians can interpret this call in a variety of ways.

Some Christian I meet seem to think that this means being what they think of as a “good Christian,” as in they follow the Judeo-Christian ethical system that has become so ingrained in our culture. This includes values like unquestioning obedience, deference to authority, suffering patiently under trials to the point of martyrdom and working tirelessly to uphold the values of the other Christians around them so that they will be seen as a good Christian.

This feels confusing to me. Where did Jesus say to do that? Jesus thumbed his nose at authority. His only authority was God. He told the truth out loud even when it ticked people off to the point that they literally wanted to kill him. Yes, he preached unquestioning obedience…to GOD. But he also pointed out that the Pharisees didn’t actually have a real connection to God because they had begun to think that The Law was God rather than knowing that God made the law for a purpose. The point was no longer connecting to a living God who could change their hearts, souls and minds to be more like His and open their eyes; the point was following the law to the letter to look more awesome among men. (Men, literally.)

Jesus spoke out against pride and oppression. He spoke out against people in authority and called for people to stand up for the down-trodden. Why do I see so many Christians tredding upon people? Why do I see them using Jesus and the things he said to beat people down instead of using his tenets to lift people up?

If all we care about is, “What people will think?” when we point out blatant injustice, for whom are we living?

A particular community that my family belongs to is facing some turmoil right now. As in any tumultuous situation, some people see the glass as half-empty. Other people see the glass as half-full. There is another option that most people don’t bring up: seeing the glass as half a glass of water. It’s not optimism and it’s not pessimism. It’s called realism. While we’d all (well, at least “all” of us who would like to count ourselves as Christ-followers) like to say Jesus is on our side, I do think Jesus is on the side of the realists. He seemed to be a realist. He didn’t beat around the bush. He didn’t try to make bad things look like sugar, sunshine and roses. He basically pointed out that a lot of things about the world are messed up and need redemption and that we can join him in righting the wrongs. There is dark and there is light and if you’re on the side of the light you fight against the darkness. Light has to do with life lived to the fullest, and once you have it you want that for everyone. When you see darkness closing in on someone, you join God in his ache and work for lightness to be shed.

But what is lightness? What is darkness? Is lightness looking really good and wearing a happy mask when everything around you lies in shambles? Is truth lightness? Can truth be darkness? Is darkness a bad mood? Is it covering up lies? Is it keeping mistakes under wraps?

“I am the way, the TRUTH and the light,” said Jesus. It’s okay to tell the truth. The truth might not be pretty. I would argue that where someone covers the truth there is darkness that needs to be dispelled.

The problem comes, I think, when we follow culture instead of God. Culture is not to be our shepherd; a mass of people just doesn’t make a good shepherd in general. We can’t expect perfection from any human being, and while it might be okay to admire and support fellow human beings, ultimately we need to do that under the guidance of Someone who is All Good. Every human is capable of corruption, the struggle for power at the expense of others, needing one too many pats on the back…whenever I am asked to blindly trust and follow any human being, I start sniffing the breeze for the scent of Kool-Aid.

Today my joy is that while I love the people in my life and value my friends and my family more than they probably know, I value my Shepherd MORE. It’s why I can walk around without make-up and not care. It’s why I can say my opinion out loud even if it makes someone more likely to whisper behind my back. It’s why I can fight injustice without fear. Why? My Shepherd is my judge. If I am living life as it was meant to be lived, whether or not you like what I think, what I do, what I write, what I wear, what I think, etc. etc. etc. ultimately matters to me much, much, much less than what my Shepherd thinks. It’s extremely freeing and I believe that living this way not only feels freer for the person who dares to try it, it also frees the people around him or her. I am free to love you intensely even if you decide to hate me because I know deep down inside of me that I am not your judge and I don’t need your love. And it really, really feels that way. At the end of the day, I could sit down with you, have coffee or a beer and laugh and chat it up and just enjoy being with you even if we voted on opposite sides of a statute or believe differently about God or the lack thereof. I can listen to what you think without being personally offended. You are on your journey with God and I’m on mine. I trust him with you and I trust him with me.

Even though I’ve always thought of the term “sheeple” as a negative one and prized freedom of thought, today I realized that we’re ALL sheeple. We’re all just grazing around trying to figure out who to follow and ultimately we do follow something or someone. My joy today is that I’ve found a Good Shepherd to follow. Baaaaah!

On dads and vomit.

thCANCLFPJIt’s that moment you realize that puke is everywhere. It’s in hair. It’s on the pajama top and bottoms. It’s on the top bunk and the bottom bunk where it’s dripped through the crack between the upper mattress and the bed frame; both sisters’ comforters are soaked with it. It’s dripping- dripping! from the bunk bed ladder rungs. It has coated the Awana book that is loving kept at the end of the bed. It’s dripping down the bunk bed spindles and in the light you can see splatter marks up to six feet away from the bed, at the foot of which your child was attacked by the stomach flu. It was stepped in and has created pukey footprints all down the hallway.

It’s the moment you realize you have to clean a path through the vomit just to clean up the vomit. And it smells like….vomit. It’s looking around and wondering where to start and whether or not you could just bring a chain saw in tomorrow, hack the bunk bed to bits and buy a new one. Didn’t we need new sheets anyway? New pillows would be nice. Thank God we got rid of the carpet in here.

It’s that moment you start wondering what is worth salvaging and realize you now need to bathe a little person who hates to be bathed. Oh yeah. It’s not all the stuff I need to clean; it’s about the person I need to clean. Your eyes meet sad, weary eyes and the smell of the puke doesn’t smell any less pukish but you remember there is a little heart to be cleaned up and cared for, so you start the work you were called to do.

Yes, you read it right: I was called to clean up puke. The day I said yes to motherhood, there it was, though I didn’t know it yet. I didn’t know yet what it would be like when I’d already cleaned up the vomit of two siblings earlier that week but the stomach flu wasn’t done with my children yet. I didn’t know that I would be stretched this far or grow this much. The idea that I would one day learn to put on a gentle face when I wanted to collapse into bed but puke happened instead had never occurred to me yet.

It took two hours. Two hours of lovingly washing hair and skin, washing out the tub, making up a fresh bed on the couch, putting on the gloves (thank God for the gloves!), rolling up drenched bedding, using garbage bags to cover the bunk bed ladder so it could be hosed off the next day, washing my gloved hands in between cleaning small sections of floor, spindles, bedding to make sure my own gloves weren’t spreading the stuff around.

I never once gagged, never said, “gross!” never made my daughter feel like she was inconveniencing me, didn’t allow her to see that I was tired. I was thankful. Thankful that I had a daughter who is alive enough to be sick- after all, if she picked this bug up it means she is living life to the fullest among other people. Thankful that I have hot water at my finger tips, that my husband bought those cleaning gloves, that we have plenty of types of household cleaners. A giggle actually rose up as I hauled bag after plastic bag of vomit-covered items to our deck in my nightgown and orange rubber gloves; I felt a little bit too much like a member of Tony Soprano’s crew and wondered what the neighbors might think if they saw me. I breathed in the night air and looked at the stars and was thankful that the sky was clear and it was a beautiful night so we could open the windows. While I did all of this I realized why I could do all of this, and do it with love: someone taught me how to do this kind of work, step by step.

Back in about 1985 or so I was sleeping on the top bunk when I was suddenly awakened by a strange churning in my stomach. I faintly remember thinking, “Oh no. I think I’m going to throw up. Please don’t let me throw up.” Shimmying to the end of my bed I made my way to the ladder and lost it- all over the end of my bed. I bet it was dripping down the rungs of the ladder. I bet it sopped through my bed sheets and splattered on the floor. I bet it reeked to the high heavens.

Kneeling in front of the toilet, I heard the bathroom door creak. I looked up to see my dad standing there. He didn’t look annoyed. He didn’t look tired or wrinkle his nose at the smell of my sickness. Instead he rubbed my back and said, “You poor kid. Let me help you.” He made me a bed on the couch and I fell asleep. All night long, whenever I got sick again he patiently attended me and reassured me it would be okay.

Who knew patience with puke could be such a sweet gift? When I was at my most disgusting, my most vulnerable my dad was there loving me as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. It wasn’t only a gift to me; now it’s a gift for my daughter, and hopefully someday for hers. It’s a gift that I believe comes from God, who loves us that same way: in our grossest, smelliest, most vulnerable moment he loves us just as much as if we had NOT been puking all over ourselves.

When you are a parent you never realize how the tiniest thing can make the hugest impact. The way my dad dealt with vomit changed my life. Okay, I’ll admit, the sounds really funny but it’s also really true. Cleaning up puke can teach people about the love of God. It’s real.

I love you, dad. Thank you for cleaning up puke with patience. It’s only one of many things you did that effectively demonstrated the way that you loved me and ultimately made me a better mom and a better person too.

I’m more important than everyone else.

thCAW28ELEI just thought I’d let you know, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet. Well, not specifically me, but me and my kind of people. We’re not like those other kind of people; you know the ones. I mean, we make a mistake here and there, but not consciously like those people. Huh. Can’t wait to see what their poor kids become, teaching them all of their nastiness as they do. Then we’ll all have to live with the next generation of those kind of people. If only they would wise up. If only they would think like we do. Drive like we do. Eat like we do. Love like we do. If only they would be decent, kind and considerate like we are.

It’s the US vs. THEM mentality. And it stinks. It’s the de-humanizing train of thought that allows us to pretend like people who do things we don’t do are “less than”, and even more, if we have problems those problems might be their fault. That gay guy? He’s so wrong. That homeless woman? Well, I wonder what she did to end up that way? That family… you know the one… that one. It’s so sad that they’re like that. Good thing we’re not like that. Thank God it’s not us. If people like those people would just be like us everything would be okay.
Newsflash: they are like us because they are us and there is no such thing as “them”. There is only “us”. It’s called humankind, and now like so many brothers and sisters we need to learn how to get along. Avoidance? It’s a cop-out. Putting yourself on a pedestal and looking down your nose at people? Fat people, lazy people, stupid people, ignorant people, people who do this or don’t do that, people who collect welfare checks, people who let snot run down their kids’ faces and people who don’t mow their lawn quite often enough. “They” are our brothers. “They” are our sisters. We’re called to love each other. Deal.

How can I deal with that!? Oh man, I can’t even love my own family sometimes. How can I love that guy who clears his throat and hawks a loogie in the parking lot right in front of me? How can I love that lady who will NOT STOP complaining? Maybe I don’t have to. They’re just not my kind of people, so I won’t.

This is how I know there’s a God: this is how I know that something supernatural exists (I call it God). It takes supernatural power to love our human brothers and sisters. It takes supernatural power for me to look at that chick on the corner with the “give me stuff, I’m homeless sign,” and know that she’s my sister rather than “one of those people”. And I see this supernatural thing happen. It happens all of the time, but it only happens to people who invite it and allow it to invade them and stretch them and grow them and kill off parts of them too. It has nothing to do with the kind of person, because there are no kinds of people. There are only people. Every single one of us comes from the same stuff and does the same stuff (in variation) and is capable of the same stuff. We are capable of evil, every single one of us. We are capable of amazing good, every single one of us.

As long as we continue to distance ourselves from “those people”, it’s pretty easy to think we’re awesome and they’re…well, you know. It’s a defense mechanism, and it works! You know, like when the blacks used to cause all of that trouble when they started mixing with the white folk? Then there was that unfortunate thing where the Jews started wrecking Germany. Good heavens! And now look how the Muslims are blowing people up and the Mormons are marrying so many people and the Liberals keep taking everyone’s money and the gay people are taking away our idea of what families should look like. Then there are all of those immigrants stealing our jobs and all of those stinking, lying politicians, not to mention those lawyers…

I’ve had it. I’ve had it with the US vs. THEM. There is only we.

Post Parnassus Stress Disorder

thCAKJXPORThe end of the school year is almost here. It’s ahhhl…mooooost…heeeere. Our children’s 2012-2013 school year began August 20, 2012. They go to school from 8:00am-3:30pm and the school year goes on and on and on until we are pretty sure we might pull our own hair out. (June 11, to be exact.) Throw in the hour or TWO (sometimes more) of homework per night, and if you were to add up the hours spent acquiring a superior education…well, I am too tired to do any more math right now but it’s a lot of hours.

So why do we choose Parnassus? We choose it because our children love to learn. We choose it because we value education and feel like education has become watered down in the public schools. We chose it because it seemed like it fit us when we read the stated goals and missions that were on the website when we chose it. Our family appreciates the arts. We don’t watch a lot of TV. We value a strong work ethic. We value beauty and truth and history and all of the printed values stated on the website. We love to read and read aloud to our children. We love the classics. Love! We loved so many things that we read about the school. It seemed so lovely. It seemed so lovely.

Only the truth is (speaking of lovely things) not a lot of love flies around the halls there. Maybe it’s just a different kind of love than what I know to be love. We could argue all day long about what love is and whether or not it has a place in the discussion of public education; I would enjoy that discussion immensely because I love thinking, critical thinking, logic and learning discussions. (See! What a good fit am I for this school?!?) If we did that, though, I wouldn’t ever get my laundry done…which could lead to another discussion on whether or not we should solely foster love of academia to the exclusion of actual life skills like helping out in your household, but that again would be another blog post for another day.

So let’s just say this: using C.S. Lewis’s definition of love, which states, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained,” I would argue that love absolutely belongs in a community of people who are learning together. Children, though they may need leadership and teaching, are people. Adults, though they may be sages and experts, are humans who are still learning. Humans, by definition, aren’t perfect. Things which aren’t perfect need love and grace. Only love and grace can teach virtues like citizenship, cooperation, courage, honesty, integrity, perseverance, respect and responsibility. I would argue that all real learning is based on love and grace.

How can I back up this premise? Well, true learning occurs based on intrinsic motivation. The kind of learning that we do based on behaviorism- the good old “carrot dangled in front of your nose” approach, is pure performance. It’s not the kind of wisdom that grows when your fire is lit and you long for more. You produce what you are asked to produce because if you don’t do as you’re told, something bad will happen to you.

Point in case: our kids love to read. I love to read. We love to read together. We loved it before we came to our school. We are instrinsically motivated to read. The fire is lit; we long for more. Throw a spreadsheet with the world’s teeniest lines at us and demand that we write down the name of each book, author, page numbers and minutes of each thing we read and you are throwing water at our fire. Now we have a choice: we can read less so we have time to carefully document all of our reading, we can make it up or we can say we’re not going to do it. I’ve spoken with many parents who go with option B, but lying wasn’t one of the virtues listed in the school’s supporting documents and it’s not something we want to teach our children to do. We value reading so we’re not going to read less, and the thought that a school’s assignment would lower our desire to read seems ludicrous, so we choose C. Civil disobedience. Luckily, civil disobedience is supported by Thoreau so we have The Classics on our side.

What a struggle. It’s stressful. Extremely stressful. Pathologically stressful. This is where “rigor” comes achingly close to rigor mortis.

The other day my daughter asked me for a watch because, “If I turn my head to look at the clock I will get a card flip.” Somehow this does not seem in keeping with, “Parnassus students are prepared to think for themselves.” Learning time management certainly entails the ability to look at a clock without the fear of unsavory things happening to you.

Recently I read a classic called Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, an educator who recognized that in certain forms education can be likened to oppression. It wasn’t an easy read; this book was dense with thought. Each sentence had to be read about three times to draw the meaning out, but I value perseverence, critical thinking and hard work so I kept going. To my own surprise, Freire’s thoughts about how oppression occurs began to align into a constellation that looked hauntingly like things we’ve seen take place in our own school. To put it into less dense and more palatable language, Freire identifies how a ruling group takes power, then creates an atmosphere in which the ruled people do not like each other and can not talk to each other, which effectively keeps that group in the position of having total power. Once in a while populist leaders will rise up (someone who supports the ruling group and is also liked by the ruled people) but if that person identifies too much with the ruled people, he or she will be removed from power. The ruling group will establish “organizations” to help the ruled people feel as if they have input but, as it turns out, this is only “false generosity” and meant to quell the growing discomfort the people who are ruled and effectively powerless. Those in power then “invade the culture” and attempt to make Their Way the only good way, and the ruled people who don’t conform to The Way are made out to be outliers, rebels, “bad” people. This pattern repeats time and time again throughout history and our children learn about it at school. And this, my friends, effectively demonstrates why learning needs to be supported by love and grace.

If we learn only facts but fail to pull the lessons out, learning history does humanity very little good. Only in an atmosphere of love, grace and humility can we look at the patterns of the human race, see where we have fallen flat on our own faces, own our failures and strive to grow beyond beyond them.

Wow. I have a lot of new enemies now. Do I want to make enemies? No. I love people. Even if you hate me because I have different ideas than you do, I still love you. I have a steady wish for your ultimate good as far as it can be obtained. Ultimately, the truth is good. Nothing stated here is a lie. Thinking is good. Growing and learning is good. Perseverance is good. Walking through hard things together is good. Oppression is not good.

Now it must be said that many good things happen at our school. Our children have fabulous homeroom teachers. The families in our community are marvelous. The curriculum is awesome. Each and every person who contributes to the community has the best interest of someone in mind, and that’s good. The experiences that support the learning are rich. We love History Day and other special events that are designed to support the curriculum.

Some families thrive at our school. If you have: a child in the lower academic track, one child (or maybe two children), a naturally well-behaved and compliant child, a child in the lower grades, one parent who is able to stay at home and one who is the main bread-winner, enough money to pay for other people to manage your child’s homework time, a really strong marriage, a good support network, a child who naturally excels in academics, children who don’t participate in many extra-curriculars, no problem with doing your child’s homework for him or her, no problem with fibbing reading logs, no problem with blowing off what you are asked to do, children who already speak several languages…you are likely to NOT suffer from PPSD. You are likely to feel the love.

For our family, when we put the goodness that happens on the balance, we aren’t sure whether or not the good, no matter how beautiful, outweighs subjecting our kids to the symptoms of Post Parnassus Stress Disorder, the rigor to the point of mortis or the underlying values that are unintentionally being taught (our children seem to classify their classmates by those who get their cards flipped and those who don’t rather than their unique talents and individuality). We aren’t sure whether it outweighs supporting what can be an oppressive environment where teachers don’t have the freedom exercise their own critical thinking skills as applied to adjusting curriculum as necessary for the good of their students.

Here comes summer break! We will delve into the summer learning packets with vigor rather than mortis. We will persevere, hope, learn, read, travel, stretch our limbs, laugh, enjoy life and relationship and family and all of God’s wonders and all of this will reduce our PPSD. And, because we value hard work and perseverence, we will persevere for one more year. We just wish it didn’t feel quite so much like putting childhood on a sacrificial altar.

What is your idea of the good life?

thCA32XHCQBeing a parent is the most exhausting job ever. Fulfilling, yes. Still exhausting, yes. We want our kids to have a good life. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals so all we can do is guess how to supply them with all they need to become the best people they can be.

Sleep. Health. Nutrition. Education. Self-control. Fitness. Organization. Religion. Fun. Respect. Obedience. Experience. Practice. Extra-curriculars. Work ethic. Decision-making. Problem Solving. Responsibility. Culture. Creativity. It’s all the stuff of parenting. So. Much. Stuff.

My head spins. How can I hone it down? What is the one most important thing? What undergirds it all? What one thing, if I can pass on one thing, will make the biggest difference for our children?

Well, if you are a Christian, you have to say, “Jesus!” or you aren’t a Christian. But work with me here…let’s just take Jesus off the table for a minute. If you couldn’t say the J word, I’d like to propose the R word.

Relationship. Relationship is The Most Important.
How do I know?

The first thing any of us knew was relationship. Before you felt cold air or heard the busy-ness of this world raging around you, you heard the heartbeat of your mother and felt her feelings. The first thing you knew was relationship. Warm skin on your skin. Soft voices. Faces hovering above your tiny, hapless body. Your very life depended on relationship.
If you don’t know how to have a relationship you can’t understand God or Jesus. The trinity is a relationship.If you don’t know how to have a relationship your religion is only ceremony and lacks life.

Chances are that relationship has grown you or damaged you more than any other factor in this life. Chances are that relationship or lack thereof impacts your every day more than any other thing does. The worst day can feel better if you have people who have your back no matter what. Your job can suck but if you have good co-workers you can still love it. Life can stink but if you have people with whom you’ve found camaraderie you can still find joy.Think of the best moments; recall the highlights of your life so far. Based on relationship, right? Think of the most devastating moments. Relationship?

What does this mean as we raise our kids? Their greatest joys and greatest sorrows will be found in relationship. If they know how to do this ONE thing, they will be okay. People can totally lack academic skills but if they have social skills they will still succeed. Conversely, people can know every fact on planet earth but if they lack the ability to connect with another person, all of that knowledge will do them very little good.

Think about it: if you have the relationship thing down, everything else will follow. You will know how to ask for help when you need it and if people can relate to you they will want to help you. Even academics depend on relationship skills. How can a kid possibly understand motives, problems and solutions in literature if they don’t understand interaction well? How can they understand how to do well in school if they don’t grasp the difference between a friendship and a teacher-student relationship, for example? How can they get through a job interview without social skills? How will they keep a job if they don’t know how to get along with co-workers? How will they play on a sports team or remain in sync in a choir or orchestra if they don’t understand how people work together best?

Yet the toughest lessons to learn are relationship ones. We dance around one another and shyly try to figure out how we feel about each other. We guess what other people think; we guess what they might think about us. Even we aren’t sure how to do relationship. We find relationships and when we get stuck and don’t know how to traverse the hard parts, we throw them away. It seems easier to avoid or begin a new relationship than to stick with the ones we’ve got that have grown old or sticky.

How do we teach the fine art of relationship to our kids? How do we leave them with a different legacy than the “each person for him or herself” mentality? How do we teach them that the most important things aren’t things, but people?

Why is this not required material in school? If we want our children to be successful, relationship skills are imperative. Why are they considered a “side dish” to be done in spare time, if at all? How is it that we believe that children will naturally absorb that kind of information if we as adults still can’t get along with our own siblings or drive in traffic without making each other angry?

Maybe we begin by putting our own relationships at the top of our priority lists? Maybe we make helping our children navigate the twists and turns of sibling relationships and childhood friendships as important as helping them with homework? Maybe we tell them, “I am really frustrated with this right now, but I am going to talk with her about it.” We talk about it: love, forgiveness, humility, talking out tough stuff. We disagree and make up in front of them. We reassure them that relationship is hard, but worth it.

This stuff is what makes history matter. It’s what brings art to life. It’s what makes music melodious and inspires lyrics that play in our hearts for years after we hear them. Relationships are what inspire poetry and civil rights and they cause wars and terrorism.

In the end, the good life has little to do with getting into an Ivy League school or pulling straight As or GPAs or landing the high-powered jobs or driving fast cars or getting a bigger house that looks more like a Better Homes and Gardens one. The good life is about loving and being loved. The good life is about sharing life. The good life is about holding hands and sharing goals and listening to someone else’s heartbeat, just like we did in the very beginning.

If DaVinci went to my kids’ school…

thCANF9TK1Our kids, like most kids, go to a school. It’s a school that is on a mission to provide a very rigorous education that is based on how education used to be delivered instead of the rather watered-down version of academia lots of schools seem prone to offer up nowadays. It’s not perfect. (What school is perfect? And what is “perfect”?)

Those who embarked on the mission to begin such a school had a great thing in mind. In fact, part of their stated philosophy is to develop students who are ready to become active, responsible community leaders. Our kids study the classics and are educated in art history. They learn martial arts, and the worthy virtue of respect is integrated into their school day along with many other virtues that are personal disciplines for those who live life well. Honesty, courage, perseverance- it’s all there. So much old-fashioned goodness is articulated in our school’s verbiage that it is hard not to fall in love with the vision of our school.

It’s so exciting when my kids are able to come home and tell me, in detail, about history that I didn’t learn until I was in high school. I love that my first grader could diagram sentences! (What can I say, I am a nerd who appreciates a diagrammed sentence.) Uniforms? Love them! Standing to address teachers? Love it!

Being part of such a venture is a privilege and I’ve learned more about education in the past couple of years than I ever have before, including the four years that I spent training to be a certified educator. How so? Well, I’ve realized that what we truly learn doesn’t come from the facts we read in a book or the things we must prove on a test.

What we truly learn- the truths that sink in deep and become a part of us- are rooted in human interaction.

How do I know? Well, you know it too. Think of the things that stand out in your memory: think of the lessons that have impacted you the most. What impacts us most is relationship and human contact. As I’ve worked alongside my children these past two school years, I’ve learned a few facts and a lot about humanity.

I’ve learned that children learn best from being led gently with compassion and encouragement and that if those things are absent, the spark leaves the child. I’ve learned that raising standards won’t make a struggling kid reach for the stars unless he has a human mind, driven by love and empathy, cheering him on. But I didn’t learn it from a book. No professor taught me this pedagogy.

I’ve learned that having a vision is amazing and that using perseverance to reach your goals is a necessary thing, but that if you must roll over other human beings to do it, your goal is no longer virtuous. But I didn’t learn it from a book.

I’ve learned that putting on a happy face is expected in order to be accepted and that sometimes when you exercise courage and tell the hard truth, people’s happy faces are revealed as mere masks that crack and crumble at your feet. Apparently honesty and courage are virtues that people like to read about but not practice. None of this was written in the curriculum, but I learned it anyway.

I’ve learned that just because somebody has a doctorate does not mean that he or she has a heart and that on this earth your heart matters much more than all of the letters and “honors” you can list behind your name. I learned that just because someone reads books and can reiterate facts from them does not mean that she knows how to light a fire for the love of learning in a child’s heart. No book taught me this, but the lesson has been etched on my bones.

I’ve learned that it’s important, when learning history, to do more than memorize facts about what happened. If you zoom out and see the patterns, you will notice that history just repeats itself over and over and over and it goes like this: someone gets a vision of how they can improve things and make things better. If the person is popular enough and can convince others that their way is The Way, other people will help them work toward that goal. But if that person insists on remaining the sole person to shape that vision strange things start to happen: people get squashed for voicing their opinions. Propaganda emerges. People who dissent are taken out. A supporting group emerges and worships The Vision as if it/he/she were a deity and if anyone points out a fault they are branded a “complainer,” or a “fringe” kind of person who is not credible. An atmosphere based on fear rather than beauty, goodness and truth emerges. This sometimes happens to entire countries, ethnic groups, organizations and groups. A book didn’t teach me this. Learning history helped me see the pattern, and living through it has helped me to see that history teaches us very little.

While all of these bits and pieces have been interesting to muddle over, by far the most important thing I’ve learned about education is this: the people who really changed history, who were active and caring leaders in the world community and continue to be just that posthumously through their beautiful creations, writings and history-making decisions, were taught and guided by someone who saw them for the unique individuals they were. They courageously told the truth and didn’t put on a mask; some of them were even burned at the stake for it. If their bodies weren’t burned their books often were. They took time to revel in beauty and sought the wisdom of masters. They sat at the feet of wise people who cared for them as individuals and those wise people challenged them to grow into the best people they could be, but that challenge was undergirded with respect and care. History-makers stood out in the crowd for a reason; they didn’t march among the masses and blindly follow loads of rules that didn’t make sense just because all of the other people around them were doing it. Rarely, very rarely, do we read about them living lives that would be considered status quo.

Last summer our children’s school sent home a book list and asked us to help our children complete a summer learning packet to ensure that their minds would be busy during their short summer break. One of the books we found was Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer. It was a beautiful, fascinating book which detailed the life of Leonardo DaVinci, who was denied a formal education. The book says he, “…spent countless days roaming the hilly countryside near his home.” He chased butterflies and watched turtles and wondered why birds could fly but he couldn’t. He had time to be curious and roam.

As I read it, I got curious. I wondered, had Leonardo been made to sit in a classroom for nearly 8 hours a day and do hours of homework in the evening after that, would he have become even more than he became? If he had been encouraged to bend his head over a book and stay up until late into the night composing essays, if he had been jostled out of bed early in the morning to go sit in a chair all day long again day after day after day, would he have been a greater man? More learned? Better enlightened?

As Leonardo himself is quoted as saying, “I know very well that because I am unlettered some presumptuous people will think they have the right to criticize me, saying that I am an uncultured man. What stupid fools! Do they not know that I could reply to them as Marius did to the Roman patricians: “Do those who pride themselves on the works of other men claim to challenge mine?”