Tuesday, April 28, 2009

the 200

My son Patrick ran in a race today.

My wife and I had been taking him to "track practices" for several weeks, actually. He'd line up for whatever event it was, engage in some type of cross between walking and jogging, and eventually cross the finish line. He seemed a bit bemused by it all, actually.

I should clarify that I wasn't personally able to make it to the big finale event tonight, so my report of the events is based on my wife's recollection.

Anyway, she decided to have him run in the 200 yard dash. And so he lined up, the race began, and by the time the other kids had crossed the finish line, he had gone about 10 yards.

From what I gather, he seemed in no particular hurry after this, and kept his typical pace in progressing down the track. Eventually some adult monitor of the race went out to meet him and encourage a slightly faster pace. The crowd cheered.

I must admit that I have mixed reactions to the event. I'm delighted that the crowd was so generous in its attitude towards my son. But I'm also pained by his struggles, by his delayed motor coordination, by the sense of aloneness and confusion he felt (or at least that I imagine him feeling).

It's a reminder, I suppose, that life will pose challenges to him that I can't fully prepare him for. It's a painful reminder of how far he lags behind his peers despite the progress we've seen in him.

In some ways, I guess, the race is symbolic of where he's at right now. Ten yards of progress when other kids his age have made 200.

Yet I have so much pride in him for those ten yards. What comes naturally to other children does not always come natural to Patrick. His gains are the product of concerted effort and challenge and struggle, not byproducts of just doing what comes naturally to him.

And so now when I think about those ten yards...and the other 190 he ran after all the other kids were resting, I like to consider this: he earned them.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A poem

I ran across this poem by Dr. Mohja Kahf. I think it's stunning. And stunningly beautiful.

All Good

They see it as far-off,

but We see it as near.

Quran, The Ways of Ascent 70:6-7

Out in the blue infinitude

that reaches and touches us

sometimes, Hajar and Sarah

and Abraham work together

to dismantle the house of fear, brick

by back-breaking brick.

With a broom of their own weaving,

they sweep the last remains

away. They sit down for a meal

under the naked stars.

Ismaïl and Isaac come around shyly,

new and unlikely companions.

Hajar introduces them

to her second and third husbands

and a man from her pottery class

who is just a friend.

Hajar's twelve grandchildren

pick up Sarah's twelve at the airport.

The great-grandchildren appear,

set down their backpacks,

and tussle to put up the sleeping tents,

knowing there will be no more rams,

no more blood sacrifice.

Sorrows furrow every face.

This, in the firelight, no one denies.

No one tries to brush it all away

or rushes into glib forgiveness.

First, out of the woods, shadows emerge:

the dead of Deir Yassin,

killed by Zionist terror squads,

the Kiryat Menachim bus riders

killed by Palestinian suicide bomber.

They face each other, tense up.

Some of them still do not have gravestones.

The ghosts of Mahmoud Darwish

and Yehuda Amichai begin to teach them

how to pronounce each other's names

in Hebrew and Arabic. The poets

will have a long night. Meanwhile,

a Hamas sniper, a Mosad assassin fall

to their knees, rocking; each one cries,

"I was only defending my—my—"

Into the arms of each,

Hajar and Sarah place a wailing

orphaned infant. Slow moaning

fills the air: Atone, atone.

The grieving goes on for untold ages,

frenzied and rageful in the immature years,

slowly becoming penitent and wise.

When an orange grove is given back

to its rightful owner, the old family drama

finally loses its power, withers, dies. A telling time

for new stories begins. Housekeys

digging bloody stigmata into the palms

of Palestinians cast from their homes

turn into hammers and nails for the rebuilding.

Despite the abject pain

each person here has known, no family

that has not lost a child,

no one wishes they could change the past

because of which we have arrived

at this transforming time.

Hajar pours water that becomes

a subtle, sweet, and heretofore unheard of wine.

Sarah laughs again, more deeply.

Abraham is radiant. Everyone, this time

around, can recognize

in the eyes of every other,

the flickering light of the Divine.

In the very end, in the fourth,

unseen dimension that has been here

from the very beginning, unfolding

just outside the limits of our perception,

suffering, not in its rawest form,

but distilled in temperate hearts,

takes us to higher levels of cognition.

Hajar and Sarah, Ismaïl and Isaac, you and I

break out of the cycle,

Here, Now, to higher life,

and it is fine.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

If They Can

I'm reading Ross Greene's excellent new book "Lost at School." For any of you involved in parenting or dealing with kids, I'd very highly recommend it.

One of the things I find so interesting about the book is his discussion of prevailing theories of child behavior problems. Essentially, most current ideas are focused on the notion that kids act up because the misbehavior WORKS. So child behavior problems are thought of as manipulative, attention-seeking, etc. And the theories to change these behavior problems focus on making sure that the behavior doesn't work any longer -- so you take away attention during the tantrum, make sure you don't give in to the manipulation, etc.

Greene does a great job of pointing out how often that approach simply doesn't work and is often counter-productive. And then he puts forwards a different theory: kids do well when they can. In other words, most child behavior problems result from a skill deficiency. And when kids are faced with situations they lack the skill to handle, they become overwhelmed and fall back on the only thing they can think of. That might be a tantrum, shutting down, biting, etc.

One of the really interesting things to consider is the number and variety of approaches to disciplining children that never get around to actually teaching kids the skills or abilities they need to succeed. So we have "zero tolerance" policies that put kids into detention or suspension. We have written agreements that kids and parents sign, saying that the disruptive behavior won't occur again, etc.

We're so focused on notions of accountability, in other words, that we assume that it is the entire picture. We forget that our kids might be lacking some skill or ability they need in order to succeed. And amidst all these consequences, we risk ruining the relationship with the child that is needed to help them.

There is a surprising amount of resistance to the notion that "kids do well if they can." People complain that if we don't suspend a kid, we're sending a message to the other kids that it's OK if you do something destructive. But this is based on the strange assumption that these other kids are only behaving well because they fear the consequence of not doing so (rather than seeing that they're doing well because they CAN -- because they have all the skills necessary to behave well). It also neglects the issue of what message we send to these other kids by continuing to use a disciplinary strategy that is entirely ineffective in helping a child to succeed in the future.

But I suspect that an underlying resistance to this model comes from the intuitive leap people make. If this approach is really better for dealing with behavior problems in children, then what does it say about our approach to behavior problems in adults? What does it say about the adult correctional system?