On the Bookshelf -Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations by Ron Fournier

I am a voracious reader. I love words. I love stories. I love ideas. I love to escape into a good book.

Some of what I read is for pure pleasure, some of what I read is to help me be better at my church job, some of what I read is to expand my understanding of our world, and some of what I read is to help me figure out how to help my polar opposite kids navigate this world. When I come across a book that I think is insightful or important in some way, I am going to share it with you all – just a glimpse of what is on my bookshelf.

“Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations” by Ron Fournier

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My son is a current events and news junkie. It has been a challenge for us to find outlets for his interest that provide balanced and non-sensationalized reporting. The only televised news he is allowed to watch without parental supervision is the News Hour on PBS. Several months ago he was watching the News Hour and I happened to walk through the room during an interview with journalist Ron Fournier. They were talking about his recently published book “Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations.”

I can’t say for certain what caught my attention and caused me to stop and listen. But something did, and I found myself standing in a room with my son who lives with a level 1 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and my husband, listening to Ron Fournier talk about his own son who lives with ASD and his own emotional and physical journeys that changed his relationship with his son. I was riveted, and I instantly went to my computer and added the book to my Kindle.

Several weeks went by before I had an opportunity to begin reading the book, but when I did I found it difficult to stop reading.

Ron Fournier is a long time political columnist. He started his career in Arkansas covering then governor Bill Clinton, followed President Clinton to Washington DC, and covered the next 3 presidential administrations. He is also a son, a husband and a father to 3 including his son Tyler. This book is part fantastic reporting and part memoir. It is full of historical and social background, current research on childhood development and interviews with other parents; right alongside a recounting of his deeply personal journey to a stronger relationship with his adolescent son.

The book is set against a backdrop of a series of road trips Fournier and his son Tyler take to visit the homes and libraries of a handful of past US Presidents, including personal meetings for Tyler with both President Clinton and President GW Bush. Along the way, Fournier and Tyler forge a deeper and more empathetic relationship.

As I read, I could see so much of my own son in Tyler and so much of myself in Fournier. This is a book that broke my heart and then filled it back up again. “Love That Boy” is everything I write about on this blog – Family. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful. It is brutally honest look at parenting – not just parenting a neuro-divergent child, but parenting any child. It is a story of struggle and grit and love, and a family coming out stronger on the other side. It is a love letter to the relationsip bewteen parents and children everywhere – with the added bonus of some really amazing reporting on history, society and presidents.

 

The Power of a Plastic Cat

Today is my son’s 11th birthday. This past weekend we had a small party for him and 4 of his buddies. This was huge. For the past two years he has not wanted a party – too many people, too much unknown, too many potential triggers. His solution to avoiding all of that was opting out of a party when he turned 9 and again when he turned 10.

This year he asked to do “something fun, but not crowded or loud” with “only 4 friends.” We talked it through and came up with pizza & cake at home, nerf gun battles at the park, and seeing the movie Middle School at the theater with the reclining seats (where you can reserve your seat thereby assuring he doesn’t have to sit next to anybody he does not know). It was a full and fun afternoon. There was joy and silliness and so much laughter. I haven’t seen or heard my son that happy in a very long time. It was soul stirring.

There is so much to be thankful for when I look back on that party, but I know without doubt that when I think about it years from now the one thing I will remember most is a plastic sun catcher shaped like a cat that one of the boys gave to my son as a part of his gift.

My son uses “cuddly animals” as a way to self soothe. When he is overwhelmed, if he can pet, or look at, or sometimes even just talk about kittens or puppies, he can calm his anxieties. I wasn’t aware that this was something he had shared with any of his friends, but he did. At least one of the 4 boys who came to the party knows about this – and he went out of his way to make a gift that would make my son happier and calmer on bad days. This thoughtful 10 year old boy made my son a plastic sun catcher shaped like a cat. When my son removed it from the wrapping, his friend said “I thought this would make you happy.” I don’t think my son has ever received a more thoughtful gift.

Never has something so small meant so very much.

Standing at the “Gates of Hope”

“Hope.” By Victoria Safford.

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, all of us, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.

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If Not Here, Then Where?

I’ve lost count of the number of hours I have spent in the waiting rooms of doctors, therapists, and specialists in the past 2 years. I would wager that the total number is well into the hundreds. Hour, upon hour, upon hour has ticked away while I sat waiting for my son.

Some of those waiting rooms are crowded, busy, and unpleasant. Some are spacious, peaceful, and comfortable. All of those waiting rooms have other parents, waiting in chairs for a son or daughter to finish whatever therapy lies on the other side of the waiting room door. Often, those waiting parents also have other children with them – these are the siblings for whom sitting in a waiting room is as common as hanging out at a sibling’s sports practice. Almost always, my daughter is sitting with me in those waiting rooms.

Just this week,  my daughter and I were sitting in the waiting room of my son’s psychologist. It long ago became our habit for my daughter to get as much homework done as possible while we are waiting. On this particular day she was tired, and the homework felt overwhelming, and she was coming up with every excuse possible to avoid having to do the work. She and I went back and forth half a dozen times, before I finally told her I didn’t actually care if the work got done, but if it didn’t she was the one who would have to face her teacher the next day. That was enough to get her to finally buckle down and do the work.

As I settled back into my chair and picked up my phone to check my email, I noticed the one other mother in the waiting room surveying me with a look that seemed to ooze disapproval. What was the source of the disapproval? My daughter and I weren’t arguing – it was a conversation fairly typical of mothers and 4th graders everywhere. So I would think that was not the issue. It could have been the fact that I told my almost 10 year old that she needed to take responsibility for her actions, or it could have been that we were even having that conversation in a waiting room. It could have been I was projecting and she didn’t care at all. I’ll likely never know. After I vented my frustration to my husband via text message, I took a deep breath and focused on my phone. My first rule of survival in these waiting rooms long ago became “keep your head down.”

Several minutes later, I heard the boy who was with the woman ask a quick series of questions…”Why is he still in there? What’s taking so long? Why does he have to keep coming here? Is it because of what happened at school? Is he going to be ok?” To which the woman replied, “Shhh. Not here. There are other people around.”

Not here. There are other people around.

Not here – in the waiting room of an office that is shared space between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

There are other people around – one other mother and one other sibling, who were also waiting for a child on the other side of the closed door.

If not here, then where? And if not in front of these people, then who?

Maybe I shouldn’t be keeping my head down in those waiting rooms. Maybe I should be looking around and really see the other parents who are very much like me in many ways. And maybe I should be inviting conversation, fostering a safe space, and creating community.

If not here, then where? And if not in front of these people, then who? There is no “maybe.”

There is so much power in naming the struggle – every time I type or say some version of “my son has level one ASD, an anxiety disorder, and a panic disorder”, it becomes a little less frightening. I am actively fighting stigma online and in (most parts!) of my “real” life, but by not saying something (anything!) to another parent in a waiting room, I am perpetuating stigma.

I don’t know if I will even come across that other mother again. But she could really be any other mother (father, grandparent, guardian) in any other waiting room. So this is my vow to her…

I vow to not keep my head down in those waiting rooms anymore. I vow to be open to conversation. I vow to create safe space for other parents who are so very much like me. I vow to foster community. I vow to be a stigma fighter all of the time.

That is my vow, and I challenge every person reading this to make it your vow as well. Join me and be a sigma fighter.

Because I never again want to hear, “Shhh. Not here. There are other people around.”

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