On Healing 5/28/2007: Sam, you teach us so much: There are lessons to be learned from a 7-year-old.

Dear Sam,

Happy 7th birthday! It’s hard to believe that seven years have passed since I first wrote to my grandson in this column, on the occasion of your birth. I wanted to welcome you into this world, tell you how much you are loved, and share some of my thoughts about what it means to have a life.

Over the next 12 months, you became an adorable and playful infant. But 14 months later you stopped babbling. I wrote then about your diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder, which meant you are on the autism spectrum.

Much has changed in all of our lives since that frightening day over five years ago. As predicted, you didn’t speak until you were nearly 4 years old, but you became pretty fluent in sign language. Even without words, everyone could tell how sweet and loving you were. And with the help of lots of therapies, you have done remarkably well. Now your speech is almost perfect, and I love our conversations. You don’t get overstimulated as often, and your reaction is better controlled when you do. You seem to love almost everything you try: golf, wrestling, swimming, even new activities in specialized preschool.

Last week, just before your birthday party, you called me with such excitement to say you’d learned how to ride a two-wheeler. Right on the heels of starting to play baseball! Sam, I learned to ride my two-wheeler right before my 7th birthday, too, and that was also when I fell in love with baseball. It brings back fond memories of my past and happy images of your future.

As for your future, you have been doing so well in school that your parents have decided to enroll you in the neighborhood public school for first grade. All of us are a bit nervous. We are worried about how you will adapt to a new situation, and whether your social skills are good enough for you to fit in with the other kids.

I have learned, however, that all worry is about the future. Living in the future with a worried mind is not living in the present, and often missing the life we have right now.

Sam, children can teach grown-ups important lessons long forgotten, and one of the most important is to live moment to moment. Maybe you remember the day, a couple of years ago, that you and I spent two hours wandering around your neighborhood looking for elephant droppings. I told you it was the only way we could know for sure if there were elephants around. We must have looked under hundreds of rocks and piles of leaves, speculating where those elephants might have done their business! I started that day pretty cranky, but after our adventure we were two happy boys.

The other day, you taught your mother an important lesson. You had gotten frustrated with one of your games and began to storm upstairs. Your mother told me she followed you up the stairs, hoping to either nurture or distract you. But you turned around, held her face in your hands and said: “Mommy, sometimes even you can’t fix everything.”

And that, Sam, is a profound statement that many mothers and fathers need to hear. Not only couldn’t your mother fix your frustration – you didn’t want her to. You wanted to figure it out yourself. Many parents work so hard to fix their children’s problems that today’s kids are less resilient than previous generations.

Our children have much to teach us. Funny thing is, most of us don’t realize that – we’re too caught up trying to teach them.

By the way, I think June is the month of the great suburban elephant migration, so we might just want to check out the neighborhood again.

Happy birthday, sweetheart

Love, Pop

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