One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves, but rather the cardboard delivery box itself. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!
Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s HappyMeal toys.
1. Animals Assemble!: The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic. Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!
2. Researching Residences: Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.
3. Burgeoning Biomes: Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life! Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.
It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!
There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.
I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.
I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!
Breaking away from my more theologically oriented topics I normally focus on, today I need to discuss something that I cannot put off any longer. Has this blog made me power hungry? More importantly, am I trending toward megalomania through my writing endeavors on this blog? While it is may be safe to assume I am not a megalomaniac yet, I have my concerns about my past desire for power and control.
1. Obsession or passion?: Whenever I discover an interesting field of study I plunge my heart, mind, and soul into learning the entire subject and am quick to develop an adroitness to that subject. My OCD tendency brings me to the precipice of passion– where I choose between sanity or diving off the edge toward obsession– and seek mastery of a subject. This fine line between the inherent goodness of passion towards a field of study and the danger of obsession is a grave concern I have about whether I am trending toward megalomania with my writing.
2. Means to Go Down this Path: Along with my inherent natural tendency to fall prey to obsession I have the means to succumb to this darkness—experience with successful writing and free time. I finally pushed through the large world of publishing by getting an article published into a Catholic magazine. What made it official was that I actually got paid an honorarium! Back then I did not have the free time I have now so my means to achieve power and attaining notoriety has never been better.
3. Pen is Mightier than Sword: This metonymic adage seems to be truer with the passage of time. The inception of the Internet in the late 20th century and the burgeoning of social media allows the pen grow sharper and the sword duller. I am blessed to live in a country where the First Amendment grants the right to freedom of speech. My existence in a social milieu that encourages expression of thoughts leads to the temptation for power in pushing out as many publications and gaining as many followers. To be perfectly frank, I get a sense of happiness when I notice I gain a follower. It pleases me. But I am not satisfied long because I continue to seek to gain more and more prestige and power from the little blog I re-started to months’ ago. I need to beware of wielding one of the greatest weapons of all-time—power of print! If I am not aware of this peril I may plummet to a pitfall I will struggle to escape from.
Despite my pessimistic language about me teetering on the brink of megalomania I do have reason for hope.
1. Preparedness: My OCD may sometimes lead me toward obsessive and megalomaniac paths but this is a nice benefit to my personality and my autistic tendencies—I always am prepared. Hints at my propensity for organization and planning flashed up during my childhood. Even when playing board game I have a certain readiness about me. For example, whenever my wife and I play the cooperative game Pandemic I usually don the role of the contingency planner. My recognition of my leaning toward megalomania is a good sign I can stop it from coming to fruition!
2. Allies: Being Catholic I have a wealth of resources and allies for me to draw upon for courage and endurance. After completing my first Marian consecration with my wife on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I have gained a new awareness that I may rely on my Holy Mother to bring me closer to God. Secondly, I have a plethora of examples of Catholic saints who struggled with the sin of pride just like myself. St. Paul and St. Jerome are the first that come to mind.
3. Weapons Against Wickedness: Together with my penchant for strategy and the saints to guide me in battle against megalomania, I have access to an arsenal of weapons guaranteed to defeat this pride I face—the sacraments! First the sacrament of Baptism I received as a baby erased the stain of original sin. I died to sin and became a new creation. Secondly, the sacrament of Confession is especially powerful in my battle against megalomania as through the priest Jesus Christ grants the forgiveness of sin and graces me with strength to carry on anew. The Eucharist is food that fees me on my journey and graces me with Jesus’s own Body and Blood to defeat any sinful inclination. The last sacrament I want to focus on is marriage. While the Eucharist is the most powerful and source of life of the Church, I experience the sacrament of marriage more frequently. My wife and helpmate toward holiness graces me with the gift of perspective and she is like the DC Comics superhero Wonder Woman since she is able to kill any prideful tendency of mine and puts me on the right path toward humility.
I think one of the main reason I love writing is that I am changed and I seek to change others as well. Going into writing this post I honestly thought I would end on a pessimistic and apocalyptic tone. Somehow I was changed through the process of writing and reflecting on my sources of strength: Jesus, Mary, the saints, sacraments, and my wife. Remember despite the seeming darkness in the world hope will always prevail!
My son was recently diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum last year and it is highly likely that I myself am on the spectrum as well. Having my son diagnosed has been both a relief and a trial. I received answers for why I think the way I do. Journeying with my son to embrace the joy of autism in addition to learning new opportunities to grow helped me learn and change as a father and spouse. Struggling to adapt to an ever-changing world following college and during my nascent marriage, I fought temptation after temptation to try to control nearly every aspect of my life. My OCD instead of being strength transformed into a fatal flaw. To be clear I have improved on this area of my life, however, it is a temptation that I need to slay each and every day!
Unless I utilize my daily strategies and pray daily my mind goes into a frenzied state. Distraction, irritability, low patience, struggle to let things go are just a few of the side effects of my condition. I am so detailed-oriented that I could tell you genus of every “tree in the forest” whether it be a “deciduous or a pine” I focus on the minutiae, the seemingly mundane details in life. Led in the right direction my penchant for noticing daily inconsistencies that escape others’ radar will be an amazing skill. During the last few years my search for control and order has led me to find not organized chaos [i.e. life] but rather chaotic order [a self-imposed hell]. C.S. Lewis states this type of mindset best, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
The best example that comes to mind to describe the difference between “organized chaos” and “chaotic order” is looking at a piece of art. If you stand closely to a painting and only focus on a portion of the painting it may seem chaotic. Yet by shifting our gaze from the portion to the whole of the painting this seeming chaos focuses into a beautiful organization—similar to the din of instruments in a symphony work to produce harmonious music! I need to pray constantly and rely on the help of others—my wife especially who is a special educator teacher!—give me fortitude to slay my controlling tendencies.
St. Jerome struggled mightily against the sin of anger and sought to have control over thing in his life similar to myself. In fact, Jerome had such a hot-temper that he even pissed off St. Augustine himself! Many times I exhibit similar qualities as the great bible scholar: tactlessness, judgmental words, and low patience. Something that has helped me in the past that I need to get back in the habit is praying the liturgy of the hours. St. Jerome’s most famous quip is, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. The divine office incorporates a salubrious mix of the psalms, saintly homilies, and Gospel readings to medicate my soul. Finally, I need to realize that autism is not a disability it is simply a part of whom I am and who my son is. The only defining characteristic I need to focus on it that I am a child of God and caretaker to my family. May anyone you know who is touched by autism realize that it is a gift from our Creator!