Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Last Christmas, we gave Alex several gifts we thought he would like, but once he opened them, he didn’t show much interest in them. Since he rarely offers suggestions about gifts he would like to have, we use our best judgment in selecting items we think he would enjoy, based upon his interests. However, we apparently don’t always hit the mark in our choices, or so we may think at the time. After he left these gifts untouched for a couple of weeks. I put them in a plastic storage bin in his bedroom, hoping eventually he’d discover them. After ignoring them for nearly a year, he finally started pulling these hidden treasures out of the storage bin and seemed to find them entertaining, studying the trivia cards in the Brainiac Box and Big Brain Academy game, reading The Old Farmer's Almanac for 2011, and writing on the Magna Doodle he’d received last Christmas. In addition, a gift that I thought would be a big hit with him, Loopz, an electronic game that makes musical sounds, finally received the positive response I’d anticipated when I bought it for him because he has really enjoyed playing with it the past few weeks.

Similarly, this Christmas, Alex didn’t seem terribly pleased with the various gifts I had tracked down for him in hopes of getting something that he would find engaging. After giving the new gifts a cursory look, he returned to the old and familiar, eschewing the new. Like parents whose small children favor the box over the special gift that came inside it, I felt disappointed and frankly a little hurt by his reaction. On the other hand, as Ed pointed out to me, perhaps in a few days or weeks or even months, he’ll discover these gifts—as he did the ones from last year—and suddenly be enthralled with them. I’m not anticipating that reaction any time soon, though. Yesterday, he brought one of his all-time favorite Christmas gifts, a rare one in that he had actually requested it, a graphing calculator he received about ten years ago. Through the years, this calculator has been one of his prized possessions. In fact, we even used it as a way to make him behave by threatening to take away his graphing calculator if he didn’t cooperate with us, and this worked like a charm. When he brought me the beloved calculator yesterday, he told me that he needed a new one because this one didn’t work. A bit surprised by how calmly he was handling the loss of one of his favorite gadgets, I tried to reassure him that maybe it just needed new batteries. Unfortunately, Alex’s assessment was accurate; the calculator was broken and needed to be replaced. He nicely asked me to find another one online and buy it for him, knowing that he had received money for Christmas. A quick online check revealed that our local K-Mart had one just like his old one in stock, and he was delighted when I brought home the replacement, unfazed by the loss of his old calculator. He spent most of the rest of the day, entering data in the new graphing calculator and studying the instruction manual. How I wish that I could solve all of his problems that quickly and easily!

The more I think about Alex’s reaction to his gifts the past two Christmases, the more I begin to suspect that he is overwhelmed by his gifts and doesn’t know how to react, other than to withdraw from them and seek out the comfort of the old and familiar. Like many with autism, he often prefers the predictable and the routine. He can only deal with the new gifts when he is ready, sometimes saving them until he feels comfortable. Once he discovers these gifts, he finally appreciates the thought behind them or at least realizes their value as fun ways to pass time. Moreover, a select few, like the graphing calculator, become gifts that he savors over time. With that in mind, I’ll leave out his gifts of Christmas 2011 for another week, and then I’ll put them in the storage bin in his room, waiting and hoping that eventually he’ll enjoy them.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.” Psalm 62:5

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Stocking Stuffers

A few days ago, I finished up my Christmas shopping by purchasing stocking stuffers for Ed and Alex. To me, this task offers a fun challenge as I try to find clever and inexpensive gifts small enough to fit into their Christmas stockings that hang from our fireplace mantel. Since Alex doesn’t particularly like candy and can only eat foods that are gluten-free and casein-free (essentially free of wheat flour and milk products), most of the typical Christmas candies are not on his diet. I got him some snowman Peeps marshmallow candies and some Kraft marshmallows in the holiday shapes of pale green Christmas trees and pale red stars. He’s come to expect a copy of the new Farmer’s Almanac in his stocking every year, so I have one of those to tuck in the top, along with a pocket-sized puzzle book. In addition, the success of a multi-ink pen from last year led me to find two different (true colors and pastels) four-in-one ballpoint Bic pens. I have a feeling those may be among his favorite gifts this year, considering all the list writing he’s been doing lately. We shall see.

In the tradition of stocking stuffers, where a variety of small items are gathered together in one place, I thought I’d write about a few small topics and gather them together into one. Besides sharing the contents of Alex’s Christmas stocking, I wanted to share a link [Click here] to an online Business Week article whose title alone intrigued me: “Wal-Mart Joining Amazon to Promote Rage-Free Packaging.” Apparently these two major retailers, who happen to be among Alex’s favorites, have encouraged manufacturers to limit packaging that is not only wasteful but also causes a condition known as “wrap rage,” a frustration from trying to open the package. While “wrap rage” sounds like something only children with autism might experience because of their fine motor and sensory issues, apparently typical people suffer from this malady, as well. When Alex was younger, I often took his gifts out of the hard plastic shells before he ever saw them so that he could open them more easily; in addition, I would put batteries in his toys so that he didn’t have to wait for me to figure out how to open the childproof battery compartment. This year, I have decided to return to the good old days when Santa simply laid out Alex’s gifts beside the fireplace instead of wrapping them. Since he hasn’t been terribly patient lately, I figure that saves him a step before he can actually get to the gifts. Besides, that saves me from wrapping them, something he doesn’t seem to appreciate currently. I guess that’s my version of “rage-free packaging.” I have my fingers crossed that this works.

Another Christmas task besides not wrapping Alex’s gifts that I decided to forego this year was sending Christmas cards. When Alex was little, I was really good about taking the annual picture of him in front of the Christmas tree or the “stockings hung by the chimney with care,” but as he got older and less interested in having his picture taken, the novelty of that tradition faded. However, this year, I tried something new as I made a JibJab video with the three of us, and I think it turned out pretty amusing. [Click here for the video, which becomes our Christmas card this year.] My friends who have already seen the video have commented that telling Alex and me apart is tricky in the cartoon hats. Because his build is identical to Ed’s and some of his features are more Ed’s than mine, I don’t think of him as looking that much like me. However, dressed as elves (Alex’s nemesis, as I described in “Santa’s Spies” [Click here]), we clearly have a family resemblance. Making this video certainly beats trying to convince young adult Alex to stand still in front of the tree and smile. Plus, I don’t have to make a run to the post office when I’m done; sharing holiday greetings over the Internet certainly makes life easier.

And so, on this Christmas Day, I wish for everyone, but especially those families whose lives like ours have been touched by autism, peace, hope, and joy as we love these children and pray for their healing. May God’s greatest gift, His Son Jesus Christ, remind us how much He loves us.

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” Luke 2:13-14

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Twelve Days

With only a few days to go until Christmas, I'll admit that I don't have a single gift wrapped and I have yet to bake any cookies. In fact, I even have a few more gifts to buy. While I am usually very organized, somehow this year, I'm not as ready for the holidays as I'd like to be. Although I'm sure I'll pull things together in the next few days, I decided to recycle one of my blog posts from last year about some of Alex's favorite things in one of his favorite formats, the numbered list. In re-reading this list, I realize that despite the various changes he makes, in many ways Alex's interests, particularly when it comes to numbers and games stays the same. Among the gifts I need to wrap for him include a math calendar, an almanac, and a calculator, and I hope he finds the joy in these gifts that he has in previous years.

Alex’s Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Alex found with glee

Twelve-month calendars,
Eleven almanacs,
Ten lists in notebooks,
Nine calculators,
Eight game shows to watch,
Sevens on slot machines,
Six Google searches,
NASCAR’s 5 car,
Four record temps,
Three precise clocks,
Two slip-on shoes,
And pi digits to infinity.

Merry Christmas to all, especially to those children with autism who make our lives more interesting with their unique takes on the world!

“So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” Matthew 7:11

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two Decades

On Friday, Alex turned twenty years old. While reaching this two-decade mark should be a cause for celebration, his recent issues with anxiety prompted Ed and me to keep his birthday as low key as possible. Of course, we have never made a big deal of his birthday for fear of overwhelming him (hence, no clowns or magicians), but this year we were especially careful to avoid anything that might agitate him. Carefully selecting a birthday card, wrapping paper, and gifts that were not likely to upset him, we hoped that he would be able to enjoy his special day. I even decided to forgo getting special number candles since he informed us the other day that he wished he were two years old again. I could picture him hurling the zero candle to pretend that he really was two instead; in fact, we decided against any candles on his birthday cake since fire and fiery temper didn’t seem to be a good mix. As far as birthdays go, this one ranked right up there with the one my mom had in her thirties when she had to pick up all the dog droppings in the yard because our dog had worms or my thirty-fifth birthday when I had a thyroid biopsy that involved having a needle stuck in my neck a dozen times to rule out cancer. Although Ed and I were disappointed that Alex’s apparently jangled nerves interfered with his ability to enjoy his birthday, I heard three songs on the radio that day that especially resonated with me and reaffirmed the depth of our love for him.

I’ve always loved the haunting beauty of the Beatles’ song “The Long and Winding Road,” and as I listened to it again on Alex’s birthday, some of its lyrics held special meaning for me, thinking about how we have striven to help Alex overcome autism that would isolate him from us and everyone else:

“Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried. And still they lead me back to the long, winding road. You left me standing here a long, long time ago. Don’t leave me waiting here. Lead me to your door.”

Another one of my favorite songs is Garth Brooks’ version of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” which I also listened to on Alex’s birthday. Because of Alex’s sensory defensiveness, he never initiates physical affection, and I often wonder if he truly knows how much we love him. The lyrics of this song made me think again of how we would do anything to convey our unconditional love for Alex:

“There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do, go to the ends of the earth for you. Make you happy, make your dreams come true to make you feel my love.”

As Ed and I pull together in our concerns for Alex, we share a frustration of wondering whether there is something we should be doing, something we shouldn’t be doing, or whether we just need to ride out this current phase patiently. Since the latter is usually the best option, we reassure each other with faith that Alex will get better. In the meantime, I’m grateful for Ed’s love and support, and some of the lyrics of Blake Shelton’s new song, “God Gave Me You” express how thankful I feel knowing that I can always depend on him:

“But you stay right here beside me and watch as the storm blows through, and I need you. ‘Cause God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt. And for when I think I lost my way, there are no words here left to say; it’s true, God gave me you.”

While we wait for this current annoying phase to pass, we pray for patience and wisdom, and we pray for Alex’s healing so that he can enjoy being twenty more than he enjoyed turning twenty.

“All who have reached their twentieth birthday must give this sacred offering to the Lord.” Exodus 30:14

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Avoiding Annoyance

One of my guilty pleasure pastimes is watching old reruns of the television series Sex and the City. In one episode Carrie wrote a column about “Secret Single Behaviors” after accidentally discovering that her boyfriend Aiden used Rogaine because his hair was thinning. Her own “SSB,” as she abbreviated it, was not talking for an hour after she came home, something Aiden needed to learn to respect. To use Carrie’s frequent catch phrase, “I couldn’t help but wonder…,” and I began thinking about what secret behaviors autism moms use to cope with the various aspects of our somewhat unusual lives. Some of these actions help us maintain a level of sanity, but most probably revolve around avoiding annoying our overly sensitive kids. As I catch myself doing some of these Secret Autism Mom Behaviors, or SAMB’s, I realize that most people with typical kids have no idea the things we do to keep harmony in our households. Therefore, I decided to share my secrets and reveal some of my SAMB’s to give a glimpse of a day in the life of one autism mom.

Since Alex, like many people with autism, relies upon routines (Think of Raymond in Rain Man insisting that the syrup must be on the table before the pancakes arrive.), we try to maintain a predictable schedule. Currently, he wants to eat lunch at noon and dinner at 5:00, and if food isn’t on the table by those set times, he’s likely to be agitated. To reassure him that things are remaining on schedule, we make sure to turn on the microwave before mealtimes so that he hears the oven running and knows we’re in the process of preparing a meal, keeping him calm. I’ve also learned not to set the table until the last minute because as soon as he hears plates and silverware clinking as they hit the table, like Pavlov’s dogs when the bell rang, Alex is ready to eat. Another one of Alex’s routines is list making. To avoid having our house become a cluttered mess of paper emblazoned with Alex’s scrawl, I must engage in a SAMB that Alex cannot know. Since he places value upon his written work, he would probably like to keep every list he’s ever made. To prevent him from becoming annoyed with my need for organization, I sneak his lists to a place where he can’t find them. If he doesn’t seem to miss them after about a week, I hide them in the recycling bin among the old newspapers. So far, he hasn’t caught on to my regular purging of his paperwork, so I’ve kept him from being annoyed with me about that.

To avoid disturbing Alex’s overly sensitive hearing, I’ve learned a few tricks so that he can’t hear what I’m doing. For example, I’m always concerned that my flushing the toilet early in the morning before I go to work might wake him and set him off. Therefore, I listen for the furnace, air conditioner, or humidifier to go on before I flush so that those mechanical noises can drown out the sound of running water. Another thing that bothers Alex currently is people talking on the phone. I’m not certain why this irritates him, but we never answer the phone and simply wait for the answering machine to pick up the call. If someone other than a telemarketer is trying to reach us, we sneak off to a phone where he can’t hear us to return the call. If we want to make phone calls, we do the same thing, hiding in the basement or lurking upstairs in our bedroom with the door closed. As far as Alex knows, we never use the phone, so he probably wonders why we even have one. Probably the most secret of my secret autism mom behaviors is coughing. Alex has a fit if anyone coughs, worried that they’re terribly sick and going to get laryngitis. Ed and I have learned that the only way any of us can get any sleep when one of us has a cold with a cough is to sleep downstairs where Alex can’t hear the coughing. Moreover, we have learned to cover accidental coughs by pretending to sneeze, moving chairs to make noises, etc. We are also pretty good at escaping to rooms where he can’t hear us cough. A recent cold that left me with a cough found me running to the basement, garage, front porch, or our bedroom, where I muffled my cough with a pillow. If all that sounds ridiculous, I must confess that sometimes when I’m driving alone in my car, I cough just because I can do it without fear of reproach. Perhaps that’s the oddest of my SAMB’s because I derive a strange sense of satisfaction from coughing uninhibitedly, not worried about any consequences. As I think about all the different ways we try to avoid annoying Alex, I pray that he will become more tolerant of others’ behavior so that we can relax and not worry that he will get upset over the small things in life. Cough, cough.

“God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” Ecclesiastes 12:14

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Autism Articles

As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I do quite a bit of autism research, always looking for something that might help Alex. Three recent online articles caught my attention with their interesting titles, and yet I found they raised more questions than they answered. The first article, “The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids,” published in Scientific American, [Click here.] focuses upon the problems of accurately testing children with autism. The author notes, “Researchers have long considered the majority of those affected by autism to be mentally retarded. Although the numbers cited vary, they generally fall between 70-80 percent of the affected population.” The article goes on to explain that traditional intelligence testing involves social knowledge and verbal skills, two common weaknesses in people with autism. For example, the evaluator may ask the child what to do if he/she found a sealed, stamped, addressed envelope on the sidewalk; this requires some social knowledge to realize that one should put it in a mailbox. A language-based test question might be something like, “What do a pencil and a paintbrush have in common?” Analogies such as these are often difficult for children with autism to understand and explain. The author of the article, who has two younger brothers with autism, gives an example of a question used to evaluate her brother in which he was asked what was an appropriate question to ask someone whom he found out was getting married. His “failed” response: “What kind of cake are you having?” [Actually, I think that’s a very good answer!] Considering the obstacles autism poses, the author suggests that nonverbal testing, such as those that measure pattern recognition and logic, be used more often to measure more accurately the potential and skills of a person with autism. I totally agree with her point and wonder why nonverbal testing is NOT used more often. Why are children with autism tested in ways that they are bound to be unsuccessful?

Another article I read this week entitled “’Sensitive Santa’ Meets Kids With Autism,” which appeared on the ABC News website, [Click here.] describes how some malls around the U.S. are offering special times for families who have children with autism to shop. Understanding the sensory issues many of these children face, the organizers accommodate the special needs by dimming lights, lowering the volume of background music, and providing an understanding Santa for the children to visit. In addition, they offer an informational pamphlet for the families so that they can prepare the children ahead of time as to what to expect. The organizer of “Sensitive Santa” at one mall commented, “We will continue to do it because obviously there’s a huge demand.” While the thoughtfulness behind this kind gesture of allowing families with autism to enjoy Christmas shopping is wonderful, I wonder why no one has questioned why so many children today have autism, making these special events with “huge demand” necessary. Certainly autism awareness and acceptance of these children is commendable, but researchers need to work harder on finding treatment and cures so that “Sensitive Santa” days at the mall are not needed. When I was listening to my car radio the other day, I heard a report about how successful “Sensitive Santa” days have been around the country this holiday season. A psychologist being interviewed about Christmas shopping with children who have autism recommended giving them sunglasses and earplugs to wear to help them deal with sensory overload. In addition, she advised parents of children with autism to “plan ahead.” While her ideas were helpful, I found myself laughing out loud at how obvious this suggestion is because anyone who has a child with autism knows that our lives are constantly about planning ahead yet expecting the unexpected. Most autism parents could train the military on covert operations because we can get our kids out of a crowded public place in record time, should they have meltdowns. We learn those survival tactics early through experience.

The third article on my reading list this week entitled “Living Life With Autism: Has Anything Really Changed?” appeared on the Forbes website. [Click here.] This feature discussed the issue of children with autism reaching adulthood and the concerns regarding their employability. The statistics quoted in the article should startle people with how overwhelming the number of adults with autism needing services is likely to be. Currently, an estimated 1 to 1.5 million adults with autism live in the U.S. today, and the articles states that, “in the next decade alone, 500,000 children with autism will come of age.” The estimated cost of taking care of one person with autism is $3.2 million dollars over a lifetime. Moreover, the unemployment rate for adults with autism, based on 2009 data, is approximately 66%, but other statistics show that a better estimate is 80-85% of adults with autism are unemployed. In this article, however, an optimistic outlook indicates more job opportunities for adults with autism, citing three examples of places where the employees with autism have been successful in making greeting cards or testing software or farming. Certainly, these ideas are encouraging, but I question how many of the increasing number of people with autism could even do these jobs. Nonetheless, a spokesperson for Autism Speaks who is quoted in this article, Peter Bell, encourages parents who have children with autism that many job opportunities will be available, advising, “…the sky’s the limit. Always be open-minded. Things are changing.” Despite his positive spin on the job situation, I think the answer to the article title’s question is probably no, considering the unemployment figures given and the limited job resources available. On the other hand, the increasing number of people with autism has changed, yet not enough is being done to help these people get better so that they can work. At a cost of more than $3 million dollars per person, action had better be taken quickly to remedy this situation that goes beyond better testing, “Sensitive Santas,” and platitudes about how people with autism can do anything. Awareness and accommodation are good, but a concerted effort to find answers about curing autism must be pursued.

“You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’” Job 42:4

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Special Symbols

As I put the ornaments on our Christmas tree over the weekend, I realized what an eclectic collection we have acquired during the twenty-three years of our marriage. Nearly all of our ornaments are gifts we have received from each other, family, or friends, and I have received a number of them as Christmas gifts from my students over the years. In addition, we have some remnants from my childhood Christmas trees—ornaments that have sentimental value, most of which came from the dime store. Our Christmas tree reflects our interests through the ornaments depicting various sports, our favorite NASCAR drivers and their cars, apples as a nod to our chosen profession of teaching, as well as several Scarlett O'Hara figurines from my favorite book, Gone With the Wind. The most precious ornaments, however, are the Hallmark Keepsakes that have pictures of Alex at various ages: decked out for preschool at 4, wearing a cowboy hat at 5, and raking leaves at 8, to name a few. Keeping watch over our tree is a brunette angel tree topper who wears her hair like I wear mine, so she seems like a kindred spirit. While other trees may be more beautiful than ours, I love that our Christmas tree represents our life and reminds us of the people who care about us.

After finishing decorating our tree, I began to think about what kinds of ornaments would best represent stages of Alex’s life and the people other than family and friends who have helped him. If I were putting together a special symbol tree for Alex, his ornaments would reflect the various therapies that have made him better.

To represent his beloved doctor, who supervised his special diet, nutritional supplements, chelation therapy, and cranial therapy, I would choose an apple to represent the good health she helped him maintain for more than ten years while he was under her care.

As a symbol of the developmental optometrist who helped Alex with using his eyes together better, improving his balance so that he could go up and down stairs easily and stop tipping his head to look at things, I would select a pair of glasses as a reminder of those Alex wore briefly while he did visual therapy.

An ABC ornament would serve as a reminder of his speech therapist, who worked with him to take all the written words he had learned from reading at an early age and put them into spoken language so that he could be understood instead of being frustrated because he couldn’t talk.

For her loving patience and creativity in helping Alex to use his hands more adeptly in fine motor tasks, a hand with a heart would represent Alex’s occupational therapist, who often convinced him to do tasks he didn’t like by promising to teach him French words, something he did enjoy.

A musical note would symbolize his music therapist, who not only somehow taught seemingly rhythm-impaired Alex how to clap on beat but also engaged him with country music and jazz that he knew Alex loved, improving his social skills and confidence along the way.

Most importantly, Alex’s Christmas tree would be a testimony to the healing God has given him, represented by the ornaments Faith, Hope, and Love. Although autism has presented obstacles, these spiritual gifts have blessed our lives and enabled us to find peace despite upset, joy despite frustration, and strength despite fear. Through the people God has brought across our path, Alex has made progress, giving us hope that he will continue to improve so that we can continue to celebrate just how far he’s come.

“And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with His mighty hand.” Exodus 13:16

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Santa's Spies

Why is it that kids are often on their worst behavior ahead of Christmas? Is it the excitement about the holidays? Are they affected by the shorter hours of daylight? Do they pick up on the stress of the adults in their lives who are busily trying to check off all the items on their too long to-do lists? Whatever the reason or reasons, I muster all the patience I have to deal with the changes I see every December in Alex and my seventh grade students. Children who have spent the entire year on Santa’s “Nice” list suddenly start acting like those on the “Naughty” list instead. For Alex, the hustle and bustle of the days leading up to Christmas are intensified by the anticipation of his birthday that falls nine days before the day we celebrate Jesus’s birthday. Knowing this, I always brace myself for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, waiting for Alex to misbehave.

When I was little, my mom used to threaten my siblings and me with elf warnings to make us behave ahead of Christmas. If we were acting up—usually bickering amongst ourselves—she would look toward a window and say, “I hope Santa’s elves weren’t looking in the window just now.” The concern that Santa might not leave us any presents was usually enough to make us straighten up right away—at least until we temporarily forgot about those nosy elves. Apparently this is an old mother’s tale because I know other kids who grew up like me, believing that Santa’s elves were Peeping Toms in December. Someone very enterprising has made an entire industry on this concept, selling an elf doll and an accompanying book, The Elf on the Shelf for thirty bucks. Instead of looking in the windows, this elf sits on a shelf (hence, the name of the book) in the family home, watching the children’s behavior and reporting back to Santa every night. I would think that kids with some cleverness and gumption would take that elf doll and hide it in a closet or toy box so that he couldn’t tattle on them and risk ruining their Christmas morning. Of course, if kids buy into the words of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” they have to worry about the big man himself who “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “knows when you’re awake.” Moreover, “He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Aside from the creepiness of making Santa sound like a stalker, these lyrics, like the elf warnings, remind children that they need to behave, lest risking Santa’s wrath.

When Alex was younger and believed in Santa Claus, I followed my mom’s example and reminded him of elves looking in windows any time he misbehaved in December. Since Alex loved the idea of Santa, we allowed him to believe in him much longer than most children do. The added bonus to his buying into this kindly fictitious character was that he believed that the elves were keeping an eye on him, and I took full advantage of his naiveté. Not surprisingly, Alex developed a dislike for all elves, not just Santa’s. He didn’t like the Keebler cookie elves, hiding a metal container we had with their picture on it under our couch. In addition, the Rice Krispies cereal elves, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, each earned persona non grata status in our house. Alex especially disliked a bowl that had these three elves depicted in it, and he would turn it over to hide their faces, saying, “DON’T LIKE ELVES!” I guess he saw them as intruders in our home, traitors who would tell Santa of any of his misdeeds. I’d hate to think what he might have done to the elf doll and book, had we owned The Elf on the Shelf; I bet they would have wound up hidden under the couch, hanging out with the Keebler elves. Even though Alex developed an aversion to elves, I miss those younger days when he believed in magical characters and wanted to be on Santa’s good side. We still have that bowl with the Rice Krispies elves; I wonder if it still might have some of that magic left in it yet…

“Be careful to obey all my commands, so that all will go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and pleasing to the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 12:28