Deadlines and I have a complicated relationship. I rely on them. I defy them. I often played chicken with them in college. But even by the most generous, Muslim Standard Time plus CPT adjustment-based standards, this column is late. I had several ideas for this month’s column, including the reactions to the Douglas school shooting and transitioning from Black History Month to Women’s History Month as a person who is both Black and female.
But the reason why this column has late taught me a lesson I’d like to share.
My son is non-verbal and autistic. It’s not easy for me to know what he’s thinking or feeling. When he’s distressed, I wouldn’t say I improvise, because improvisation isn’t nearly as scary. So, when my darling son went completely off the rails a week and a half ago, I wasn’t sure if he was ill, bored, or if his development was taking a turn I couldn’t handle without professional help.
What I knew is that my sweet and rambunctious little boy turned it up to 11 and pulled the knob off. I was running out of ideas, patience and carbs for stress eating.
My child has always been active, curious and rarely shy about expressing himself. He’s eager to meet new people, ready to put your hand firmly on the thing he wants now and will boldly go anywhere but the bathtub. However, his brain and muscles haven’t always cooperated with his plans. We must tailor his activities, so he’s not overwhelmed. For the past 10 days, however, his brain and muscles haven’t cooperated with my plans, either.
While I rescued my child for the fourth time before coffee, it hit me. I was scrambling to extract my child from his dangerous new pastimes. But, he was exploring his newfound capabilities. His years of therapy and individual lessons were paying off with greater strength and agility, and he was using that to try things he couldn’t before.
He’s spent years looking at other children on the playground doing things he could only watch. But on the cold and rainy days of February, he could now climb, so climb he did.
Fear of Change is Not the Answer
As an increasingly connected world, we’re also discovering some troubling behavior. We can now hurt each other physically and emotionally from miles away. We’ve sent killing machines to the other side of the world and meddled in elections without needing to ever show up in a polling place.
We can gather virtually in numbers far larger than any building could hold. We’ve banded together as survivors of violence and hounded people who were misidentified as wrongdoers. We’ve created ways to support each other and ways to reinforce the worst of human failings. We can now connect, communicate and transport just about anything at speeds that were the stuff of science fiction 50 years ago.
And, these systems aren’t just available to the mega-rich. About half the world’s population has some Internet access.
The possibilities of the power now available to so many should concern us. It’s understandable that people might worry about the impact of widespread Internet access or social media and think that limiting access to these new tools is the answer. Some people may imagine that without the new tools, we can retreat to a gentler, simpler time.This is a crowd that sometimes denounces the evils of social media from their Facebook accounts, so I’m not sure how to process that. Older relatives of mine seem to think that the lack of Internet access would prompt people to be kinder to one another. They’re not sure what to make of the fact that I’ve gotten hate mail in paper and electronic forms.
For good for ill, we’ve not changed much in the last fifty years. We just have faster and fancier tools to be ourselves with. And the fear of the new won’t stop time.
What We Need: More Discernment
When trying to not tear my hair out over my son’s behavior, I would contemplate several options: Doing a serious remodeling project on the house so there’s nothing to fall off or get stuck in and moving to a Hobbit-hole were my favorites. Once I’d gotten more than three hours sleep, I’d realized that limiting my son’s ability to climb, even if it were possible, misses the point.
He doesn’t need to not be able to climb. He needs to recognize that there are good and bad places to climb, and he needs to be careful when he does climb. What he needs is not less ability, but more discernment.
More discernment won’t prevent drones from ever being used to hurt people, but well-informed people will question their use. Learning about propaganda won’t prevent attempts to manipulate people, but we will be less likely to become the instrument of people who don’t have our best interests at heart. Being cautious will help us share news that will help our friends, followers, or fans make good decisions.
Learning to respond to poorly informed views with kindness and better data might not convince the devoted, but we can make it easier on those caught in the middle. We can’t catch every questionable study or news story but setting it aside for a quick search or a careful reading will make us all a little smarter.
If we counter bad information and reasoning when we see it, the power we have to communicate won’t be so easily turned against us.
I’ve decided not to move our family to a Hobbit-hole for now. The Tolkien-inspired housing market is completely out of control. I’m not sure what will work. But I’m looking at special needs gymnastics courses. I’m talking with his physical therapists to find ways to help him develop better balance.
We plan to return to a playground that was a bit too challenging for him last year. We’ve talked about good and bad ideas for physical activity indoors. As he finds appropriate ways to use his strength, the inappropriate ways should hopefully lose some of their appeal. I can’t turn him into a child who will sit and read quietly all day, but I can help him use his new strength in ways that may create happy memories for him.
We can’t turn this world into one we had before horseless carriages and the Internet, but we can make our smaller world a better one.
Nakia Jackson is a mom, musician and writer. From her first (terrible) story at age six to the ad copy and background music she sells to keep the family in yarn and Cheerios, creating has been her life’s breath. When not creating, Nakia enjoys family excursions designed to show the world that normal is merely a setting on the washing machine. Her column appears in the last week of the month on Altmuslim.