It took some time to notice, but both Sam and I agree the pandemic made our lives a little smaller.
Don’t get me wrong. There were things we did, things we neglected, routines we filled, habits we clung to, all that needed to change. And we stopped being busy for busy’s sake (what was that about?)
But ‘opting out’ also sets its own traps. A certain brittleness can settle in. We needed to stretch.
We’ve gone on cycling trips to help with that. Acadia National Park in 2021. Lake Champlain in 2022. But this year, we felt like we needed to nudge in another direction. After we were invited to a wedding in Phoenix, I got out the maps and started studying road trips. After all, Phoenix is just a few hours from California. As a good friend says, it’s just “map math.”
But I wasn’t planning a grand tour. This trip could reconnect us to our family’s origin story. Sam and his brother and sister were all born in Sacramento. Their father was principal tuba of the Sacramento Symphony until it went bankrupt. We lived there until Sam was 5 years old.
A road trip could help Sam see that he was a Californian and still belonged, if he wanted that option. We took the kids to California several times on summer trips. Sam went back to visit once on his own (his godparents live in Stockton) when he was in his 20s. But visiting a place for fun is different than visiting with an eye toward making a life there.
Many of us don’t always feel we have options and sometimes this seems more so for Sam. We planned this trip to explore his options,. The company he works for has a similar facility in Modesto. Touring the Modesto location could help him think about his future in new ways.
We had all the fun we could stay awake for in Phoenix, and headed out the next day. We took a nice, leisurely detour through Joshua Tree National Park (amazing!) and spent the night nearby.
Then the next day we headed to Modesto, stopping in Fresno. I suggested a stop at an underground garden. I thought it would be a world’s-largest-ball-of-twine-roadside-attraction type of stop, but it turned out to be a national landmark and completely charming.
The next day, we toured the Modesto facility and wouldn’t you know, Sam already knew some of the people working there. They didn’t have any openings right then, but that’s not how Sam thinks things through anyways.
In the month since, though, I’ve heard him say many, many times, “I have options now, Mom.”
Never, ever underestimate the power of a road trip.
My dad died Sunday.
It was so hard to let him go. He had three wishes: to die at home, to have no service, and to leave his body to the medical school. Those are tough promises to keep, but we did it.
A good friend told me a few months back that it would probably fall to me to write the obituary and I knew she was right. I penciled out his biography. Once in a while, I’d ask him a question or I’d listen carefully as he told someone a story. Bits and pieces got folded into his biography until all that was needed was the top and bottom that make it into an obituary.
Except that, as I’ve learned through the years as a reporter, a person’s family might know them, but they may not know the C.V. After several rounds of family edits, this was the final cut:
Donald Eugene Heinkel, longtime Windsor resident and devoted family man, died September 10. He was 88.
He was born April 20, 1935, in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, to Gerald Heinkel and Leocadia (nee Schesta) Heinkel, the second of five children. Although the family eventually settled in Rockford, Illinois, a large polio outbreak that began in 1937 in Chicago and northern Illinois sent him, along with his mother and siblings, to live near family in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, a tiny town on the western shores of Lake Michigan.
After he graduated high school and completed one year of college, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in Japan following the Korean War. When it was time to return stateside, he asked his commanding officer to sail home, since he had been on shore duty in Japan. He boarded the USS Yorktown and finished his tour of duty on the USS Midway where he worked filing weather reports.
He took advantage of the G.I. Bill to enroll at Marquette University. He met his wife, Carol, while driving for a laundry service where she also worked. They married November 7, 1959. He earned both a bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in biology at Marquette.
He then worked for two years as research technician. After realizing he’d be working from grant to grant, he went back to Marquette to enroll in dental school. In his final year of studies, he saw a notecard on a bulletin board. A small farming town in central Wisconsin needed a dentist. In 1970, the family moved to New London and he opened his practice on the second floor of a medical building. The practice grew and he moved to a spacious office building on the banks of the Embarrass River.
The central Wisconsin winters eventually proved too harsh. In 1978, he brought his family to Windsor, Colorado, where he bought an historic building on Fifth Street and did much of the rehabilitation work himself before opening a new practice to serve the fast-growing community.
A skillful woodworker, his first project—a lamp base that he couldn’t quite make square in 7th grade shop class—belied the artist within. As an adult, he took woodworking classes. In the first class, he built a twin bed that nearly every family member has slept in at some point, until he finally kept the bed for himself. His skill and creativity blossomed as he built furniture and decorative items from both classic patterns and his own designs, including tiny end tables assembled from scraps of Texas mesquite.
The move to Colorado also gave him a chance to join with other actors to form the Windsor Community Playhouse. He enjoyed playing a wide range of characters, from the terrifying and murderous Waldo Lydecker in Laura to the hilarious, hapless Father Virgil in Nunsense.
He sold the dental practice to Patrick Weakland and went to Saudi Arabia to practice for several years so that he and Carol could travel and then retire.
He taught himself to play guitar, and was an enthusiastic and accomplished golfer. He hit three holes-in-one during his amateur career, including sinking the same hole twice at Highland Hills and another during tournament play at Pelican Lakes. He also traveled to Scotland to play a round at St. Andrews, the home of golf, and to Augusta, Georgia, to volunteer at the Masters Tournament.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his brothers, Richard Heinkel and Dennis Heinkel; one nephew and one son-in-law. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Carol; four daughters, Peggy, Chris, Karen and Teresa; three sons-in-law; five grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; four step-grandchildren and their six children; his sisters, Mary Ann Scott, of Arizona, and Helena Wagner, of Hawaii; and sixteen nieces and nephews, more or less.
The family is deeply grateful for the help of Dr. Douglas Kemme, Dr. Daniel Pollyea at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, the Colorado State Anatomical Board, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the caring staff of Pathways of Northern Colorado and Homewatch Caregivers.
Adamson Life Celebration Home is in charge of arrangements. No service is planned. Donations may be made to the above organizations or to the charity of your choice. Or, in lieu of donations, make a toast to Don at the 19th hole.
Some bits and pieces from his biography ended up on the cutting room floor.
For example, the family didn’t want to emphasize his military service, because he saw that as a duty. No fanfare required.
In working other obituaries for the newspaper, I’ve sensed that when an individual leaves home–whether they enlisted, or entered college, or started their first full-time job–you often get a glimpse into their origin story.
At one point, my cousin got Dad talking about basic training in the Navy. Dad’s assigned spot for morning calisthenics landed him right in front of the drill sargeant. After the first day, he knew no good would come of it. Meanwhile, he was also offered a menial assignment. There were several bulletin boards around the base where posters and announcements needed to be swapped out and updated daily. Dad accepted the job. He said he knew it was a 20-minute chore, but he always made sure it lasted an hour or two, to spare him the morning calisthenics.
He told us more than once that he and a buddy went to the top of Mount Fuji. Finally, I got him to share details. They rode the train up. It was spectacular. When it was time to go home, they got on the wrong train down. The east side train had wayfinding signs in Japanese and English, to help the tourists. The west side did not. He and his buddy knew they were cutting it close. But they figured their way out and got back to base before they were awol.
I love those stories. They say so much about my dad. He was in the first year of a seminary college when he dropped out to enlist. What an incredible pivot, especially when you consider that the Korean War had just ended.
His life is full of these leap-and-the-net-will-appear moments. Growing up, I didn’t see him that way. But that’s the limit of your kid vision. Your dad is just always just there, punching the clock, supporting the family. Thank goodness we had the gift of time so all that richness could come through.
Being there, being present has incredible value, too. After Mark died, Dad was a touchstone for my kids. Sam adored his grandpa, and their weekly zoom chats. Family has helped him, and so have friends these past few days. His Born 2 Be friends at the riding stables have surrounded him. I’m grateful for our little village here. If you are so inclined, please consider Born 2 Be, and in my dad’s memory, during North Texas Giving Day.
Late last week, walking with Fang, we came upon a red-shouldered hawk that had just made a kill near Rayzor Ranch Park. She was standing in a field with the varmint in her talons. The varmint seemed a little too silky brown and big to be a rabbit. There are a few jackrabbits in what is left of the old Rayzor Ranch. Or it could’ve been a nutria from the nearby retention pond.
I have seen this a few times before, this waiting after a kill. Once, a hawk had landed on a rat running in our postage stamp of a backyard in California. We watched through the dining room window as the hawk waited patiently until it was safe to fly off with her prey.
But this time, a scissor tail from the park decided there was no room in the new ‘hood for a hawk. I watched in wonder as the scissor tail dove for the hawk’s back, triggering the raptor to drop its prey and lift off. The scissor tail rode on that hawk’s back for a few hundred yards before veering off and back to the park.
I knew why she was doing that. A few days before, we were walking to that park (Fang likes Rayzor Ranch Park a lot.) At one point, I was almost face to face with a pair of scissor tails fledging their young — three little guys who didn’t have their scissor feathers yet, but were flying pretty well. They had just regrouped in one of the younger trees in the park, so they were barely hidden. The parents had tucked wings and tail feathers around them, as they all wiggled and peeped and got ready to fly again. We caught up with them a second time not far away, all three fledglings perched on a fence, side by side, peeping and wiggling and trying to decide whether Fang and I warranted another flight attempt as their parents flew overhead.
The sight of it all triggered a fast rewind in my brain, other times we’ve stumbled on fledging as we’ve walked. Once in a neighborhood to the east, a fledgling raptor had to be nearby–although I never saw it–because a Mississippi kite grazed me three times until we finally went around a corner. (I was so glad to be wearing a sturdy hat.)
Another time, I saw a pair of mourning doves standing unusually close to one another, perched on the next-door neighbor’s roof. I looked around and saw the fledgling in the gutter. The little guy wasn’t going to make it. I scooped up its body the next day.
Another time I didn’t see the fledgling until just after Fang spotted it hopping in the leaf litter beneath the oaks in McKenna Park. First the momma robin dove at Fang, and then the poppa. Fang immediately lost interest in the fledgling and was already crying uncle. But a call went out anyways and within seconds, every robin in the park was diving at the two of us, like a Hitchcock horror movie.
I got curious about how much scientists know about fledging and bird behavior. We don’t know a whole lot. I found a research study from 2018. This study suggested to researchers that fledging is negotiated between the young and the parents, with different species tolerating longer stays than others. Young birds that leave before they can fly very well have a higher mortality rate, of course. The scissor tails certainly had to fledge before their tails got too long, as my own mother adeptly noted. But the young that stay too long risk discovery by predators who bring jeopardy to the entire nest, parents included.
I’m not sure how well we humans do at fledging. Actually, in terms of survival of the human race, rather poorly, I think. We understand child development a little better than adult development. New research suggests a stage of emerging adulthood that warrants our closer attention. And, as most of us disability parents will tell you, fledging a child with a disability is tough. We have organized our culture in ways that discourage cooperation and care for one another, unless doing it for money. Can you imagine being like a robin and joining the entire flock to defend someone else’s child? We are too fond of gaming the economic rules so that one group or another gains an edge, instead of raising all boats. We do this change-up so often that it’s hard even for kids without disabilities to launch.
Maybe there’s a reason we know we are doomed. Maybe there are lessons from nature. Before it’s too late.
To help promote the new book, I’ve been pitching op-ed pieces to newspapers. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the pitch. It also makes me miss Mike Trimble, my old friend who was the Denton Record-Chronicle‘s prize-winning opinion page editor, even more. I just miss him too much to imagine what he would say about my writing, but I try. After a few missed pitches, I asked more writing friends for feedback and that seemed to make a difference. The San Antonio Express-News recently published this piece on “restraints” which could see reforms from the Texas Legislature this year.
I think Mike would agree that the word “restraint” is a horrible euphemism for the things that Texas school and institutional personnel can do to a person with a disability in crisis, or simply to make them more easy to manage. Actions that, if a parent took them, would likely trigger an abuse investigation.
I was a little disappointed that the San Antonio editors cut so much of my original text, including the key phrase, ‘restraints destroy relationships.’ I guess it’s too scary.
Here is the full text:
When a parent first learns their child has autism, you can almost see the worry lines etch their face in real time. Their road ahead has changed. They need a new map. They will also need an experienced guide or two.
And those worry lines will deepen fast if they live in Texas, where school officials can still restrain children in ways that parents cannot, where there are caps on insurance coverage, and where the waiting list for adult services lasts for decades.
As with anyone, an autism family can thrive depending on how well the community responds.
A few generations ago, doctors told parents to send their child with autism to an institution and never look back. Today we know that autistic children can learn. New scientific knowledge and therapeutic practices are helping children learn to eat, talk, use the toilet, and master other life-changing skills. In addition, the first generations of children who benefitted from that new knowledge and practice are adults now. Some say that the early intervention changed the possibilities for their life—doing meaningful work, raising their own families, participating in community life. That was certainly the case for our family.
Other autistic adults say that their individual treatment program was abusive and traumatic. We are learning that some practices can be harmful, particularly those that focus on getting a child to comply with social ideals. This nature-and-nurture debate can be confusing for families new to the diagnosis. Parents want to raise their child as best they can, and for many autism families, the responsibilities don’t end in adulthood. Our society has built-in expectations and vulnerabilities that can create more frustration than support. The way each of us responds to an autistic individual can hinder the possibilities for their life—no different from the effects of buildings without ramps, movies without captions, or busy intersections without audio cues. It’s on us, as a society, to recognize that autism comes with its own gifts and strengths, and to respond accordingly.
How can we do that? It turns out that the basic principles for creating a healthy community still apply: by learning, connecting and loving.
Learning is fundamental to raising any child, but takes on special meaning for everyone involved in an autistic child’s life. Our learning begins not just with understanding each child but also understanding the science of learning itself—something our society often does poorly. Science tends to be a slow, deliberative process. Science doesn’t offer fixed answers to problems, in part because change and experimentation are fundamental to science. The same is true for human thriving, especially for children. We all need room to grow, change and develop.
Connecting to one another can make a difference, too. We connect when we respond to one another in meaningful ways and make sure that everyone, including each child, has agreed to whatever work we are doing together. This also means we have a duty to watch for poor conditions and change them. For example, Texas must change the conditions—and the laws—that allow preschoolers with autism to be strapped to chairs for their school day or a young autistic child in crisis to be placed in handcuffs. Research tells us that we don’t need to restrain children for them to learn. Moreover, the way we connect and respond to children, especially vulnerable children, has profound meaning. Restraints destroy relationships.
With love as their superpower, parents can meet their responsibilities to their children, even when those responsibilities are formidable. We can create the same animating force in a healthy society when we champion every child’s agency and ways to include them in the entire community. When we step up to serve as collaborators, scouts or vanguards for the families around us, we help our entire community make progress.
We humans need both science and inspiration to create the possibilities for our long-term well-being. When we all keep learning, connecting, and loving, we can build a sturdy, sustainable community filled with places and paths for every member of our community, no matter their gifts and strengths.
It’s New Year’s resolution time!
For the past five years, I’ve tried to make resolutions that are more meaningful. Whether it was saying “no” to buying things or “yes” to new challenges, or remembering that a solution already exists, those kind of resolutions brought more options and opportunities with them.
This year, for some reason, I had a hard time finding a new and meaningful pledge. To help, I read one story that suggested using a motivational word, like “breathe” or “focus” or “gratitude.” I liked the spirit of that suggestion, but wondered if a single word mantra could fall short of being meaningful.
Then, a couple things happened.
First, lightning struck a tree out front.
We were home when it happened, but we were in the back. We thought the lightning had struck a nearby transformer. We didn’t see the ball of fire that our neighbor did.
Still, we’d noticed that we’d lost our internet connection and the stereo was off. After our neighbor knocked on the front door, we saw the tree. At that point, we realized that we had a rolling disaster on our hands.
Sam spent hours troubleshooting. We brainstormed until we isolated all the things we had to fix, developed a working theory of what happened so we knew what else might be at risk, and decided what electric items were probably ok.
Based on the damage to the internet routers, we were a little scared until we could rule out a slow burn in the attic. We were grateful that–thanks to last year’s resolution to be prepared and resilient–most electrics had surge protection and had survived the strike, as did the surge protectors themselves.
Second, we took Sam’s Chevy Bolt on a long trip for the first time last weekend, from Denton to Austin and back. This was the first time to feel what EV owners call “range anxiety.” We discovered that the car’s information system was perfectly capable of predicting how many miles were left on the batteries. But we did worry whether the charging stations, which are few and far between, would be available and operational.
The trip went fine. The charging cost less than $8 on the way down, and was free on the way back. We had lunch during one charge and the fellow at the deli counter had SO many questions. Clearly, he was wondering whether driving an EV was an option for him. We answered all that we could but we were still learning, too, to which the deli guy summed, with so much wisdom, “It’s new.”
That’s was kind of an “aha” moment. We can’t always choose the moments that the world wants to teach something, and it does little good to close the door to those learning opportunities. I get grumpy solving problems that I’ve solved before; life is hard enough as it is. I don’t want to think about how appliances work. Yet, there was real power in learning how everything in our house worked. Driving to Austin is hard. Why make it harder by driving an EV? Yet, the car was quiet and a dream to drive. The charging breaks made the trip longer, but far less exhausting.
Hey, 2023. We will keep learning wherever the opportunity knocks.
Four years may have gone by, but the climbs make old memories rush out front. Denton is not flat. Run uphill from Quakertown Park to Texas Woman’s University to hear a volunteer tell you “it’s all downhill from here.”
But you tell the kids running alongside, who are wondering aloud, are there are more hills? yes, yes there are. There’s another short climb in Pioneer Woman Circle and a big climb up to and around the Square at the end.
And you tell your inner voice that it’s not the Horsetooth Half, so quit complaining and keep running.
It’s a misty, rainy morning and some people wear gear and some don’t. If we were in the Keys, I wouldn’t wear gear. I don’t know how to make that decision. Except to shed mine after the first climb because it’s warm and it stopped raining.
People run together. People pass each other. People watch and cheer for friends and family at the finish line. People mix and mingle around the tent with the bananas, mandarins, granola bars and bottles of Ozarka, taking pictures and waiting for race results. Maybe we are starting to figure out how to commune with each other again. This is my first race since the pandemic. I feel as if I’m still watching through the glass. But I’ll sign up for another race soon to help that feeling pass.
And there’s Sam, crossing the finish line. He’s not a runner, so he walked the trot. But last week, he and his brother rode 30 miles in the Denton Turkey Roll. They’re communing too.
Shahla has developed book club questions for professionals who are reading Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams
I developed a set for families. As a downloaded PDF here, RRPA Book Club Family Questions, or as below
- How do the authors view autism? Did this view help you see your child’s journey in a new way? Describe.
- The authors state that the advances in autism, “… bring a paradox of clarity and confusion”. What advances have you found confusing? What advances brought clarity? Did you feel the same way about those advances after you read the book? Why or why not?
- Did you find the descriptions of scientific learning and of applied behavior analysis helpful? The authors describe applied behavior analysis as a “science of love and change.” Do you think this is the case? Why or why not?
- Have you ever found unexpected wisdom the way the authors describe — where you have learned a general lesson that applies to your parenting? What is the power in learning this way?
- Why is sustainability important in autism treatment? Does that shift your long-term perspective about your child’s services?
- Give examples of some of the potentially hazardous and halcyon attitudes you’ve seen in the people who work with your child. Give examples of some of your own.
- Imitation is a concept discussed throughout the book. What are the relationships between imitation and reciprocity? How does this translate to sustainability?
- In the context of fostering resilience, the authors talk about “bumper guards”. What are some of the reasons and ways that we introduce and remove bumpers into our child’s life? When are we most and least likely to do this?
- Scouting is presented as important in nurturing a child over time. Have you ever scouted for your child? How were the activities similar or different to those described in the book?
- Did you think of your child’s autism as being the worst thing that has happened to your family? Has the book changed that perspective?
- The authors describe love’s dark side as feelings that flag poor conditions? What poor conditions did anger, shame, or disgust flag for you?
- How have you made meaning in your family? How has that helped love grow in your family?
- On the final pages, the authors describe the need for both science and inspiration? Do you agree? Why or why not?
We had to get up early today to meet the man delivering Sam’s new car. He bought a 2018 Chevy Bolt from the Fort Collins, Colo., dealer where my brother-in-law works. Sam was so very patient. When his uncle mentioned they had two Bolts on the lot waiting for their recall work, Sam put $500 down. That was back in December 2021.
Sam has been driving a 2001 Toyota Corolla since he first learned to drive 15 years ago. He also bought that car from his Uncle Matt. We started talking about replacing the Corolla around 2018-19, but Sam moves slowly with these kinds of decisions. He went to the auto show at the State Fair with his brother and sat in a Chevy Bolt. He tentatively decided he would replace his car in 2020. Then the pandemic came and life slowed down so much. It bought him a lot more time to shop for a car, which was good, because Chevy needed time, too, to make those battery repairs.
He didn’t need much coaching through all of this, at least not from me. Matt may have had to work a little harder to make the sale and delivery, I certainly can’t speak for him. The only thing I really weighed in on was getting the car back to Texas. We talked about flying up to get the car and driving back, but once we crunched the numbers, shipping won out. He agreed to do it, since it was cheaper by about a factor of 10.
He still has a bit of a to-do list — insurance, Texas plates, toll tag, etc. I did write that up and put it on the fridge for him, so I suppose that’s coaching. And he’s going to reach out to other EV drivers for wisdom, since this car is several generations more sophisticated than either of the vehicles we currently drive.
Life really is so flipping complicated. I have little idea how I got through things the first time myself, although I do remember a habit in my 20s of calling my parents often and asking adulting questions. I do also prompt my other kids–probably more than they would like–with the preface of ‘let me tell you something I learned the hard way and save you some time/money/heartache.”
Have you ever thought about all the problems you solved in your 20s?
The word geofence joined the English language in the mid-1990s. As I type the word “geofence”, Microsoft Word doesn’t correct my spelling—yet, chances are high that if I want to talk with Sam about geofencing, the first thing we would have to do is talk about the word’s definition in plain language.
Sam inspired me to become a plain language fan. It’s not just because we now have the Plain Writing Act of 2010, a federal law that sets the standards for certain government agencies to better communicate with people.
When talking with Sam in plain language, we usually find some great truths. We have to be thinking very clearly to boil stuff down to its essence. And then Sam, always a great thinker, figures out what that essence means and where that new essence belongs in his life.
So, the word “geofence” in plain language: A boundary line on your computer.
We sometimes say that good fences make good neighbors. The poet Robert Frost had more to say about that. In other words, a fence on a computer has meaning, too.
Our local transit agency, DCTA, experimented with a computer fence to offer van rides to the west side of town a few years ago. Sam used that van service to get to work a few times. It was very hard. I rode with him once. First, you had to travel to the fence line, then you could hail the van that only gave you rides inside the fence lines.
The day I went with him, I had to wait a half-hour to ride back to the other side of the fence. While waiting, I saw dozens of DCTA vans driving Peterbilt workers to destinations that I knew were traveling far beyond the fence lines I was traveling in.
Recently, our transit agency has drawn new fence lines for van rides. At first glance, the big pasture of service seems generous. But at the same time, they also cut most of the buses whose lines weren’t fences, but veins.
Suddenly, yet predictably, too many riders are coming from certain areas. DCTA says they may “geofence to manage demand.”
Or, in plain language: they will draw lines that push riders out.
Sam has told me more than once that he wants to ride bus to work. I began to doubt whether that would ever happen after I saw the long line of Peterbilt-subsidized DCTA vanpools. Then, when an apartment developer paid extra for DCTA to run a bus to its massive apartment complex adjacent to the warehouse district (beyond even the millions UNT pays DCTA to run buses), I gave up hope. We don’t, and probably won’t ever, have a system to serve the thousands of people like Sam, who can make their lives better with the mobility that connects them to economic opportunities–let alone the magical world that exists for all of us when our community has that kind of mobility.
Some politicians (and their constituents, of course) will always be attracted to lines like geofencing. Playground games follow the boundary lines. Winners and losers are determined by the lines. And, as we all know, some kids aren’t allowed inside the boundaries to play at all.
I doubt our transit agency board recognizes the deepest meaning of its actions as it draws these lines. The longer they allow those fence lines to exist on computers, the more those lines become real-life walls.
Shahla and I had a book signing a week ago. Donna Fielder, a wildly successful Denton author, encouraged me to talk to the owners of the newest book store in town, Patchouli Joe’s, to see whether they were interested in hosting an event for us like they did for her. It took a while for me to screw up the courage, but once I did, they were as gracious as Donna described.
Shahla and I didn’t know quite what to expect, but we prepared for the gamut, from doing a formal reading before a crowd of strangers to sitting quietly in the hopes that at least one or two book buyers stopped by. Turned out, many friends and family came and we had a different kind of crowd. Suddenly, a formal reading didn’t seem right, so I asked if anyone had questions. We were off and running. After about an hour, we were getting tired, so Shahla deftly ended the Q&A. A few people lined up to get books signed, but most lingered, browsing the shelves and chatting with each other.
Up until then, Sam had been sitting behind us in a comfy wing chair. When he recognized that it was mix-and-mingle time, he popped up from the chair and started walking around the store, introducing himself and chatting with people. I couldn’t help but smile. That afternoon, Sam was doing much better than I was in being a social butterfly.
Here’s why. Years ago, he joined a local dance club. He learned Eastern swing dance steps, met lots of new friends, and waited patiently for women to ask him to dance. He was out in the community in this highly social way at least once, usually twice, a month. As the pandemic has waned, the dance club is slowly rebooting and he’s been out dancing again. He’s enjoying the return of social sparkles.
When Sam was little and learning to imitate and to talk, I thought we were going to have to break down all kinds of skills into incremental steps in order for him to learn. But once he learned to talk and to imitate, that elevated his ability to “learn to learn.” Suddenly, we didn’t have to break things down anymore. I never fully understood that phenomenon until Shahla explained behavioral cusps: once a person masters a skill or environment, that often leads to picking up other kinds of skills and expanding opportunities. Sam absorbed a variety of social skills while learning to dance.
Not everyone is the same. For example, I’m not sure that joining a dance club would boost my introverted ways. But, finding and achieving a cusp is something powerful to think about when you feel stuck. We touch on this concept several times in the book. Working toward a behavioral cusp can help us achieve progress and sustainability in our parenting. We all learn this way our whole lives–it’s one of humanity’s super powers.