“When we set children against one another in contests – from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read – we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends or collaborators but as obstacles to their own success. (Quite predictably, researchers have found that the results of competition often include aggression, cheating, envy of winners, contempt for losers, and a suspicious posture toward just about everyone.) Finally, we lead children to regard whatever they’re doing as a means to an end: The point isn’t to paint or read or design a science experiment, but to win. The act of painting, reading, or designing is thereby devalued in the child’s mind.“
Alfie Kohn, The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Chapter 4
We have been learning about writing letters and sending them in the mail!
Rondel has been coloring pictures by the handful (although not finishing them all), and he wanted to send some of them to the people he loves that live far away. So he has been learning about how to write letters by dictating to me the things he wants to say, and we’ve been tucking a letter and a picture into an envelope and mailing it off. It turns out that writing is a lot different than talking; I’ve been writing for so long that I had kind of forgotten, but when you are communicating with someone who can’t see you or what you’re talking about, and who can’t ask clarifying questions in real time, you have to use words in a different way than when those perks of conversation are available. So Rondel has been figuring out how to word things for a letter vs. a conversation, which is pretty neat.
He’s also been learning about addresses and the mail system – how does the mail man know who Grandpa Bob is? How do they find his house to bring the letter there? What do all those numbers and letters mean on the outside of the envelope? And so on. Rondel’s first question was actually about why we needed an address on the envelope, so I had to explain to him that the mail man here in Arizona who will pick up the letter doesn’t know his Grandpa Bob and wouldn’t know what state to send it to 🙂 I think he is starting to understand it, and it is a good step towards learning his own address and understanding why that is important information to know.
So far he has only sent pictures to his aunt, his great-grandma, and his great-grandpa – but I think if he could think of more recipients he would send pictures to others as well, especially if there were a chance of getting a letter in reply. Mail is so exciting – you never know when something special may surprise you!
In an attempt to catch some fall colors up north (I think they are delayed because of our warm, moist summer this year), we drove up to the Mogollon Rim this weekend, just northeast of Payson to the Rim Lake Vista trail specifically. I chose this trail because it was recommended for fall colors in October, because it should have gorgeous views off the edge of the rim even if we were too early for colors, and because it is mostly paved and there was rain in the forecast. In other words, I wanted something with no flash flood risk, where we wouldn’t be stepping in mud puddles and getting our feet soaked in the cold.
While we did end up being too early for fall colors, the trail was undeniably beautiful and – totally unexpectedly – we got caught in a snow flurry! There isn’t much else to say about this trail except that it is ideal for new walkers and could even be navigated by a stroller if necessary; likewise, it would be good for older out-of-state family who want to hike and sightsee but who aren’t up for something challenging.
Some views looking off the rim down towards Payson (approximately 7700ft up, looking down at mountains around 5000ft in elevation – Payson is not objectively low):
The clouds were draped so low over the mountains – at some points on the trail we were walking through small wispy clouds, and the large heavy clouds looked ready to break open at any moment.
It wasn’t raining when we parked (it had been for most of the drive from Payson up to the rim!), so the kids were excited to get out of the car and start off down the trail.
While there weren’t many changing leaves yet, the small ground plants and flowers bearing their glassy beads of water were calling all of us to stop and pay attention to their subtle beauty:
Before the rain started up again, Aubade meandered along immersing herself in the wildflowers – she was so excited about every new plant, so eager to touch each new flower.
Towards the end of our hike, however, it started to sprinkle – and then it began to pour – and then I noticed that snowflakes were sticking to the fuzzy hood of Limerick’s jacket, and – and then suddenly the air was full of fat white flakes! It was the first time any of the kids have seen snow; Rondel was excited, Limerick was chill, and Aubade (who was already really bothered by the cold wind) completely lost it and cried the rest of the way to the car. So it ended up being a shorter hike than usual because we were just so cold!
However, along the way we discovered a plant I’d never encountered before, with bright red stems and a sharp smell that remind me of mint and fir together. From a brief search online I think it is a fetid goosefoot, which is quite an unpleasant name for a plant that I found both visually and aromatically attractive – do any of you know for sure?
How to get there from the East Valley: take the 87 up to Payson; turn right at the McDonald’s on to the 260-E and continue for 30 miles until FR300. Turn left onto FR300 (the Rim Visitors Center is on the right) and park at the lot on the left between mile markers 39 and 40.
For this week’s quick takes linkup Kelly wrote about why she and a few other bloggers write about their families and how disability affects them, with some solid insight about the good to be gained from writing and the pitfalls to avoid. I do recommend reading it, especially if you write or are considering writing about your own family! (Key takeaways? Show how the happiness of everyday life is not less because of disability, and don’t overshare about your children’s private issues.) From my perspective, here are several of the reasons that I write as much as I do about my own neurodivergence and Rondel’s autism on this blog (in no particular order).
Writing helps me process life. Since I learned how to write I have consistently found it far easier to coherently express my thoughts in a written format than vocally. My mom and I actually had a journal for writing back and forth to each other when I was around 10 or 11 that we used and that I appreciated a lot! Similarly, my husband and I used Facebook Messenger for most of our serious pre-marital conversations, because the anxiety involved was so much less and the processing time could be longer. Now, I use the blog to help me focus on things I want to remember, organize events as they happen (since I can never remember anything chronological reliably), and fully formulate my thoughts on issues that are important to me.
My son is a human person of innate worth due all the respect that any other person should receive. (Well of course, you should say). But from a lot of the autism rhetoric on the internet, a person could easily come to the conclusion that this is a radical or even untrue statement – and for that reason alone I believe it is essential to write about him and our family in a way that demonstrates his humanity. Some of his actions may not look like what society expects; his developmental timeline may be different than “normal”; and he may struggle with things that most people consider to be trivial inconveniences or perhaps don’t even notice. But those developmental differences do not make him less worthy or less human.
Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults, and they still struggle with things that most people don’t struggle with. So that’s why I write about myself: first so that people can understand why I or other neurodivergent adults may act in certain ways, second so that neurotypical adults don’t trivialize our struggles because they only perceive the slight quirks and oddities that show through our masking, and finally so that younger neurodivergent individuals can see adults like them living and struggling and coping and thriving in the world. We might not be the best at forming in-person communities (and it would be hard anywhere except in a large city anyways), but even just knowing other people like me through the Internet has been hugely encouraging and enlightening; I’d love to be able to extend that gift to someone else.
As a corollary to this, it has been especially difficult for me to find a community of Christian autistic/neurodivergent adults, particularly women. There is one in my small group which is amazing – I don’t recall having had that kind of connection in an adult friendship before – but other than that there are just a couple blogs that’s I’ve found. I would love to both share how I live my faith as a neurodivergent individual and help the church deepen its understanding of neurodivergent individuals, and maybe I can start small here.
Sometimes I find things that I want to share, and the blog is an easier way for me to share them than on Facebook, where it is so easy to hurt feelings. See this link for an example: Ink and Daggers: Small Talk (trigger warnings for ableism, child abuse, and language).
I can’t think fast enough in conversation to discuss things that are close to my heart. I struggle to read my companion’s reactions, to gauge where next to move the discussion, to know how to change the subject without giving them my agreement, to be passionate without getting emotional and losing the words I need most. I wish I could tell everyone about neurodivergence, to promote acceptance instead of toxic awareness, to advocate for myself and Rondel and other people who are hurt daily by the ableist assumption that they are less because they are not normal, to help people to understand instead of pathologize autistic behavior. But I just cannot manage all the little things required by conversation while a high-stakes, emotionally-charged issue is the topic; it never ends well. Instead I write, and maybe my words will reach eyes that need to read them instead of ears that need to hear them.
Finally, this story is all-too-common among people whose differences were seen purely as deficits, whose superficial abnormalities were trained out of them but who were never given coping skills for their deeper struggles, who were only ever valued for appearing normal and never praised for their unique abilities. This is not my story, because I was blessed with parents who always sought to understand and support, but it is a story I have read time and time again in the online adult autistic community. I write to try to create, with my words, a world in which this is not the norm for autistic children. (Is it the norm, you ask? Surely it can’t be that bad? Well, it is the result of therapeutic practices condoned by major groups such as Autism Speaks and the Judge Rotenberg Center, so it is definitely mainstream. I am hoping it is becoming less common, of course.) I write also to share those more painful and disturbing stories – and the principles gleaned from them – so that fewer people can say, “oh, I didn’t know!” as an excuse for their inaction and indifference.
I reread the Harry Potter series these past few weeks and was reminded of how much I enjoy the books, how much I hate Umbridge, how conflicted my feelings are about Snape, James Potter, and Sirius, and how heart-wrenchingly sad the final battle of Hogwarts is. I really love how the series portrays even its heroes as flawed human beings – people with unique personalities, strengths, weaknesses, virtues, and vices; it counteracts the black-and-white thinking that I can be prone to. Also, I think my current favorite character is Luna Lovegood (it’s either her or Neville, the clumsy and insecure boy who blossoms into a leader of the revolt against Voldemort’s henchmen at Hogwarts).
Dolores Umbridge is arguably not the most evil character in the books. There is obviously Voldemort, who has no qualms about murder, injustice, and oppression. There are the Death Eaters, who agree with Voldemort’s positions on privilege and power, and who sacrifice the innocent to their cowardice (I’m thinking specifically of the Carrow’s here). There is even Barty Crouch, who sent Sirius to Azkaban without a trial, who upheld “justice” publicly by condemning his own son but undermined it privately by sneaking his son out of Azkaban and attempting to control him. But I hate Umbridge so much that I struggle reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where she plays so prominent a role. I think it is the trappings of innocence and self-righteousness hung over the inner cruelty and self-serving ambition that infuriate me most about her – that, and the complete disregard she has for truth. Everything she does is a power play, a move towards a desired end, and it doesn’t matter at all to her what the facts actually are.
Luna, on the other hand, is disarmingly, unexpectedly, even awkwardly honest. She makes comments about the way she is picked on and her lack of friends as statements of fact, not seeking pity or assistance. She believes some strange things – but she believes them trusting the father who she loves, who has been her only family since her mother died when she was nine, and I admire the love and loyalty she shows him even when the other students are mocking him. From her outward appearance and behavior to the core of her personality, she is who she is and is not ashamed or self-conscious about it. And of course she is brave – she is the only non-Gryffindor student who joins Harry in his quest to rescue Sirius – and intelligent, with a love of learning and intellectual discovery (she is a Ravenclaw, after all 🙂 ).
I could go on and on about the characters; they each make me think so much about my own life and life in general, about the power of evil ideas and fear, about the strength needed to stay true to the right and the good, about the complexity of human beings and the relationships between them. But for now I’ll just ask – if you could pick one least favorite and one favorite character from the series, who would they be and why?
The Phoenix area was hit by the remnants of Hurricane Rosa, a category 4 hurricane, this week. My dad, who is from Miami, was going around humorously asking everyone if they were ready for the hurricane, but of course by the time it got to us it was just a big rainstorm. Still! A big rainstorm in October isn’t common, and this storm actually gave us the rainiest October day in Arizona recorded history (which goes back, in terms of weather records, to 1895). Even crazier, of the top ten wettest days in Arizona, this was number eight and was the only one that my kids have been alive for (except for Rondel, who was just over one year old when we had the wettest recorded day in Arizona history).
So what do you do when there is more rain coming down than you have ever seen in one day in your entire life?
You drop everything else and immerse yourself in it, of course!
My two adventurers were out in their pajamas by 7am (I mean, why get dressed only to get immediately soaked and need to change?), and must have stayed out for at least an hour before they decided they needed to eat breakfast. And after breakfast they were right back out in it, with Limerick this time (but in their underwear, so no publicly shareable pictures unfortunately). Limerick found the big hole in the yard that was completely submerged and hidden, pulled the toy car out of it, and measured how deep it was on his legs (almost to his knees); Rondel pushed Aubade around the yard in the rescued car until it got stuck in the mud.
I learned that one of my children likes to get extremely muddy, one likes to get extremely wet and can handle the mud along with it, and the third somehow manages to stay almost clean even in a mud puddle and prefers to remain at least somewhat dry.
Aubade is, obviously, my mudlover… she is completely in her element when she is outside getting dirty, and I hope she never loses that. Limerick gets cold so easily that he preferred to sit just inside the house or under the patio overhang, learning how to multiply two-digit numbers with my mom while I hung out with the mud babies 😛 But we all loved it – and there is rain in the forecast again next week so maybe we will get a repeat!
Is rain a normal occurrence or a special event where you live? Do you love it or tolerate it?
When I worked full-time, I would seasonally find myself walking back to my car at dusk past a row of orange trees in bloom. If you have never had the privilege of smelling orange blossoms, I feel sorry for you; sweet and sensual with a sharp almost spicy bite underneath, their perfume would flood the evening air, overshadowing the smells of asphalt and car fumes and cooking dinners in the nearby apartments. There aren’t many other plants whose scent is quite so powerful and intense (I believe lilacs are, though I haven’t lived in a place where they grow since I was very young).
Here in Arizona, one of the only other such plants that I can think of is the ponderosa pine. While there are many different species of pine, including several native to northern Arizona, the ponderosa has a very distinct scent: like honey and vanilla, with a whiff of hazelnut, sweet and heavy and warm, with only that faint nuttiness in the background in place of any other bitterness or spice. When the trees are healthy and hydrated, the sun’s warmth seems to pull the odors out into the air (or maybe keep them from blowing away), giving the whole forest a unique character. If orange blossoms make me think of a tower room with sunset-colored hangings, blowing in the breeze of an open window, where a couple is about to share in each other’s mysteries, then the smell of the ponderosa bark lingering in the air reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s description of Perelandra, where the outside air among the trees has a warmth and golden richness that our crisp cool world is lacking.
If my feeble attempts at describing their aroma have managed to convince you that you need to immerse yourself in the ponderosas at least once in your life, then Horton Creek Trailhead should be on your shortlist. Ponderosas are scattered all over northern Arizona, but they must be particularly concentrated here because their scent nearly overpowered me when I stepped out of the car, in contrast to Ellison Creek and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (which have more of the typical clear, clean feeling in the air).
Parking for the trail is a short walk away from the actual trailhead, and two small creeks actually run near each other (and eventually join up, I believe) near the parking area, which led to some confusion on our part. So at first, instead of heading down the actual Horton Creek trailhead, we wandered up Tonto Creek along an elk trail and through the water. The grass was consistently up to Aubade’s chest and in some places was higher than Limerick; the creek meandered through level ground in places instead of the typical steep canyon; and blackberry bushes threatened to overtake the entire western side of the creek.
All that to say, it was wild and overgrown and absolutely beautiful.
A short ways up the creek (short by the road; long by way of elk trails with an 18 month old who won’t walk because the grass is too tall) there is a short waterfall with a small pool at the bottom; just to the west of the falls is a path up to the road, and at the base of the falls below that trail is one of the largest blackberry thickets I have ever seen. We were a bit late for blackberries – I found about 10 ripe ones within reach – but I’m thinking that sometime in early September the bushes should just be covered with berries.
Being just a bit too late for the blackberries also meant that we were just a bit too early for the fall colors; only the sumac and a few other isolated leaves were beginning to deepen into red. Coming from the low desert, we still got quite excited about it, and we’ll probably be going up north more often over the next month or so to catch more of the changing autumn colors.
After we reached the waterfall, my mom hiked a bit further with the boys while Aubade nursed (teething plus the long grass had made her miserable – I was so glad to have another adult with me!), and we found an open area near the creek to play for a while.
After that, we went downstream to the waterfall again and up to the road and back to the parking area for lunch. At that point, my mom wanted to find out where an actual trail was; she had hiked here before and was confused as to why the creek seemed so different than she remembered. So she explored a bit further down the road and discovered that we had actually been on Tonto Creek and never made it to the Horton Creek trailhead – where there was a very well-kept and walkable trail.
Since the boys still had enough energy, we decided to check out the real trail as well! It turned out to be wide and sandy, leading up the high ground between Tonto Creek and Horton Creek. Horton Creek was mostly dry at the beginning of the hike, unlike Tonto, although other hikers told us there was running water a mile or so down the trail; it was still incredibly green and lush, however. Aubade had a much better time on this trail since she didn’t have to push her way through the grass 🙂
If we go back to Horton Creek, I would try to do the designated trail first, while everyone has energy and the temperature is lower, and then play in Tonto Creek after lunch. And I do think this is a spot worth going back to – there is a lot left unexplored, and I have the feeling that things change a lot here seasonally, with berries, changing leaves, and fluctuating water levels. Without another adult I would be loathe to attempt more than the well-marked Horton Creek trail, however! It was a challenge getting everyone through the undergrowth around Tonto, though worth it for the hidden beauty.
To reach Horton Creek Trailhead from the East Valley: Take the 87 north to the center of Payson and turn right onto AZ-260 E at the McDonalds; about 16 miles later turn left on Nf-289. The parking area for the trail is on the left just after a one-lane bridge; it is marked and has a vault toilet and picnic tables. To get to the trail, walk back down the road across the bridge and up towards the Horton Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the base of the campground and is well marked.
When to go: For maximum water flow, go in spring after the snow melt or during the monsoons. For blackberries, go anytime from late August through mid-September. For fall colors, go in October. And I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m guessing that April or May would be best for wildflowers 🙂