Character Counts

The other day, I overheard my son reciting his old elementary school’s “Character Counts” pledge, the one he heard every morning (13 years ago) as his class repeated it together after the pledge of allegiance.

He was never able to say it in the moment along with his class, but those words (and the cadence and inflection) have stuck with him.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard him repeat this little pledge—although it’s not unusual for my 21-year-old to randomly voice short phrases, like his 2nd grade teacher’s daily greeting (and the students’ response) –  “Good morning 205! Good morning Mrs. King!” 

Perhaps his memory was triggered by one of these non-stop political ads, that argue over a candidate’s (and our nation’s) “character.”

…I promise to be TRUSTWORTHY, to show RESPECT, to be RESPONSIBLE, to be FAIR, to be CARING, to be a good CITIZEN and to always have the courage to do THE RIGHT THING because CHARACTER COUNTS…


I do wish more of our politicians, and their fervent supporters, would take this oath.

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Big Thoughts

My son often comes to me and—with the strong eye contact that helped delay his autism diagnosis all those years ago—quietly urges me to read his mind. He seems to almost hold his breath, waiting for me to prompt him, to help him say what he needs to say.

He may gesture with his arm in the general direction of the thing he’s thinking about (never exactly pointing, an early autism-related deficit that still lingers).

He may mumble or tentatively whisper a single word or short phrase if I ask him, “What’s up?”

If I encourage him to speak louder, his voice grows softer instead. He sometimes appears nervous and flustered while he waits for me to figure it out.

Many days, I do guess what he’s thinking. I’ve lived with this kid for a long time, and mom just knows, right?

I know he wants me to unhide the rest of the cookies we made yesterday.
I know he needs the dog to stop snoring.
I know that he really must to take this pen out of my hand and return it to its spot on the desk.

But there’s so many things I don’t know. So many conversations we’ve never had.

Maybe he’s coming to tell me about a dream he had last night.
Maybe he’s figured out what he wants to be now that he’s grown up.
Maybe he wants to know how I’m feeling.

Lately, when he comes to me with words hiding in his throat, I try not to jump ahead, to not assume I already know what he’s trying to say.

I offer him an open-ended sentence, typed on a screen or written on scrap paper.

I am thinking about ___

Just in case. Just to remind myself that I don’t know all that is in his head.

Not I want___ or Can I have___. Our interactions don’t have to be limited to requests. Just tell me what you’re thinking.

Most times, simply the movement toward typing or writing loosens his tongue and he says his thought out loud before he fills in the blank.

Yes, yes, he usually replies with something he wants.

“Banana muffin” or “Chocolate” or “Toy Story”

Yeah, I’m thinking about chocolate, too, kid…

But I try to keep his options open. Because he might not be asking for those cookies we’re both thinking about. He might not be reminding me to close the drawer I’ve left open again or for permission to return the remote to its forever position.

Yes, yes, those are usually the case.

But he has more on his mind than filling his belly or fixing (what he sees as) our disorganized house.

And, I want him to know he can tell me those thoughts, too.

I’m desperate to hear them. Even more so now, home together, all the time.
The cookie-talk gets a little stale.

I am thinking about___

Someday he might answer with something I wasn’t expecting.

I guess that you miss seeing your friends and family in person.
I think that you get bored sometimes.
I bet that you wish, like me, that we were at the beach.
I hope that you’re not in pain or sad.
I wonder if you’re remembering something scary, or strange, or funny.

I assume that you’re thinking about a lot of things.

Let’s break out those cookies and you can tell me all about it.

*****