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.

I try to shield my son from the worst of the vitriol of this political season, and avoid it for myself, too. The global pandemic has already upped our baseline level of special-needs-family stress—we’re still taking precautions to stay healthy, which means no in-person help or outside activities, with only the limited online presence of our support team.

This alone is a challenge, and all of this is weighing on my kid, too. So I am careful not to take on more worry than is necessary to be aware and active. To be a good citizen. 

My son’s agitation rears up every day, sometimes several times a day, taking over his body, stealing his focus, dampening our contentment. Sometimes we see it brewing—in his twitching body, his grimaces, verbal staccato, stomping feet and teary eyes—but he finds a way to keep it tamped down. Other times his emotions boil over into a heartbreaking meltdown. 

Sometimes he’s trying to express a frustration or a protest. Other times, even if his behavior is communication, I have no idea what he’s trying to say. 

I remind myself that his level of irritability now is truly not so different from pre-Covid times. It may just feel like an uptick because I’m witness to all of the instances since I’m with him all the time. No day program, no respite, lots and lots of togetherness — which, I’m aware, also includes the fact that he can’t get away from me and the annoying things I do to aggravate him, either. 

As he decompresses for the thousandth time in a day, I think again about what doctors, treatments, approaches we could try.  But the state of the world outside puts us in “wait mode” on most things, unable to really move forward on any new activities or therapy options. So we’re treading water and getting by for now. 

There are a few small gains he’s made that are fully the result of being at home for going on seven months.

Silver linings I can cling to.

For example, a few weeks ago, for the first time ever, he asked to do his laundry. He had noticed that he wouldn’t have one of his preferred pairs of shorts to wear the next day. Forethought! Planning! Sure, he didn’t ask until (his mom’s) bedtime, but hey, that’s huge progress for independent living and responsibility!

He also decided on his own one day to clear his plate after a meal, without my asking, and now that has become a rigid routine. A benefit of eating every single meal at home for months on end.

Plus, more time at home has allowed him to improve on kitchen skills that have been on his list for a long time. Practicing kitchen vocabulary and measuring. Using the can opener. Cracking eggs. Properly tearing aluminum foil. Counting out how many onion rings he wants onto the baking sheet (OK, we’re not exactly gourmet chefs over here). 

Since he usually hovers around me when I’m cooking, he’s become my “sous chef.”  He’s left handed, so if I stand to his left at the cutting board, he can mirror what I do. He’s getting better at cutting vegetables. Eating them? Not so much.

But he did eat steamed carrots a couple nights ago and you would have thought I won the lottery…

So, we’re getting by,

staying safe, 

trying to care for each other.

Doing the right thing, as much as we can.

And hopefully building character.



  1. Full Spectrum Mama · September 30, 2020

    YES!!!!!!!!! I (a super bleeding heart liberal) have ALWAYS believed that all people of integrity, whatever their political leanings, have character. It’s been devastating to se any semblance of that value gone in today’s world, except for the brave few.
    Oh and good news all around re the pledge and actions ❤

    • stayquirkymyfriends · October 2, 2020

      Yes, hoping for a return of civility (and stability) soon, for all our sakes! Thanks, my heart is aligned with yours… 😉

  2. Wendy Rosen · September 30, 2020

    Once again you have touched my heart! Thank you for sharing your (and your son’s) journey, and thank you for your wisdom. I am glad to know you and your family are staying safe and healthy. Keep looking for those silver linings!

  3. The Fluky Wordsmith · October 1, 2020

    Loved the sous chef bit (and the rest, but especially that). Ray’s take a sudden inclination to the kitchen as well. We make lunch and bake everyday. Hand-over-hand, exhausting at times for me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Plus the sheer joy on his face makes up for all my achy-breaky joints. Silver linings like you said.

    • stayquirkymyfriends · October 2, 2020

      I’m definitely taking advantage of this “extra time” at home to allow/expect him to do more in the kitchen – some days he’s more into it than others, of course, but he’s teaching me to trust him to try more – sharp knives and eggs and hot pans, whew…

  4. TakingItAStepAtATime · October 24, 2020

    Wow! I don’t know how I missed this one, but glad I saw it today. I just wrote about (sort of) the same thing a few weeks (? – maybe more, I have lost all sense of time) ago. DC began this pandemic doing things that he normally would not do – Washing the dishes without being asked, sweeping, etc… Some of this new growth has slowly turned into obsession – Washing his favorite bowl and glass only, many times a day – reminding me about things on the grocery list over and over again… This is not to say that he did not always obsess about things, he’s just taken on a few new ones.
    Anxiety is also over the top. He seems to be mad at me for everything. But… bottom line is that there has been growth, so I will take it!

    • stayquirkymyfriends · October 24, 2020

      Yes, yes, we are seeing both growth and extra obsessions and anxiety…whew. Taking the good with the not so great, and hoping we all get through this relatively unscathed!!

  5. Colorful Sisters · January 15, 2021

    I need to come visit this blog more often! Your content is amazing 🙂

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