Warm Weather, Woolies, and Words
Yesterday I visited my own blog to find a link for someone and realized it has been two weeks since I posted last. It takes our family at least a week to recuperate after one of Nathaniel's hospitalizations. Thanksgiving, recuperating, and now preparing for Christmas have all tumbled into each other and filled the empty crevices in each day.
Rich took off a couple hours early one Friday evening so we could go cut down our Christmas tree. With two of our older boys working retail, finding a time for this traditional family outing was tricky. I can't remember when we started going to this tree lot, but it has probably been around twenty years. It is one of my favorite Christmas moments.
Flu and cold season tends to find us hiding away from outings and crowds, but this year we have an additional motivation. We have made a decision regarding Nathaniel's airway surgery and scheduled it for February 8th in Cincinnati. (I will share more soon.) He needs to stay healthy between now and surgery. Rich and I trade off attending church, our small group, and running errands. Typically, I love snow and am anxious for it to arrive, but I am thankful for unseasonably warm weather that has allowed us to do some longer hikes together with Nathaniel.
My Christmas shopping is almost finished. The older children hit a few Black Friday specials for me, Rich and I have each gone out once individually, but we have accomplished most of our shopping online. One of our more unique purchases this year is two Icelandic sheepskins for our son, Andrew. (Don't worry - he has already received and opened them - no surprise ruined.) Andrew makes headstalls, spur straps, and chaps. He wants the sheepskins to make a pair of woolies - chaps with fleece on the outside for warmth. Buying two hides, the raw materials he will use to make himself something useful and valuable, brought me a great deal of pleasure. Rich and I do this sort of thing often - buy our children the raw materials or tools to make things. I wonder if those aren't the gifts treasured most. Perhaps because they come wrapped with the unspoken gifts of parental trust and optimism and belief in the child's skill and ability.
Buying the sheepskins for Andrew's woolies reminded me of working on communication with Nathaniel. I do both presuming competence in my children and abilities they have not yet shown me. I recently read a fantastic guide on presuming competence when working with children. While written for therapists and parents of autistic children, the principles apply in many situations. Sheepskins and words included.
"If we wrongly assume that a competent individual cannot learn and understand, and restrict her opportunities as a result, we’ve done her a great disservice. In contrast, suppose we assume that a person is competent, and we are incorrect. In that case, we may not have been efficient, but our effort and attention may still provide benefit to that person. In short, the presumption of competence is what researcher Anne Donnellan has called the “least dangerous assumption”: in the absence of absolute evidence, it is essential to choose the assumption that, if proven to be false, would be least dangerous to the individual."
As a momma of a son breaking colts and a son with a compromised airway, least dangerous sounds nice. Despite never having made woolies, I buy the hairy sheepskins assuming Andrew will succeed at making his new chaps. Any other assumption would do him a disservice and restrict his opportunity to learn and grow. Though he has never worked with a fleece before, he does not have to prove to me that he can handle the skins by making something small first. Here you go, son. Two waist to floor animal skins. Go. Have fun. I believe in you and your capacity to make something amazing, beautiful, and useful. Likewise, I presume competence when I open twenty new words in one day on Nathaniel's talker. A talker that is a dynamic device that he could use as an adult, not something small with just a couple choices. Here you go, son. Many more words. Go. Have fun. I believe in you and your aptitude to figure it out.
Perhaps one of the best gifts we give, whether at Christmas or any day, is to presume another individual's competence.