Writings by Cole Huffman

My Little Chick

With Father’s Day approaching I am of course grateful for each one of my five children.  But one of my kids, fourth in the birth order and the youngest girl, is particularly on my mind of late.  Caley Kate (CK) is eight-years-old (turns nine in October), and I’ve mentioned her before in other writings on this blog.  The above picture of her was taken on Easter.

A couple of years ago CK was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  In her case this accounts for her cognitive and social developmental delays.  I was once skeptical of Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses, suspicioning a lot of parents turned to that to cover bad parenting skills in our therapeutic age.  But we knew CK “had issues” and the diagnosis was helpfully clarifying—we know now how to help her development.  To improve her cognitive functionality Lynn homeschools her, and to quote the Peace Corps slogan it’s the toughest job Lynn’s ever loved.  This past school year CK repeated the first grade at home after failing it the year before in our local school.  Thanks to Lynn’s teaching acumen, CK is making great cognitive progress.
But for improving her social functionality there’s not as much we can do for her.  CK is generously disposed to everyone; she thinks every girl is her potential best friend.  But a lot of girls and boys don’t warm to CK like she warms to them.  Toward the end of her last semester in our local school Lynn observed some of the boys in her class beginning to mock her.  I’m glad I didn’t see that!
This morning I dropped her off in our church’s excellent summer kids’ program—her second day in the twice-per-week class.  During our drive to church she excitedly announced to me the name of a little girl in the class, calling that girl her “new best friend.”  I suspected the little girl probably didn’t feel the same way (unless she’s like CK).  I walked CK into the room and she immediately pointed to the girl, led me by the hand to where she was and said to me, “Daddy, this is my new best friend!”
The little girl actually rolled her eyes and sighed.  Suspicion confirmed.  Stab to a dad’s heart! 
I had to right then suppress the urge to retreat, to pick CK up in my arms as if removing her from a burning room.  Suddenly the kids in her class looked like bullies to me, waiting for me to leave so they could have at her.  (I’m telling you what I instantly felt, not what I actually think.)  I lingered for a few seconds, considering whether to ask the teachers to keep an extra eye out for her.  But I thought that too reactive, even defensive, and decided it was best to go on to my office and work. 
Americans sentimentalize our children and childhood more than any other people on Earth, conferring on our children a close-to-perfect status when they’re young.  But children can be rather rude if not cruel to each other, like the little yellow chicks pecking the discolored chick in the chicken house.
When I took CK home today I asked her whether she buddied around with the girl she’d favored, knowing that CK doesn’t pick up on nonverbal cues like the girl gave this morning.  “She said she couldn’t be my best friend; she already has too many,” CK told me without a hint of disappointment, because CK doesn’t really understand social rejection yet.  It makes her wonderfully unconscious of herself but also adds a layer of distancing between her and most of her peers.  She took the girl at face-value and moved on to whoever would play with her today, which she said was one boy.
This Father’s Day I find myself thinking not as much on the joys of fatherhood, though there are many for me and I do think of them and thank God for them.  I’m thinking more of the pains of fatherhood, those stabs in the heart when you see your child behind or excluded or maligned in some way.  I’m trying to thank God for this experience of fatherhood too, because it is said that fatherhood brings us into an experiential appreciation of God’s fatherhood of us.  And while His fatherhood of us gives Him immense joy, it is also painful for Him.
I’m not thinking of the pains we cause Him in our preference for sin.  I’m thinking of the pain He’s caused when our differences with our peers in the world invites their scorn or smirk or otherwise resistance to us or rejection of us.  That has to stab at His heart as a father! 
Psalm 56:8 says He puts our tears in His bottle, including the tears a dad sheds for his little girl when finding her way socially, even at eight and even at church, includes difficulties for her.  She’s not tuned into it right now but she will be someday, as I am.  This tunes me in though more to everything the fatherhood of God means for me.  And for this I thank Him.  And for this I hug CK tight, my little chick.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:10 PM
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