"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
September 3, 2012
Complete Love
by Melissa Howell

Some years ago, it was very difficult for me to drive anywhere with my oldest child, Connor. I literally would be in tears and couldn’t wait to get home if we were anywhere that required driving down a road. As you might imagine, this happened frequently, because driving places is fairly unavoidable.

Autism often spurs fixations or obsessions, and Connor has a long and ongoing fixation with vehicles. All vehicles, but especially trucks.

When he was about three, not long after he finally started speaking with the help of speech therapy, he came up with some new terms to describe hubcaps. Being also incredibly and sometimes amazingly detail-oriented, Connor noticed that the front hubcaps of large trucks were convex (curved outward), while the back hubcaps were convex (curved inward). Never noticed, did you? Neither had I.

Connor named the convex hubcaps “ooohs” and the concave ones “ahhhs.” When he was much older and I asked him about it, he explained that the convex ones look as though they are saying “oooh” and the concave ones look as though they are saying “ahhh.” Makes sense, in a way. Clearly I had over-thought it. (Giving sounds to inanimate objects can be another autistic characteristic.)

Subsequently, when we would be driving anywhere, Connor would spend the entire time counting the “ooohs and ahhhs,” and grouping them by colors.

“I saw 10 blue ooohs and five green ahhhs and eight yellow ooohs and 12 white ahhhs,” he might summarize after an outing.

Admittedly, this was difficult for me.

“But look, Connor! There are trees and birds, buildings and flowers, people and clouds!” I would point out, trying to divert his attention and helping him see the bigger picture of our amazing world. It was a no-go. He only saw the hubcaps.

Even as he has grown older, this fixation on vehicles has remained with him. It’s more subtle now at the age of nine, and he does have other interests. But if you watch him closely and listen, you might hear that when he is walking or running he will make the sound of a revving or idling engine. Perfectly. (And you should hear his emergency vehicle siren! Countless times have I looked in my rearview mirror while driving, expecting to see police lights after hearing a siren, only to find it was Connor.)

And when he is walking and makes a turn, he might rhythmically open and close one of his eyes, to indicate a blinker in the direction he is turning.

Admittedly, I don’t fully understand it.

If there’s a movie that haunts me and captivates me from start to finish, it’s A River Runs Through It. This beautiful movie is based on the autobiographical novel by Norman Maclean, about Norman and his younger brother Paul growing up in early-20th century Montana, with a strict father who is a Presbyterian minister. While Norman throws himself into academics and writing, Paul becomes rebellious and gives himself to heavy drinking, gambling and a constant good time. The role of Paul is convincingly played by a much younger Brad Pitt. Subsequently, the scenery is glorious. The Montana landscape is pretty easy on the eyes, too.

Paul’s downward spiral eventually leads to his tragic death. Sometime later, the father, in giving a sermon, says:

“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them — we can love completely without complete understanding.”

Perhaps there are times when we don’t know how to help those close to us, or the help we offer is not wanted. I think parents of teenagers — especially those who might be struggling and making choices contrary to what is best — can perhaps relate to this. Or, many of us likely know someone who needs our help and we don’t know what to do, or what we choose to give is refused.

But what we can always give is our love. I would venture a guess that many of us love someone whom we don’t completely understand, even possibly one of our own children. And loving doesn’t mean that we condone poor choices, or that we don’t try to help a child who struggles with something we may or may not understand. We can pray and strive for increased understanding, all the while doing our best to maintain a spirit of love.

Yes, there are things about my son that I don’t completely understand: the need to be a vehicle, the difficulty with friendships, the importance of certain things going a certain way and in a certain order, and more.

Yes, he is one of the most amazing people I know, who teaches me a lot of things I never could have imagined learning before he came into my life.

Yes, I love him. Completely.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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