A Little Reminder

The plume of thick, dark smoke rising on the horizon matched my mood that morning. Dark. It had been yet another rough start to the day. Little Fella screamed from his high chair while scattering Cherrios onto the already crumb-laden kitchen floor. Crunch. Annie incessantly whined that she was still hungry. Her requests for fruit snacks, gum, peanut butter on a plate, crackers, goldfish, a popsicle were met with an increasingly louder, "I said no." Amidst the cacophony Kate stole into the playroom to engage in repetitive play with her "kids", a random assortment of 22 small dolls that must be lined up and put away according to her own stringent standards. Any deviation from her particular routine is not allowed and will result in a full-blown tantrum.

We were running late that morning, and I quickly morphed into the wild-eyed, crazed Mean Mommy. "Hurry up! Put those away! We're going to be late, " Mean Mommy barked.

"Put kids to bed first," she responded firmly.

"Just leave them! Why do you have to put them back? Let's go!" Mean Mommy ranted, not understanding her insatiable desire for these nonfunctional, quirky routines.

Giving her a few extra moments, I loaded the other 2 into the car. However, the routine was still not complete when I returned. Not having any more time to spare, Mean Mommy picked her up and carried her kicking and screaming to the car, kids strewn about on the floor.

It was an ugly car ride that morning. Kate, red-faced with tears streaming down her cheeks, screamed at the top of her lungs, drowning out Little Fella's cries. Annie alternated between whining and sucking her thumb. My insides shook, and I cursed under my breath.

Halfway through our 20 minute journey, the plume of smoke began to dissapate, and the screaming and crying subsided. As I rounded the bend in the winding rural road, traffic came to a screeching halt. Police cars, fire trucks, and an ambulance barricaded the road. A single vehicle wrapped itself around a tree, fully engulfed in flames. The driver, extricated from the car just moments before it was too late.

The accident required me to turn my car around and find a new, albeit longer, route to school. During the drive I had a little extra time to think. Had Kate not played with her toys, had we not argued, had we not been running late, we might very well have been involved in that accident. The little annoyances that, at the time, I thought were going to ruin my day, were nothing compared to what the driver of that car endured, were nothing compared to what could have happened to us. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Let us celebrate the many blessings in our lives, today and every single day. Let us not take these things for granted. Ever.


The Dawning of Self-Awareness

The scowl and furrowed brows warned me that trouble was afoot. The question came in fragments, indicative of her continued struggle with language, "Why I.... why doos... why have... a Mr. Joe at my school?" I answered this question easily enough, that Mr. Joe helped her learn how to talk, how to use her words. Her reply was blunt. "No. Need. Help."

The next question came in quick succession, so quickly that it caught me off-guard. "Why Annie not have a Mr. Joe at her school?" I faltered, stumbled over my words. Everyone is different, I told her. Everyone is good at something but may need help with another thing. You are a good reader and know how to count to 100. You just need a little bit of help with using your words. Annie is a good dancer, but she needs a little bit of help walking up the stairs.

She remained silent in response to my imperfect explanation, and I did not press the issue further. When the time is right, she will bring up the subject again. And I hope that next time I will find the words to tell her that despite our differences, we are all the same. And that differences are okay. Same but different, different but same.


Wordless Wednesday

What being couch-ridden for a whole week with a 103 degree fever and ear infection will do to your hair.


A Walk Toward Hope

Below is something I wrote over a year ago. I had planned to submit it in hopes that it would be included in this book. I chickened out. So now I am sharing it with all of you.

I will never forget the first time I heard the word autism and Kate spoken together in the same sentence. Those life-altering words were a punch in the gut, changing nothing, everything. Gone were the frilly fantasies of a childhood filled with giggling little girlfriends staying up all night at a sleep-over. Gone were the dreams of an all-star athlete, award-winning scholar, and class president. Such hopes and dreams were replaced with an exhausting array of therapies and appointments, support group meetings, behavior modification that never seemed to work, and a small mountain of paperwork stamped with the word autism, as if sealing the fate of life ahead.

When Kate was a baby, she could light up a room. Her musical laugh announced her arrival as her twinkling blue eyes scanned the room, eager to explore the marvels of the world. She was a charming baby who could captivate anyone with those eyes and that sweet smile. Kate sparkled and exuded life.

Then came what we thought were the terrible two’s. Tantrums, screaming at people, throwing herself on the ground, rigid routines, quirky obsessions. By age two-and-a-half it appeared that Kate’s terrible two’s had lasted longer than expected, and we decided to seek help.

Around the time of the diagnosis, my husband’s sister asked if Kate would participate in her wedding as the flower girl. Although I knew that Kate bouncing down the aisle in a quiet church in front of a few hundred family members in a fluffy dress and new shoes was a recipe for disaster, I accepted the invitation as my way of trying to hold onto a tiny shred of a typical childhood.

Over the next few months, flower girl practice consumed me. Each Sunday we drove a half hour to attend Mass at the church where the wedding would take place. During church we fed Kate an endless supply of praise and goodies for sitting quietly. After Mass we practiced walking, not bouncing, down the aisle. We took pictures of the church and wrote a social story about being a flower girl. That story became a bedtime favorite. We paraded around our house in the fancy dress and stiff new shoes, laughing at the tappity-tap sound they made on the kitchen floor.

The day of the wedding arrived with my stomach churning in anticipation. Would all of our practice finally pay off, or was my sister-in-law’s perfect day going to be ruined? Part of me just wanted to grab Kate, poofy dress and all, throw her in the car and drive away from everything and everybody.

Moments before it was time to begin the processional Kate was sprawled out on the floor, a mound of white tulle and curls. Rolling a toy car across the floor, back and forth, she clearly did not wish to be disturbed. Each attempt to get her to stand up was met with an increasingly louder scream that showed her displeasure.

The processional began, and Kate showed no signs of any desire to participate. One by one the bridesmaids glided down the aisle. Panicking, I told the ring bearer to walk without the flower girl. It wasn’t going to work.

In one final attempt, I gently picked Kate up and whispered calmly in her ear, "Kate, do you want Mommy to carry you or do you want to walk?" My sweet little flower girl looked into my eyes and said in a slow and halting voice, "Walk with Mommy." As she raised her dimpled, chubby hand toward mine, she gave me a shy smile. I grinned from ear to ear, took her hand in mine, and we began our journey together.

As I floated down the aisle with my beautiful daughter I said two prayers to God. The first was a prayer of thanks for giving us that perfect moment. The second was a prayer of hope that some day, some day, my husband would be given the same gift of walking Kate down the aisle.

That magical afternoon we walked together. We walked toward hope and acceptance. We walked toward the future, together.


An Elvis Fan

Earlier this week Kate's school celebrated Elvis Presley's birthday. The festivities included birthday cake, guitar-making, and of course, lots of music and dancing. According to her teacher, Kate had a grand time and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

The highlight of the party? In Kate's words, "My favorite song beed 'Love Me Teacher'."


A New Habit

A new sound can be heard echoing through my house these days. This sound is usually produced by a large, beer-guzzling man, not by a sweet girl at the tender age of 5. Apparently, Kate picked up this gem of a habit from spending time with her soda-chugging tween-age cousins.

Kate thought this belching thing looked, and sounded, like loads of fun, so she decided to give it a whirl. She pounded a cupful of milk, tilted her head back, and let loose. The belch that escaped her lips was incongruous to her diminutive stature. True to the principles of behavior, this act garnered such a reaction that it was immediately reinforced and thus has since been reproduced quite frequently.

Fortunately, I am teaching my children the virtue of good manners. Each time she produces an earth-rumbling belch, Kate, the little lady that she is, always says, " 'scuse me."