Where was God?

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, my heart– like the hearts of parents across the world– has been heavy.  I have not let my second grader out of my sight since I picked her up from school on Friday afternoon.  We have cuddled more, talked more, touched more.  I have listened more.

And I have thanked God for every minute because I know how precious and un-guaranteed our time together is.

Before I collected Hannah at school on Friday, I went to my son’s residential treatment center to pick up clothes and medicine for his regular weekend visit to his Dad’s house.  Alex had been in the hospital because of stomach issues since Tuesday afternoon.  He was discharged after lunch on Friday.

When I left Alex’s room and crossed the hospital lobby Friday morning, I said a silent prayer of gratitude.  We are blessed to live close to a world-renowned children’s facility, and everything about it is exceptional.  The lobby has wide open space and designs that catch the light and make patients feel like the folks who work there don’t have to commute to work because they must just descend from the heavens right through the skylight, like angels.  Everyone– from the security guards to the surgeons– loves children and cares for their families as if it were second nature.  When I walked through the hospital on Friday, I felt comforted, cared for, safe.

That was before I heard about the shooting.

On the drive back to our neighborhood with Alex’s things that had been laid out on his bed by his staff neatly tucked into a bag beside me, I listened to our local news station and began to cry in the car.

Eighteen children, they said then.  It couldn’t be.

Between the ages of 5 and 10, they said then.  No, no, no….

A familiar pain pierced my insides, the sort of heartache that makes new parents leave the movie theater after a child-abduction scene or stop eating beef when they hear a news story about a school-age kid dying after ingesting a half-cooked piece of hamburger.  You know– the kind of pain that is not from your own family experience, but that threatens your security anyway.  That makes you want to hug your kids right-this-minute and find some-kind-of-comforting words to say to the other parents, because you know it could easily be you who needs the comfort-that-no-one-can-really-bring-you-no-matter-how-hard-they-try.

I dropped off Alex’s bag and sped to Hannah’s school.  More cars than usual were waiting early.  I walked to the front lawn and stood with my hands in my pockets, trying to keep casual and not let the thousand words in my head explode on the scene all-at-once.

I looked around at the other parents, a beautifully diverse crowd of every color, background, family arrangement.  I looked at the school and the artwork in the windows.  I looked at the houses across the street with their holiday decorations and shutters and shrubbery. 

I realized in a more-than-speculative way that no one, anywhere, is really immune from the tragedies that hit the news.

I caught the eye of Hannah’s first grade teacher and she crossed the lawn to meet me.  I had been keeping friends updated about my son’s health and sending prayer requests over the previous days and she was happy to hear that Alex was out of the hospital.  As she embraced me, she said:

“I gave Hannah two big hugs today– one for her and one for you.”

Again, I felt comforted, cared for, safe.  And grateful.

Hannah and I spent a quiet “girls’ night” watching movies, eating popcorn and chatting with friends who were staying with us for the weekend.  I thought about how we will talk about this terrible thing that happened, and I wondered what she will hear at school on Monday and what questions she will ask.

As the weekend continued, I learned more and more about what happened at Sandy Hook.  Now they were saying twenty children…

… first graders….

Last year my first-grader Hannah amazed me with what she learned and how she grew.  She was a compassionate, beautiful light in our family and my proud mama heart secretly felt there was no way she could ever impress me more.  Then came this year, when she has blossomed beyond my expectation.  I listened to more news stories and I cried for the parents who would never know that second-grade feeling.

I choked through a video of heroic teacher Kaitlyn Roig explaining how she hid her students in a tiny bathroom and told them they were loved because she believed that was the last thing they would ever hear.  I sobbed reading about 27 year old Victoria Soto who hid her students in cabinets and closets, saving their lives by telling the shooter the kids were in the gym before he shot and killed her.

Aubrey told me I had to stop watching the news and reading the stories.  But I didn’t.  Like everyone I knew, I was searching for some meaning, wrestling with questions no one can really answer: 

Where was God in all of this?

What precipitated such horror?

How would the press, the doctors, the “specialists,” the politicians, the parents respond and explain?

When the reporters said the words:

“… autism spectrum… mental illness…”

I looked for the first time at the face of the 20 year-old killer.  I have only seen one picture of  him because I cannot bear to look any closer.  In the picture he looks young, skinny, with a mop of brown hair.  More innocent than his actions would reveal him to be.

And more like my son than I had expected.

I read a beautiful post at ProfMomEsq by the mother of a 5 year old daughter on the autism spectrum.  She writes:

“My little girl has so very much in common with the 20 young lives cut short by a senseless act of violence.”

She goes on to describe her heartbreak at hearing implications by reporters that the killer may have done what he did because he was somewhere on the autism spectrum.  When I read her post, I felt heartbroken too.  There is something about people making the connection between autism and what happened to 20 innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary that is not only wrong and unfair, but that saps the energy of parents like me, somehow twisting the sadness we feel into anger and defensiveness.

And the truth is, as Prof Mom Esq plainly and clearly stated:

“Autism is a neurologic disorder; it is not a mental illness.”

Still, even as armed with information and resources as I am, a choking, cold grief encompassed me last night as these different stories and images came together in my head.  My daughter, so like the child victims.  Her compassionate teachers and suburban school, so like Sandy Hook Elementary.  The parents…

And a troubled boy in a photograph who did this terrible thing.  A person we all will speculate about and condemn and probably never, ever understand.

Autism does not cause violence.  And violence does not always come from expected or explainable places. 

My autistic son is not a murderer and I have to believe he is not in danger of becoming one.  But he is challenging and misunderstood and often troubled.  And I am a parent who has been asking for help for him continuously since he was a toddler.

How many other parents are out there, asking for help for their troubled children right this minute?

Another post crossed my desk today, written by yet another mom, Liza Long, with an important, heart-wrenching, difficult-for-most-to-imagine perspective.  She is raising a son who has intense behavioral challenges and she questions the available resources for those with mental illness.  She writes:

“In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns.  But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”

This mother passionately advocates for “a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health.”  And I agree with her.  We need to talk openly about the needs of families and individuals in crisis so we can find things that work instead of creating more problems for them within a flawed system.

So where was God on Friday?  And where is our Higher Power, the Universal Good now?

I remember a story years back about a special needs child who was given a chance to play in a little league baseball game.  Thanks to his peers who made sure his attempt at bat was successful, he scored a home run.  The boy was overjoyed of course, and his father later remarked that he felt the true miracle was not so much in how his son experienced that day, but in how the other kids came together to make it happen.  The boy’s gift to the world– what the father believed his son was put on earth to share– was the opportunity for such miracles to take place.

I believe that is where God is– in the middle of those miracles.

God is between the conversations we are having right now.  He is in the pain we feel, in the ways we are compelled to reach out to each other.  He is in the actions we take to give another person the sense of comfort, security and safety we so desperately crave.

There is nothing that can be done to put the broken pieces of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary back together the way they were.  Humanity is broken and imperfect all the time.  But perhaps all the bits and pieces, the grief and the sorrow can come together in a way no one could ever have predicted.  Perhaps God did not desert us.  Perhaps the miracle is not hidden somewhere in those horrific events or in all those circumstances that came together in all the wrong ways to cause unimaginable suffering for the Newtown, CT community.

Perhaps the most important miracle is yet to be uncovered.  

Maybe it is in the way we will come together now to make a change,

to create a different future,

to have a “nation-wide conversation,”

to open our minds and hearts to the misunderstood,

to protect the innocence of children,

to heal the traumatized…

Perhaps God is here.

unexpected miracles 003

I am grateful for everyone who has felt compelled to write over the last 48 hours and for their honest, raw, heart-felt words.

I have found my higher power in-between your letters and essays, and in the courage you found to share your thoughts.

Thank you.

Be Like Buddy!

autism home rescue 081720121Ohmigosh have I got news for you! 

You all know how I love finding good autism resources to share, right?  Well stay tuned for more information on my latest discovery:

Be Like Buddy!

 

Created by the father of a child with autism, the “Be Like Buddy” educational videos and resources are right on target. 

I mean…  RIGHT.  ON.   

As in– the guy who put the videos together knows autism.  The website creators know autism.  The folks who made the educational materials know autism.  The entire team– plus the absolutely adorable and loveable puppet named Buddy who stars in the videos– really understand and connect with families like mine– and YOURS too!

Stay tuned to Autism Home Rescue for more info next week on how YOU can get absolutely free  resources for autism parents, educators & professionals this month at the online launch party for Be Like Buddy”

In the meantime, please go to the Be Like Buddy” facebook page and Like them to make sure you stay in the loop! 

And while you’re on Facebook, dear loyal readers, please Like Autism Home Rescue’s facebook page too!  (see the handy dandy button to the right on this page!)

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101“Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others…”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Can you see a fish in a tree?
How about the world through a child’s eyes?

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101

In any moment, we can take refuge in awareness & love. When we get lost, we need only pause, relax open to what is Here & re-arrive in the natural presence that is our true home.      ~Tara Brach

How to meditate (remember to breathe!)

… a fish in a tree…

 goldfish tree reflection

Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

~ Albert Einstein

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About a week ago I saw this quote for the first time.  It struck me in such a profound way that an entire expanded blog post has been wandering around in my head since then, unpacking & rearranging & dissecting & analyzing & marveling at these words.

fish_in_a_tree_by_itsmebrownmindpopper-d2ztpxtA fish.  With a tree.  Climbing, not climbing.  Pondering the situation.  Wondering maybe why the heck someone would expect it to climb?  Maybe a slightly annoyed fish waiting for someone to recognize its fins are for swimming.  Like, duh!  … Or maybe a fish not really caring about trees, just being a fish and being content.  Not caring if someone else judged its ability at all, as long as it got the water it needed to live.  You know what I mean?

Or are you staring at the computer screen with your mouth hanging open, thinking maybe I’ve completely lost my mind?  Well, that would be okay too.  It’s all good, really it is.  See, it comes right back to the beauty of that quote in the first place:

We judge because our minds are constantly trying to make sense of our world.  Einstein’s quote is perfect to me because it clearly illustrates how ridiculous and imperfect our judgements of others really are, and then gives a gentle reminder of our silliness and sends us back out into the world to look at others through a new lens.

456088-sandy_cheeks_squirrel_largeDid I think that fish could climb a tree?  Did I expect it?  Was it fair?  Or should I set up a nice little oval aquarium and invite it to show me how it can swim better than a squirrel?

Can you see it?

I smile as I write this because I can see it, and I can feel it.  And just being able to do that brings a whole universe closer to me somehow.  I believe there’s a higher power who created the world, and I believe that everyone is special and important, every living thing has its place, things happen for a reason, and that we have lessons to learn in life.  Seeing that fish, imagining that tree, makes me realize the immensity of ALL of this.  I’m only one part, and me with my own judgements and ways of seeing the world…. well, maybe I have a lot more to learn, too.

Are you with me?  So to take this quote one step further into my life…

fish-and-monkey-jarsMy son is a fish.  He can swim like nobody’s business.  He loves the trees– all the typical stuff– but he’s not good at a lot of it.  For years I thought I’d find the “cure” that would change his fins to feet, would make him be able to survive without water, so that he could live in the trees with his little sister (whom I’ve always affectionately referred to as my “monkey”) and be happy.  Then I realized the key to everything, the key to really being a good mother (in my humble opinion) was to recognize his fishy-ness, to get him what he innately needs for the way he was created to live.  So that’s what I’ve tried to do.

But about a week ago, Albert Einstein reminded me that I missed another important part:

If in my world of trees, I had missed an obvious point entirely about the abilities of my little fish and about my own judgements of others, then what else could I learn from a fish?  What else was I missing about what fish *can* do?

flying-fish

As often happens in my life, an answer to these silent questions swirling around in my curious brain came to me in a truly beautiful and touching way.  Alex’s former ABA teacher Steph (of “Tigger Takes a Swim“) emailed me out of the blue yesterday:

“I’ve been thinking about Alex a lot lately… I just started doing consulting work and I’ve been going back over my years of doing therapy [with kids] and I keep coming back to him. … I don’t think [that’s] because of what and how we taught him during his [early intervention] days, but more about what he taught us and reminded us. …

“Alex taught me that answers aren’t always in books.  He taught me that patience and love get you a lot further than sitting at a table and doing things by the rules.  He taught me that sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious and search for the deeper meaning…  And even after searching if you still can’t find something, then just act goofy and laugh because laughter makes everything okay, at least for a bit.

I owe you a much needed thank you for allowing me to be a part of his life and learn from him.  I honestly believe it has taught me to be the best I can be in my job and that when A and B don’t add up, then maybe they aren’t supposed to so just move along!  I hope beyond hope that he is doing well in his new environment and learns all he can and continues to teach and inspire those around him.” 

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It seems my beautiful boy fish is already doing much more than I had expected — he is making impressions, teaching lessons, causing people to pause & reflect & remember.  And because of him, lives of other little fish have been and will continue to be changed for the better.

Thanks, Steph, for showing me the deeper meaning of my new favorite quote.  And thanks Alex, as always, for swimming to your own beat.

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:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~ Thorton Wilder

Our first teacher tribute: Tigger Takes a Swim

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101“Sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

~ Lewis Carroll

A tribute to the unwavering faith of children:

Sabine’s Lesson

“Honey, come quick before you miss this…

… it’s time for that show at the house next door!”

(Maude grabs popcorn, pulls up a chair for her spouse Donald to sit with her at the window, and settles down for the latest exciting installment of “Autism Home Rescue:  At Home.”)

The WordPress topic today, in case you haven’t already guessed, is:  Write a story about yourself, told from your neighbor’s perspective.  Oh boy, this should be a fun one.  I’m not sure I wanna know what our crazy household actually looks like in reality to our neighbors (whom we’ll call “Maude and Donald” for confidentiality purposes.)  So for your reading amusement today, I’m just gonna make this one up.  Ever see the movie “The Burbs” with Tom Hanks?  Well, picture kinda like that.  But, um, we’re not axe murderers or anything.

Maude:  “Come quick, I don’t wanna miss the beginning like we did last week.  I was all confused when the mail truck showed up twice in one day and Hannah climbed out the back.”

Donald:  “All right, all right, I’m hurrying.  Did the au pair arrive yet?”

Maude:  “No dear, the au pair left screaming, remember?  There are three new babysitters now.  Or maybe four.  Wait– someone is coming up the walk.”

lara_croft_001Maude & Donald wait and watch as Dacia parks her car in front of the house in Superhero Parking Space #1 at exactly 3:00 pm and glides up to the family home.  Dacia is gorgeous, confident and ultra-prepared.  A behavior specialist and autism-expert-extraordinaire with long brunette locks and a smile that could charm the most hardened criminal, she was brought in after the infamous “window-breaking episode” to kinda clean things up.  Picture Lara Croft only happier, minus the guns and the sarcasm.

Dacia unlocks the door just as Alex’s bus is pulling up.  The bus door opens and

**freeze frame & rotate to the side to see Alex in all his hyperactive, OCD glory in mid-leap flying off the school bus onto the walkway**

Dacia:  “Hey bud!

Alex:  (singing loudly)  “Daaaaashhhaa!” (as he runs past her into the house)

The door closes.  Alex announces “RADIO!” and in about 30 seconds loud gospel music begins pouring through the walls.  (Last week it was country music, the week before jazz and rock.)

Will-Smith-Men-In-Black-383341In the meantime, a black SUV zips expertly into Superhero Parking Space #2.  Cue spy movie background music & slow motion effect as TSS Jack (Wraparound Support Services Guy) exits his vehicle & whips off his sunglasses.  In a flash, he arms himself with all the tools needed for whatever he may encounter inside the Home.  Positive reinforcers in hand, Jack strides confidently to the door.

Alex opens the door:  “Jaaaaaack!!”  (at the top of his lungs)

The door closes again.

Donald:  Those two, they’re like the dream team.

Maude:  I know, right?  Last summer after that cliff hanger episode when the chair flew through the door I was kinda worried.  About time they brought in some extra reinforcements–  hey, who is that?

charlie_s_angels_ii_-_full_throttle,_2003,_drew_barrymore,_cameron_diaz,_lucy_liuAshley arrives and parks in Superhero Parking Space #3.  She’s the newest addition to the Team, beautiful & smart with a calm but fun outlook on life.  Picture Cameron Diaz in “Charlie’s Angels.”

Donald:  That’s the new one, right?  Think she just finished her Agent training at the University Campus downtown.

Ashley enters the house.  Even over the blaring music, Alex can be heard screaming “Ashweeeeeeee!”  Through the windows Alex can be seen zipping back and forth, moving lights and building supplies from room to room.  Before long, construction has begun on the largest Rube Goldberg contraption known to man.  Ping pong balls and marbles bounce around on ramps and spirals, flying from room to room, upstairs and down.  The three superheros move with Alex through the house with the precision of a team of ninjas as Alex screams gleefully “Marble run 3000!  The best marble run ever!  Donnnnn’t touch!!”

Mystery%20machine%20cartoon%20versionThe clock ticks 3:30.  A beaten up little 3/4 minivan swerves into the driveway on two wheels.  Mom hops out and runs up the walk, 27 bags in hand and 15 minutes late as usual.  Alex’s teachers from school, whom we’ll call Kate and Rachel, meet Mom at the door.  Kate and Rachel could be the 2nd and 3rd Angels to Alex’s “Charlie.”

Donald:  I don’t know how they do it, but whoever casts this show has some talent.  Did you ever notice how they all look like movie stars?  That little boy just surrounds himself with gorgeous women.

Maude:  (dreamily)  Mm hmm.. (mutters under her breath)  I kinda like Jack

Mom, Kate and Rachel enter the house.  As the door opens, more screamed greetings followed by Alex announcing “QuesadiwAAH!”

3232_Mexican_PuebloMaude:  Everytime this commercial comes on, I just feel like dancing.  (Maude & Donald chuckle as a lively Mexican theme plays and Alex ticks off the recipe)

*insert scrolling recipe subtitles here*

Alex:  Torteewas, chicken, cheese.  Lettuce shreds.  Salsa.  Beans.  …  Beans??  Dacia, get some refried beans please!  Go to store, get beans, okay?

Dacia:  Okay, bud.  Let’s write the list for Mom.

Alex and Dacia construct the shopping list, which now includes 3 more desk lamps, an 8-pack of lightbulbs, every item in the Mexican food specialty aisle at the grocery store, the “magic toy” (apparently a “classified” gizmo of which no one on the entire team has any knowledge) and gluten free cookie mix.

blue laser beamMeanwhile, Mom, Kate & Rachel conduct a Top Secret meeting in the next room where they are developing plans for the most Amazing Home Program known to man.  Papers shuffle, complex charts and graphs are passed around the table, heads nod.  A nifty 3-D blue laserbeam display hovers above the table for a minute, then disappears.

Kate:  And that.   Is how Alex will load the dishwasher after dinner.

Mom & Rachel high five as big smiles all around radiate an immensely glowing light out through the living room window.

cute_tiara_fairy_princess_poster-p228420657750043199t51d_400The door opens again.  Alex and his Team exit and make their way to the bus stop, then return a few minutes later with Hannah, who wears a diamond tiara and brightly colored princess gown over her school clothes.  They are joined by another Behavior Specialist who looks extremely serious and professional, kinda like an FBI agent.  Hannah carries the 17 new stuffed animals she has accumulated throughout the school day.  She updates Dacia on all the animal stats.

Hannah:  This one is Spot, he’s a dog.  And this one is Sneaky.  Here’s Snow White, Marshmallow, Gigi & Fifi.  Fifi is an ox, but her mommy is a Moose.  They got left in the toy bin, but Fifi climbed to the top– she’s a survivor– ohmigosh, she was so sad because her mom was still at the toy store until I rescued her and took her away from the pig.  Oh– and this one is Grand Central Spacement.  She’s a golden retriever….

Salsa_DanceMom opens the door and The Home Team disappears inside the house.  Lights begin to flash off and on, in a kinda bizarre morse code.  Alex sings, “Ready or not, here I come!” as another voice calls out, “Dinnertime!”  The theme song of “The Incredibles” begins to blend in with the radio, which is now blaring salsa music.  Mom, wearing her own sparkly tiara, can be seen dancing around the living room with Hannah.

A TV announcer’s voice echoes above the neighborhood:

“Will the home team unlock the secret of the ‘magic toy?’  Are there really enough quesadilla fixings to last the week?  Will Grand Central Spacement ever find her mommy dog in the bottom of the toy box?  Tune in next week as we hear Alex say, ‘Mommmm… I love you!’

Maude picks up the empty popcorn bowl and closes the mini-blinds.  She smiles at her husband.  

“Whoever would have dreamed we’d find such entertainment right in our own backyard?”

 

Does everything happen for a reason? You decide.

… my second teacher tribute …

My friend Susan commented to me that she had read my last post, I was amazing, and I always made her cry.  After a snarky comment back about how it was my goal to cause her eye makeup to run down her face, I told her seriously how much I appreciated her encouragement and how I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.  This blog would not be “Autism Home Rescue,” my life and my children’s lives (my son’s life especially) would not be the same, and my perspective might be vastly different were it not for my friend Susan.  So for this post, I’ve decided to write my second teacher/mentor tribute about how Susan and I came to be in each other’s lives today.  Does everything happen for a reason?  You decide.

A wrong number phone call changed everything.

When Alex was a little over one year old, I decided I wanted to take him to a “mommy and me” music class.  He loved music (see “Music is a language all its own” to read about our first musical conversation) and I was committed to reaching out within the stay-at-home mom community and finding friends and activities for our new family.  I had browsed through some parent magazines, but wasn’t really making much of an effort to find a class when one afternoon the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Margie from Music Together.  I’m wondering if you and your daughter Olivia could switch from the Thursday class to the Tuesday class?”

Wrong number.  No daughter, no Olivia, no class registration.  I could have politely hung up.  But I didn’t.

“Well, you’ve got the wrong number, there’s no Olivia here.  But I have a 14 month old son, and we’re looking for a music class.  Can you tell me about it?”

She described the class, it was perfect.  Then she literally said (and no, I am not making this up) “It starts tomorrow morning, around the corner from you.  Why don’t you go?”

I got chills.  I looked up, scanning for some kind of angel keeping watch, and said “Okay.”

The next morning we arrived at Music Together.  It was wonderful, we had so much fun.  During that first ten week session we met Sabine and her mom Rose.  A year later little Sabine would help me understand more clearly than anyone else how to reach my son as he began to retreat into autism.  (Read the story of Sabine’s lesson here.)  A couple sessions after we met Rose and Sabine, Alex and I met Susan and her daughter Lauren.

From the get-go, Susan told me I looked familiar.  My response was, “Yeah, I get that a lot.”  One day she met me in the parking lot. 

“Seriously, you really do look familiar.  Are you sure we don’t know each other from somewhere?”

“Did you go to high school around here?  When did you graduate?”  I asked.

“Well, I graduated in 1986, but I didn’t go to high school in this district.  I did go to the local elementary school though.  I was vice president of the school in 5th grade.  See how far that got me?”  Susan looked around and laughed.

“Wait, wait.”  I gave her a quizzical look.  “You couldn’t have been vice president of the school in 5th grade.  Because I was secretary of the school in 5th grade and…  Susan B?”

“Cathy M?”  She replied.

Amazing.  I was reconnecting with a woman I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  In a totally new world, we had everything in common again.  Each week we sang and danced with our kids, we shared family stories and parenting advice.  As time went on, things seemed okay on the surface, but underneath the happy-new-mom facade I tried so hard to maintain, the ground on which I was standing was beginning to crumble.  No one noticed.  Except for Susan.

Each week she quietly watched us.  Each week she saw the changes in Alex that I was trying hard to keep under wraps.  At Alex’s second birthday party (a music party of course), he did not respond to his name.  His grandmother clapped loud behind him to see if he would react.  He did not.  I snuck upstairs after the party and made a secret phone call to my aunt-in-law, who is a speech pathologist, to get some information on typical speech development and whether or not to have Alex evaluated for early intervention.

Each week the mothers, teacher, kids and I sang and danced.  Each week between classes I made calls to experts, set up evaluation times, tried to get my game face on, to tackle the puzzle, to figure out what the heck was attacking my precious little boy from the inside out.  Where was he going?  Why was he all of a sudden so strange?  Who knew the answers?  Who could help?

Alex’s increasing strange behavior and occasional outbursts were scary and embarrassing, especially since I had no way to explain them.  I felt terribly alone.  That session of music class there was a lullaby called “The River is Wide” of which the teacher was particularly fond.  I think it was adapted from an old hymn or spiritual poem.  The words were:

“The river is wide, I cannot cross over.  And neither have I wings to fly.  Give me a boat that can carry two.  And both shall row, my child and I.”

As I type this, I can hear the music teacher’s voice and the gentle sounds of the guitar.  Tears are slowly making their way down my cheeks.  I remember so clearly that song and my desperation.  I used to hold Alex on my lap at the lullaby time and rock him, trying to make sure he didn’t see me cry.  It was a sweet, beautiful song for naptime for everyone else.  But for me, it was my life.  Where was that boat?  How in the world would I cross?  All those two years I thought I would live in Italy, now I found myself almost to the shores of Holland without a guide.  I had no one, and no wings.

What I didn’t realize was that I was not alone in my struggle.  Susan was there, too.  She saw my tears and she knew why I cried them, even though the other moms didn’t.  Right around the time Alex was being diagnosed, Susan stopped me after class.  She asked me how I was and I started to cry right in front of her.  I couldn’t hide it. 

I choked, “They think it’s autism…  We had an evaluation…” 

Susan didn’t ask me about the doctor or the tests or the plan or anything anyone else had asked.  She simply put her arm around me and said:

“You remember my daughter Rachel, right?  She’s Lauren’s older sister, she’s been here a few times with us.”

I nodded.

“She’s beautiful, right?  She has fun in class, she participates and she responds.  She’s okay, right?”

I nodded again, tears still flowing on my cheeks.

“Rachel has autism.  And she is just like Alex.  I know who is going to help you.  There is a behavior specialist named Mari.  She works with Rachel.  She will work with Alex, and she will help, you’ll see.  It will be okay.”

I didn’t question, and I didn’t need to look up.  I felt that angel watching.  I simply said, “Okay.” 

What I needed more than anything right then was that promise that it would be okay.  There was a boat, there was a teacher, I would learn how to row.  The water was wide, but there were other people crossing too.  No one could tell me or make me believe.  But Susan could.  And more importantly, she did.  In a way that only my dear friend Susan could do, she explained how it was with Alex, how he was like her Rachel, and how the universe was going to bend to connect me with all the right people and knowledge I needed to help my son.

When I contacted Mari a short time later to ask her to begin a home program for Alex, neither Mari nor the agency for which she worked had an open space for him.  On the way to the agency interview (which I begged for anyhow), buoyed by the confidence I borrowed from Susan, I prayed.  Through those prayers and– I firmly believe– Susan’s sheer force of will, the universe bent and the connections were made.  As I walked into the agency– the best ABA therapy practice in our area at the time, the one with the 25% full recovery rate from autism and the most encouraging outcomes for kids on the spectrum– the director was just hanging up the phone. 

“Amazing.”  She said.  “I just had a cancellation.  We have one spot left.  Alex can have it.”

Does everything happen for a reason?

I believe so.  Maybe you don’t see the world that way.  Or maybe things happen differently in your life.  And that’s okay.  But for me, yes, I believe there are no coincidences.  Just as I had no explanation for what was happening to Alex when he was two years old, I have no explanation for the wrong number phone call that led me to a friend from grade school whose child was helped by the same woman who would become a true angel to my son.  Mari and Susan are now a forever part of my family.

I’ve never asked her, but when I think back, I wonder if Susan knew exactly the words to say that day in music class.  There certainly had been many, many people speaking to me about Alex and our family.  Much of the time I didn’t understand their words, it was like a different language.  Yet Susan’s reassurance and gentle guidance reached through my confusion and pain, and gave me hope when I most needed it.

Does everything happen for a reason?  You decide.

The thanksgiving list, with no added fluff.

Can I tell you a secret?  Those mushy Thanksgiving blogs make me feel kinda funny and lightheaded- not in a good way.  On one hand, of course it’s special and beautiful to write about the crisp autumn air and the smell of apple pie and the laughter at family gatherings.  Great stuff, I’m totally all for it.  But to be honest, if I wrote a post like that, I think I’d feel like I was missing my own point.  In fact, I might even make myself queasy.  So this year, I deliberately sat down to write a list of things for which I am truly thankful, a list which includes the most important stuff without all the fluffy crap.  Here it is.

I am thankful for music.  All kinds of music.  The songs and beats and melodies that run through my blood and make me want to take on new challenges and conquer the world.

I am thankful for expressions of joy.  On my way to work this morning I saw a little girl dancing her heart out at her bus stop.  Awesome, awesome!  Made me want to jump up and dance with her.

I am thankful for heartache.  Each time I have opened my heart to reach out to someone, to truly love with all my soul, there has been some heartache.  The pain of it, while as great and terrible to my psyche as a shattering earthquake to the land, has always left me stronger, more determined, and more grateful for my ability to immerse myself in relationships and experience love.  I would not be who I am were it not for heartache.

I am thankful for my memory.  The memories I carry with me are a forever reminder that love continues beyond the moment and the connections I’ve made are mine to keep.  What I remember of my past gives me hope for the future and all the discoveries that lie ahead.

I am thankful for my health, my breath, for the strength of my physical body, for my ability to run and dance and play.  I took my body for granted for a long time.  Now I realize, as I see various health problems break down the freedom or abilities of those I love, how amazingly grateful I am for my physical self.  Hooray for walking up stairs, for climbing trees, for bending into yoga poses.  Hooray for breathing chakras into alignment and the ability to eat well.  I am thankful for all those healers who help me become more resilient and treat my body with care.

I am thankful for teachers.  Those who share what they know because they are passionate and generous enable the whole world around them to be enriched.  I am grateful to be surrounded by teachers of a zillion different matters and areas of expertise, big and small, in just about every field I can imagine.  How blessed am I to be able to learn!

I am thankful for mentors.  For those who believe in the unlimited potential of others and whose main focus is to help people to reach their goals and feel good about themselves, to uncover and bring to light the hidden talents lying just beneath the surface and to celebrate them.  I am grateful for those who advocate for others and who refuse to compromise their positive view of humankind and their high expectations for the future.

I am thankful for words.  I used to think my vocabulary was so limited, that I could never find the words I wanted.  It wasn’t until very recently that I realized how lucky I am to be able to speak and write and think in words as well as pictures.  I am grateful for communication, understanding and language.  I am grateful I can tell you how I feel or what matters most to me.

I am thankful for the ability to create.  Art, food, comfortable spaces, community, situations in which people can experience happy, healthy things.  Creation, manifestation, achieving a goal, visualizing a dream, living life as part of the creative process, not as a means to an end.

I am thankful for you.  It doesn’t matter to me what country or community or area or situation or family to whom you belong.  You’re reading, so you’re listening.  And the gift for me is that my words are heard and acknowledged.  I am part of a community of sharing, discovering, growing people.  So many of us take that for granted, but isn’t that what we all want?  Recognition and the chance to know that we are heard?  To feel as if we matter to someone else, that our lives matter in this place on earth?  How lucky I am to have you!

Last– but most importantly– I am thankful for the two words I hear every night from Alex as he is drifting off to sleep (“Mommy cuddle”) and the kiss on my nose from Hannah Rose that wakes me up every morning.  They are touchstones for my sense of belonging in this world.  And I am most of all grateful to have been born of this universe and to belong here now.

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