Category Archives: Parenthood

Why We Support Autism Speaks (And why you should to.)

It’s no secret our family supports Autism Speaks. And although our son is on the spectrum, our support isn’t based on any tangible benefit received from the organization. Our support is rooted solely in the commonality we’ve found within.

If you know our story, you know I recognized symptoms of autism in our son, Jackson, very early on. Our son was officially diagnosed in early November 2011, just three weeks shy of his third birthday. Although I had suspected autism for quite some time, I was devastated when the neurologist delivered the diagnosis. I was so fearful of the unknowns. I had no idea what life held for our son and was terrified of facing the future with a “team” comprised solely of my husband and me. In retrospect, my fears were unfounded, but that was my reality at that point in time.

Following our son’s diagnosis, I found a much-needed sense of community within Autism Speaks. I perused the organization’s website ad nauseam. As anticipated, I found a wealth of statistics, information and resources. We participated in our first Walk Now For Autism Speaks in 2013. Words cannot express the overwhelming sense of community I felt when we stepped into a literal sea of families at that first Walk. It was overwhelming and very much needed.

So you see, this is why Autism Speaks is an organization near and dear to our hearts. Please join us in supporting them. If not for our family, then do it to benefit the millions of other families affected by autism. Chances are, this means you.

#1in68

About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)

Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births. (CDC, 2014)

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)

Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism Society estimate based on Government Accounting Office Report on Autism, 2006)

Pour it On

Motoring.

Motoring.

I snapped the above photo en route to school this morning. This has become our typical commute, as munchkin has declared he no longer wants to be a car rider. And as long as weather permits, I’m okay with this.  There are so many benefits to this two-mile ride.

Of course, the most obvious benefit is the fitness factor. Jackson and I are both burning calories and building strength and stamina while bathing our brains in awesome mood enhancing, stress reducing chemicals. The benefits don’t end there though. The greatest benefits can’t readily be measured. I do believe, however, they’ll be immeasurable in the long run.

Our twice daily, 20-minute commute amounts to perhaps the richest 40 minutes of my day. I use this time to pour into Jackson’s soul in a manner I am unable to achieve at any other time of day (with the exception of bedtime perhaps). He is my captive; he is my teammate. There are so many elements at play while we make our way to school. We have wet, moss-covered and very slippery sidewalks to contend with. We have elevated sidewalks, driveways and intersections to navigate, which we do so fluidly. I guide Jackson along, subtly yet sternly. With all that’s going on, there is no room for carelessness or wanton disregard for my instruction. Do you know what? He steps up to the plate every single day. He is my captive listener. As I see it, some of the myriad benefits for Jackson in this (literal) exercise are:

  • Learning to rely on someone for guidance
  • Learning patience and grace as we wait to cross driveways and streets
  • Observing my expression of gratitude to drivers who patiently wait for us to cross said streets and driveways, and to the crossing guard for being there to keep us safe every single day, rain or shine
  • Learning how to use all our senses—not solely sight—for safe travel
  • Learning how to accommodate others in our path as we make way for fellow walkers, joggers and bikers
  • Learning to acknowledge (value) others as we greet each and every individual with a hearty, “Good morning!”

The greatest benefit of all, however, is our ability to have meaningful conversations virtually free of distractions. We observe cloudscapes and nature. We talk about God, heaven and this beautiful world He created for us to enjoy. We talk about anything and everything (Montana, family, horses, animals, weather, rocket launches…), unimpeded. I use this valuable time to remind Jackson of the importance of being a good listener, why we need to be kind to others and why he must be a good team member as it relates to his teachers, and peers. I use this precious time to pour love and encouragement into Jackson. I bolster his confidence by pointing out all of the things he has done and is doing right. These 40 minutes are an extremely, extremely valuable opportunity for me to affirm and reaffirm Jackson’s worth as a child of God.

Would I prefer my morning workout be more challenging? Absolutely! As a former (decades long) early morning gym rat, I miss the daily intense cardio workout and strength training I did religiously in my “former” (pre-Jax) life. I can unequivocally promise you, however, those workouts were not nearly as rewarding as my present “work out.” Would I trade it if I could? No way. Not in a million, billion, trillion years. God doesn’t give us what we want. He gives us what we need.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

You Won’t Believe What Happened!

Disclaimer: Unless you are the parent of a child who faces exceptional challenges or has special needs, the following maybe lost on you. And that’s okay. Truly. It is.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but today Jackson snapped and unsnapped his shorts. You may not grasp the significance of this, but I’ve waited for years for this to happen.   I’m talking about what most folks perceive to be the simple act of closing a fastener with two fingers and two thumbs. To date, this simple act has been out of Jackson’s grasp (no pun intended).

Fastening a snap!

Fastening a snap!

While I was getting dressed this morning, Jackson came running in to show me what he had done. I was happier for the pride he had in himself than I was for how proud I was of him. We’ve worked on this “simple” act for years. Today was a watershed event for our son.

Additionally, while at lunch, Jackson was able to traverse independently, and follow instruction when needed, in order to complete the maze on the restaurant’s placemat. Please don’t miss this. Jackson has worked with an occupational therapist for years. Until recently he was unable to properly grasp a writing implement. The fact that he is not only able to hold a Crayon, but is able to focus and discern a path and heed instruction is something we thought to be potentially impossible.

Navigating a maze

Navigating a maze

Our God is so good, folks. He is so very, very good. And we are so very, very grateful.

The difficulties and struggles of today are but the price we must pay for the accomplishments and victories of tomorrow. ~ William. J. H. Boetcker

Hearing Truth

The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. ~Proverbs 15:31

This morning I received reproof from a five year old. I would like to tell you it was an inappropriate exchange—a child giving a parent correction—but it wasn’t. It was spot on.

As with any working mom, my days are busy with marriage, child caring, child rearing, child transportation, homework, work, housework, yard work and any other kind of work you might want to throw in there. I’m no more or less busy than most folks. I have, however, been distracted lately.

News flash: Upon returning home from vacation in early August I had a bad attitude. I’m less than proud to admit that. I was feeling fed up with all things South Florida. I was tired of the heat, the bugs, the critters, the traffic, the people, and on and on and on. I grumbled to anyone who would listen. A lot. (Forgive me, friends!) But God had a word for me. He distinctly told me I should tend the garden I have instead of looking longingly at the neighboring one. Honest to goodness, that is what God spoke to me. Admittedly, His correction was difficult to take. Although I knew precisely what He was talking about, I still wrestled with it. I know we need to make some repairs and enhancements to our existing home. Aside from wood flooring we installed prior to munchkin’s arrival, we’ve not done much, and our 25-year-old home is showing its age. Investing in a home I don’t really care to be in was a difficult prospect for me. God softened my heart and I finally yielded to His correction, hence my recent preoccupation. I’ve been busy researching wise, cost-effective ways to perform some upgrades without putting ourselves deeply in debt. I want to do this in the most financially responsible way so as to honor not only God’s directive, but to honor HIM as well. [After all, it IS HIS money.] This isn’t an easy task.

My research has taken my attention from Jackson, and he had no reservation in letting me know so this morning. Just before breakfast, Jackson took me to task. He told me straight up, “You never play with me anymore.” This isn’t wholly true. We ride bikes or scooters to/from school. We tell jokes. We play Rock-Paper-Scissors, I Spy, number, word and guessing games, and read plenty of stories. But this isn’t the type of play Jackson was speaking of. He craves physical, interactive play. I know this better than anyone. He said, “You never play tag with me anymore. You don’t race with me.” And he’s right. I’ve been taking the easy way out, and he called me to be accountable to it. Initially, I wanted to mount a defense, but I didn’t have one—at least not one suitable for a five-year-old boy. He had me dead to rights. I admitted I was wrong and apologized to Jackson. I accepted his reproof.

German mathematician Johannes Kepler stated, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” I concur, even though the intelligent man is only five.

Unworthy

This morning as Jackson and I were pulling into school I pointed to a break in the clouds and told Jackson God was looking down on us and telling him to have a great day. He said, “Good morning, God! Keep your eye on me today!” I reassured him God keeps his eye on him at all times, watching over him, protecting him. Jackson then told me of playing tag at recess, and how he laughs with his friends. As I pictured this in my mind, my eyes filled with tears. Tears of joy. Tears of happiness. Tears of humility. Tears of unworthiness. Tears of the knowledge of God’s overwhelming grace.

I always tell people I’ve never met a happier child than Jackson. He is happy from the moment his eyes flutter open at the crack of dawn until they flutter closed at day’s end. The child does not know a bad mood. Something about this really struck a chord in me this morning. It was an unexplainable sense of how blessed–yet how unworthy—I am to parent these two children of ours. Every time I think about it, I’m overcome with emotion.

I have no idea what God sees in this wretched soul, but I am grateful for this precious gift of parenthood He has bestowed upon me. My undying prayer is that I bring glory to Him in this mess of life.

Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built. ~James Dobson

Rule Breaker

If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun. ~Katharine Hepburn

Having the time of my life.

Forty-nine years, 346 days. That’s how old I am as I draft this post. I will be 50 years old at the end of this month. This is a monumental birthday for me. It has certainly given me pause to think. I think about the fact that I’m now in the last half of life. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the fact that I’m (soon to be) 50 with a five year old with developmental challenges—and worry greatly about being here wholly, completely and physically for him as he grows up. I think about the fact that I’m not as sharp (in any respect) as I used to be. I think about the fact that my husband and I will most likely have to work every day we’re above ground in order to maintain life, as we know it. Please don’t misunderstand me. These are not regrets. They’re merely realities—realities you don’t think about at 20, 30 or probably even 40. (At least I didn’t.) But 50? Well that’s a whole other ballgame.

There is another side to the coin though. In addition to concerns I have about life, I also spend a great deal of time reflecting on how richly I’ve been blessed throughout my life. I didn’t always see it that way. I had many, many struggles as a young adult. I carried a lot of bitterness, disappointment and regret around. But I’m so thankful God has lifted those burdens from my shoulders. Grace covers a lifetime of heartache, and I am eternally grateful to Him for that.

Yet another byproduct of turning 50 is permission I’ve given myself to live a little—for me. As the majority of wives and mothers do, I’ve spent a good deal of my life living to care for others. We inherently put the needs of others above our own. I know I do. And I’m more than okay with that. I’m grateful to have a family who needs me. However, wives and mothers also need to feed our own spiritual and emotional selves. The last five years have been very challenging, and at times draining. That’s the nature of the beast. But I’ve recently found something I enjoy immeasurably. Skateboarding. Yes, you read that correctly. Skateboarding.

Greg and I initially bought boards in February so we could accompany Jackson to the skate park. Jackson has always loved to ride his scooter—something that required me to run alongside him—neck-and-neck, for safety’s sake. I was OVERJOYED (let me say that again—OVERJOYED!) to learn he could ride his scooter at the local skate park, as it was getting more difficult for me to keep up with him. (See paragraph one RE: lack of sharpness.) I thought the skate park would afford me the opportunity to put my feet up and relax while Jackson rode his scooter. Boy was I wrong!

Greg and I quickly learned how much fun it is to skateboard. We bought boards and started to skate ourselves. Then we bought new boards because we learned that our original boards were for “cruising.” Cruising? We wanted to skate!  We didn’t want to just putter around the park. We wanted to skate ramps and bowls! We wanted to drop in! And so we did. And you know what? We’ve been having the time of our lives! Literally. We go to the skate park as often as we can. Jackson rides his scooter and Greg and I skate. We encourage each other, watch each other’s progress and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. It is truly a family affair.

I recently treated myself to lessons for my upcoming birthday. I scheduled seven lessons with a young man named Tommy who works at our local skate park. Unfortunately, our final lesson was rained out. (I was deeply saddened.) Tommy was a saint. A saint! He could’ve taken one look at this middle-aged mother and begged off. But he didn’t. And I am so grateful for that. Not only is Tommy a great instructor; he’s truly a great person. (Tommy, your folks got it right.) My life is richer for the six hours I spent with this young man. I was drawn out of my comfort level every minute we were together. He had me skating switch/fakie at heights and speeds WAY above my comfort zone. And equally death-defying—Tommy had me dropping in independently by the end of our time together.

Here’s a video of my first independent drop in.

http://on.fb.me/1wjdUKM

I took a few spills, which were never Tommy’s doing. I simply didn’t know what to do with myself post maneuver. But I got up and kept going.

Overestimated my abilities to fakie a steep ramp, post drop in.

Overestimated my abilities to fakie a steep ramp, post drop in.

I learned so much from Tommy, not only about skateboarding, but also about myself. I learned that even at fifty I’m still as curious and tenacious as I was at 20, 30 and 40. But more importantly, I’m more intuitive and open to correction and instruction than I was at those ages. My life is so much richer for those six short hours. I’m so thankful I took that step and that time for myself. Contusions aside, I have a newfound appreciation for this body God has created, a deeper love for skating, a greater gratitude for my tenacity, and a new friend I hold dear to my heart. Thank you, Tommy, for letting me fly.

At work, pre-lesson.

At work, pre-lesson.

Sweaty! Tommy and me apres lesson (and first independent drop in).

 

An Independent Rider

I’ve previously written about Jackon’s horseback riding lessons but his experience at summer camp is a different story worth telling. Jackson just completed his second week of summer camp at Hopes, Dreams and Horses’ Camp Horse Power.

Week one was a welcome return to Hopes, Dreams and Horses (“HDH”) for Jackson. He hadn’t ridden since May so he was over-the-top excited to see Miss Kristy and his equine buddies. He goofed around and had a lot of fun. On Friday there was a program for the campers to exhibit the skills they learned throughout the week. Initially Jackson protested, stating he wasn’t going to participate. Now, he’s been riding at HDH for a year so I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. I told him he had to do it and give it his best shot. There were only four campers for the week, with Jackson being the youngest. He was the only child who required a lead line escort to perform the course. Everyone applauded after Jackson’s first performance (they were permitted two). That did it! He loved the praise and accolades and couldn’t wait to perform the course again. The second time it was a more confident and self-assured Jackson astride the horse.

I arranged Jackson’s summer camp schedule so he would have a week of downtime between camps. Of course he couldn’t wait to get back to HDH. Riding was all he talked about throughout his off week. During this week off my husband and I brokered a deal with Jackson. We told him that if he at least attempted to ride without a lead line in Friday’s show he could get a new train.

Jackson returned to the second week of camp a new child. He was determined to ride by himself—something he should be doing anyway, given his year of twice a week lessons. Jackson and I informed the camp instructor of our deal. She paired Jackson with a horse suited to his ability, and he set about learning to ride independently. He rose to the occasion. It was amazing to see not only the progress he made each day in his riding ability, but the confidence and self-assurance he gained as inherent by-products of his achievements as well. He was a new kid. He finally took ownership of his horsemanship instead of relying on the instructor to lead him around the ring. The latter simply enabled Jackson to lose focus and perpetuate a very lazy and passive approach to riding.
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I’m overjoyed to say Jackson did it! He met his goal of riding independently in Camp Horse Power’s Friday program, and performed the entire course twice. He knew exactly what he needed to do throughout the course, and responded appropriately to the instructor’s reminders regarding hand placement and posture. I was so extremely proud to watch him—more for his sake than my own. He worked hard throughout the week and it paid off. Whether you’re five, 50 or 105, who doesn’t love to feel that sense of accomplishment?

Great job, Jax! Your dad and I are so very proud of you. Now let’s go get that train.

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