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Good Instead of Evil...

There is something about entering a room where my youngest has been that is distinct. It doesn't matter where he is in the house currently - when he's been in a room and I walk into it, the same feeling washes over me every time.

Photo by Eric McDuffie Photography
You can call it my incredible mommy instinct or credit our unbreakable mother/son bond if you like (and I hope you will), but whatever the reason, it conjures up feelings and sensations that have no comparison.

As I write this I'm trying to find the right words to describe what it's like to come into a room when a precious child born from your womb (or grew from your heart) has recently bestowed sweet hands and curious minds to an unsupervised area for even the most shockingly short snippet of time.

It reminds me of something...what is it?

Oh. Ha. That's right.

A Crime Scene.

The room reminds me of a crime scene. And that feeling that washes over? It's the dread you feel when you simultaneously don't want to look at something yet you literally can't turn away.

A room in shambles.
A cabinet door swinging on it's hinges, making a creaking noise for like the first time ever.
A chandelier spinning from a mysterious wind gust even though all the doors are closed. 
Some empty container with no idea where the subsequent "spill" is until you step in it. 
A worried dog with a look in her eyes as if posing the silent question, "Does this reflect badly on all of us?"

It's a room full of terrifying clues and a mystery crime. One I can't figure out. I undoubtedly stand in the doorway for a few minutes like Angela Lansbury in an episode of Murder, She Wrote, taking in the scenery, listening to sounds and trying to figure out WHAT has taken place in this room.

Where is the dead body?

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash
Usually it's the kitchen. And usually it's in pursuit of food.

He'd rather rip open and eat shredded mexican cheese off the floor than ask me for a string cheese.

He'd rather scale the pantry shelves for a sleeve of stale Saltines (because you only buy them when  you're sick and never finish the package - hence the staleness) than ask me for some goldfish.

He'd rather fill a decorative canister with water (with decorative holes that allow the water to spill out) than ask me for a juice box.

On the one hand, I get frustrated that he is capable of such grand scale destruction. On the other hand, I get a tinge of excitement at the problem solving and independence he shows. I mean, really, WHY ask mom for something when you can stack five chairs on top of each other?

Drop him in the wild and I'm convinced that he'll be fine.

I think what I like about it is the show of what his powers are going to look like when he's older.  You know, when he uses them for good instead of evil

It's fun to watch the different strengths of your children shine through while they are young. They are taking their talent baby steps and practicing their sets on the best cheerleaders they know.


And it's exhausting.

I love that my oldest son, like my sister, just needs a clipboard and a small country to run - that'll work in his favor when he's older and we are short on dictators.  (If you need one now, he'll be looking for some summer work).

I love that he can negotiate my cell phone out of my posession using only 4 or 5 words and no visual aids - that'll be fantastic when he's a crisis negotiator one day.

I can't wait until my youngest grows up and is somewhere when food needs to be located - maybe that'll be a job one day.

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash
And don't even get me started on my son and his number obsessions...cooking times and departure estimates are hotly debated by this literal boy. Don't tell him something will happen in 10 minutes unless you mean it...he'll grab your phone and set the timer.

Math guru in the making? Maybe. It makes for stressful dinner preparation now - that's for sure.

I think it's amazing how we have all been uniquely gifted. It's fun to see the stuff bubble up in your kids that you KNOW you did not teach them and are qualities you don't even have. It just shows how remarkable we all are. It shows how many different kinds of people it takes to make such a beautiful world. And despite what the news says, it IS a beautiful world.

So today, at Christmastime, I'm celebrating the host of gifts that our kids bring to the table. Things that make us proud. The things that exasperate us.

And mostly the things that while we are reprimanding them for doing them, we are simultaneously thinking, "I cannot WAIT to see you grow up and use that skill for good instead of evil."

In the meantime, I'll keep my ears open, a broom nearby and some crime scene tape at the ready.

What strengths in your children excite you?

I'm Just Gonna Let This Happen

The older I get, the more selective I become about what parenting hills I'm going to die for. Some might think that's because I've grown and matured as a parent and I want my kids to learn about life through their own choices and experiences.

And that answer sounds pretty good so I'll go with that.

I am pretty sure I envisioned that I would be able to rein in my kids a lot more than I actually do.

In my early years of parenting, I was motivated to control my children based on three things: 1.) their potential for germs,  2.) preventing harm to themselves, and most importantly 3.) what others would think about me as a parent.

At this point in the game I pretty much just aim to keep them alive. The rest is completely negotiable.

Sam spent a good amount of his childhood telling everyone about the time he spent living in the orphanage. Except he called it the "orphan image" which would have been really cute if I hadn't been slightly offended that he invented such an outlandish backstory. I spent a lot of time trying to psychologically understand why he insisted he had lived in an orphanage. Did he use a pacifier too long? Should I have co-slept? Did he need more Kale? It was finally brought to my attention that every good superhero was orphaned.

I thought about explaining that he could be a super hero AND have parents, but, really...why? Fine...be a fake orphan.

I'm just gonna let this happen.

Besides, I started to enjoy the confused looks on people's faces when he would tell the story about the "orphan images" annual rock day - where all the kids were gifted rocks.  Plus, it was apparent the more he talked about it - that we were a definite upgrade in the living conditions department.

Sam has almost exclusively gone to bed with a stuffed animal and a blanket since birth. I monitored his sleeping conditions constantly.

Last Tuesday Wesley refused to go to bed unless I tucked him in with 8 AA batteries. He kept telling me he was making a "perquit" with them.  Honestly, I don't know what that is and I'm embarrassed to ask him because I'm not ready for him to know he's smarter than I am yet.

Anyway, no Paw Patrol book or stuffed animal could rival the comfort that those "perquit" makers were giving him. So fine. Whatever. Sleep with batteries.

I'm just gonna let this happen. 

After he fell asleep I confiscated them because, well, we had remote controls to fill.

Sam's first Halloween, I dressed him up as David from the Bible, complete with sheep and sling shot.

This year...

Me: Sam, you aren't going to be a killer for Halloween. End of story.
Sam: I want the Jason mask and the Freddy Krueger sweater...and I want some hatchets.
Me: That's ridiculous. You can't mix Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. It won't make any sense.
Sam: Don't you see, mom. It will make perfect sense.
Me: *at checkout paying for the killer costume*  Fine. Be a killer for Halloween. But if anyone under the age of seven asks, you are a clumsy hockey player...got it?

I'm just gonna let this happen. 

In all fairness, David was also a killer.

Look, I'm not proud that my standards have nose dived. I want my kids to be kind and respectful human beings. I want them to be happy. I will die for that hill. I want my kids to understand some important things about life.

Don't be a bully.
Don't believe a bully.
Remember there are consequences for everything you do.
Think about them.
Be kind.
Work hard.
Be the one who is inclusive.
Congratulate the winners.
Congratulate the losers.
Try hard.
Don't quit.
Not everything is personal.
Listen at least as much as you talk.
God is always there, talk to Him.
Kill bugs so your mother doesn't have to.

But so many other things, just won't matter later and if the last two years with my youngest have taught me nothing else, I've learned that it's impossible to catch, cover and control everything.

Sometimes you have to say...

I'm just gonna let this happen

So dress up as something scary for Halloween.
Be a fake orphan.
Sleep with batteries.

Just let it happen. It will be fine. 

Truth over Tea

For over nine years, I woke up early in the morning, got dressed, kissed my kids (or sent them off to school) and left my house to go to work. I was a work outside of the house mom. I have never really minded it. My husband's schedule has always been in the evening and we've managed to juggle child-raising fairly well over the last decade of parenting. Some days it looks prettier than others.

Around six months ago, working outside of the home started to get really hard.

I have always had great, understanding, family-oriented employers, but I remember feeling tired, behind and stressed - even more than usual.

Now, I have a great, cut through the crap friend named Esther. Everyone should have an Esther. We worked together at my last job and one day she came into my office to fix her daily cup of tea, and as she dipped the tea bag in and out of the hot water, she looked at me as I frantically texted some instructions to my husband and said, "You feel like you are running a household from your phone don't you?"

I stopped. My eyes welled up with tears. She had gut punched me with an undeniable truth. She had 
perfectly encapsulated months of stress and worry in one tea steeping sentence.

I was feeling like I needed to be home, but I couldn't be, and that was breaking me.

I had been spending months beating myself up because I was tired and stressed and cranking out a daily life that was just not a reflection of my full potential. My life wasn't working but as far as I could tell, it was my fault.

When in reality, at that moment, life was too much and I wasn't acknowledging it. My youngest son needed a lot of consistency that I wasn't there to give him, my dad was sick, our childcare situation was different everyday, Andy and I were barely ever in the same room together and I just felt like I wasn't giving anyone my best. I was spreading myself out in a thin, unsatisfying layer over every obligation I had, and it felt terrible.

And I wasn't where I was needed the most. 

And all I could do was tell myself to try harder. To do better. To be more.

After that encounter, I began to squeeze my eyes shut on a regular basis and admit to God that life was just too overwhelming. I didn't know what else to pray other than, "Something's gotta give, Lord...and it can't be my 15 year old car or my lower back."

I didn't know how or when or in what capacity the seas were going to part and I was going to see some relief, I just clung to the belief that my motives were pure and my prayers were sincere and God was listening.

In a very short amount of time, my life drastically changed. I got an unbelievable opportunity to work from home that came with the flexibility to focus my attention on my home and my family.

And after a week of being a work at home mom, my house was spotless, my kids had the Bible memorized and I began making all of our furniture and clothes by hand.

OR perhaps...

I spent the first three months perched on the end of my couch in my pajamas with a laptop while my kids circled me like cats studying a new piece of furniture. No one knew what to do when I was home. My k-cup consumption was out of control and I think by week three I heard my husband mutter under his breath, "Is she going to get dressed today?"

My potty training child was indicating his accidents by simply walking into the room and screaming DAMMIT at the top of his lungs before heading to the bathroom. My nine year old didn't know what to do so he just talked to me about You Tubers for most of the day.

I did start going to the gym again but when my trainer asked me my fitness goals I told him I just wanted to be able to evacuate my house at 3 in the morning if there was a fire without getting stuck in that my-lower-back-is-hurting and I can't move pose that was a hallmark of my mornings. 

So, as it was, the transition was not magic. It took several months to train everyone on how to have mommy at home all the time. Oh, and I had to get off the couch to give the cushion a chance to recover from my butt print and I had to vow to brush my teeth. (whatevs)

This weird world of being a worker bee and being at home was a whole new animal that I wasn't at all sure I would do well. And honestly, at first, I really didn't.

Yet - somewhere in the midst of working out our routines, I noticed that the pit in my stomach was gone. That I wasn't feeling frantic anymore. That I knew in the course of the day, no matter what happened, I was exactly where I needed to be.

I wish I could tell you that the calm in my house is a result of everyone knowing that mom is home, but in reality, I have become calmer and that has permeated throughout our home and been just what we needed. 

I will always be grateful for the truth Esther spoke to me that day over tea.


In other news, you may have noticed my blog has undergone a face lift. I am working to fulfill my "when I turn 40," goal of writing my fingers off. I am ghostwriting a lot, freelancing a lot and trying to figure out what original words, if any, that I might have to say and in what genre I would like to say them in.

I had a magazine recently accept an essay I wrote, which was very exciting and they wanted to know my twitter handle - I don't tweet. I have way more words to say than they will allow. But in the meantime, make a note of my new blog address - www.rachelwriteshere.com and pardon the mess.

Thanks for reading.

Cleaning Out the Garage or New Life Chapters

The thing is - you get married and you just sort of climb into that big pot of water, next to the frog and you sit down and just hang out.  And the water boils...and time moves on...quickly. You are blissfully unaware of the passing of time save for the occasional size clean out of your kids clothes.  You wipe a tear when you find last years school picture or an old toy, but you overall keep working to get somewhere.

It's the anticipation of the top of the first drop in a roller coaster that keeps you distracted. Life is a roller coaster. There is a top, a jumping off point. You are working to get to that crest, where you can look out with satisfaction over the horizon and hang on for the awesome ride down...

Only you KNOW when you are at the top of a roller coaster. Life's top is elusive. It is the "yonder" of living. A generality that draws a slightly out of focus picture.

Growing up, I used to ask my grandmother where something was, she would always gesture her hand in a direction and say, "Oh that's down yonder." I could be asking where the towels were or where the video store was and it would always be yonder.

For those not southern, yonder basically means, "Look I don't feel like explaining where it is, but it isn't right here in my hand." It's yonder *flails hand in a direction* which in the case of the towels meant you just needed to shut up and go find them.

The halfway point of life isn't here, it's yonder. *flails hand in a direction*

You don't get there. You don't linger. You don't look around and savor that you "got somewhere"  You just sort of end up racing downhill thinking, "Oh geez when did that happen?"

When did my music become oldies?

When did I become ma'am?

When did I get to this weird space where I'm older than everyone but I actually fully believe I'm the younger one?

Today we cleaned out the garage. I'm fine with it. Really.

Yes, we can get rid of the crib...no problem. It got recalled like two weeks after my oldest was born anyway.  Plus. Babies. Done. Check.

The wagon we used one time? Okay? I was still holding out hope that we'd use it a few more times but we can't even get to it where it has been wedged in between the Christmas decorations and the Recycling bin. So fine, toss it.

But then at some point I came across a bin with my name on it, and when I opened it, I came face to face with myself from ages 16-27. It was full of photo albums and notes and awards and wedding invitations and graduation paraphernalia. It was over a decade of me. Who I was. Who my friends were. What I thought. What I wanted out of life.

It wasn't really about the stuff in the box, okay a little bit it was. After all, I had a fascinating hair evolution. But it was more about what that box represented.

It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. One I liked. Yes, she was a tad melodramatic and had unbelievable amounts of free time that she squandered, but she had great taste in music and most importantly she had big dreams.

Somewhere over the last several years, I had simply lost track of this fiery dreamer.

I honestly don't know what happened in that garage today.  One moment I'm a steel magnolia of emotional memory tossing and the next I'm sifting through my sweet sixteen birthday party pictures, tearing up while hearing See You at the Crossroads playing on a loop in my head.

Yes by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony...the battle cry of my youthful angst (perceived).

It's hard to think, but my stuff is memories.  And like - some are kind of distant ones.  I now describe things that were 25 or 30 years ago and my kids look at me incredulously when I talk about days of no internet and no cell phones or what the heck a pager was even useful for. A question, by the way, that I CANNOT answer.

Me talking to my kids about the days of yore: You sent a page to tell someone to call you. Yes, that meant they had to go find a phone. Why didn't they just have a phone? Look, no more questions, okay. 

I give up in frustration as my kids stare at me in honest confusion. I recognize the looks.  It's the same way I looked at my parents when they talked about four t.v. channels and a test pattern that indicated that the t.v. was off for the night or when my dad calls detergent, soap powders.

They look at me like I'm a dinosaur.

I am roughly 7 months into my 40's. I have two boys who are developmentally getting more independent everyday. I have fully climbed out of the storm shelter that is babyhood - where you hand yourself over at the door so you can bring babies in to the world.

And although being a work from home mom means I still sometimes take a conference call while simultaneously jumping up and down on a towel to clean up the urine on the floor, (is it the dog, is it the kid? Does it even matter anymore?) I know I am staring ahead at a new chapter in my life.

And I'm not at all saying that chapter is bad. I'm SO looking forward to peeing alone. I hear it's amazing.

It's just strange. And these nostalgic, emotional feelings hit me when I'm not expecting it.

Like when we're trying to clean out the garage and my husband is asking me if I want to keep the Christmas tree skirt and I'm clutching a picture of myself with freshly crimped hair and big hoop earrings wondering what happened to my Caboodles.  

So I guess...here's to new chapters, Salt and Pepa being oldies and clean garages.

Cheers, Gen X-ers, we can rock this half of our lives too.


The afternoon of March 18, 2015, we were driving home from the Marcus Autism Center. My brain was pulsating with a stress migraine so severe I could hear the pounding in my temples and at the same time my thoughts were racing as it dawned on me that the future hinged heavily on what decisions we made immediately for our son. I wasn't even sure what those decisions were.  I was plagued with doubts. Could I do this? Could I be THAT mom? To advocate. To educate myself. To intervene. "I am not your girl, God," I kept thinking. "Why would you entrust such a responsibility to me. Wesley deserves someone more Type A. It's not me."

Andy and I were silent, but I knew we were thinking the same thoughts. In our entire marriage, we have never had a more silent or more deafening car ride. 

I will give you some relief and say, I haven't felt anywhere near that devastated since that day. In fact, I refuse to look at any part of our journey with Wesley as devastating. Just so you know…we're great.  He's great.  He’s our precious Aspie. And he's smarter than all of you reading this…combined. So there.

But back in March….In the midst of all I was trying to recollect from the advice we were given that morning, words like "socialization" and "involvement" kept popping back into my brain.  I was handed pamphlets and told to sign up for classes that I would never be able to afford or get to since I had a job and I just didn't know what to think, feel or who to call. I was trying to recall all the details I was told with no written report in my hands since it wouldn't arrive for a few weeks. What had they just said to me? I already felt like I was failing my child.   

But I did recall one thing from that day…it was a big one. I knew I had to create opportunities for socialization. So during that car ride, I began to make a mental list of all the things I could do to make our world more social. For Wesley.

And that's when the weirdest, most off-track, this-will-never-pass-through-the-Andy-level-of-approval, I-think-I-have-been-drinking, thought came into my mind. 

We need a dog. 

I was convinced of this. As ill-timed as my ludicrous plan was, I imagined all the social scenarios a dog would create for us.  

Looking back on that day, I am highly amused that of the 25 hours of therapy, speech intervention, preschool classes and play therapy…my one take away was the full conviction that the Turners needed a dog. Not once did anyone at the Marcus Institute tell us to leave there and go straight to the pound. But that was indeed what I was thinking. 

By the time we got to our exit, I'd gotten up the nerve to mention it to Andy. So the very first thing I say to my husband after the day we had had was my firm belief that what this situation really needed was a puppy. A chewing, barking, pooping puppy. That's what I said. To a man who is highly allergic. Well played.  

I'm surprised he didn't drop me off somewhere along the road. I knew my husband wanted no part of a dog.

Here's a little background on me and the animal kingdom. I hadn't owned a dog in 25 years. I liked dogs but I didn't love them. I like petting dogs. I like looking at cute pictures of puppies. But in our entire marriage, I had never even indicated that I wanted a dog to my husband. The thought never crossed my mind.  Mainly for three reasons.  John Paul, J.J. and Sandy.  I had had three dogs in my lifetime. 1.) John Paul - my mother's poodle who was brilliant and devoted to her. The dog didn't care anything about me. 2.) J.J. - the psychotic poodle we got after John Paul died who looked like John Paul but was actually quite crazy. Also - chased cars. 3.) Sandy. Whenever I would open the door to let Sandy out, I would run to the left and Sandy would run 47 miles to the right. I would spend the rest of my life trying to get that dog to come back home. Also - chased cars AND stole food. 

So…I didn't have much of a Lassie childhood. Besides, my sister had three dogs. We could always visit. 

In fact, I was so blah about dogs that if you had told me that your dog had advanced medical issues and was going to need to be put to sleep, my first thought would have been that THAT decision was going to save you so much money in the long run. 

I know.  I'm not proud of myself.  

Besides, I'm in the midst of being reformed and I owe the entire dog-owning world a gigantic, humble, eyes-to-the-floor apology. I am ashamed. So so ashamed. 

Needless to say, Andy thought dog therapy was a bit of a crazy first response to our day. I so didn't blame him. The idea was 50 shades of crazy. 

I put the thought aside. It was not a good idea. 

But in secret, I couldn't shake it. I wasn't sure if there was a reason for this or if I might be one of those people cracking under the pressure of recent stress and my only symptom was hair-brained ideas like complicating our already complicated life with a dog. 

Sometime in the next three weeks, I was outside playing with the boys when a woman walked by with a medium-sized black curly dog.  I am not in the habit of noticing dogs, but I am in the habit of talking to absolutely every person I see. Always. No exceptions. Amen. So as I was meeting this new neighbor, I noticed the dog, Oliver, watching my kids. Oliver's person told me that he was interested in playing with the kids, would that be okay?  I said that it would and I watched as this rather large dog was released to play. I was amazed as I watched him dance around my kids wagging his tail and being so gentle I couldn't take my eyes away.  Dogs are supposed to jump on people. Oliver didn't jump. He was so agile and careful, but completely enamored with the boys as they played. I was completely taken by this large dog's demeanor. Oliver was amazing.  

I hella NEEDED an Oliver. STAT

I found myself asking about the breed and the breeder. THAT, my friends was when I was told that Oliver was an Aussiedoodle and was bred by a woman in Blairsville who has three autistic sons and found this breed to be amazing as service and therapy dogs.  

I froze. 

What? Stop talking to me. Are you serious? What-you-talking-'bout-Willis?

I didn't say any of these thoughts to her because…well, crazy shrieking neighbor lady.  But see...I do believe in divine situations and I couldn't see how that wasn't God setting something amazing up for us Turners (just wait until I tell Andy what God is doing to try to get us a dog). 

The next day, I called the breeder and we spoke for an hour. An HOUR. We were new besties. Actually she was letting me in on the abilities of these dogs to help in stressful situations. I had no idea that autistics could benefit from service dogs. I had just been hoping for a source of conversation in our home and a reason to be running around and interacting…but this…do I even need this?  I wasn't sure, but I was so excited.  

Surely the path was going to be made clear in the next few days…we'd come this far. 

Three weeks after our visit to Marcus, my son broke his femur.  Let me correct myself…I broke his femur. It was a freak fall. It was, of course, not intentional, but the mommy guilt train is not interested in details…it only sees the cause and effect of the injury. 

My son was in a body cast for seven weeks because of me. He didn't deserve this. What more can we heap on this precious two year old? I was devastated and I spent many nights reliving the fall in my mind.  

Kid with broken femur, guilt-ridden mom trying to keep it together. Dog forgotten.

We spent 7 weeks caring for a child that couldn't move. Couldn't go to therapy. Couldn't socialize. Couldn't go to school.  Isolation. Isolation. Isolation. This was NOT what he needed to thrive. 

Cast eventually came off and we spent three more weeks getting him to walk again. Then it was time for IEP meetings and new schedules. Through all of this my son was amazing. My husband and I grew a lot closer through our recent trials of Marcus Center and femurgate and we moved ahead. 

I began to read up on Neuro-diversity and how my son's gifts should be celebrated. He had an uneven skill set and while we worked with him to answer simple yes or no questions, I would do a double-take every time I walked into a room where he had spelled words like "lopsided" and "pumpkin" in scrabble tiles.  

I struggled a lot internally as a mom over this last year. Who to tell about Wesley. Who not to tell. How to handle responses I didn't like from people who didn't understand or just meant well. How to be proud of my son without attaching a disclaimer or limitations to him. How to make peace with something that I was also actively fighting.  Where to place any of this neatly on a shelf in my mind...He's going to be a code breaker for a special government organization one day…who cares if he gets his pronouns confused. 

Life went on.  

Then, as I feel God does sometimes, he brought my crazy idea…my insane first thought in a crisis, back into my life in the last few weeks. I was anticipating that we could swing a dog by summer...

When God is ready though…move over.    

I'm here to tell you that within a matter of 4 days…we had our Aussiedoodle. Every obstacle fell away. Every. single. obstacle. All of them. 

The breeder had one puppy left from a litter that was perfect for us. She was a little older so she was cheaper. We worked out a time to drive to Blairsville to get her. My sister (could NOT have made this happen without my amazing sister) helped outfit us non-dog people to bring home a puppy. We were even able to make her an early gift from Santa. 

And Andy. My wonderful husband. The man that along every step of this journey with Wesley was 100% onboard. The man who trusted my judgement. The man who was not tempted by his own ego to push away the nagging thoughts in the back of his mind. The man who goes to work early and stays late. The man whose life was a lot calmer without a dog. This man…told me to go for it.   

The plans I have for this sweet girl are big. Maybe they are unrealistic. But I prayed for this dog for nine months. There were nights I would say to God, "I know this is crazy. I don't see how this can happen. I have a terrible track record with training dogs…but I want this. I want this for Wesley. For all of us." 

And He made a way. 

And so now we have Josie…and we are reformed. 

We are dog people.

The "A-Word" - Part 2

I wrote a post with a,"to be continued…," attached to the end of it, and I have been debating on whether to do a formal update.  As I've thought about it and also after being SO impatient for subsequent Back to the Future installments, I know the struggle and I need a proper follow up on our visit to The Marcus Institute (for the THRONGS of readers I have). You guys reached out to me in amazing and loving ways and you just simply don't know how much it has meant.  We feel so loved.

How to give this update has been tricky to figure out.

Because, here's the thing - I don't really have any intentions of blogging about Wesley's journey. I'd rather go back to posting humorous essays twice a year (the rate I'm currently going) about how I can't find my vacuum cleaner and how much I hate Moon Dough (like it's awful).

There comes a time when your child stops being an extension of you and they have their own secrets and stories to tell. In other words, one day, this ceases to be OUR story and becomes WESLEY'S story.

And I'm not here to be his spokesman, I'm here to be his advocate.

Inspiration for writing for me is usually born from a form of frustration and a passionate desire to share my experience in the hopes of connecting with people.  It's how I get my random thoughts in order too. Usually that's with humor. But maybe something I'm navigating resonates with someone out there who feels alone. With Wesley in particular, it has been a lot of connecting with people I already know who have walked this journey and have given me critical pieces of information that I honestly don't know I would have had without it.

- The former coworker who introduced me to Babies Can't Wait.
- The old school friend who's son sounds so similar to mine and offered me paragraphs of information about what I was about to encounter on the path to possible diagnosis.
- The people in the community who have embarked on IEP journeys in the schools systems of their own and have lent me some great advice.

I like these connections. I find the camaraderie to be comforting and the advice and guidance to have been critical in all the steps we've taken to this point.  This year has been emotional and confusing and I have learned a few things along the way with a LOT of help.

But I also want to be careful about shining a light on a member of my family who will grow up one day and read this on his own. No judgement meant…just personal feelings.

Nevertheless (is that one word…cuz, I feel like it should be like five), at our appointment, it was determined that Wesley is smart, sweet and perfect (obviously) but that he exhibits a few red flags of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  We will go for a full day of structured testing in a few weeks where we will receive our special "map of Wesley," a diagnosis (if it applies), a game plan for intervention and a ceramic dalmation (just kidding…there's no dalmation - I know, I was disappointed too).

This appointment was VALIDATING - They acknowledged that he was a tough case to call.  The appointment was REASSURING - I was finally told by an expert that up until this point, I truly HAD been doing everything I could.  The appointment was POSITIVE - because whatever we call it, Wesley is and is going to continue to be just fine.

At first glance it appears that he's so engrossed in his world of letters and numbers and his own play that he tunes out. Not always, but enough to miss out on some important social and cultural learning  you pick up in your life (seriously, I'm pretty sure I'm doing this very same thing when I play Candy Crush).

Then we come to the label. "Autism".  We won't know if we claim that word until the 18th of March. I have to be honest that at this point, I don't really care if we do or if we don't.  Wesley is a person, the label is merely a means to an intervention.  A classification that is incredibly beneficial but fails to adequately describe the extraordinary son we have.  If you have an hour or twelve…I'll bore you with the amazing-ness of my boys.

Still there is that word. Autism. It can mean a lot of things. If we come to own that label, Wesley lies on a seemingly very high-functioning part of that spectrum. That fact is kind of important and kind of irrelevant all at the same time.  There are families who have kids who lie on a more challenging place in that spectrum.  We could have very easily been one of those .  Those kids are just as special and important and unique.  And I feel weird celebrating Wesley's placement for any other reason than simply his road in overcoming vulnerabilities might be a little easier.

There is a very good chance that he could get a diagnosis now and then not meet the criteria for it in a few years. A lot of great research suggests that THAT is due to early intervention. - This is why I beg, plead and implore you to put aside your fears and seek out answers if you see anything that makes you wonder about your own children. The earlier the better. If you need support - I'M HERE - but don't stay paralyzed by fear and don't get discouraged.

There is also a chance he doesn't meet the the criteria to be on it now.  We simply won't know until he gets structured testing.

The truth is, Wesley now is no different than the Wesley that I held on September 11, 2012 (all 10lbs of him). We've just had the pleasure of getting to know him better.  I'm the one that has had to do the changing.  I've had to come to terms with a word that, quite frankly, used to scare the hell out of me.  I've had to open my hand wider…to not clench so hard because my expectations of my kids are laughable. They are their own people, with their own strengths, with their own weaknesses. They are never going to be a reflection of my plans for them - at least I hope they won't.  I am here to merely help them unlock the people they were designed to be. To teach them about life. To lead them to a loving God.  To keep them from juggling knives.  To BE THERE for them as they grow up in a world that is strange and confusing and cruel and also wonderful. To help them understand that they are a contributor to this world and not a victim of it.

So while Autism is a spectrum...the love of the parent with a child with Autism…or any other special need - is not a spectrum.  The trajectory of all of our children's lives has to be their own. We must help them blaze their own trail…in their own way.  That trail may look extraordinary.  That trail may look ordinary.  That trail may look strange or sad to others.  But whatever form it takes, the potential to do great things on that trail is not something that can be measured by anyone.

In closing, please forgive me if I don't answer the big "Is he or isn't he?" question on the 18th on the blog.  It's not that I want to keep it a secret. It's merely that it's no longer the point. One day Wesley can choose to keep that fact to himself or wear the descriptor proudly. If you want to know something and we are Facebook friends, feel free to ask me, as my mother would say, "behind the wall," in a private message. Or email me: justpeachy1123(at)yahoo(dot)com.  I am thrilled to share my experiences, hear great advice or know that we are being thought about even a little in your busy lives.

The “A-word”

On February 24th, we are taking my youngest son, Wesley, to the Marcus Autism Institute to see if he needs some further testing. So as you read our story, please know that I don’t know if Wesley is on the spectrum. I am writing this because I think it’s time. I am writing because being in Autism limbo is confusing and maddening. I am mostly writing because I don’t want anyone out there to be afraid to explore a potential diagnosis or intervention because of fear or because someone tells you they are too young. I have already begun to see the benefits of early intervention.    

In February of last year, I noticed my youngest standing about an inch away from license plates…a lot.  He was getting to an age where it was becoming apparent that his speech was delayed, but honestly, that was the least of my worries.  It was his fascination with letters, his constant counting and his tendency to isolate himself that secretly terrified me and kept me up late Googling.  After failing the 18 month MCHAT (the autism screen), my pediatrician recommended first addressing his chronic ear infections before jumping to any neuro-conclusions (totally made that word up). 

So within a week, he had tubes put in, adenoids removed and allergy testing done.  In terms of ear infections, it was a game changer. To date, he hasn’t had an ear infection in almost a year.  Also, he began to isolate himself less, he attempted more words, his balance seemed to get a bit better.  What remained was his obsession with letters and numbers and no real interest in communicating.  Always sweet, giggly and laid back – I didn’t see anything that I thought was considered “on the spectrum”.  I mean, I have a Masters in Googling and what not.

We began the Babies Can’t Wait process for his speech delay.  This is a state offered program that offers a free evaluation for kids showing delays. If you qualify, the therapy is affordable. I would recommend it to ANYONE in the state of Georgia.  Wesley got evaluated in July, qualified for the program and we began speech and play therapy in August about a month before he turned two.  At the start of Babies Can’t Wait he knew 13 words and ten of them were the numbers 1 - 10.

A few weeks in he had a language explosion.  He went from a few words to all of them.  I began to relax. Autism left my mind.  An idea that had once terrified me seemed preposterous now.  He was talking like crazy. But what I would soon realize is that he was doing more repeating than communicating.

I went to his follow up ENT appt.  When it was over, the doctor looked at me and asked if I thought my son’s behavior was normal.  I felt my heart sink to the floor, but I tried to play it cool.  I knew he had some quirks.  We ALL have quirks. He told me to make an appointment with the Marcus Institute. Two is a good age to go I remember him saying as I tried not to cry.  

I did end up crying in a parking lot to my husband as I was giving Wesley to him to take home so I could go to work.  He grabbed my shoulders and said words that I won’t ever ever forget, “None of this changes who he already is, Rachel. THIS is not cancer. THIS is not fatal. WE can deal with THIS. Whatever IT is.” 

I love that man.

Later that week, I relayed the ridiculous interaction with the ENT with his play therapist.  I looked at her and said, “I mean, are YOU watching him for Autism?”

She nodded her head.


She nodded her head?

OMG I have given my child Autism.

A few weeks later, I took Wesley to an after-hours pediatrician.  He literally wouldn’t talk about Wesley’s upset stomach because he was too busy commenting on his toe-walking, on his lack of eye contact. All I wanted was a prescription but he wanted me to know that Wesley had some characteristics of a child with Autism.

I wasn’t sure how to process this. It was now October and I had been afraid of Autism since February. All the people who knew him on a medical/therapy level, told me he showed characteristics. All the people who knew him on a personal/educational level told me he was a typical two-year old. I was exhausted. I was stressed out. I was so done thinking about it. Every time Wesley did anything, I would think to myself, “Is that an autism thing?”

When really, it was just a Wesley thing.  

And as my wonderful girlfriends reminded me on a desperate FB thread I started, Wesley was the happiest kid they knew. 

He wasn’t a bit upset about what we all thought HE had.

It was around that time that I realized he knew the alphabet. It was the next week that I realized one night he was sitting in his car seat spelling the word train. He was barely two. After train came snow, stop, Wesley, frog, lion, dog, dad, ice, key, etc.  It was fascinating. I soon counted about 40 words that he could spell, identify when spelled and read off of a page. Trust me when I say that I wasn’t working with him. He was spelling words my 7 year old struggled through.  His play therapist called it Hyperlexia…and it can be a splinter skill of autism or it can be its own thing.  It was the one bright spot “red flag” wedged in the am-I-doing-what’s-right-for-my-child world I was in. 

Wesley is a bright, sweet, funny, laid back and happy kid.  He’s goofy and silly in ways that leave Andy and I in stitches. He cuddles with me where my first, I am in charge of the world, child never did. He sleeps like an angel, rarely throws tantrums and is never happier than when we are leaving Target and he can scream out the numbers on the check out lane signs.

We have heard the word “aspergers”, “mild” and “high-functioning” as it relates to him. The statement that took all my fears away was when I was wavering on this Marcus appointment and my pediatrician looked at me and said, “Rachel, do this now.  Have him evaluated now. If he does have Autism, at this age with intervention, I’m not going to tell you he can be cured of it, but he can overcome it.”

Andy and I are in a good place with this. We have had time to digest and discuss and agree on what’s best for Wesley.  We’ve been doing it for a year. We have adopted the mission statement that we will do whatever we can to eliminate frustration and roadblocks for learning long term.  If that means Wesley gets a label, then so be it. We have also discussed the possibility that we will go to Marcus and pay money for people to tell us that Wesley just doesn’t really have anything to say to us. Both would be fine and neither would change all the things about Wesley that we already know.  We all have challenges in our life that we have to overcome.  Wesley is no different.

I have had a wonderful community of people reach out, pray and simply share their input.  In fact, I have learned the most helpful things from other people who have been there and done that.  That’s why I’m unafraid to share this. 

If Wesley is on the spectrum, we will have a lot of things to learn and decisions to make.  I am a bit overwhelmed at the thought and so I would appreciate good thoughts and prayers on the 24th that we will listen and understand what we are being told.

And pray for sweet Wesley. His best interest is at the forefront of our minds and hearts. God chose our two boys to be ours and, like all of you, we are in this for life. He is one of two of the biggest blessings we have ever been given. Andy and I would do anything for these precious boys. 

Through this process I am learning to allow fear its due time but let resolve quickly overtake it so you can focus on doing what’s best for your children and your family. 

And in all things, we thank God for his presence in our lives.