Wednesday, December 10, 2014


My kids are experts at shortcuts.

For instance, Isaac was tired of having to make his bed every morning before school, so, he developed a plan.  One night earlier this week, he asked me, "Do we have another cozy blanket I can cover up with?"  I was confused, since he had plenty of warmth already on his bed.  "Um, sure, I can get you something..." So, I grabbed another comforter from big brother Ethan's closet.  When I brought the blanket in, I saw him positioning himself, with the greatest care and poise as to not mess up the bed ON TOP of his regular covers, and told me to "just lay that blanket on top of me."  Trying not to laugh or make light of this serious command, I finally asked, "Why aren't you under your comforter that's already on your bed, buddy?"

"Mom," Isaac replied seriously (with his eyes closed, preparing mentally for dreamland), "this way, I can just get up in the morning and my bed is already made."

I don't know if I should categorize this behavior in laziness or genius...

Either way, I smiled, and let the boy do his thing.  After all, I am trying to teach my kids how to manage their time, right? Although, the next morning, Isaac still had to fold up the extra comforter, and it took the same amount of time it would have taken just to make his bed.  He made note of this.

Managing time, managing emotions, managing words and communication...these jobs seem to never end as a mom of a child with special needs (and an older sibling/man-child who is entering the pre-teen years as well).  It's just a barrel of fun over here some days.

The one thing that I have been continually honing in myself is how to express what I need or want for my boys in a way that is clear, concise, and kind.  (I was hoping to shorten this rule to the 3C's in honor of my sons' efficiency, but...there's The benefits of this type of communication make everyone a little more on task and understanding.

But it's definitely not without its flaws.

This morning, I asked Isaac to help me unload the dishwasher.  This was clear: this was definitely concise:  I didn't say it with anger or frustration, so I could check off kind.  I even said PLEASE.

Isaac complied and went to work.  I was getting coffee made and boiling an egg for Ethan's breakfast when I turned around and saw that Isaac had disappeared, but on the kitchen counter, the top rack of the dishwasher sat.  I had to smirk.  He did what I asked.  He unloaded the dishwasher (onto the counter).  I called him back into the kitchen and thanked him for doing what I asked, but I would like him to also help me put the cups in the cabinets.  "Oh, okay, but I did what you told me."  He said.  I thanked him again, but told him "it's important that we finish what we start--when you get a cup for a drink, do you get it from the counter or from the cabinet?"  He thought a moment, "the cabinet." "Right," I said.  "You took the cups out, but we didn't finish putting them where they belong, so let's do that together, okay?"  We finished what we started, and I said it like I meant it.

Sometimes, shortcuts can be worthwhile.  In other ways, shortcuts can make more work for us in the long-run.  What we would do better off with is making time to say things like we mean them--having a heart of empathy and a heart that looks forward to seeing our children understand the value of their time and their words.  Even something so little and tedious as making a bed or putting dishes away--these are skills and tools that can be used to teach invaluable lessons.

It takes me extra time to explain things:  Reasoning with my logical and analytical Isaac, and switching gears (in a moment's notice) to compassion and emotional dissection with my older Ethan. As parents, I think we forget what a skill and gift this is!  We are mediators, translators, and ambassadors for the
daily life.

Take time.  Say it like you mean it.  Don't be afraid to skip the shortcuts (if they aren't the genius types).

Your little ones will thank you.  :-)

Ethan and Isaac, taking shortcuts together since 2006
(look how LITTLE they were!?)

Monday, November 17, 2014

a non-fiction love story

This past Friday, the boys and I woke up to the first snowflakes.  There was the sound of heavy footsteps that careened across the master bedroom floor as Isaac conveyed in his best whisper (which, is non-existent): "Mom! It's snowing!  REALLY snowing outside!  Come on!  Look!"  I won't lie and say I wasn't the teeniest bit excited.  The boys were so enamored that they ate breakfast in silence, facing their chairs at the kitchen table to the wonderland in the backyard.  "Mom, I LOVE snow." Isaac smiled with a giant grin, a front tooth freshly missing from the day before, eyes sparkling.  He was hopping up and down and squeeling.  I was thinking about how much longer it was going to take to get boots, hats, gloves, and backpacks together to get to school...

Isaac is quick to the extremes:  He LOVES snow.  He LOVES carbon-fiber super cars. He even loves a girl in his class named Rylee.  Wait, what?  Rewind.  Loves a girl?  Besides ME?  Yes.  This is a new love, and one that I thought for sure would be something we wouldn't have to deal with until much later.  Much, MUCH later.  But, here we are...and Isaac is full of questions and feelings that as an adult, are to explain.

It all started last week.  Isaac came home from school with his usual tales and adventures from the day.  We like to preface the recount with whether it's fiction or non-fiction (he likes to embellish, which is fine, but I just need to know what really took place before I start calling the school and apologizing to parents...)

"Mom, me and Rylee played at recess today."

"Oh, yeah?  How fast is she?"

"Oh, mom...she is fast!  But, I'm a little faster.  We raced and then guess what?"


"She almost tripped, but I jumped and caught her just in time. I rescued her."

"You did?  That was very kind of you, Booder."

[He looks down and grins a goofy grin]  "Yeah...then she hugged me.  And told me she loved me.  I love her too."

Now...pause in the story.  As a mom, you like hearing good stories about things your kids experience.  You like hearing any stories about the day at all, honestly...but, this one, it made me look at Isaac a little differently.  I saw this little boy who had struggled for so long to express ANY feelings or emotions in words--and then, to hear THIS.  It broke my heart, and then glued it back together all at once...

"Well,"  I continued, "it's okay to be a friend to a girl--help her, be kind to her, laugh and do things with her--but, I think love is a word that means more than you think."

He looked at me and put his Hot Wheels cars down that he had been focused on.  "I know what love is."  And like that, my whole mommy talk was shut down.

The topic didn't end there, however.  It came up many times out-of-the-blue in the week.

"Mom, Rylee was picked to be in my gym group!  She ran over and hugged me and it was AWESOME."
"Mom, Rylee sits by me at lunch every day and we talk about stuff and she thinks I'm cool."
"Mom, I love wanna know why?  Rylee is there."

Back to Friday...the snow Isaac loves so much kept coming.  The Principal of Isaac's school sent out a phone-blast--early dismissal was available for parents who wished to pick up to avoid the traffic and road conditions.  Naturally, my car pool partner and I agreed that this was a good idea.  Only, when Isaac was dropped off, I watched as he drudged through the snow into the house.  When he plopped his backpack on the floor and looked up at me, I saw tears and quivering lips.  "Why did I have to leave school early?  Why!?  I won't get to see Rylee until Monday now..."  I had to hug and console Isaac and assure him that I could be as fun as Rylee.  Poor boy.  He's got it bad.

These feelings and emotions are o.k., and they are normal.  And maybe that's why I am confused.  When you have a child with special needs, you o
ften assume things (far too many things):  They won't learn the same or at the same level as "typical kids"; they won't understand or pick up on things; they won't fit in or make friends; they won't, they can't, blah blah blah.  I am guilty of these assumptions, as many of you reading this are.  But love is something every person has the capacity to understand, and to express--no matter how they can express it, or to what extent it touches them.

Over the weekend, I overheard a conversation between Dan and Isaac that will forever be embedded in my mind and heart.  I was putting dishes away and from the living room, I heard Isaac ask, "Dad, when did you know you were going to marry mommy?"  I listened as Dan told our youngest son the story of our meeting, our first date, our finally admitting that we truly loved one another and chose each other.  He explained what dating was, how old he was and how he needed to have a job, be able to pay bills, and drive a car.  Isaac went on to ask about "what mommy was like when she was pregnant with me?"  Dan laughed and said, "she was happy."  Isaac said, "Yeah...that's why my name means laughter.  I'm the funniest."

Isaac has lots of questions and lots of extreme emotion.  He most certainly knows love. He certainly knows who he is and that he is capable of loving and expressing that if I can just keep myself open to not being jealous of 2nd grade girls who think my son is "cool," and just laugh...because that's what Isaac means, after all.  I will ready myself for non-fiction stories about love.

my little lover 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Just a boy

Today is the most colorful of days.

Trees that threatened to lose hold of their most brilliant leaves last night with the wind and rain held out; and we are the victors of their spoils.  Everything, all of a sudden, popped out, screamed to be seen--tired of being taken for granted.  That's what we do, you know. We take the seasons for granted.  One minute we are longing for a certain one, and the next, for it to end.  We barely have a moment within to notice the beauty, value the changes, anticipate the growth.

While driving home after meeting with a dear friend I haven't seen in months, I was made aware of the golds, oranges, fiery reds, all seemingly in Technicolor today.  Maybe that's because catching up with my friend reminded me I needed to be distracted by what was already in front of me.

We talked about the days and weeks that had transpired.  We talked about our sons (and godsons), our husbands, our homes, our schools, our ups and downs.  We talked about adventure, upcoming trips, and trips gone by.  We laughed, made too much noise, and tried not to cry (easier said than done).  We covered lots of chapters in this life-story.  And when it was time to toss our coffee and tea cups away, we said goodbye for now, never tossing away the ability to pick up where we left off.

After talking with my friend, hearing her "chapters," it was a reassuring breath of fresh air.  She knows me, and she knows Isaac.  She doesn't pretend to have answers, and I don't pretend to need them.  Because there are times when I wonder if I am the only one.  I get scared that my difficult days are harder than the rest.  I am panicky when the understanding I have worked so hard to gain of Isaac's challenges seems to lose its potency.  In just a month and a 1/2 of 2nd grade, it seems like we have fallen behind in some ways. Attitudes, behaviors, all seems so foreign.  

That we can strive and work and reach to understand, love our children completely is both what drives a parent, and what drains them.  We dread when we feel like a part of our child is expiring, while we are exhausting every resource.  It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when.

But that's the part about seasons that we take for granted, isn't it? Change is inevitable.

Isaac will have seasons of struggle, just as you and I.  He will have seasons of growth, physically, mentally, spiritually.  That will not change just because he has an IEP.  He will have seasons where, on the surface, it seems nothing is perfecting itself. It's about appreciating--no, sometimes just surviving--when things seem to freeze. But, below, out of my sight, things are alive and well and when they burst to the surface, will need tending.  

I was reminded today to take the season for what it's worth--value seen, or unseen.  I won't stop believing with all hope and courage that it will not last forever, all the while embracing the changes as colors crying out to be noticed and loved.  I just need to look and appreciate--respond with hope.

After all, Isaac is just a boy, yet, he is more brilliant and beautiful than all the trees in their autumn splendor.

Monday, September 15, 2014

the naked truth

I am cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.  Empty bowls of crock-pot beef stew are going into the sink, and I am listening to the boys get ready to take their showers.  Then, I hear from upstairs:  "Come on, Ethan!  You can trust me.  I'm naked."

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no one would trust someone who says that.  It sounds creepy and weird.  It sounds...suspicious.  Put on some clothes and then we'll talk.  

As I load the dishwasher, laughing to myself, I realize why Isaac might be using this terminology in order to get his brother to listen to him; to trust him.  We had a talk a few days ago and it went something like this...

Isaac:  "Mom, guess what happened at school today?"

Me:  "Hmm...I don't know, how about you tell me?"

Isaac:  "Well, (so and so) knocked down a tower of blocks at recess, and then (so and so) said 'stop that!' and got made the then PUNCHED (so and so) in the FACE!  No....seriously, punched them.  I told them to stop and they wouldn't listen.  Then, I karate kicked (so and so) because they were hurting my friend."

Me:  "I don't think this story sounds so nice."

Isaac:  "That's not all.  Then (so and so) got kicked out of school."

Me:  "WHAT?"

Isaac:  "Yeah..."

Me:  (getting on the phone with one of the so and so's moms, asking her about this information)

Sooner or later, after some embarrassment on my part, the truth came out.  Isaac and his buddy DID get a tower knocked down at recess...but no one was kicked or punched or kicked out of school.  Those were embellishments added strictly for effect by Isaac himself.

I'm not going to lie--I was impressed.  The story-telling skills this kid possesses are powerful...but we had to talk about truth vs. lies, no matter how creative they were.

I sat down with Isaac face-to-face on the living room couch.  I told him how I loved hearing about his day, and about his friends.  I love hearing about the way he saw things and processed them.  What I didn't love was how the truth was mixed up with untruths, so the whole story became a lie.

We talked about the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf.  His eyes widened as I dramatically conveyed the tale of the boy who watched the family flock of sheep and thought it would be fun to trick others into believing a wolf was coming to take some of the sheep---only to laugh and say "fooled you!" when the townspeople came running to help.  One day, a wolf really did come and attacked the sheep, and when the boy cried "HELP!"  No one showed up.  No one believed him.  This is why telling the truth is important.  We build trust when we tell the truth.

Isaac understood.  Stories like this help him, for the most part...

And then I ruined the lesson with one phrase:  "Truth is naked.  It doesn't have to be covered up with any frilly stories or fibs."

(giggles inserted here)

So, fast forward a couple of weeks to now.  A naked kid trying to tell his brother to trust him.  I guess I can say the lesson was learned.

Friday, June 27, 2014

pop the question

I have many plans for today.  

I have lists for groceries, to-do's to be done in preparation of a big annual event we host at our house every year, as well as the daily grind chores that I have been putting off due to summer vacation.  (Who wants to clean when the lazy river at Wildwater Kingdom is beckoning?) Anyhow, it's become impossible to put off the tasks any further...and that's why I wasn't going to think of blogging today.  I don't have time. 

Plans change. 

I'm working on paying bills, catching up on emails, and the general "I-forgot-what-day-of-the-week-it-is-because-it's-summer" confusion, when Ethan and Isaac come into the office.  We get into a quick discussion over a few things, and Ethan brings up a server on Minecraft that he heard of just for kids on the autism spectrum called Autcraft.  We look up the founder's Facebook profile.  Then, as Isaac is quietly standing behind us he says, point-blank, "Do I have Autism?"  

I'm not sure how other parents handle labels in their homes.  I'm not saying you should or shouldn't tell your child of their special needs.  In our home, we haven't told Isaac he is autistic, nor have we used it to explain things to him.  It just hasn't been an issue. He sees the world differently, interprets the world uniquely, and processes his surroundings like one of the many fractals on a brilliantly cut diamond.  He has a diagnosis, yes, and on paper it says he has autism.  It makes him eligible for services that allow him to thrive, and it allows us to form a framework of understanding around a fraction of how he needs to live--but he is not limited to a set of "symptoms" or expected to be put in a box of understanding.  Isaac is Isaac.

But when your own child asks you a question like this...

I calmly take him in my arms and hug him.  He nestles his chin into the crook of my neck, keeping his arms at his side.  I can almost hear his brain clicking and grinding.  

"Yes."  That's all I tell him.

I feel cornered, trapped, and angry.  I wish I could punch the walls around me and throw a tantrum. Because although I believe Isaac is unique and wonderful and I wouldn't change him for all of the typical children in the world...he still has a label...and I can explain the label away, use more socially palatable terms to describe his needs, but he will always need to be identified with autism if he is to get what he needs in a manner that allows him to succeed--both in his own mind and in the world.  

Instead of losing it, I get my composure and pull him away to look in his eyes.  It takes him a moment.  It seems like he is avoiding my glance.  I wait patiently for him to meet me, holding his shoulders gently.  "Isaac, I hope you know how amazing you are.  There is no one, NO ONE like you in the whole universe.  I know God was being super creative the day he made you.  He was so excited!  And He has a plan to use you in awesome ways."  He looks at me, nods, and gives me a quirkly smile with squinty eyes and says..."Want to play with me?"  

And just like that, the anger, fear, and worry fall to the floor.  I have to let the intense conversation that I was preparing to have with my son about all the innate ways he is different--all the moments he has awakened awareness in me and others who know him--all the nuances of his thoughts and emotions...I had to realize it's my job to love him, not label or cover who he is with a band-aid.  I need to love him by sharing life with him, answering the tough questions with just one word answers, and trusting that Isaac will discover more of who he is...

Over a game of "Pop the Pig."  And I am so glad for that plastic pig with the inflatable belly who eats plastic hamburgers, because now we can just go on.  Enjoying the moments, not dwelling on labels or differences...even though we know that they are still there.  Always there.

Questions from our children aren't scripted, and we don't always have the answers mapped out.  The questions about "who am I?" are to be answered over time, through experiences, and through love.  Their questions will often spark the same questions in ourselves.  And we learn them, live them, and cherish them together.  

Isaac, last day of 1st grade...a little champion. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

note to self

My empty mug of yogurt and berries sits in front of me on the computer desk instead of heading to the dishwasher.  My mug of coffee is probably sitting somewhere upstairs, getting cold because, frankly, today it's not attached to me at the hip.  Laundry baskets are calling my name in the basement.  I am still in my pajamas, and should really take a shower. It's safe to say I'm torn this morning...

From the living room, sounds of Nintendo DS playing and the occasional, "YES!" ricochet to my ears--Ethan is officially done with school until the fall.  We are all trying to soak that reality in today, especially because I still have until tomorrow for Isaac.  He is at JB having "Spy Day" with all of his fellow school mates.  (He made sure to pack his binoculars to see any other spy-like events that were thinking of sneaking past his all-too-aware spyishness.)  So, although I have one child, carefree on the couch, I still had to get up and carpool Isaac to school per the normal routine.  I'm just confused today.

Summer vacation is part mental for me.  I'm not sure if other moms, dads, or caretakers deal with this phenomenon.  I get so excited for the end of the school year because it means no packing lunches, no double checking homework folders (yes, I did it until the very end), no making sure one school uniform is on while the other completely different school uniform is packed and gym clothes are on--oh, and making sure there are underwear on under the uniform pants.  Most of my mornings felt like I was trying to rehearse Abbott and Costello's "Whose on first?" routine, unsuccessfully, with my children.  But I persevered.  I didn't give up because I expected my kids not to give up.  Finish strong!  Finish proud!  And then, after you crash through the finish line and pour Gatorade over your head all while taking deep breaths and collapsing to the ground...when it's time to get up again, you ask yourself, "Alright...what now?"

Don't misunderstand me.  I love the freedom of not having to go anywhere, not having to do anything.  But, then, the next minute...I hate it.  I need to DO something.  I feel in limbo with feeling needed or valued because I'm on top of my game and then all of a sudden the expectations are just thrown into park. Switching gears while going 50 miles an hour is not something I do well with...and I'm just being honest.
Somewhat how I feel today...

Here's a note to self:  downshift by remembering who you are and what you were created to be.  Just because the school year is done...(for 1/2 of my children)...does not mean you are needed any less.    It's just a need for relaxation, a need for playing until it's dark outside, a need for popsicles and sun tea.  It's a need for muddy feet and grassy knees, dripping ice cream cones, and yes, baths.  Every night.  You're still mom.  You're still the one teaching, molding, shaping your sons.  You just are mom in a bathing suit and cover up with sunglasses saying, "sure, we can have Menchie's for the 3rd night in a row."  It's a need for slowing down.

So, I'm downshifting.  Rolling the windows down, and getting a sunburn on that arm that is exposed under the sunroof...(true story)...

And remembering who I am and what I was created to be, not do.

Happy summer, friends.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Poking the Mama Bear

I need to calm down. 

But, I also need to write. So, the calm can wait.  You can save your "Keep Calm and fill-in-the-blank" Brittish humor until I'm finished. 

I am a Mama Bear.  I love my cubs.  I am protective of them in every sense of the word.  I look out for every aspect of their existence, including their education.  In fact, I am adamant about their schooling and what they need to thrive.  I am a thankful Mama Bear because I have two wonderful, helpful, and willing schools with teachers who are driven to not only educate the minds of my cubs, but their hearts as well.  However, one of my cubs has an IEP.  And this means, by law, other teachers and staff who do NOT know my child are involved in planning his education as well.  Once a year, we are required to sit down with a panel and discuss Isaac with people who have never met him face-to-face, to discuss his services, progress, and update any other education needs he may have for the upcoming school year.  This, this is a love/hate relationship.  Especially today. 

Mama Bear has been poked. 

Up until this point, I have had no complaints about the school district with whom I have to, by law, explain who my Isaac is from a few sheets of paper and statistics.  Up until this point, I have been happy to sit in a meeting, smile, listen to teachers who have never met my son say things like, "Wow!  It sounds like Isaac is doing very well!"  and "He's reading at THAT level, ALREADY?"  After today, I am going to have a seriously hard time biting my tongue.

In order for Isaac to get services outside of our school district of residence with his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and to be eligible to choose where we want to send him, we are required to keep the district we DID NOT choose informed of his progress each year.  This means, a meeting to update his education and therapy goals.  At these meetings, teachers and therapists as well as a representative for the district we DO NOT USE present their paperwork (paperwork that is provided by Isaac's current teachers and therapists, as well as other staff who educate him at Julie Billiart). I know, it's a bit confusing and skewed, but that's the way it is.  We all sit down, chat a little bit, smile, laugh, sign a few things, and then we shake hands and part ways. 

The hard part is when the district we DIDN'T CHOOSE loses track of my cub.  He slips through the cracks of time and becomes just another kid with an education plan outside of their realm. If these meetings are not kept, and the IEP is allowed to expire, let's just say you DON'T want Mama Bear to get to that point.  And we are almost at that point--days away, in fact. 

Isaac's IEP expires the 27th.  Less than a week away AND over a long holiday weekend.  I was getting nervous...anxious even.  I haven't received a letter or email allowing me to choose a date of a meeting.  After calling various people and leaving unanswered messages for weeks now, my team at Julie Billiart had to step in and help me get information that technically, isn't their responsibility to get.

I understand everyone is under a lot of pressure.  Everyone is under some sort of deadline.  Every district is dealing with influxes of more and more children being diagnosed with special needs, and they are drowning in meeting state requirements and fulfilling all the paperwork on time.  I get it.  I do.  I just need to know that you're doing SOMETHING.  ANYTHING.  A simple return email  or call would suffice so I can at least get something on the calendar and have an option!  Because of a lack of planning and insufficient foresight, I am forced to be where and when you tell me.  So....

Hear this, district.  Please, get your act together.  I deserve at least more than a week's notice as to a meeting as important as this.  Isaac deserves more than that. 

When we sit down on Thursday (which is just 2 days away, and is the only time you can "fit" us in, apparently...) please don't take it personally if I don't chat in depth about how wonderfullly my son is doing, or how excellent he is in reading or math, or how "typical" he sounds.  Don't take it as a sign of disrespect that I just want you to write down the services he needs and to tell me truthfully what boxes I am checking and what I am signing for or against.  Be patient as I ask questions and read every paragraph, word for word.  Because this is my son.  You haven't met him, but if you did, you would marvel at how much he's grown and how far he's come by being at Julie Billiart, but you would also see he wouldn't fit in your classroom.  I don't need to hear you tell me I'm doing a great job, because honestly, I know that.  I appreciate you making time for me, even if it was down to the wire.  This is just another reason why I am glad Isaac is where he is. This is my cub's life we are writing... 

Keep Calm, and Mama Bear On.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Without the words

The rain is pouring and before I can say "Let me grab the umbrella..." Isaac is already bounding out of the van.  "Wooooohooooo!" He shouts and runs to the door of the Tai Kwon Do studio we are checking out as I am scrambling to clumsily catch up with him without looking like I am entering myself into a wet t-shirt contest.  Thank you, Lord, for "April showers."

Isaac is obviously excited.  So much so that he literally cannot keep still.  He is hopping up and down and smiling, "Is this the place?  Are we going to start?  Oh!  Look!  A water fall!"  My friend and her son are also with us to do an interview and visit for a possible new place for our boys to get involved with some summer activities through our Autism Scholarships.  This place was recommended and has done a wonderful job with kids on the spectrum, and since we have funds left after schooling, we thought we would see if this place, these people, would be good fits.

I have learned that I can't just sign Isaac up into a program.  It's not that easy.  There is preparation involved for everyone.  We need to see if the place is comfortable, the people good communicators, the ideology compliant to the way he can grow.  It's also necessary to stand back and let things happen--not to force a situation.  You just know when it fits. And when it doesn't.

As Isaac was bouncing rigidly and asking questions, the instructor introduced herself in a quiet, zen-like manner. Oh boy.

"Hello, Isaac, my name is-"

"HI!  I'm Isaac, oh wait, you said that [giggles, bouncing up and down] soooooo is this where we practice? [runs out on the mat while instructor tries to interject] Oh, this is cool.  Are we gonna fight now?  [makes a fighting pose]"

The instructor looks at me, and I shrug, "He has a big brother and to wrestle." Nice, Christa.  I look over just in time to see Isaac touching everything--the belts displayed on the wall, the small fountain (supposedly for creating calm?), photos, you name it.  He was asking non-stop questions to anyone in a 10 foot radius:  "Are these your belts?"  "Is this fountain always running?"  "Wow!  Nice swords!"  

As our interview continued, Isaac could not sit still.  He was spastic on the couch in the instructor's office, interrupting to ask questions like, "Is that real sand in there?"  "Where did you get those shells? At the beach?"  "Why do you have so many candles?"  "Ooh, I like this music, it's soothing!"  I struggled not to laugh and took a moment to enjoy his chattiness, even though it may not have been at the appropriate time...even though it might have been excessive.  He wouldn't let her take charge of the conversation, in fact, he kept turning the questions she would ask him back on her!  "What is your favorite thing to do at school, Isaac?" "Um...[he went on to list his entire day schedule, as if reading it from a memory calendar, expressively of course] What about you?  What do YOU like?  Oh, wait...not what you like...what do you NOT like?  Yeah, what do you not like?"  We didn't finish the interview because of all of Isaac's questions.  Honestly, I was a little embarrassed at all the chattiness, all the moving and bouncing and inability to focus.  I caught myself and threw that feeling out of the window because there is joy with many words, and there is joy without.  I have known both.

Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops... at all. ~Emily Dickinson

I love words.  I express with words.  I understand with words.  I use words as my magnifying glass, as my secret decoder, and my frying pan.  Words are food to my soul, and without them to help me examine the world, I have a hard time feeling anything.

So when Isaac didn't talk, and when he struggled to use words with me, I felt...nothing.  It took a long time to understand the truth of Dickinson's quote:  It IS possible to find hope in the song without words.  Isaac is proof of that.  He was my song, seemingly written out of tune; striking dissonant chords, and then, when it seemed I couldn't handle the strain of it any longer, a resolve that made me appreciate the simple truth that some songs can be sung in another key.  It doesn't mean they are wrong, just beautiful and complex in a unique way that not every one is accustomed to.  .

When Isaac's words, flood, out of his mouth, I can smile and close my eyes and listen to a song, now, complete with words. And when Isaac is bouncing, joyful, hopeful, I can see his song, even without lyrics.

He will most likely not be attending the program we visited, but I am glad we did.  Isaac and I were both reminded of just how much hope and poetry both our songs have. ~

Isaac, singing a song without words

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

little car, BIG deal

It's an unexpected day off for Isaac.  Last night, he had terrible dreams that kept him awake from 3 am to a half an hour before it would have been his usual time to get up for school.  I knew it would be senseless to send him exhausted, so we have had the day together (after he slept for quite a while).  After thanking me profusely for letting him stay home, I told him I had plans for the day.  "Where are we going?" he said a little perturbed.  He already had plans of his own to play Disney Infinity for...well, infinity.  "I have a morning coffee date planned with Miss Melanie, so you can come and play with Autumn while we're there."  This appeased him.

The time with my dear friend was lovely--the two kids played well, and shared some coffee cake.  When it was time to leave, Isaac had found two Hot Wheels cars that he hadn't had a chance to play with.  I asked him to please help clean up so we can go home for lunch.  Hugs, thanks, and a few laughs later, and we were in the van, making the 10 minute drive home.  (Praise God for friends near and dear to my heart, and my house!)

Nonchalantly, Isaac pulls a tiny purple toy sports car from his coat pocket.  I watch him inspect it in the rear view mirror.  "Buddy...what's that?"  I ask.  "Mom, it's the car I liked!  Isn't it awesome!?"  For just a second I was about to respond with a "yeah it is!" or "wow, it's SO awesome!"  but instead, I asked a more serious question.  "Isaac, did you ask if you could take that car with you?"

The van went silent.  I watched his face dim as he held the car up closely to his face to inspect each detail, the miniature chrome finish shining and beckoning him to play..."No...I didn't ask."

If there is one thing I cherish (and there are many) I think one of the most beautiful of Isaac's is his honesty.  Perhaps that will change as he grows, but for me, it's a glistening part of his character that I desire to polish to a brilliance, not unlike that of his pilfered toy car.

As much as I could have let it slide...just said, "you know we don't take things without asking" and then continued to let him play with the car...I knew I couldn't.  I had to use this opportunity to do one of the most difficult and trying and sometimes painful jobs of parenting--instruct and discipline.

I asked Isaac to hand me the car at the next red light.  When we stopped, he looked at me, and then the car, and slowly handed it over.  "Mom, can I have it back?"  His lower lip began to quiver.  I took a breath in through my nose and shook my head, "No, buddy.  Do you know why?"  His eyes filled with tears and he began swiping his face to prevent them from spilling over (Isaac has a sensory disdain for tears on his face--he just doesn't like to cry or deal with others crying).  This made me feel sick to my stomach, but I knew it was a lesson we were already knee-deep into, so I needed to keep going.

He blinked feverishly and said, "Because I took it without asking."  "Right."  I said, softly.  "And that is stealing, buddy.  When you take something that doesn't belong to you without asking, that's stealing."  Now, at that point, as a mom of a child who has special needs (and, frankly, as a mom in general!), I started arguing with myself--he doesn't quite understand...don't be hard on's okay, just give him the car and let him be happy and smiling like his usual self again.  Life is hard enough for him.  The rebuttal:  But am I, as a parent, honoring God's desire for me to train up my son in the attributes of His character and to teach him that choices have consequences?  By giving in and not teaching him, am I making life harder for him in the long run? Isaac is smart.  He knows and understands more than I think.  I would do him a disservice by denying him the freedom to learn and understand.  Isaac needs to experience and matter how much I want to keep him from that in a scenario such as this.  NO, I told myself...this little toy car is a big deal.

Isaac put his head in his hands in the backseat, and he began to sob.  I realized, I didn't need to yell or lecture.  I let the heart do it's work.  "I'm so sorry, Isaac, but I am going to keep the car until we can return it to Miss Melanie's house, okay?"  He didn't look at me in the mirror like he usually did when we were having a talk.  In fact, at the next stop light, I turned around and asked him to look at me.  He picked his head up and said, "if you don't give me the car back, then you're being a really mean mom."  Ouch.  I smiled at him with grace, "Oh buddy, if I DID give you the car back I would be a SUPER mean mom."  "Why?"  He said between sniffs.  "Because my job as your Mommy is to love and teach you and at times, discipline you...even though it hurts my heart."  Isaac looked up at me and said, "It hurts you?"  "Yes, it hurts me, because I want to give the car back to you, but I know that's not the lesson that you need to learn--you need to understand that when you steal, you break a rule, and there are consequences. This is a bad consequence."  We went over that big word again and what it he would feel when someone stole a car from him...but the tears still flowed.  I was glad we pulled into the driveway then, so I could jump out, swallow the giant lump in my throat, open the door and pull him into my arms and hold him and tell him gently that I loved him and God SO much, and that's why I am a "mean" mom sometimes.

After a long time of holding him, wiping his tears, and going over the essentials of why stealing is something that breaks God's heart and hurts others...his face was splotchy and red, but I had held it together.  I hadn't given in, I hadn't turned back.  I had pushed through because I love Isaac, and know that my Heavenly Father loves him even more.  We prayed together, asking God to forgive and help Isaac next time to make a better choice.  I knew Isaac understood.  He felt it in his core.  And when we deal with this again (which I am positive we will) we have a memory to go back to.  And he will probably remember the exact date and time, because in addition to his honesty, he's a walking calendar.

Loving means sacrificing.  It means doing things that are uncomfortable, things that often portray you as the "bad guy" or "mean mom."  Why am I okay with that?  Because I know the result of teaching and training--it will produce obedience in love with respect.  I am building trust not only between myself and my son, but between him and the God who is a merciful, loving, yet strict disciplinarian.  A dichotomy that today, for this mommy, made sense.  I know in my heart of hearts it did for Isaac too.

Lesson passed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014



I lean over the stairs in the kitchen and call up, a slice of bread and a knife to spread peanut butter on it in the other.  We all slept in on this snowy March morning, and are running behind.  Isaac has been getting his school uniform on now for...oh...14 minutes.  I set the clock on his bookshelf so he could see how many minutes it should actually take him to get dressed. Isaac has a love/hate relationship with deadlines.

He is humming to himself on his bed as I take the steps two at a time to get to him...

"Buddy, I need you to please get dressed.  We are running late so we need to make the most of our time" and I point to his clock.

He looks at me, half dressed, t-shirt backwards, and smiles.

I sigh and tilt my head to the side.  That smile melts me every time.

We finish our morning routine, and make it out the door in record time.  After dropping Isaac off and calling Dan and Ethan on their route to school to make sure they are up to speed on the schedule for our Wednesday, I walk into the house.  I remember, laundry in the dryer!  If I get to it fast enough, I won't have to iron (praise be to God).  I fold a load and throw another one into the washer.  I even have a few minutes to wash the kitchen floor and mark it off of my to-do list.  Patting myself on the back, I think I've recovered from this morning's tardiness.

As I make my way upstairs to get myself ready, I take my usual stroll through the boys' rooms to do what us OCD moms do best--fix a wrinkled bed sheet, pick up jammies off of the floor...put piles of books back on the shelves from the night before...

Then, I see it.  And it freezes me in my tracks.

On Isaac's bed, his Bible lay open to the story of Jesus' crucifixion.  I look down and see Jesus on the cross, and a paraphrased kid's version from Luke 23:  Jesus forgives everyone who asks him to.  He will forgive you.  

I close my eyes and sigh, just like I did earlier when I told Isaac that he needed to hurry up, we had things to do, places to go...I didn't notice what was taking up that 14 minutes of his morning...

He was sitting on his bed, shirt on backwards, reading his Word, starting the day.


and truth.  

As a parent, I pray every night over my children.  I believe that I am their greatest advocate, their greatest example, and I know those are hard titles to be effective in!  I pray that as they sleep, God would awaken their hearts and give them divine wisdom.  I intercede on their behalves for forgiveness--the image of Jesus sacrificing Himself for love brought that reminder to the forefront.

I forget that my prayers aren't just pep talks to give me hope--they are heard and received by a living, powerful, and gracious God who knows my kids better than I do.  Here, as I look down at Isaac's bed and the tattered little Bible with the broken binding, I am moved to thank God for the simple reminder--He loves my children.  He desires time with them.  He knows what they need and knows how they work...He was there when they were formed in my womb, and was so excited to watch their lives begin!  Even when there are deadlines and to-do lists--He meets my kids where they are. He is with them.  Always.

I sigh and tilt my head to the side...who made the most of their time this morning, Mommy?  So simple.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Loving out loud

Dear Isaac,

Guess what?  Tomorrow is your big brother's 10th birthday.  I know you're excited because you keep reminding him of the fact that you're never going to catch up to being as old as he is. And you think he's the best brother ever.

As a gift to Ethan, I want to tell you, Isaac, a helpful tip on being the best little brother ever. You certainly do your job well.  You pester, repeat, sing things like "nah-nah-nee-boo-boo" and run away laughing.  You tattle on him if he doesn't brush his teeth for exactly 2 minutes.  You ride your bike right in front of him when he's trying to shoot a basket.  You jump up and down in front of the TV when he's in the middle of beating a level on a video game.  You yell "YES!" into his ear while you're practically on top of him, watching him play Angry Birds Go!  You forget that everyone will hear you in the auditorium when you are watching Ethan at his school concert and you say a little too loudly, "THERE'S MY BROTHER, THERE'S ETHAN!" and you make him blush and shake his head.  You truly love out loud, Isaac.

Here's my tip:  Never stop loving out loud.  

I have learned so much since Ethan was born.  I learned that I needed to let go of many things.  Ethan taught me how to trust.  And then you came along, Isaac.  You are a great teacher of patience.  I know.  I have been your student.  But I have always witnessed how you have educated your brother in how to grow in love, and he has been gracious and humble in putting you first in many ways.  It is really, truly beautiful how you both have made me better.

I see the moments when he hugs you as you are saying goodnight.  I cherish the mental image of you both splashing in the sprinkler in the summertime, laughing and being silly, the 3 years between you nothing more than a number.   It makes my heart full when I hear you both reading together, cuddled up and giggling over some boyish inside joke or wrestle in the living room.  I am proud when you help one another do simple things, like clean up, without being told.  I love when Ethan bends down to you, and whispers in your ear.  Joy wells up when I watch you both sit and talk out your issues through tears and frustration on the steps in the kitchen.  I'm thankful that Ethan is ok with having you around even when his older friends are--he is a cool guy like that, isn't he? I am excited to see how your friendship grows.

So, as Ethan will always be your older brother, I ask that you respect him.  Encourage him and tell him that you love him all the time.  Ask for his advice, even if he has none to give.  Tell him you appreciate his patience and understanding.  Even if he acts like he doesn't listen.  Keep on.  Because he is listening.

The best gift to give your big brother is you.   Just you.  Because you and your big brother were the best gifts to me.

Love, Momma

And now. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The "C" Word

This isn't what you think.  No label ever is.

When I was in high school, I worked at Sea World for the summer.  It wasn't as glamorous as it sounds.  In fact, one of the stores I worked in was called "Label Stable." There, one could peruse various Budweiser merchandise (because Sea World was owned by Anheuser-Busch and what aquatic loving tourist wouldn't want a beer stein decorated with Clydesdales?)  I always thought the shop was a little obnoxious and lonely. I greatly disliked working there.

One muggy summer evening, I was told to start closing the Stable early.  Night shows were starting and not many customers came in to browse. It was this time of the night that was the worst.  The park sold beer, and those folks who had been drinking all afternoon in the heat figured they should shop for breakable merchandise.  I can't count how many broken glasses I swept up when groups stumbled in, picked up things they couldn't hold on to and made rude comments about how they REALLY felt about Shamu.  And sometimes they made comments about me.  One man, I will never forget (although I have forgiven), called me "that chubby checkout girl."

Fast forward to college.  My freshman year I suffered a tragic loss of a friend.  I dealt with it in an extreme way, and as a result found myself dealing with depression and an eating disorder by the time I graduated.  I weighed only 104 pounds my Senior year of college and ate no more than 800 calories a day (I counted) I worked out, and began feeling confident.  I was no longer chubby, and in fact, people said I looked good--"You're so fit!" But I wasn't fit at all.  People just saw me by my label, and I wanted it that way. Inside, I was very hurt, struggling with guilt and anxiety.  I was told I would never have children, in fact. (Only after I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt). Thankfully, I recognized how little this outward appearance meant in the plot line of my existence, and made the choice to think beyond myself and what I thought being skinny and in control allowed me to gain...which ended up being the exact opposite of the truth.

Fast forward again.  This time, a dad and mom sitting in a waiting room with a 2 1/2 year old boy who didn't talk, didn't look you in the eye; who was hidden and locked away on the inside, and we were trying every key.  I couldn't go grocery shopping without condescending looks and sometimes well-meaning but very thoughtless remarks of how I can "fix" my child.

All of these memories, these moments, have a theme.  Looks.  Labels.  Lies.

I have experienced life being "chubby."  I have experienced life being "skinny."  I have a "healthy" son who happens to have Autism.  I have not found true happiness in ANY one of those labels and will not make achieving a label my life's goal.  

Healthy doesn't just happen on the outside.  The real health happens in the soul.  True healing, freedom, then, true beauty permeates from the inside out.  From my experience, it starts and continues with Christ.  His love covers you, allows you to forgive yourself, forgive others, and be okay if you (or your child) aren't "the best." His grace gives you new eyes to see yourself, and to see those around you.  Being the best will only get you so far.  And I'm not interested in the standards I see in magazines or TV.

"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things"  Colossians 3:2

This is my hope in life:  To overcome the labels I hear and see day to day.  To tear them off of myself, whether they have been placed on me by society, or if I have placed them there myself with intentions of motivating myself to appear better.  To rip them off, even if it stings.  To heal them with truth and not be afraid of the scars.  To teach my children the same.  To replace the "C" word with the "B words."

Beautiful. Broken. Being.

Monday, January 27, 2014

all thumbs

This has been a tough year.

Illness, bitter cold, husband out of the country for two weeks...and here we are at the end of January.

Isaac turned 7 years old last month, and I, 35.  In just a few short weeks, Ethan will turn 10.  TEN.  As in, years he's been alive--as in, years since I have been an official mom.  That has thrown me for a loop more than my 10 year wedding anniversary.  For some reason, I feel older.  Not wiser...just...all thumbs.

Some of you reading this have had a 10 year old before.  You've experienced this slow-motion sensation of watching your children as babies and then, as you are confidently walking with the parenthood remote control in your grasp, you trip, press fast forward, and drop the remote completely. And when you look up, you see kids who are eager for space, needy for private time, are almost as tall as you, who can match you with wit and humor, who can hold intelligent debates with you, have inside jokes with their friends, and sadly...the rewind button never works.

"Still," you say, "your boys aren't THAT old."  You're absolutely right.  But it's in this place of limbo, knowing I will soon be dealing with the greater unknown...the years where mom isn't as special, maybe a little more taken for granted even then when they couldn't say "thank you" or give me a random hug...and that makes me a little sad.

I don't want to dwell here.  I want to soak up all the lovely moments and file them away in my thoughts, able to pull them out as I go through uncharted territory with my growing sons.  So, I have been reading a wonderful book that has been giving me encouragement.  In the book, the authors give boys' ages a sort of theme based on their physical, mental, social, and spiritual growth--right now, Isaac is a "lover" and Ethan an "individual."  These are a few of the words used to describe boys at these stages:  The lover:  tenderness, obedience, attachment to Dad, and competitiveness.  The individual:  searching, evolving, experimenting, and criticizing.  Of course, these are just suggestions since no boy is alike, but, truthfully, it's spot on for us. And I gulped and turned the page...

The chapters I forced myself to read about the years ahead and what to possibly expect caused me to say things like, "oh no..." and "God, help me" under my breath.  Seriously, guys.  I was a blubbering mess.

I know not to be afraid.  If being a parent has taught me one thing, it's to know that I can do my best, but sometimes, that won't be enough. I need to take deep breaths, like I'm diving underwater. I need to be open and honest with my boys, setting examples of grace that will carry us through those tough relational times.  I have to remember not to take things so personally, but to command respect and authority in love.  It all sounds so hard and far away and like a dream.  But, one day, boys turn into young men.  I want to be alert, wise, and aware.  I want to be mom so I can learn to be a friend.

For now, I will keep building forts, having wrestling matches, making jokes about bodily functions...hugging and kissing them when they are hurt, making countless snacks, cheering for them, reading them stories, and helping them understand the world...and teaching my boys that it's okay to be all thumbs.