I’ve Lost Myself

I feel like I’ve lost myself. My purpose. My what. My why. I don’t know the exact moment it happened, but it’s been slowly vanishing over the past year. Life has a way of reminding you that you’re not in control no matter how much you think you are. You’re not. But, kudos if you’ve read enough Anthony Robbins books to make you think you are.

I lost a friend to suicide in November. I haven’t really dealt with it or written about it in detail. I knew she was suicidal, but was so wrapped up in my own struggles that I couldn’t stop her or help her. We had lunch together and less than ten days later, she was gone. She wouldn’t accept a cat as a gift (my attempt as lessening her loneliness) because she “didn’t want it to starve” when she died. She had recently moved and wouldn’t let me help her unpack her boxes because she wanted it to “be easy for people to get her things together” after she died. She had dealt with debilitating depression for years and had sunken every dime she had into getting treatment. She could no longer work and was running out of money. She was alone. She was in pain. Her heart broken beyond mending. But, that day at lunch? She was smiling. She was sad, but she was smiling. I can only imagine it’s because she knew her pain would be over soon. She made a plan and stuck with it.

Part of me is envious of her courage. She was tired and knew she couldn’t continue living the way she was. That control thing I mentioned? SHE was in control. She’s at peace now, free of the horrendous visions of abuse she endured as a child and continued in her adult life. Part of me is really mad at her for selfish reasons. Did she think about what it would do to her friends (who shared depression and mental illness)? Did she care? She didn’t owe us anything, but still I wonder. I don’t know how she killed herself, but I imagine she overdosed and drifted off to sleep. I don’t know how long it took before someone found her. I hope she wasn’t alone for long. I imagine her beautiful blonde hair being coiffed perfectly and her lipstick applied as precisely as it could be. Did she wear colors other than the black or grey muted tones she usually wore? I’m glad she didn’t take the cat.

I write about this because I am tired and feel like I’ve been treading water for a long time. I feel like I know where she was in her journey. So tired. I struggle to find joy many days. I’ve put so much into getting Shane the help he needs that I’ve let my own needs go. I’ve stopped working out, gained 30 lbs with no desire to do anything about it. My own treatment-resistant depression needs more intensive treatment, but I can’t pursue it because the next step is TMS or experimental ketamine, both of which require a daily time (and significant financial) commitment for six to eight weeks. So, I’ll continue to struggle until Shane is stable and ready for the next step of his journey and we make it back home and to real life. That’s what we do for those we love immensely.

While away at treatment, Shane has grown leaps and bounds in many areas. But, some of the same bad habits continue to rear their ugly head. Aggression, defiance, “I hate you” when things don’t go his way. We moved here thinking it would make his transition from discharge easier. It’s only been a week, but so far, his behavior on the unit after a home visit is reminiscent of when he first got here. I hope it all falls into place as I doubt myself in my desperate attempt to be in control and lining everything up. See? I thought I was in control. I’m not. Neither are you. Remember?

There have been many moments where I’ve wondered if I would make it through the end of the day. I am no longer myself and know that the journey back will not be an easy one. Do I even remember who I was? Was that person so great, after all? Do I want to be her again (whomever “she” was)? I’ve made many mistakes in the past. I do have regrets (those who say they don’t are full of it). I didn’t do enough to help Pam feel loved and needed among many others. But maybe those mistakes have put me in the right direction of where I’m meant to go. I will die trying to do everything I can to help Shane and our family.

Finding yourself is not an easy journey. I don’t suppose it should be. I’ve been trying to find my purpose my entire life. I find it briefly then it slips away. I don’t suppose that should be easy, either, in an ever-changing world. I’ll delve into volunteering at Shane’s new school and being an advocate for kids who have no one to speak for them. Or, find a new job or a meaningful charity. Or yoga. Or tennis. Or, maybe start running again.

But, my why? I guess that’s easy. It’s seeing my monkey boy successfully finding his place in the world and going to school like a “real boy.” It’s seeing all of the adventures my beautiful daughter and John experience during their time as traveling nurses. It’s being here to give to and receive the unconditional love my dear sweet husband has to offer (even though our cramped quarters are testing our patience). See? The why is easy.

The what? I have to learn to trust that I am where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’m not lost. Maybe this is the new me…who has some work to do on finding joy in all that surrounds me. It’s there. I just have to open my eyes and heart to see it. As Kristen Bell says, choose happiness over suffering. Easier said than done, but I’m trying. Namaste, bitches.


Through the Darkness

As I prepare to head to Shane’s school to participate in a promotional video about the difference they’ve made in our boy’s life, I can’t help but think of this song. Through the darkness and good times, they’ve not given up on him. They’ve invested time in getting to know him. They don’t take his refusal to do work for his lack of ability to do work. They didn’t take his poor test scores as his “normal” and repeated the tests realizing that the vast differences in results was an indication of deeper issues. Not all kids learn the same way and they’ve taken on the challenge of having to be creative to find what works for him. All of the kids there march to the beat of their own drum. They’ve not been given the same opportunities typical kids who make the honor roll have been given. Many are bruised and broken…the staff at Ki Charter gets that. Often those who are hurting the most lash out at others the hardest. The staff is there because they want to be there and they want to make a difference in the short time they have the kids in their care hoping that their short influence will ignite a love of learning and find confidence in the kids. Lord knows there are much easier teaching positions they could choose. But, at Ki, they have the opportunity to be a catalyst for great things.

They know Shane has a great heart deep down and is a kind and loving little soul and don’t take his tantrums or lashing out as “mean.” I wonder if they’ve ever had the chance to hear his deep belly laugh or to hear his incredibly creative stories. I wonder if they know he’s one of the sweetest boys they’ll ever meet. I wonder if they know how thankful I am that they are including him with the other kids with support as needed instead of insisting on division and one-on-one. 

I listened to this song everyday when we were trying to conceive a second child over a span of seven years. After multiple miscarriages and failed IVF attempts, we decided to give up in July of 2005. Shane came into our lives in a way I never thought he would in December of 2005. The universe had a different plan for us…for Shane. The world thought I had it all, but I was waiting for you.

Where it was dark now there’s light
Where there was pain now there’s joy
Where there was weakness, I found my strength
All in the eyes of a boy

There’s a Place for Us

While at San Marcos, Shane has been enrolled in Ki Charter Academy, a public charter school on the grounds of the treatment center. It’s a totally separate entity of San Marcos Treatment Center. All kids enrolled in the treatment center attend Ki Charter, but not all kids there are from the treatment center. School has been a huge issue and challenge for Shane and we were worried about how he would handle the academic setting surrounded by peers.

When Shane was as young as two, we couldn’t even leave him at the Y long enough to work out without them calling us to come get him. Every daycare decided that he “wasn’t a good fit” for their program. Once it was time for him to start kindergarten, we enrolled him into the public school and within a few weeks, he’d been suspended several times for throwing erasers, knocking over a chair, pushing a kid, etc. The public school refused to accept the diagnoses and testing we had from doctors and insisted on doing their own evaluations before making any changes or accommodations. Each time they called me to pick him up, I went and scooped him up in tears (both of us). We decided to pull him out when we found Cyzner Institute which was a small private school that provided ABA therapy and a small teacher to student ratio. Even in a class with 6-8 kids, Shane wasn’t successful and instead of leaving him in the classroom to help him build social skills, they insisted on one-on-one instruction. No one would give him a chance. So, Shane’s entire academics have always been one-on-one which is why we were so anxious about him starting at Ki Charter Academy. But, we were hopeful.

As soon as it was obvious that he was struggling behaviorally and academically in a somewhat traditional classroom setting, I discussed having Shane tested for special education services and began wondering what else could be done to help him. With Ki Charter, I got immediate cooperation. They tested him over a period of a couple of months, repeating some tests multiple times because the results were so drastically different each time. They didn’t accept his refusal to perform particular tasks as his inability to learn. They were diligent and took a genuine interest in trying to figure out what makes him tick.

Yesterday, we had our first IEP meeting. I’ve heard horror stories from parents about their IEP meetings. Scott and I sat at the table and listened to the results and their interpretations of Shane. Most of what they said was no surprise. But, some things were amazing. They agreed that he needs extra support in various subjects and that it would be put into place immediately. They talked about how creative, funny and curious he is. It’s no surprise that he struggles with peer interaction. He’s never experienced it. I braced myself waiting to hear the “your kid needs one-on-one” instruction. They said the opposite. They want him to remain in class with peers. Such a pleasant surprise. They believe in him and are giving him a chance to find success. We spent the next few minutes after the call in silence and tears wondering why we didn’t fight harder for Shane at other places once again placing blame squarely on our shoulders.

We anticipate our insurance running out for the treatment center toward the end of March. Because Ki Charter has put so much care into helping Shane learn to navigate “real school” with peers, we want him to finish out the school year there. It would be virtually impossible to expect Shane to come back to South Carolina and be successful with only a couple of months left in the school year.

On March 1, we’ll be packing up Memphis and Tux and heading to San Marcos planning to stay through the middle of July. That will give Shane the opportunity to continue at Ki Charter learning to interact appropriately with peers in an academic setting under a staff trained in special education and undoubtedly passionate about their work. The last day of school is June 1, but Shane has been granted permission to continue for six more weeks in their summer program. It is our hope that he will also be able to successfully join some summer camps like “real” kids (his words).

I’m excited about our little place on the river in San Marcos. Tears dry faster in the sun. I may not ever want to leave. I can easily say that the last year has been the most challenging year of our lives. But, at this moment, I can finally breathe knowing that for right now, for Shane, there’s a place for us.


Brave and Bruised

The last six months with Shane at San Marcos have been the longest six months of my life (his, too, no doubt). The first two months at the treatment center were brutal for him. For the first time in his life, he was surrounded by peers. But, not just any peers. Peers who are bruised, hurting and just as fragile as he is. So, in learning how to navigate a brave new world for each of them, they’re doing it in the midst of others hurting the same way they are.

Right from the beginning, Shane met kids who would not tolerate his name calling and physical aggression. They were the same as him and each had triggers to cause them to react as he did and fight back. Although Shane had hit us many times, no one ever hit him back. Although he had verbally abused us and others, no one had ever done it in return. So, it was a rude awakening. A real life consequence when you call someone a name or punch them is that you’re likely to get punched back…hard. In the face. And you get called names. And, it hurts. Physically and emotionally. For the first time in his life, Shane felt what we have felt. He cried. He was angry at us and would go for days just screaming into the phone when we called. We cried. It took him a while to connect the dots, but he is finally doing it. So many things he took for granted were suddenly gone for him…no one was there to coddle him or to assure him that he would be loved no matter what. We couldn’t be there physically. And when he refused to get on the phone, we couldn’t be a calm reassuring voice to him. He was sad to the core as he began to understand how some of his actions and behavior must have affected Scott and I over the years finally became clear. He talked about regret for things he had done for the first time in his life.

For the most part, the staff at the treatment center have been amazing. The nurses seem to care, the unit manager handles any issues immediately and his therapist is a joy to work with. Shane was so mean to her when he first met her, but she persevered and didn’t let that interfere with getting to know him and finding ways to help. He adores her now. She has done some wonderful work with us in family therapy. So very thankful for her.

Nevertheless, there are some staff members at the treatment center who have forgotten why they’re there. They’ve forgotten that they are working at a residential treatment center for kids with emotional and behavioral issues, not at a country club. The decision to work there cannot be taken lightly. You have to have a heart and genuinely care for kids and want to make a positive difference in their lives. They’ve forgotten that these are kids whose parents are at home crying themselves to sleep because they’re 1200 miles away. No good night kisses or cuddles. No bedtime stories or discussions about who’s better, Superman or Spiderman. Or, how did Donald Trump become POTUS. They’re just little kids who have fought every day for their entire lives. Either with others or themselves, their emotions…every single day. Little kids who have felt like a failure a thousand times more than they’ve felt successful. They are bruised, scared, no strangers to the dark. They wouldn’t have made it to a residential treatment center without dire circumstances. Many kids there are foster kids who have never had a stable life. They’ve forgotten that a therapeutic hold is not squeezing a hand too hard, thumping an ear. They’ve forgotten that the kids need to hear kind words and encouragement.  What they don’t ever need to hear is:

  • “Your parents are having a party without you at home.”
  • “You know your parents can ‘unadopt’ you if you don’t stop (insert whatever he’s doing).”
  • “You’re never going home.”
  • “You’re going to end up in jail.”

It is my hope that with each complaint I’ve lodged, the staff who have lost their way have had a chance to re-examine why they’re there. I hope that they have been retrained on the Nurtured Heart Approach which has proven to be a powerful way of awakening the inherent greatness in all children. Gentle, loving, creative, constructive, kindness.

In spite of the negative actions of a few staff members, I would highly recommend San Marcos Treatment Center to those with children who need residential treatment. I realize that no place is perfect. It’s a people business. People take jobs for the wrong reasons. They become jaded and lose sight of the mission. The fact that Administration has listened to each complaint and taken appropriate action speaks volumes about the facility and the staff there. Most genuinely care about the kids and seeing them succeed.

I don’t know how many kids at San Marcos are like Shane with a family who loves and supports them no matter what. I feel sad for those who don’t have what he does. I’ve seen The Greatest Showman twice. I listen to the soundtrack daily. There’s a song called “This Is Me.” It’s beautiful. They’re beautiful in spite of all they’ve faced and had to deal with, they deserve love above all else. This is the message I hope the kids hear as they get help and work through their struggles:

  • “We are warriors.”
  • “I won’t let them break me down to dust. I know that there’s a place for us. For we are glorious.”
  • “I’m marching on to the beat I drum.”
  • “I am brave. I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be. This is me.”

Take a minute to watch this video. You won’t regret it. I promise.


As we continue to pack and get ready to leave for Texas, my heart continues to break. So many conflicting emotions. I don’t even know which way to go. I suspect I will run on autopilot for the next week for the most part. I have no clue what to do or how to do this, but I know that we have each other. There’s no manual for autism. There’s no manual for having to take your child 1200 miles away to get them the help they desperately need and deserve. There’s no manual for healing hearts that have been broken so many times pieces are missing. Yet, we carry on. Desperate for hope. Desperate for help. Desperate for peace. Desperate for change. We owe that much to him. We owe that much to ourselves and our family.

“Roads may be sometimes rough. But, with you, no matter how rough the road is, I’ll take no alternate route. Because together we can make it through. No matter how tough the going, I’ll keep on going. Because with you, my loves, the journey will never be boring.”-T.O.Y.

#neverthelesstheypersisted #autismawareness #searchingforpeace

I Would Walk 1200 Miles

As we prepare for our 1200 mile journey to Texas next week, I feel like we have a clear plan for the immediate future. What happens after that remains to be seen. Not gonna lie. It scares the crap out of me. Hoping San Marcos teaches Monkey skills necessary to function at a “real” school so he can have more interaction with peers, gain confidence. And I hope we learn how to be better parents and guides for him. He desperately wants to feel “normal.” I don’t know what that means, but he has “it” in his head.

I have mixed feelings about him being away. As caregivers, we need a break to regroup, repair and become a stronger unit. As parents, the thought of a long separation is heartbreaking. But, I’m taking comfort in peace. For us and for him. He wants peace. He needs peace. He deserves peace.


August 19/Facebook

“So, FB wants me to share how my day went…I tried to do work that I lacked materials to do. Packed up and drove to Dave & Busters where the one who wanted to go refused to get out of the car once we got there then a meltdown ensued. Drove down the interstate while we were being punched, kicked and fought to keep the door from being opened while in motion. There are many more things I could describe but I’ll stop there. No one would believe it unless they were there anyway. We’re exhausted. Feeling hopeless. Trying to remember the last time I laughed out loud or heard my husband laugh out loud. Trying to remember the last time my daughter wanted to be with me. Trying to remember the last time I recognized myself in the mirror. Trying to remember the last time I saw the real me. Not sure if I’ll ever remember or if I’ll ever see her again. #autism #mentalillness #kickingmyass #neverthelessshepersisted”


Where Did I Go?


It’s been years since I’ve blogged here. I always say that when I go back to read about our journey from the beginning. I have to start writing again. So much has happened. So much has changed. I’ve used Facebook to “blog” lately. I’m getting back to basics by starting here again. I’m going to go through the posts that describe where we are now and how we got here. Where did I go? That’s a good place to start and explains the long absence better than anything.

July 1, 2017/Facebook:

“After almost a month of being off of Facebook, I’ve decided to share the reason for my absence in hopes that it may help someone else who’s struggling. Not the most glamorous thing, but I’m trying to remove the stigma of mental illness.

On June 6, I entered a residential treatment center at HopeWay Foundation in Charlotte to help get my depression and anxiety under control. Changes in medication and therapy offered no relief. I was at a point where I didn’t care if I woke up the next morning even though I had absolutely everything to live for. Each night, I wondered how many Ativan tablets I could take and still wake up. I got up to six at a time. The thought of my family living without me was extremely painful and to be honest was what kept me alive. I didn’t want to leave a trail of devastation. I want to see Shane grow up and find friends, go to college, and find his soulmate and build a wonderful life on his own. I want to see Jessica get married to someone who tells her everyday how beautiful she is and makes her feel as special as Scott makes me feel. I want to celebrate 20 years of marriage to Scott.

On the outside to many, I had it all including confidence. It was a façade. Only a few knew the real struggles I dealt with daily. Shane’s increased aggressive behavior and the mounting pressure of finding a more intensive program for him among other “life” things were pretty much the debilitating blow. For the few months prior to my entering treatment, we’d scoured the country for a residential treatment center/therapeutic boarding school that will help our boy learn to manage his impulse control and anger. The last six months have been filled with physical aggression toward others and major property destruction. We’ve been through six televisions in little more than a year among other things. Watching one of your babies spiraling out of control is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced in life. Each day, he loses a tiny piece of himself and has asked for more help. He’s been getting in excess of 40 hours/week of ABA therapy since he was five. Although it’s helped in many ways, it has not in others. We’re on the waitlist for a program in Greenville, SC and expect for him to start in early fall. It’s a residential program for 9-12 months. We will be finding a place in Greenville to live for 3-4 days/week. He will get to spend every weekend with us, but will be at the facility otherwise. That is going to be the longest year I’ve ever had.

As I continue my journey to learn coping strategies and skills to manage my depression, I will be back home next week, but will remain in an outpatient setting at HopeWay in a three day/week program until I feel strong enough to let go of the constant support. The program has been extremely beneficial and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to ask for help.

I share this with you guys to help you understand depression and other mental illnesses. It’s indiscriminate. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what kind of house you live in. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive (even though a convertible is good therapy…so is a motorcycle if I had one 😀). It doesn’t matter how much your family loves and supports you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a classic overachiever at work. It doesn’t matter if you pull off the most awesome parties. It doesn’t matter if you have the opportunity to travel. It doesn’t matter how many random acts of kindness you do (even though that offers relief for a while). It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 8 or 14. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t care.

Scott has managed to keep things between the lines in my absence. I know it’s been difficult and I am forever grateful. Shane has managed as well as an 11 year old can and missed his mommy. Jessica has seen her rock falter and let her know that I’m not as strong as I pretend to be. Showing everyone that you’re not the strong confident person you pretend to be is not really something I revel in doing.

Please take what I’ve posted to heart. If you know someone you think may be struggling, talk to them about it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m an open book. I’ll be happy to share more details of my experience to anyone who wants to know more for personal reasons. Feel free to share with anyone my words may help.

My mantra and reminder of Towanda’s strength is pounded into my head daily…SHE BELIEVED SHE COULD SO SHE DID!”
#depression #mentalillness #neverthelessshepersisted #towanda


August 27, 2017/Facebook

“We’ve spent the better part of the day in combat mode…went to bed in combat mode. Woke up in it. It’s like living in a constant state of war. You’re either waiting for bombs to go off or you’re cleaning up after a bombing. It gets old. We’re exhausted. And angry. And bitter. I cry non-stop and yell. I’m a fucking basket case. We’ve seen property destruction and personal injury (never to the one causing the destruction) seemingly over nothing. But it’s obviously something to him. It’s an interesting experiment, really, to see how long one can last without losing their mind completely. We desperately need help. I’m anxiously awaiting being able to communicate with San Marcos to make sure they made it through the storm without having to interrupt their program. Hoping the universe is taking care of them for selfish reasons. We can’t do this much longer.

I’m not posting this for sympathy or prayers. I want neither. I’m posting it to increase awareness. If you know someone who’s in a position of being a caregiver, reach out to them. They probably need help, too. They’re probably tired of wearing the “everything is awesome” mask. #autismcankissmyass#imtryingtopersist#ihatethefuckingworldtoday

Never Did Believe in Miracles

August 24, 2017/Facebook

“Today has been one filled with emotions. The first place I toured for Shane was very institutional and disappointing. It was the place that had the shortest wait list so I felt like we would have to be ok with it if it came up first.

With the looming storm, I rescheduled my tour for the second place to this afternoon. I cried the entire drive there because the first place was so dismal, but I felt like it may be our only option.

Then, the kindness of the universe from yesterday continued. I fell in love with the second place the minute I saw it. When I walked in, I was greeted by their service dog, Tripp (Shane’s biological brother’s name is Tripp). The school and people I met were amazing. The Director of Admissions shared tears and hugs with me as I told stories of Shane and our family (and she looks a little like Liza Minelli). The greatest thing about all of this is that they expect to have a spot available within two weeks!
Getting ready to leave, I sat in my little roller skate of a car getting the GPS situated and changed the radio station. It stopped on a station called “The Bat” (my daughter’s nickname for me). The song playing was Fleetwood Mac’s (one of my favorite bands ever) “You Make Loving Fun.” It was at the part “I never did believe in miracles but I’ve a feeling it’s time to try.”
I’m an atheist. I do not believe in God for many reasons. I do not care to have a religious debate on FB (or try to be convinced that my logic is flawed) and understand that people believe what they need to in order to make sense of this life. I’m happy that people have things to believe in that bring comfort to them.
Having said all of that, I am at finally at peace with decisions about how to help our sweet boy. Yes, there have been many coincidences. But, “miracles” are wherever you’re looking for them. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt at peace, desperately searching for it. I’ve found it in the last 48 hours starting with Nathan followed by Tripp, Liza Minelli, The Bat, Fleetwood Mac and finally with a shortened waitlist at San Marcos. All of these things may have gone unnoticed if I wasn’t looking for peace. Maybe that’s what miracles are…the universe’s way of saying everything is going to be ok.
When I got back to the hotel, Scott told me that Shane said he’s nervous about starting a new school and being away from us, but says he’s ready to go and knows he needs help…”because I remember when I use to sit in Mommy’s lap when she hugged me and cried happy tears, but now she only cries sad tears.”
My heart is broken. I’m broken. Our family is broken. Our baby boy is broken. I can only hope that after today, Monkey feels a little more at peace, too, now that we have a plan and know where we’re going.
“I never did believe in miracles but I’ve a feeling it’s time to try. I never did believe in magic but I’m beginning to wonder why.”

Never Forget

August 23, 2017/Facebook

“I flew to Austin, TX today to tour two residential treatment centers that Shane is on the wait list for. I sat next to a guy named Nathan on the flight from Chicago. I immediately recognized the body language, fidgeting, rocking.

Nathan is 23 and is on the autism spectrum. I’m not one to believe “everything happens for a reason” as I’ve been told by others at times (that’s bullshit as there’s “no reason” for autism and other world problems). But, maybe the universe knew the heartache  I was feeling and aligned the stars for me to meet Nathan.

He shared his story with me during the entire flight. He was diagnosed with high functioning autism at two. He had been in and out of treatment facilities from the age of 10 to 15. At 23, he attends a community college near Washington, DC majoring in Psychology. He travels to synagogues and is a guest speaker/autism advocate. He promised to email an article to me that he wrote recently.

When I asked him what he tells people about autism when he meets them, he said, “Don’t judge me based on what you can do, but what I can do. Appreciate our differences, not everyone is supposed to be the same. Don’t just stare at me, come over and speak to me. And, never forget that even if I’m a little quirky, I’m a person and I have feelings, too.”

Whatever it took for the stars to align for me to meet Nathan, I’m grateful for the time I spent with him and the opportunity to understand life from his perspective. One thing he said struck a chord with me…”never forget.” At night when tucking Shane in (even after a horrific day), I always say, “Always remember and never forget that Mommy will always love you no matter what.”

Extending thanks to Nathan and to the universe for being gentle with me today on our journey to find help for our boy. I need all the help I can get. #autism#neverforget#neverthelesstheypersisted



August 10, 2017/Facebook

“So, I’m putting this on blast to raise awareness for autism and mental illness. After my time at HopeWay, I’ve decided that “hiding it” and pretending it’ll go away isn’t helping anyone. If I can help just one person by reaching out, then my job is done. In the essence of full disclosure, here it is.

I’ve gone virtually 20 years without much contact with law enforcement officers. In the last several months, I’ve had three interactions with them. The first time was when our 11 year old son was at Carowinds with a therapist and had a severe meltdown. We had to go pick him up because the police officers wouldn’t let him leave with Isaiah. Thank God he is just 11 or he may have been arrested.

The second time was Tuesday when he was at the mall with his therapist and had a meltdown. Again, security called me, but allowed Harold to calm him down and let them go when it was safe for them to leave.

Today was the third time when I got stopped for speeding because I was rushing home to help when Harold called me to say that Shane had locked him out of the house during a meltdown and was on a rampage destroying everything within his reach. Harold could see what he was doing, but could not get inside. My interaction with the cops came when I got stopped for speeding because I was doing 80 mph in a 65 mph zone and trying to get home as quickly as possible. Kudos to the cop who believed me when I told him what was going on and let me go. By the time I’d gotten home, crap was still going down. The downstairs of the house looks like a bomb went off. Things are broken and strewn everywhere.

Maybe you’re reading this and wondering what a “meltdown” looks like. I have videos and pictures but would have to put a *warning for graphic content” if I posted it. I’ll do my best to describe it although anyone who hasn’t seen it cannot possible grasp the severity of it in full-on batshit crazy mode. It involves hitting, kicking, biting, punching (hence, my broken nose}. At times, we have to use a therapeutic hold to keep him from hurting himself or others (he weighs 135 lbs.). Take the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to you and multiply by 100 (believe me when I say that it hurts more when it comes out of your kid’s mouth). Pictures and things that you love are targeted and broken. For a fleeting moment, you are afraid for yourself. But, for the entire time (30 minutes to 3 hours), you are helpless and worried sick for your child. What’s going to happen to him? What else can I do to help? Why isn’t what we’re doing helping?

I’ve yet to gather the strength or desire to pick up all the pieces from today’s incident to put it back together again. I might leave it that way for a while. I’m tired, weary and feel everything but strong. The only reason I cleaned up from last Thursday’s meltdown was because the two-story chandelier had shattered when a stool was thrown and hit it. There was glass everywhere. I had to do it for the safety of everyone.

I’ll be the first to admit that there was a time when I cared what things “looked” like. I had to have an impeccably clean house, car, etc. I had a spot for everything. So much so that friends would move things and sit back to see how long it took for me to wander over to it, move it back without saying a word. Those things no longer matter to me (and how foolish that they did). Who cares what things “look” like? It took #autism to show me that those things mean nothing.

What is the most important thing is that you have to sit and watch your child flail and literally fight for his life turning blue from hyperventilating. My family is fighting for its life and unity. Just a little air to breathe and lasting moments of fresh air. My sweet boy with the longest eyelashes of anyone I’ve ever known has a lifelong struggle in front of him if everything we’re doing doesn’t help. The kid that’s in the middle of a meltdown is not the kid we know. He becomes someone else. Our boy is the one whose laugh is contagious, whose stories are hilarious, whose snuggles at night are priceless. That’s who our boy is. But, #autism doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter what people see. It doesn’t matter what it “looks” like. It doesn’t matter that my heart is broken into a million pieces just watching it all go down and feeling helpless. It doesn’t matter. #Autism is a bitch. #neverthelessshepersisted

If you know someone who needs help or has similar struggles, please share this with them so they know they are not riding the crazy train alone.


I just scoured the internet to come up with a synonym for “what the hell just happened.” I was thinking “gobsmacked” but the definition doesn’t exactly describe how I felt today. Shocked? Aghast? Bewildered? Dumbfounded? No, THUNDERSTRUCK seems to be the word I’m looking for. You know, one of those days where you’re minding your own business, listening to the bluebirds sing gloriously daydreaming about your everything-is-coming-up-roses life, all of the obstacles you’ve overcome and never have to jump again and BAM! Right smack in the face, it hits you…a giant hurricane in the middle of Game Stop.

After months of parental smooth sailing and having the audacity to think we were in the clear, we were caught in the eye of the storm for what seemed like hours complete with kangaroo kicking, blood curdling screaming, sailor trash talking, good old fashioned melting down…all seemingly over a giant Super Mario statue. Super Mario? Really? I’ll be the first to admit that I once thought Mario and Luigi with affection but now they can both kiss my backside.

You see, one of the challenges of being the parent of a special needs child is that you find yourself walking on eggshells a lot of the time. If you’re not in the middle of a storm, you are waiting for a storm or if you feel a tiny raindrop, you worry that you’re on the verge of a major hurricane. But, every now and then you allow yourself to forget about the storms, damaging winds, lightning bolts, floods of emotions. You forget about it because when things are fluffy chicks, unicorns and rainbows, the mind has a way of pushing all of those memories away. I think it’s part of survival. I compare it to childbirth. If moms remember the pain associated with it, no one would have more than one child and the world as we know it would cease to exist.

When I figure out how to walk the fine line between sunshine (progress) and storms (lunacy), I will have found the secret to the parenting and the universe. And, although it may feel like I’m drowning and in total darkness right now, I know the rainbow will show it’s face eventually. How do I know this? Because a little orphan once sang this song about the sun coming out tomorrow and betting your bottom dollar and all the other crap that goes along with singing bluebirds taking a dump on your head before they sit happily on your shoulder. It’s a hard-knock life, you say? Bring it.


#1 and #2

This blog has been swirling around in my head for days and days. So, here goes nothing.

The past few months have demanded big decisions. Life changing ones. The ones that could scar a kid forever if you make the wrong one…as if having me for a mother isn’t scarring enough. 😀

Our daughter will be entering her junior year at Western Carolina. She got into the Nursing Program which is highly competitive and selective. She’s a great student and her hard work paid off. Our big decision…on-campus or off-campus. She suckered me in joining the off-campus camp which meant I kicked it into high gear to convince the dads. We found an awesome place midway between Western Carolina and Asheville. Her clinicals will be in Cullowhee, Waynesville and Asheville. We picked up the keys and began moving in this past weekend. Next week, she goes for good. She’ll continue to work in that area after she graduates and hopes to attend graduate school there to become a Nurse Anesthetist. I know it’s the best thing for her but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the fact that she’s on to her own life now. For real this time. My role is different and ever-changing. I guess I was still in denial up to this point. I’m so proud of her but it breaks my heart at the same time. In my mind, she’s still the adorable little girl with the big hair bow and the impish grin. So, there you go. Life decision #1. Next Thursday will be one of the most difficult days of the last 20 years of being a mom…right up there with seeing her walk into the school with a backpack bigger than her as she turns to wave goodbye. Seeing her back out of the driveway for the first time as a driver alone as she waves goodbye. Seeing her close the door to apartment #9 as she waves goodbye.

As Jess moves on to the next phase of her life, so does Shane. I cannot begin to tell you how proud we are of the little man he’s become. I honestly don’t know if the winds have changed because of the outstanding therapy he’s received from those who love him as though he is their own, because of maturity, because we’ve figured out how to roll with it or a combination of it all. In any case, I am thankful to the moon and back for the good karma that’s come our way. He’s incredibly sweet, funny, loving, smart and determined. Last week, one of his teachers told me that she loves working with him because he’s like a little adult with a wicked sense of humor trapped in an 8 year old’s body. That’s a great description. We have deep conversations about things from adoption to compassion to time travel to being an alien and more. He leads the conversations and takes great delight in sharing his insights with us. Sometimes when we’re tucking him into bed, he’ll say, “Will you stay here so we can have a conversation?” And, we do. About everything and about nothing.

This school year is a whole new ballgame. Life decision #2. We’ve decided to homeschool him to a degree and enrolled him into the virtual school through the South Carolina public school system. We’ll have a therapist come to the house for several hours everyday to work with him on academics and helping him manage a new situation and all that comes with it. Transition has proven to be tough in the past. But, it is time for the next step. Big decision for us. Do we rock the boat or not? What if it’s the wrong decision for him and/or the family? Even with having to spend so much time learning to manage his behavior and anxiety, he remarkably is on grade level in everything. He’s smart as a whip and a beautiful person inside and out.

As we set up his new school room, we’ve allowed him to play a part in planning. We’ve picked out the new furniture, school supplies and décor together. We decided to go with a world traveler theme. He wants “to be like Charles and go everywhere in the world.” So, we found a giant wall mural of a map and bought green pins to mark every place we’ve been together as a family which is a decent number of places in his 8 short years of life. As we were going through postcards of some of the places we’ve been, I told him we would use a special colored pin to mark the one place he wants to go most of all. His response? “I wanna go WAY WAY back, Mommy. I wanna be a time traveler.” Where the hell do I put the pin for that one?

In the words of George McFly, “Like I’ve always told you, you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

The Power of Therapy…and Love

Every time I come to this blog and see that it’s been so long since I’ve written anything, it says several things to me. It could be that I’ve been so far into the depths of despair (read: self-pity) that I couldn’t see the light, it could mean that I’ve been lazy (highly possible) or it could mean that I’ve been basking in the light.

This time last year was incredibly challenging for Shane. We were still dealing with massive meltdowns and major defiance. I’m not talking temper tantrums like most parents of typical children experience. I’m talking holes in the wall, name calling, etc…Verucca Salt on steroids. It’s not pretty. And, although it has little to do with parenting skills and a lot to do with PDD-NOS and ADHD, it just feels like the lack of parenting skills is what’s put you in that place to begin with. It’s not. I’m slowly getting that. The behavior at school was extreme. Sure, some of the incidents were funny looking back like the time he pulled the fire alarm and the fire department came. Then, there was the time he pulled the fire extinguisher off the wall and attempted to activate it. Not funny were the broken window, the hitting, kicking and name calling. Everyone was struggling but the one struggling the most was Shane…and believe me when I say that few things are as painful as watching your kid in a downward spiral and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it other than what you’re doing. I cried daily…most days more than once and many times cried myself to sleep waking with my eyes glued shut (not pretty, trust me). I wasn’t crying so much for me…but for him.

Although I’m an atheist, I’m convinced there are angels on Earth. Virtual strangers who are put here to add beauty to us all. Cyzner Institute is full of them. But, there’s one in particular who has made a difference. He came to us in the form of a big teddy bear of a guy in argyle sweater vests, nice shoes, a shiny head and talent beyond belief. He was such a stark contrast to the rest of the staff that I wondered how he would fit in much like my little monkey boy. Dr. Lisa and the staff introduced him to Shane and he accepted the challenge for one-on-one therapy with him. And, his name happens to be Shane, too…Mr. Shane. From the moment I met him, I felt a sense of relief. I don’t know why. Maybe his aura looked yellow to me. But, from the beginning I knew that he “got” Shane, understood and appreciated him. I could tell that he loved him right away. And, I could tell that it was his mission to see Shane succeed. He once told me that he’s Shane’s conscience…the angel on one shoulder, devil on the other. So, it’s with that angel that we’ve seen the power of therapy and love. He has embraced the wonderful things about Shane and somehow managed to handle the challenges with poise and grace. But, most importantly to teach Shane to handle the challenges on his own giving him strength, control and independence. He is the Creative Director at Cyzner and is an incredibly talented singer, dancer, musician, artist. He sees Shane’s creativity and imagination and figured out how to use it and nurse it to help Shane succeed.  It doesn’t hurt that he likes Rocky Horror Picture Show and has the sense of humor that matches our family. Although he spends a lot of time with Shane, I can also see the impact he’s had on other kids there. Priceless!

Sitting back now and thinking about it all, I think I haven’t blogged in so long because I’ve been basking in the light. I realize there’s still plenty of tunnel left but Shane is off of all medication for ADHD and is only on a low dose of medication for seizures and migraines and Omega supplements. Doctor’s visits are nearly null. Any meltdowns or “issues” are over in minutes and are manageable. We can see ALL the beauty in our boy…he’s compassionate, loving, caring, empathetic with everyone around him, helpful, sweet as molasses, has an infectious laugh, sloppy kisses and a wicked sense of humor (he still gives anaconda hugs to strangers which is a little scary but there are worse things). I will be honest with you and say that there are times when I still feel sad for the challenges in his life and ours…but the joy in our lives far outweighs the sadness. Keep flying, monkey! Mommy, Daddy, Mr. Shane and all the angels are behind you…and are as proud as proud can be.

Check out https://www.facebook.com/ShaneElks?fref=ts

Hello, Old Friend…

Wow! I use blogging/sharing as therapy. Since I haven’t done it since January, that might explain my need for, well, therapy! In the online sense (and real life, too), my absence means that I’m caught dead square in the middle of a massive shit storm and am living in survival mode. There is a popular saying…what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Well, I can honestly say that I’m already fairly strong so the universe can stop trying to kill me now. No matter how many times I feel like the universe is giving me a big “*$%^ YOU,” I have to keep marching. I guess when things are out of your hands, you have no option other than to put on your big girl panties and keep moving forward.

The past six months or so have been a huge struggle for Shane and our family. Just when we feel like he’s making huge strides in many areas, there are others that creep up and send him tumbling backwards. As a mom, nothing breaks your heart more than seeing your kid be unsuccessful in simple things most parents take for granted like playing with the neighbor’s kids, going to the mall, going to Times Square specifically to go to Toys R Us and not being able to go to the third floor where all the super heroes are because he’s deathly afraid of glass floors, high ceilings, stairs and escalators. Talk about feeling totally defeated for a little boy to talk about something so much and be so excited then not be able to do it. I would probably throw myself on the floor and kick and scream, too.

We’re in the process of building a stronger support team than we’ve had in the past to help Shane navigate the world. We’ve added a developmental pediatrician (priceless), a developmental neurologist (pure craziness…think Dr. House with a great bedside manner), a pediatric psychiatrist and a vision therapist (new and yet to be determined). We have a referral to a new pediatric neurologist and an appointment with a geneticist in November…all in an effort to do everything we can. With a well-integrated, invested team in place, I feel more hopeful about the future than ever and am excited to hear their recommendations and plans moving forward. I don’t know how to express my gratitude to each and every one of them for taking the time to get to know and love Shane and being able to see him for the loving, sweet, thoughtful, funny little man he is. The staff at Cyzner has be invaluable and I am so thankful for their guidance, patience and dedication to Shane and our family.

One thing I’ve learned in the last seven years is that sometimes you blame yourself for everything. At least, I do. What could I have done differently? Did I do something wrong? I’ve cried a lot and taken a lot of time to reflect on life…what could’ve been, what is. There is something I know and I’m taking the risk of ticking off a lot of people, but I’m going to say it, anyway. I have friends who have children with special needs of varying degrees and we’ve discussed it so I’m not alone when I say this. When navigating the slippery slope we’re climbing, we often encounter people who might offer “help.” There are two things that, as a mom of a child with special needs, I do not want to hear. Please do not say that God gives “special children to special people.” I am no more “special” than my neighbor, friends or family. What kind of god would create “special” children who have to struggle daily with any disability? Or anyone else who suffers with pain or illness? Not a very nice one. I understand that there are many religious philosophies and I get that some people have to believe that there’s more to life than this, that there’s a better life beyond this one and will believe regardless of anyone says. They have to believe for various reasons…afraid of death, fear of having no purpose, not believing in yourself and your own strength. Do what you need to do to feel better, but please don’t tell me you’ll pray for me. Because you know what? It’s easy to go to bed at night, clasp your hands, say a prayer (for those in need and your favorite football team), then get a peaceful night’s sleep. But, one pair of working hands does more good than a million clasped in prayer.

I was raised in the south in a Baptist church. I was baptized and wholeheartedly believed what I was taught. With exposure to different people and cultures, I realized that the world was not full of God-fearing Christians and that there were so many different philosophies. I always considered myself to be spiritual but in recent years, I’ve called myself an atheist. But now I know that I’m not an atheist. I’m a humanist. There, I said it…MY NAME IS JANET AND I’M NOT A REPUBLICAN, LIBERAL (that’s pushing it), DEMOCRAT (although I do think donkeys are cute), A CHRISTIAN OR AN ATHEIST. I AM A HUMANIST.


/ˈhyumənɪst or  [hyoo-muh-nist or, often, yoo-]/noun

1. a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity.

Stay calm, carry on and listen to this song.


My Name is Janet and I am an Elf

It is said that time flies when you’re having fun. I guess that can explain the extended period of time with no blog. While most of my recent activities can be described as fun, I paid a high price for others (that’ll blog will come later).

I haven’t had a “real” job in over 15 years. I’m a real estate broker and a photographer but work at both on my own terms. I was in one of those “I’m not contributing anything to society and my family” moods so I set out on a mission. I can honestly say that I’m one of those people who can set my mind to doing something and most of the time, it all falls into place beautifully. After applying online to many jobs with no response and discouraged, I simply posted on Facebook that I really “just wanted to be a photographer for Santa” mostly being sarcastic more than anything. I couldn’t find a job…It’s not like I wanted to be a rocket scientist. But, with Facebook and the flap of a butterfly’s wing, the wheels began to turn.

In a million years, I never would’ve imagined that being an elf for Santa could be so rewarding and such a pain in the ass at the same time. In theory, it sounded like a blast. I figured I would have to show up for a few hours each week, work with the jolly old elf and his helpers, take pictures of adorable children and be thrust smack dab in the middle of the merriest frickin’ time of the year. At the interview, I was offered the position of Set Manager which would create a whole new reality and convinced myself that it would fulfill some of the emptiness I was feeling of not contributing, blah, blah, blah. Besides, I have an extensive background in management. I could do it (insert cheers and marching band)!

In the eight weeks that followed, I met many people who left a footprint on my heart. One of those people was Travis, a 33 year old autistic man with who showed up to the set an hour before opening to ask Santa for a job, $100 and a computer for his mother. With the help of Facebook friends, team members and mall employees, we were able to fulfill part of his wishes (not so much the job…yet). I met a mom whose daughter was visiting Santa for the first time in three years because her leukemia was finally in remission. We met a six year old with a chemotherapy port, bald and translucent who sat on Santa’s lap while his mom and aunt stood to the side, crying.  There was an 82 year old man who waited 30 minutes for his “girlfriend” also in her 80’s to take a picture with Santa. And, the elderly woman with her 15 year old poodle in a stroller dressed to the nines in real kid clothes, not dog clothes. She never had a daughter so the dog was her little girl.

Along the way, I met others who were a massive pain in the ass. They included the nasty Stepford wife who was pissed because I was “unprofessional” for having her kid make a funny face in his photo with Santa (a travesty!). There were many of her prototypes out and about who asked for repeated shoots because their perfectly coiffed screaming one year old was petrified of Santa and “wasn’t smiling.” (Really? Give me a damn break!) Still others who refused to buy the picture because their kid was crying. Hello! We tell kids never to talk to or take candy from strangers. Some are going to be a little freaked out when you put them on the lap of a big hairy man in a red suit doling out candy canes for bribes. Finally, there’s George Michael…I grew sick of hearing about his last Christmas.

One of the greatest gifts of all is the band of elves I had the pleasure of working with. The set team consisted primarily of kids recently out of high school and in college. There were a few middle-aged elves who would’ve been better off staying at the North Pole in the Department of Misfit Toys instead of exposing the rest of the world to their Grinchness. My supervising elves were always jolly and there to lend their priceless support and guidance.

The kids on the staff  were the best elves, prospering and growing. Most of them were eager to please and learn. I looked at it as an opportunity to teach them skills they would use for the rest of their lives. Several were painfully shy in the beginning and blossomed into bubbly, outgoing elves who were great at sales and customer service with their newfound confidence. Others used their jolliness to motivate each other and worked on perfecting their skills. They all WANTED to come to work (most of the time) and were disappointed when they weren’t on the schedule. They were the part of the experience I enjoyed and will remember the most. I hope to keep in touch with all of them as they continue their journey through life.

Overall, being a part of the Christmas magic was a rewarding experience. I learned that after 15 years of being out of the corporate world and losing a lot of confidence, I still have a little of what it takes to be “successful.” Our team ranked fourth in the nation with a 21% increase in sales over last year. I’ve been asked to manage the set again next year. If you ask me now what my answer will be, it would be no. But, a year is a long time and I will likely forget the negative aspects (much like childbirth). And, my band of elves showered me with gifts at the end of the season, gave me nicknames (mostly nice) and they all want to come back next season. They’ve vowed to blow up my phone and fill my inbox beginning in September to convince me to head the band of rogue elves that we were. That lets me know that in part, I accomplished what I set out to do…I hope I made a difference in their lives. Certainly, without them knowing, they made a huge difference in mine.

Santa and four of my favorite elves
Santa and four of my favorite elves

A New Day Has Come

There’s a song by Celine Deon, “A New Day Has Come” that was written about her struggle with infertility and the birth of her son. I listen to it often. I’m not sure why except maybe to remind me of how the stars aligned to give me a chance to experience the love of a second child. The song has been playing over and over in my mind while thinking of all the twists and turns I’ve experienced in my life. But, the song has brought new meaning to me today.

“I was waiting for so long
For a miracle to come
Everyone told me to be strong
Hold on and don’t shed a tear”

I’ve shared part of our story before about dealing with infertility. But, unless you’ve been through it, you have no idea what it means or how it feels. The hurt cannot be put into words. How your heart melts when you see someone who’s glowing because they’re pregnant. Or, how jealousy rears its ugly head when you see  or hear a baby cry. And, how you’re sure you’d be a better parent than a teenager with an unplanned pregnancy. They made pregnancy look so easy. I already had a daughter. I knew how amazing it felt to bring a life into this world. She is beautiful and I wanted to feel that again. Then, came the gift of adoption and showed me that there truly is no difference between being the mother of a biological child and an adopted child.

“Through the darkness and good times
I knew I’d make it through
And the world thought I had it all
But I was waiting for you”

I recently had the distinction of being the featured runner for Team Up! Autism Speaks for Run Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Doing the run this past weekend gave me plenty of time of solitude (2 hours and 20 minutes) to think about why I was running and our life with Shane. That was the first question I was asked during the interview for Run Disney. Why? I said that I was running to raise money and awareness for autism and that Shane wanted the medal (and my shiny skirt at the finish line, it turns out). I also shared that he was adopted because I’m proud to be an adoptive parent and to have the privilege of being his mom. Those are a couple of reasons but there are many others. I truly do want to help those who are affected much more than we are. I want to make a difference and be a part of something much bigger than me. I want people to keep their snide comments and looks to themselves when Shane has a meltdown in the lines at Disney or on the overcrowded bus or when he wants his Sprite in a wine glass. I want the strength to keep it together when he’s hurting so much. I no longer want to feel helpless. I want people to see Shane the way we see him…a beautiful brown-eyed boy with the power to make those around him laugh and smile.

“I can’t believe I’ve been
touched by an angel with love”

I’ve cried a lot of tears during the past week. I always cry when I finish long runs. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a sense of pride because I pushed myself to do something I never thought I could do (and I’m particularly fond of the running part). But, I also cried because for the first time I realized that Shane’s autism is much worse than I thought. I’ve always been really good at making excuses to explain his behavior thinking that part of it was a conscious decision by him to be a jerk. But, when he took a ride to the hospital last week because he severed his thumb after slamming the door on it, he was crying and hitting the top of his head with his other hand. I’ve seen other kids with autism do similar things but never Shane. I thought it was a fluke. But, he did it again when we were at The Haunted Mansion at Disney. He was scared to the point of shaking and pleading to leave. No matter how we tried to tell him it wasn’t real and it’s like a movie, he trembled, his heart raced and he cried hysterically. There were other different behaviors…hitting his injured thumb when he was upset, saying he couldn’t breathe on a crowded bus and trying to push everyone away, becoming so anxious and crying because he didn’t want the plane to leave without us. I could tell that he was trying so hard to be brave. Words cannot describe the pain of watching your child react like that and not be able to do a damn thing about it. I feel guilty for putting him in situations that I could’ve controlled or should’ve known better than to put him there to begin with.

I’m not a religious person. In fact, I’m an atheist. But, if I was religious now would be the time that I would pray for courage and determination to take away the hurt and pain that Shane and others like him face daily. I would pray for the strength to be the mom my beautiful daughter deserves and not be so stressed out all the time. And, to be the woman my husband sees when he looks at me and not feel or look exhausted. Let today be the day that those things come to me. A great honor has been bestowed upon me…their care has been placed in my hands. All I have now to offer is love. That’ll do for now. The rest will come.

“Let the rain come down
and wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul and drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls for a new, new sun
A new day has come”


When This You See, Think of Me

Each day, Shane is making great strides and I am getting more comfortable exposing him to situations I normally would’ve steered clear of in the past. One of those situations is the playground at the mall. It isn’t very big, there are a lot of kids, it’s noisy. Last week, we decided to go for it.

I always stand along the wall near the exit because I’m so paranoid about him running off. Sometimes in his own little world, he is oblivious and wanders off not realizing how far away he’s gotten (he was one of the little kids on a leash with the monkey backpack…don’t judge me until you’ve had to chase him). The playground was packed full of kids. There’s seating along the wall where parents usually sit. It’s a great place for me to see what’s going on and how Shane interacts with other kids.

Out of 25 or so kids, I was watching three kids who were in the same family. Two of them were playing with each other, but one kept to herself oblivious to the others. She happened to end up near Shane and slowly inched her way closer to him. They climbed together, crawled and sat inside a tree and talked, stayed away from the others.

I watched them play for a little bit and saw who her mom was. I introduced myself and made a comment about how sweet her little girl was. She said the same about Shane and said, “My daughter, Lila, is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD. It’s good to see her interact with someone. She scares most kids.” I said, “Really? Shane is also on the spectrum and has ADHD.” We looked at each other. Small world for two moms free to breathe a sigh of relief and know a little about how the other feels and goes through.

For the next thirty minutes, we watched Lila and Shane play. Both were very gentle with each other, quietly climbing, crawling, taking turns. Her mom and I shared stories about the kids and how to wade through the huge pile of b.s. one has to wade through to get services children “like them” need. She spoke of wanting to go back to college and get a degree in education to be an advocate. Oddly enough, I’m considering going back for a degree in social work or psychology.

When it was time to go, each of us gave the 10 minute, 5 minute, 2 minute warnings. Lila and Shane both came over like little champs. Shane said, “Mommy, can I hug her because she’s my friend? I know her name.” He hugged her tightly. And Lila dug into her pocket and pulled out one single green sequin. She handed it to Shane and said, “Keep this shiny thing so you’ll never forget me.” He hugged her again, put it in his pocket and was very careful not to lose it. A couple of days later, he gave it to me.

I saved Lila’s gift and placed it in Shane’s hope chest. I don’t know if Shane will remember Lila, but I will. It was wonderful to see them play in a setting difficult for both of them and not be in constant turmoil and full of anxiety. It was as if they looked around, found each other, taught, learned. They were kindred spirits meeting by chance. Making the other feel special, if only for a moment…their true colors shining through.