Whatever you thought Autism was, think again.
It is not the blanketed stare that you can not see through. It is not the repeated sounds. It is not the arms and hands making a feeble attempt at taking flight. Nor the incredible moments you want to lash out at those who scoff and stare.
It is the one time your child reached for your hand. Brushed his cheeks against yours. Locked eyes with you and meant it. Recognized his name. Broke a wall around him and spoke. Showed love to those who once crossed their brows. Breathed deep the scent of your perfume on your neck when you held him without his sensory’s fighting back. It is when all of your endless, “do what I do’s” become, “I did that.”
It’s walking down the school hallway proudly to his Special Ed class because he’s made it this far. It’s taking a cross legged moment in a bustling busy store aisle blocking everyone’s way and being able to smile watching the rage of Autism subside. It’s knowing that you can call a friend who understands. It’s that moment he mutters his first word two long years into therapy. It’s the stillness in the night when you watch him breathe and you know tomorrow you will fight harder, try harder. It’s when he finds his way through sign language to finally say I love you.
It’s when you finally realize that you are not alone.
Today marks a day that I will never forget. That my Mama and Dad will never forget frankly. It’s a day that significantly changed our lives. It’s a day that my dad will tell the same story he has told for the last six years. Word for word it never changes. I used to not be able to hear it. But now it brings me comfort listening to his voice fall back into the past and remember.
Thirty years ago my parents and I lived in a single wide trailer that was rotting away around us. My dad worked his rear off everyday to build us a decent house on our land. Both of my parents had dreams of owning a working horse farm, but they just couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
One day without the “Ok” from my mama, my dad took every dime we had and bought a yearling stud, his name was Joe.
He came from a prestigious blood line and my dad had high hopes that this skinny little ragged haired horse was going to save us.
In a few years that skinny little ragged haired horse made my parents dream come true.
They finally built their house, barns and stables. They had folks from all over the 50 states bringing their mares to breed with Joe. That skinny little ragged horse, turned into a gorgeous buck skin stud, who surprisingly was born with, gold eyes. He was literally everything to us. My mama still to this day will bring out old photos of her and I riding Joe, and I am in nothing but a diaper.
It seems so silly now but as a child I can remember being so afraid to get in his pin to feed him, because he was so massive to me. When I got older and rode on my own, I would hop off the school bus, lead him out of his pin and off we would go bareback for hours on end, till I could hear mama calling me in for supper.
Joe was never jumpy, he never bucked, he was calm and swift with just a gentle nudge of his ribs. To look at photos and see our old trailer in the middle of an empty pasture is surreal, when you could have today looked off my parents back porch and see the riding barn, the stables, all the mares and their little foals jumping and running about chasing each other like little children.
That skinny ragged haired yearling, standing tall and proud amongst them all, made this happen so many years later.
Joe gave my parents a chance to make something of their dream.
Because of him they made lifetime friends in the horse business, friendship that is based on a handshake and a cold beer.
Even as an adult I still looked at him through the eyes of a child, and I always believed somehow he was magical.
Six years ago tonight we were surrounded by our friends that we had made so many years ago. Most stayed through the night with us in that dusty barn, because that night we all lost a friend. Thirty years ago Joe brought us all together, and that night we all got a chance to say goodbye.
Joe passed away quietly, his head in my dad’s lap.
Those two saved each other so many years ago, it was without question that dad would be there holding him when he passed.
We all mourn in our own way, some it takes awhile for reality to set in, others is immediate, but for my parents they knew this day would come and had made themselves emotionally prepared for it. They had come to the realization, they were at one time anxious and regretting this day, but more so were grateful that they had a chance to own, care for and love unconditionally an amazing horse who would alter their lives forever.
I am one that the pain is immediate, the loss is indescribable. The days following Joe’s passing were too hard to look at that empty pin where Joe once waited for me to get off that school bus, but amongst that one special place was the majestic sight of his fouls and even their own fouls running, bucking and playing in the pasture.
Joe changed our lives, he got us where we are today and he brought so many good people into our lives who stood by us till the end that fateful night.
The passing of Joe has gave me perspective on how to perceive the things I can’t change.
I know he is gone, but his offspring are still here, vibrant and full of life. The memories I shared with him, the life lessons of patience and love he taught me, I never would have experienced, had it not been for that one fateful day when my dad spent every dime we had, and brought home a skinny ragged haired yearling, that taught us it’s your spirit, your love, and your desire to achieve any dream.
Every year my dad goes back. He takes his time reliving the past and that day. And still laughs at just how mad my mama was when he brought Joe home.
There are things in life you can’t take for granted. And you can’t ever forget where you came from.
I am so thankful for the local organizations in our community that take the time to listen and allow Tuck to participate in the races that he truly enjoys so much.
And this morning I received our confirmation that he will be able to participate in his second 5K of 2013.
I have to admit explaining that my now five year old has ran with me since he was three is quite entertaining to see the looks on their faces, or hear the dead silence of shock and disbelief on the phone.
I understand it is hard to believe, but those who allow him to do what he loves, take a chance, and believe in him. It is an indescribable joy to see the happiness across his face when I watch him run beside me.
The breakthrough of his love for running came on a day that significantly changed the way I view running all together. You see, Tuck had always participated in races from his jogging stroller. He would cheer the loudest for the fellow runners who subsequently always passed by us. One particular day I signed up but knew he couldn’t. They refused to budge on the stroller regulations. No legal wavier that we normally sign would change their minds. He was devastated. The gun went off and before I knew it I heard a distinctive child’s voice over the crowds of spectators along the race path. I glanced over my shoulder two miles in and saw him running through, around, and under the cheering crowds of people. With my husband in tow chasing, dodging, and ducking after him.
He ran with me that day. Side by side Tuck and I crossed the finish line. His endurance and dedication brought tears to my eyes when I placed my medal around his neck. And for the last two years, he has tackled the challenge of many races with me. Always cheering on others who pass by us.
Dead last or middle of the pack, always crossing the finish line with pride.
When the day is bad when the day is good, running is something that Tuck and I do to come together. Its a place we have a common ground. Where autism, behavior charts, and therapy, do not exist. There will come a day when I can no longer run. I will always remember the accomplishment. The small feat he and I share.
Run happy. Be happy. Never give up.
Happiness is: not driving away leaving your kid at the grocery store.
It is also watching your child, who doesn’t know you are there, play with another child whom he once refused to go to school over, whom he once labeled his “Bully”.
This bully would trigger endless night terrors, and render Tuck’s social skills in a school he has attended for two years and is on a first name basis with everyone from the principal to the lunchroom dishwasher.
The mother in me of course had to fall short of racing across the gym to tell my son, do not play with him! He’s a terrible mean kid!
The children I watched playing happily, were not the same children I remember when our bully battle was in full fury. I would hold my crying child in the evenings, while he asked me why his bully was so mean, why the other children wouldn’t play with him, and why can’t he leave well enough alone.
To any mother this is infuriating. Almost instinctively your teeth come out and you are on the move to rectify this situation. To defend your child against such meanness and manipulation that at the ages of five and six bewildered me they knew anything about. For months his school and myself spent separating them. All eyes and ears open to what Tuck was feeling and what was triggering these horrible experiences for him.
I was on a mission. I was not silent.
And surprisingly enough I found I was not alone. There were other mothers licking their teeth at the open opportunity to get a hold of this bully and/or his mother herself.
I also found just weeks into this, in a conversation over eggs and ham one morning, Tuck brought it to my attention that he doesn’t dislike his bully.
I nearly dropped my frying pan.
You see Autism comes with some quirky perks. And for Tuck he has the ability in his heart to forgive the coldest of souls. No judgment. Just kindness.
I was left speechless after his remark and spent the rest of my day wondering how on earth this child could be so kind to someone who has hurt him so deeply while we as adults can’t let go of someone cutting us off in traffic.
The months went by and the separation helped Tuck meet new friends and join in activities with his peers. One in particular he attached to, who is a starter on the elementary football team, has Jimmy Neutron hair and taught Tuck how to make himself “big” on the defensive line.
He is rad.
The months of constant redirection, positive reenforcement, and new environments where his bully is absent from, made a world of difference for Tuck. The day finally came when he stood toe to … well let’s say the bully is not eye to eye with Tuck. He literally hovered over his bully and told him exactly what he thought of him.
In a most polite Tuck way. Of course.
I’ve had to learn an awful lot on this joyride but the most important I think I have learned so far is the kindness Tuck shares.
The bully who once had us all up in arms now plays happily with my son.
The child I once knew cowering in his bed refusing a day at school now plays with a boy who no longer frowns or scowls.
And the mother I once was, has retracted her teeth and chose to take a seat and watch two little boys just play.
Did you know some children have to be taught to show love. How to hug. How to speak. How to control what their mind is forcing them to do. How to react appropriately and when to show affection. Did you know tonight a mama or daddy is out there recovering from a day of raging Autism. They will tuck their little one into bed and say I love you for the millionth time. They will feel that tinge of pain in their soul that only a parent can feel when there is no response back. Did you know they will put another pot of coffee on because tonight their hope is giving into finding hundreds of pages with endless amounts of mind boggling eye tiring info on why their child is the way they are. They will search until they find an answer. They will repeat everything they learned from their child’s hours upon hours of daily therapy. Did you know somedays they will curse the word therapy and lash out if they hear that word one more time. They will struggle. They will fight. They will ignore the stares from strangers over their child’s behavior. They will cry when they’re alone so no one see’s they are weak. So no one thinks they are failing as they believe they are. They will start a new day. They will repeat their research. They will repeat their “one on one’s” so their child can one day main stream with other children. They will repeat their I love you’s. Every day. Did you know one day their child will thank them, by simply looking them in the eyes unprompted for the first time. By giving an unprompted hug. Did you know one day they will break. They will finally shed those tears of relief and not care if they are weak. There’s a mama and daddy out there tonight beginning their journey into Autism. And tonight I pray for them.
Not because we fear that our sons or daughters may suddenly feel the need to exert untold…