The Only Way is Up

A week ago I was in the Critical Care Unit. It doesn’t get much lower than that. I have nowhere to go except up.

Fortunately, I only spent about a day in the CCU. The day before, I had surgery to repair a paraesophageal hernia, including a fundoplication. It’s a procedure commonly known as GERD surgery. I would have come through with flying colors except that I had the most common complication – a pneumothorax. After the surgery, I woke up with a catheter, NG tube, and a chest tube. They were removed a day later and I went home the day after that. Since then, I’ve been resting and recovering.

The biggest challenge in my recover isn’t recovering from the operation, but recovering from the year preceding it. I spent the last year with a severe case of GERD. Between the vomiting, nausea, pain, and discomfort from the GERD, and the general lack of nutrition and exercise that resulted, I’m in pretty pathetic shape. I don’t just have to get my body back to pre-surgery shape, I NEED to get my health back.

It won’t be an immediate thing. There are no quick cures. It will take hard work and dedication. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready to start living again.

Teach Your Children

This latest bout of surgery has granted me a fresh new set of scars – six from the laparoscopy (was supposed to be five – was there a bonus round?) and one from the chest tube they had to insert after my lung had issues. That brings my grand total to, um, no clue. I don’t exactly keep track. A few from the appendectomy, a few more from the cholecystectomy, one really big one from the hysterectomy, a smaller one from the catheter I had for that, and now the newest additions. A lot of scars. It makes me wonder what kind of picture I could make if I played connect-the-dots on my torso. I should find that out some day.

Having all of these scars made me think of one thing – wearing a bikini is a part of my past. It seems a logical conclusion. Even if I get my body back to where I want it to be – which I intend to do – I have so many scars that my body is not something I should want to show off. Right?

Silly me. I’ve been spending years telling the kids that they should be proud of their bodies, scars and all. Apparently the lecture has penetrated their brains and not mine. When I mentioned the other day that my time in a bikini was done, the HTR looked at me and said “So what if you have a few scars?”

Right. That. Exactly what I would tell them if our places were traded.

Guess I have a goal for next summer.

Bionic Woman

Disclaimer: If you’re easily squicked, you probably shouldn’t read this post. Then again, if you’re easily squicked, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog.

Yes, kids – it’s surgery time again. The running joke in our house is that I’m trying to become the world’s most optimized woman. If I don’t need a body part to survive, out it goes. So far, I’ve done away with my appendix, uterus, cervix, gallbladder, the plica in my right knee, and several kidney stones. That’s all in the last decade, by the way. I’ve also optimized my bladder and other girl parts. Having three kids sometimes leads to such things.

This time, my digestive system is on the menu (so to speak). I’m going in for a paraesophageal hernia repair and fundoplication. Why? Because for the past year I’ve been suffering from a severe case of GERD, which has lead to gastroparesis, among other things. In unscientific terms, I’ve spent the past 12+ months vomiting. A lot of food doesn’t digest at all. Not fun. Medication hasn’t helped significantly. After tons of tests, my gastroenterogist sent me to a thoracic surgeon to get fixed. The surgeon explained the procedures to me and remarked that patients usually only stay one night in the hospital, but “with cases as bad as yours, they usually require two nights.”

Kind of weird to hear someone else acknowledge that I really am as sick as I’ve been feeling. Not too many people know that things have been this bad. I’ve been keeping to myself a lot. It’s easier than constantly ducking out of social obligations because I’m feeling sick. I’ve been a stranger in my own life. I’m looking forward to feeling better and changing all that.

Wish me luck!

Why Accepting Differences Matters

Yesterday, President Obama came out in favor of letting same sex couples legally marry. The so-called evolution of his opinions on the subject matters to me for a reason – it echoes how people have come to accept autism.

You see, I skipped doing my usual Autism Awareness Month posting this year. I’m more than aware of autism – my 11-year-old son has it. There’s really no avoiding it, even for people who are just meeting him in passing. But the ones who get to know him are the ones who have to make the changes in their mindset. We can’t change his autism, but we can change how we view it. That’s what acceptance means. Even if something initially makes you uncomfortable, or isn’t what you’re used to, you learn to deal with it. The people who’ve learned to accept Number One Son have learned to love him for him. But they had to get to know him first.

We were in the waiting room at the doctor’s office a few weeks ago. A group of children were sitting around watching a movie together. After a few minutes, one little boy turned to NOS and asked him why he was wearing his PJs. NOS replied that he always wore them. (Truth – we gave up asking him to wear other outfits except when the situation dictates more formal wear. It helps with his sensory issues – he’s more comfortable and therefore happier.) The little boy then told NOS that he was annoying.

Annoying? How, by being different? Really? That poor kid. He’s in for a real shock once he sees more of the world. For the record, I told him to stop being rude. There was no parental intervention on his part – for all I know his parents orphaned him in the doctor’s office. With the kind of wait we had and as much of a little shit as that kid was, not sure I’d have blamed them.

On the other hand, NOS’s classmates clearly love him. Last week, he earned his first good citizenship and study habits award. He came home, positively glowing, and told us that not only did he receive a standing ovation but he got more applause than any other kid who had received an award that day. How wonderful was that? His peers are well aware of how different he can be, but they still accept and nurture him. The differences aren’t that big when you get to know someone.

Which brings me to President Obama’s reasoning for his change in opinion:  “There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective,” Obama said.

The better you get to know someone who is different from you, the less the differences seem to matter. It’s a huge change in perspective. My son’s classmates have made that change. The little boy in the waiting room hadn’t.

To me, Autism Acceptance Month represents the tip of the iceberg. By learning to accept someone for who they are, not who we want or expect them to be, we enrich our own lives. Letting a person be who they are doesn’t take away from us being how and who we are. That is, unless we decide that it does.

Opponents of letting gay people marry are doing just that. How does letting a same sex couple marry take away from my marriage? It doesn’t. It’s not a different kind of marriage than straight people experience. Does NOS’s autism takes away from our “normal” family life? No, nor does it affect anyone else’s family life. It’s ours, not theirs. It doesn’t make our family better or worse. Just our own.

We have a saying in our family – different houses, different rules. It tells the kids that what goes on in other people’s homes does not affect how things are in ours. Just because their friends do something doesn’t mean they can do it too. Marriage should be the same thing. BUMD and I married each other. That’s our business. It is not our business who someone else marries or divorces. Their relationship doesn’t change ours, or make it more or less legitimate, any more than my child’s best friend’s bedtime affects her bed time. Different houses, different rules. Let people decide for themselves.

Interlude: Goodness, I sound like a Libertarian. I started as a Republican, morphed into an Independent, then started leaning toward being a Democrat. I might be taking this Gemini thing a bit too far.

So here’s the thing – just let people be who they want to be and live the kind of life they want to. If it’s not hurting you, why do you care? So what if they’re different? My son is very, very different. He’s also quite wonderful. Are you telling me that his difference is bad? Probably not, because the trend toward dealing with people with autism and other disabilities is all about acceptance. Can’t hate on them anymore. Minorities are out too.

So now people have to find someone else to hate. Cue the Gays.

“Homosexuality is against the Bible, it’s an abomination.” I call shenanigans on that one. Quit using the Bible to justify your prejudices. There are too many things in the Bible that have already been rejected for people to legitimately hold it up as the final word on any sort of behavior. It’s a wonderful guidebook, but it cannot be taken as a word-for-word guidebook. Unless, of course, you decide to, in which case most people are doomed for eternity. Have fun with that.

Stop the hate. Stop treating differences as a bad thing. Acceptance is love. Love one another.

Defending Marriage

A little over 20 years ago I called my parents, bubbling with the news that I’d just gotten engaged. My mother’s response was dismay. My father’s? “No, you’re not.”

That comment broke my heart. Here I was, happy and in love with a wonderful man – why couldn’t they be happy for me?

Of course, they had their reasons – my brother and sister had both recently broken off long engagements. The engagements had only taken place after equally long relationships. My boyfriend and I had only been going out for three months. How on earth could we possibly be ready to make a commitment to be married? We surely didn’t seem to be up to the task.

Marriage is valued in my family. It symbolizes commitment, love, honor, permanence, FAMILY. It’s nothing to be trifled with. I suppose, in their own way, my parents were trying to protect me from making the mistake of dishonoring that institution. I’m sure they were trying to protect me from getting hurt. The thing was that in trying to protect me from being hurt they were hurting me. They were telling me that I wasn’t old enough, smart enough, strong enough, committed enough to be married. They thought I was rushing into it. They didn’t want me to trifle with marriage, because it is such an important commitment.

Honestly, I don’t know exactly why they objected, because we’ve never really discussed it. What I have done is tease them about how wrong they were. My boyfriend – now my husband – and I are still together. We didn’t get married in a church – and by law – until the year after we got engaged. But we got married to each other just a few short weeks after our engagement; a move that I’m sure would’ve horrified my parents had they known. They would’ve disparaged it, so I didn’t tell them at the time. My husband and I made our commitment to each other and then jumped over his sword. To date, my mother still refers to my husband as her favorite son-in-law (never mind, Jeff – we love you too!).

To some, our first marriage ceremony might sound silly. But the commitment we made that day was as important as the one we made the following year for legal purposes. At least we had the opportunity to make it legal. So many people who are also in love, who are also committed to each other and their relationship, don’t have that opportunity. Why? They want to marry someone of the same gender instead of the opposite one. That’s the only difference.

Gay marriage opponents claim they want to “protect” marriage. Against what? Millions of heterosexual people have disrespected their marriage vows in so many ways. Because the Bible says so? The Bible says lots of other things the opponents cheerfully ignore. Why then is this part so important?

I’m sure those who oppose gay marriage think they are doing what’s necessary to ensure that the institution of marriage remains highly valued. But what they are doing is cheapening it. They’re putting a price on it – either you marry someone of the opposite gender or you’re not worth it. Love doesn’t have a price – it just is. Only those in the relationship can define that. Commitment is important, but who is to say whether that commitment is valuable enough to rate being “married”? My parents would’ve denied my marriage 20 years ago. 20 YEARS! Our commitment to each other was and is real, even though they and probably many others doubted it. So too is the commitment of so many same-sex couples to each other and their marriages. Why should they be denied the right to marry? Why should their hearts be broken by someone telling them that their love for each other isn’t important enough for them to be able to get married?

To marry someone is to promise to love, honor, and cherish them as long as you both shall live. To attach a caveat that says, in effect, that such a relationship is only possible between two people of opposite genders renders the entire institution worthless, without value.  Love knows no boundaries – or does it? Until marriage is available to anyone, it does. Love is too important for that. I should know – 20 years ago today I married my Bestest. Love won for us. I hope others can win too.

National Eosinophilic Awareness Week

Try to imagine your diet without dairy products. Then take out all the foods that contain soy. Now remove anything that contains corn or eggs. Last but not least, don’t eat anything that contains chocolate. Not much left, is there?

My youngest daughter, who is eight, has Eosinophilic Esophagitis. EE is an allergic inflammatory reaction of the esophagus. I generally describe it to people as being a combination of food allergies and reflux. When the Youngest eats certain foods, such as anything that contains dairy, soy, corn, eggs, or chocolate, they cause her to have pain in her throat and stomach. Many times the reaction is so bad that she lays on the ground, curled up in a ball, moaning in pain. This isn’t an isolated event.  It’s part of her daily routine.  With a limited diet and pain medication, we’ve been able to make her life fairly normal. Maybe not every person’s kind of normal, but one that works for her and for us.

We’ve been fairly lucky so far. We have access to excellent doctors. We live in an area where foods both typical and exotic are easy to find. We like to cook – my Bestest claims he can make crepes out of air, water, and duct tape. I am a stay-at-home mom and have time not only to cook and shop at several stores (you never can find everything you need at just one), but to stay at home with her when she’s feeling badly and to take her to the numerous doctors appointments needed to treat her EE. We have good health insurance that covers much of the cost of her treatment. We also have a good enough income to be able to afford the food that she needs and can safely eat. A pain-free diet costs more.

Like many medical conditions, EE causes a lifestyle change. Making dinner, or any other meal for that matter, takes a lot of effort and planning. I can’t just follow a meal plan in a magazine or casually pick something up from the store. Labels must be read and recipes often need to be tweaked or disregarded entirely. Going out for a meal? Good luck with that. When the Youngest is in dietary lock down (her strictest phase), there’s very little she can eat. At one point, we tried going to lunch at McDonald’s. The only things she could safely eat were a hamburger (no bun, ketchup, pickle, etc.), apples (no dip), and either water or apple juice. Most of the menu was off-limits to her. We were able to go there with some confidence because we could look at the food’s ingredients ahead of time and determine what was safe for her to eat. We don’t have that luxury in most restaurants.

Again, we are fairly lucky. Through a process of trial and error, we’ve determined that she can occasionally cheat on her diet and still have a clean endoscopy. That allows us to let her have treats – a meal out, her classmate’s birthday cupcake, that special dish she’s been craving – but not too often, and not too much, or her endoscopy comes back showing eosinophils in her esophagus, which means there is damage occurring to her insides, meaning that she’s sick – something that no parent ever wants their child to be.

Too many children with EE suffer much more than she does. Some can’t eat food at all. They have to receive their nutrition through feeding tubes. Others have an extremely limited diet. If you see a child who will only eat chicken and rice, perhaps there’s a reason for that. At one point, the Youngest was also avoiding food containing wheat and potatoes, as well as watermelon (which she detests anyway). She had eliminated EIGHT foods, along with anything that contained them, from her diet. There wasn’t much left in her diet, and yet there was so much more that other kids who have EE can eat.

For these and many more reasons, May 16-22 is National Eosinophilic Awareness Week. The American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED) is trying to raise awareness of EE and other related conditions. I wholeheartedly support their efforts except for promoting the DumDums. We’ve also been doing Feingold for years. Food dyes are evil. If you don’t believe me, give the Eldest or the Youngest something containing food dyes. Insta-Bitch.

If I had to choose one of my children to have this condition, it would be the Youngest. She’s tough, strong, spirited, and resilient. She’s so far been able to shake off any lingering angst that this condition could instill in her. Blood draws? Easy. Having her back covered with little bits of food for patch testing? Fun! Endoscopies are another opportunity to earn a Webkinz or other treat. Doctors appointments give her the chance to commune with the delightful Miss Denise and the rest of the team. She really does always look on the bright side of life. With some research and effective treatment, hopefully more people with Eosinophilic Disorders will have the same opportunity.

Patch Testing
Endoscopy prep - Taking Matters into Her own hands
Everyone's Ready!
Post-Endoscopy Nap
The Face of Eosinophilic Esophagitis - Isn't she cute?

Life is about 10% how you make it, and 90% how you take it. She takes it exceptionally well. <3

Hip 365 – Week 2

More adventures in my life, chronicled with my iPhone and the Hipstamatic app. You know, a lot of people are of the opinion that photos should be a certain kind of interesting.  They think that taking pictures of your food or of other things that aren’t interesting to them should not be done. To them I say this:  It’s my blog, my pictures, and my life. Sometimes I look at my picture of the day and wonder why my life doesn’t produce more interesting shots.  But that’s the thing – it’s my life.  Sometimes its exciting, sometimes its boring – ebb and flow. Sometimes food is exiting to me.  Lord knows, my cat often is.  The point is that these photos chronicle a year in my life, not someone else’s.  Don’t like it?  Don’t read it.


357 – A perfect day for a nap in Mom & Dad’s bed.

The older they get, the less likely they are to nap, period.  Which is a shame, really, because some days are just perfect for a nap.  When that nap takes place in a warm bed, cuddled between flannel sheets, and under a giant fluffy duvet, then how can you resist?  She certainly didn’t.  I should’ve suspected something was up at the time, but ignorance is bliss – much like a mid-day, weekend nap.

356 – Still small enough to fit in the fun shopping cart.

Nearly every time we go to the supermarket, she begs to ride in one of the car carts.  She’s getting too old for it, but apparently not too big.  If you look closely, you can see the huge bags under her eyes.  It was a rough night capped off with an early morning visit to the pediatrician.  Turns out she has strep.

355 – At the pediatrician’s office. Again.

When we got back from the doctor’s office yesterday, I asked the older two how they felt.  Strep tends to spread like wildfire around here.  No issues – then at least.  By the next morning, the eldest was moaning in pain and discomfort.  Back to the pediatrician’s office for another positive strep test.  The Son never did get it.  I guess there’s some advantage to his preference for solitude.

354 – 15 minutes before school ends and already a long line at kiss and ride. What are we all doing here so early?

Although the younger two technically could take the bus to school, the bus stop is halfway between our house and the school.  Since the school’s less than a mile away, it seems slightly ridiculous to wait at the bus stop every day.  Instead, I wait in line at the kiss-and-ride entrance at their schools.  Not that this option is any less ridiculous.  The line to pick up your kids starts early and fills up fast.  I’ve seen people in line over 30 minutes before school ends.  Craziness.  Even on this day, the line was long when I got there 15 minutes before school ended.  Why do we all like to hang around in our cars for so long?

353 – “A snuggle is good for a Weechin’s life.”

The youngest, still not feeling well, climbed in my lap for a long snuggle.  The quote is her own.  Her father called her Weechin (wee children) after something a friend once said.  It’s a fitting nickname.  She is quite the petite child.

352 – Self portrait, shorter hair

Finally got everyone back to school and had a moment to myself.  What to do?  Get a haircut, of course.  Having my hair straight is a luxury.  Usually it’s quite wavy.  I had to take a picture to celebrate the occasion.

351 – Ready to slay the boys at her first dance.

The eldest is enrolled in Cotillion classes this year.  The National League of Junior Cotillions sponsors classes at the local country club. She, along with several friends, goes once a month to learn basic social graces, dance steps, and how to interact politely with kids and adults.  It’s a great opportunity to socialize with kids her age outside of school in a civilized environment.  As part of the  course, two balls are held.  The Winter Ball was her first opportunity in a while to dress up.  We’d gone to get her hair cut and styled.  Her hair, like mine, is very wavy, so having straight hair is a rarity.  The salon had a complimentary make-up artist that day, so the Eldest also had her first professional make-up application.  Such excitement for her, but a little scary for her father.  While we were taking pictures, he handed her one of his swords to remind her just how to handle the boys.

Hip365 – Week 1

In a valiant attempt to catch up, I’m going to post all of my 365 photos from earlier this year in a week-by-week format. Maybe then I’ll be able to keep current. Ha!

One of the challenging things about taking on this project is that I’ve had to come up with ideas on a daily basis. Yeah, that’s kind of the point, but going into the project I didn’t realize how much it would affect the way I look at my life.

364 – Country roads, take me home…

Heading back from West Virginia to our home in Virginia, we always have time to appreciate the lovely scenery. This is partly because the police force in Wardensville, WV is notorious for insisting that the speed limit not be exceeded. They even ticketed their own congressman for going slightly over 25. Nothing like regular enforcement to ensure compliance.

363 – It must be January again.

If this isn’t a typical slice of my life, then I don’t know what is. Time to try sticking with a diet and exercise plan, yet again. After action report – I stuck with it a few days before coming down with hives from an unknown source. Between the itchiness and Benadryl-induced stupor, I wasn’t good for anything for a few more days. I never did get back to exercising regularly. Maybe that should be my new goal, now that I’ve actually managed to stick with another activity (pictures!) for more than three weeks and made it become a habit.

362 – If it’s Tuesday, it must be time to stuff folders.

Every Tuesday during the school years, students at my younger two children’s schools send home a folder containing completed homework, school information, and other announcements (the eldest’s school sends them home on Thursday, which means I can’t even refer to them as ‘Tuesday folders’ safely anymore). I volunteered to stuff the folders in the youngest’s classroom, thus fulfilling the need to occasionally volunteer in the classroom. Otherwise,I don’t spend too much time in their schools. There’s a reason I didn’t become a teacher.

361 – Home sick, but still doing his reading homework.

‘Sick’ is technically correct. Really, the school sent him home because he’d thrown up. He’d thrown up because he didn’t eat enough before taking his meds. Every morning, the Son takes Strattera and Concerta. He has to eat a full breakfast before taking them, both to ensure he gets some food in before the medication affects his appetite and to ensure that he doesn’t throw up. Guess breakfast didn’t go so well that morning, but at least he had a nice day at home afterwards.

360 – EEG

We often refer to The Youngest’s membership in the “Disease of the Month Club.” We joke about it, but really she has a bigger medical file than the rest of us combined. This day, she was getting a sleep-deprived EEG to check for seizure activity. Her teacher had noticed some seizure-like activity a couple of months before and the neurologist ordered the test. In preparation for the test, she hadn’t been allowed more than four hours of sleep. Later on, she and I took a well-deserved nap. In this picture, she’s trying to sleep but had to wait until the approved time during the test until we’d let her drift off.

359 – Either a dead body or a stylish homeless person. Neither option makes me want to shop in this store.

You see the strangest things at the mall. I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but I think this window display was a little odder than most. Torsos and appendages sticking out of boxes – what were they trying to advertise, anyway? If you lived in a box, you could afford to buy this outfit? Weird.

358 – Let it snow! (but not too much – this is Virginia)

Oh, the South. Not a place that snow should ever touch. Admittedly, we have a better chance of dealing with it now that we’ve had so many big storms recently. Coming from New Jersey, where it can snow one foot at night and the streets are clear and dry the next day, I find the whole process a bit disheartening. But, the plow drivers here have finally figured out that the snowplow blade can touch the pavement, instead of hovering several inches above it. Much more effective street clearing that way. There’s hope yet, but snow should still stay up North. This was just the right amount of snow for Virginia – a pretty dusting that melted by mid-morning.

A Very Hip Year

On New Year’s Day, I had only one goal for 2011 – to document the year in pictures. Several of my friends had been doing a picture-a-day/365 photo project and had posted the results on their Facebook walls. I loved the idea. I loved seeing a slice of their day-to-day lives even more. Some might call me a nosy or a voyeur. I prefer the term anthropologist. My favorite class in college was Cultural Anthropology. Unfortunately I took it in my last semester, or I would’ve probably changed my major. I still love looking at how people live their lives.

I fully expected that some people would like to see my photographs as well. What I didn’t expect was how it would influence my family life as well. The “photo of the day” is an important part of our everyday lives. My Bestest and the kids all try to point out what might be interesting. When the Eldest went away for the weekend, one of the first things she wanted to do upon returning home was to see the photos she’d missed. Documenting our lives in pictures this year has really become, in ways big and small, a way of expressing who we are.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to not only post the pictures, but the stories behind them. Of course, it’s May and I haven’t even started doing that. What I have done is manage to take a photo every day since January 1. By ADHD standards, that’s practically a miracle. For convenience’s sake, I decided to take all the pictures on my iPhone. That way I’d always have a camera nearby. I also decided to try out the Hipstamatic app to add some fun effects to the pictures.

So let me get started with Saturday, January 1:

365 – Fire! Fire! Fire!

Nearly every New Year’s Eve and Day for the last several years has been spent at my In-Law’s place in West Virginia, affectionately known as Grandma and Grandpa’s House in the Woods. The joke is that their other house in DC is The House in The Hood. Weather permitting, we have a bonfire to burn the brush and trees that have accumulated. The house is on the edge of the George Washington National Forest, so there’s no shortage of those materials. This year, we roasted hot dogs, marshmallows, and a very old tin of Jiffy Pop. As the popcorn flew up into the air, it looked like it was snowing from below. It’s easy to take a seat and let the warmth flow over you. Just don’t get too close.

The Gift of Autism

It’s in the letting go of expectations that we find the freedom to truly be.

The expectations. Oh, the plans I had for my kids. I’m not even sure what they were anymore. Time has a way of blurring our memories. That’s good, because reality has a way of changing our plans. It’s hard to be disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way you planned if you can’t remember what you planned in the first place.

Our kids and their futures go from a concept to a fact faster than you ever realize it could happen. One minute you’re dreaming of having kids and the next they’re walking out the door, heading off to pursue their own plans. That’s just how life goes. As much as we try to control it, time has a mind of its own. So, too, do our children. So why does it come as a surprise that we can’t control them either?

I’m not even going to get into the concept of controlling your teenagers. I don’t have one yet. Mine are 8, 10, and 12. Even at this young age they’ve proven that, as much as I’d like to control their destiny, I can only do so much. The rest is up to them.

None of my kids has done so much to reinforce this concept as The Son. He was our second-born child and our first-born (and only) boy. So, boys. You probably have some sort of preconceived notion of how boys are supposed to be. Certainly we did. He’d be a rough-and-tumble type, play baseball or soccer, be a Boy Scout, and maybe someday join the armed forces. We nurtured those dreams for the first few years, but even then he seemed so different from other boys. Eventually we found out he that he hates sports, doesn’t like to participate in group activities, and doesn’t like being outdoors because there are bugs outside. We also found out that he has High-Functioning Autism and ADHD.

Imagine taking all of your plans and expectations, and realizing that most of them are no longer an option. Military service is obviously out. We could force the sports issue, but he hates it. Why try to make the kid unhappy? He doesn’t like to spend much time with people, so Boy Scouts isn’t a great option either.

What’s left? Him, just being himself, and us trying to figure out how to help him be the best person he can be. Instead of trying to get him to meet our expectations of what he should be, we’re helping him to be successful as himself – and oh, what a self he has. He’s more self-confident than most people I know. He’s content to let his freak flag fly. The other day, as I was picking him up from school, I noticed that he was wearing his ball cap on top of the hood of his jacket. It looked a little silly to me, so as he got in the car I mentioned to him that it was supposed to go on his head. He told me that he knew, but that’s the way he wanted to wear it. Good enough for me, but not good enough for his younger sister, who also remarked upon it when we picked her up at her school. He told her that he wore his hat that way because it looked weird and that’s the way he liked it. “Cool!” she said, in her typically enthusiastic way. It hit me then – her approach to him went from derogatory to celebratory just because he displayed some confidence in his approach to life. Why can’t we all be that brave and strong?

Most fourth graders want to fit in. Mine’s ok with standing out and being his own person. I can attribute this directly to his autism. He honestly doesn’t care what other people think of him. He’s empathetic towards others, but he’s self-possessed enough to not really care about their feelings towards him.

This gift of his has helped me be a better parent. I don’t try to make the kids be how I want them to be. I try to let them be the best person they can be.They only get one shot at their life. It should be theirs to live for themselves, not to live for what I want. If I don’t have expectations about how they will be, I’ll never be disappointed that they didn’t turn out that way. That’ll just leave me more time to love them for themselves, which is what a parent should do.