To my biological father…

For the first eighteen years of my life you seemed like a great father. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes until I moved away to college. Yes, my sisters and I could hear the fights through the bedroom door, but it was never done in front of us, thankfully. You always ask what it is that you did that “made us turn against you” we didn’t, but I’m going to lay it out for you.

I was just graduating high school and getting ready to go to college. Things had started to break down and show me where you stood as a parent. Me and mama had it out, bad. It was to the point she yelled at me to get out of your house, to pack my stuff and leave. When I turned to you, you wouldn’t even fight for me. You told me to just go and things would calm down. You told me to leave while my little sisters both went to face that angrier than satan woman (sorry mama, you remember that night. It was rough and those girls were brave for facing you down) without even blinking. They got yelled at and sent to their rooms because she was so mad, but they at least tried to fight for me. You sat in the living room, quiet and when I went to walk out the door you hugged me and said “We’ll try to find you a place for you to go tomorrow.” And let me walk out the door. My mother who was angry as hell at me for leaving when she told me to, drove and picked me up off the side of the road and took me to a friend’s house. Yes she drove off the moment my feet hit the gravel, but she was kicking me out and took me to a place where she knew I’d be safe because you wouldn’t even do that much for me. (Let me pause here for a moment. I love my mama, she will always fight for me and the next day she came and told me to come home so we could work things out. It was the worst fight we ever had and that woman is my best friend. Even when she was screaming at me to leave she made sure I was safe for the night while we had time apart to cool down. The next day we worked it out and I don’t know how I would live without my mama.)

I was in college, living in a dorm and you came to pick me up one night to talk. We talked about things I as your daughter had no business knowing. I didn’t need to know what you thought of your intimacy issues with my mother, I didn’t need to know about your addiction, I didn’t need to know about the other women you ran to for comfort. I really didn’t need you putting the blame on my mother when you told me about the divorce. If you really want someone to blame, you can blame me. My mom and I sat up talking one night about how the checkbook would never be balanced because you promised so many people money. We talked about how she was tired of fighting. We talked about how she just wasn’t happy with her life. I told her the same thing she’d told me all through high school. “If you aren’t happy, then change it.” A week later she called to tell me you two were separating.

You stayed at the house through the separation and then Papa passed away. You treated it like a way to get back together with mama instead of just being there to comfort your girls and your estranged wife who lost someone incredibly important to them. For years after you stalked our facebook pages and whenever we would say something about the amazing man our Papa was, you would leave comments about “I hope you feel this way about me when I die.” Everything had to be about you or it meant we didn’t love you.

You moved out. You only moved five minutes down the road, but you didn’t come to see us. You blamed it on the fact that our mother was there. You took us out to dinner on our birthdays, one I ended up paying for on my own because you waited until we were all done with dinner to tell me you didn’t have the money for it. We asked if we could spend time with you, and you claimed to never have the money. There are very few times I can remember just going to see you and being able to sit and talk about something other than you cutting down my mother, or you saying you were the victim in all of this.  You said that you wished you were “Daddy Warbucks” so you could give your girls everything they wanted. What we wanted was a relationship with our father than didn’t have a price tag on it. We made suggestions about what we could do that didn’t cost anything. In seven years you took us up on it maybe six times.

I came home and decided to live at home instead of being at that cult of a school I went to and went to another college. I was stressed because I didn’t have the money to pay for tuition on time because my financial aid was late. You took me to a high interest loan company and forced me to take out a loan in my name. You had told me I was just a co-signer because your credit wasn’t all that great. $1,500 dollars to pay for a little bit of one semester of school. You told me it was for my school and you would take care of it. You never made a payment and it was in my name without me knowing it. A year later I got married and my name couldn’t be put on anything that me and my new husband wanted because that little $1500 loan had accrued that high interest from you never doing what you promised. My husband and I spent the first year of our marriage paying off a debt I shouldn’t have owed, but it stood as a constant reminder of the promise you broke.

I had Little Man. I didn’t want you at the hospital because my entire pregnancy you played victim and talked about how you wouldn’t be a part of his life and it was back to you blaming mom saying she cut you down to us. Let me set the record straight, my mama never once talked down about you in front of us. She never once old us that you were a bad father. She never once told us that we should forget about you. All she ever did was tell us the truth about why you split up (because you were irresponsible and unfaithful and there was plenty evidence to support that) and encouraged us to look passed it because you were still our daddy. So we tried. We called, we asked if you wanted to go do something since you wouldn’t come see us at home, we asked if we could come visit you but you lived with your sister and we’d had reasons for not wanting to be around her. Your answer was always “I don’t have the money” we weren’t asking you to spend money, we were asking you to spend time with us. You always made it about money, it was never us. The only time we would ask if you were paying was when you called to invite us out to dinner for our birthday because I ended up paying for it on mine. After one year of that, you stopped.  I took Braiden to see you once, you never asked to see him after that. You would get upset that he didn’t know who you were when he did see you because you never even called to see how he was doing.

My wedding day, you said you were going to pay for me and the girls to get our hair done. Nana’s brother had covered the food, nana paid for my flowers, I paid for my dress, mama paid for the girls’ dresses and you were going to pay for our hair. We got to the shop and Mari was doing Katie’s hair. I said something about being hungry and you said you didn’t have money for food and hair. So I bought food for us. Then when it came time to pay for hair, you paid for Katie and Megan’s and told me you thought I was paying for myself. Mari told me it was a wedding gift and not to worry about it. Then you showed up at my wedding in a suit and when you came to hug me you whispered in my ear. “I wore it just in case you changed your mind.” You had no respect for my decision whatsoever. You had shown me where I stood as your offspring long before I got to my wedding day and you expected me to tell my sisters that had been through hell and back with me that I’d changed my mind? No. My sisters cried with me every time we tried to figure out what we had done so wrong to make you turn your back on us. My sisters fought for me when I was at odds with mama. My sisters sat in our room with me while we listened through a closed door and you and mama fought about one thing or another. My sisters gave me away because they fought beside me through the brunt of everything and they still do. Mama wasn’t hurt by my decision, she thought it was pretty awesome and she respected it.

The phone calls got farther and farther between. The only time you would call me was when you were upset and you had to vent about the divorce or about my sisters or you would play the victim. Over and over and over and over. That was the first time I told you to stop calling me. You never called to tell me you loved me. You never called to see how I was doing. You never called to find out how Braiden was doing. You always called me to tell me about your problems, to treat me like your therapist and not your daughter.

Then you wrote this nice long facebook email about how we needed to get over the fact you had a new family and they took priority over us. Everything took priority over us because we never came first. That’s one thing mama has always done that you never have. Give me one good example of when you put us first and I will take it back, but we have never been more important to you than everything else. Then your new wife would send us pictures of you with your new daughter. She would say “I wasn’t trying to upset you, I just thought you’d like to see your dad happy.” You would get upset that we got mad. You’d tell us how much that hurt you. It didn’t matter to you that it hurt us even more. There was the man we’d been fighting to have a relationship for years and he found a new daughter to love, to spend time with, to take to father daughter dances at school, to celebrate her birthday. And we couldn’t even get a phone call just to see how we were doing.

Then Megan got married and you started texting us about how you wanted to give her away because I didn’t let you give me away. You wanted to dance with her because I didn’t dance with you. Victim, victim, victim. At her wedding you caused drama. You upset her on her wedding day by complaining that you didn’t get to walk her down the aisle and she didn’t plan a father daughter dance. She had a money dance and you wouldn’t even give a dollar to dance with your daughter, instead you had to upset her on her wedding day because you didn’t get your moment in the spotlight on HER day. You showed up, I’ll give you credit for that, but it was just like at my wedding with you making comments about how “Katie’s your last hope of having your moment” You texted her after the wedding telling her she was your last hope to give one of your daughters away. Why would you even do that?

Texted messages came now, you didn’t even have the time to call us anymore. Those texted ‘I love you’ didn’t hold much water when you couldn’t meet us for a drink. (Water is free everywhere) Couldn’t go to the park to meet us while Braiden played on the slides. You couldn’t come visit us when we had our own houses. All three of us live away from Mama now and when we were still talking to you, you only came to visit me when you needed something or needed to get rid of something. You didn’t call to invite us to dinner but once and it was our idea.

Then Emma was born. You showed your butt to Megan about seeing her and tipped her over the edge after months of playing the victim still. Even after we’ve told you time and again what you’ve done to make us hurt so much. You “I’m sorry for whatever I did.” That’s not an apology, because you for some reason think we just hate you. We don’t. We love you and we cry more often than not that you so easily replaced us. I forgave you. I gave you a chance. I laid it out and told you what to do to have a relationship with us and you couldn’t even pick up the phone and call us once a week just to ask how we were doing. No you had to stalk our facebooks and write crap on our posts about mama with your jealous and woe is me crap. You know what I’ve learned about parenthood? Its NEVER about me anymore. Its always about my son. That’s a concept you never and probably never will grasp.

After the altercation with Emma, you were texting me and I told you not to text me about my sister that was between the two of you and I wasn’t getting into the middle of it. Then you spoke with a friend about killing yourself because you were already dead to us anyways. That friend called mama and mama called me. I called the police and reported it because I was scared my father was about to take his own life over something that wasn’t true. I cared enough to call someone that could get out there to you to let me know you were okay. I loved you enough to get help to you. You know what you did? You blamed me for embarrassing you by letting them know what you said and then claimed you never said it. You used it yet again to make yourself a victim and said I did it to cause drama, to make you look stupid. You can’t even see that I love you even through all the crap that you put me through that I don’t want you to take your own life. I don’t want you to die. I don’t hate you. None of us do.

After that I told you I was done. I told you to lose my number. I blocked you from facebook. I told you not to email me because my life was better without you in it. I forgave you for everything you put me through, but I can’t ever forget what type of poison you bring to my life. I tell you I need my father and I become your therapist. I try to look out for you and its me causing drama. Megan did the same and Katie, God bless her. She’s still trying to be your daughter and you just won’t let her. You have to send her emails about me and Megan, about how you don’t trust her with your phone number, only your email address. You have to break her down when she works so hard to keep herself standing. What kind of father does that to his daughter? What kind of father knows the pain he’s causing and he just keeps causing it because he refuses to admit he was wrong? What kind of father sends an attachment in an email showing the letter in his will to his wife to show that he doesn’t want his daughters to know when he dies? Do you think we want something from you? After everything you put us through, we at least deserve the opportunity to decide for ourselves if we’ll pay our final respects. You can say we’re heartless, cold, cruel, but the truth is you’re just looking into a mirror and we’re on the other side of it waiting for you to realize that’s your own reflection. I hope your new daughter never has to go through the things that we have and I hope and pray you just let Katie go, because she doesn’t deserve you tearing her down when all she’s ever tried to do is love you through every brick you throw in her face.

I love you, Robert. You may not be the father I needed, but you did make me, you are part of me and for that I will always love you. I forgive your every flaw, but I can’t let you into my life because I know the destruction that comes with it. While I want my father in my life, I’m a parent first, and I’ll protect my son from hat destruction until I take my last breath.

Knowing Doesn’t Make It Easier To Cope…

July 31, 2015 will be exactly one year since Braiden was diagnosed with Autism officially. A few months ago, Tim was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Our life was hard before either of those events took place. Braiden wasn’t potty training fast enough, he wouldn’t talk, he got frustrated over everything, he covered his ears when things weren’t really that loud, he gagged when I forced him to eat something he told me he couldn’t, he could bang his head on the concrete out of frustration and not feel it, but get a paper cut and think he was bleeding to death. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes, he wouldn’t play well with other kids, he liked to sit off in the corner by himself, he liked to line up his hot wheel and organize his legos and m&m’s by color. I took him to two doctors who told me that my son was just being a boy, but he did need speech therapy. I took him to speech therapy and God bless Miss Kayde because she found me a doctor who would take the time to let me know for sure if there was something off about my child. She suspected autism and she was right. The first two doctors spent a total of five minutes with Braiden and told me “No, he just has a speech impediment.” This doctor spent four hours in a room with little man before he sat me down and told me everything I just listed that was off about my baby.

Months later, Tim and I are realizing how alike he and Braiden are. They both get frustrated to the point of yelling or getting aggressive (no my husband has never hit me), they throw things, stomp around, cry, yell, get mean when routine is broken or interrupted. Tim used to bang his head on the concrete and was never good at social stuff. He still isn’t (anyone who knows us knows that I spend more time trying to censor Tim in conversations than I do enjoying being social). He doesn’t like to cuddle. Nope in seven years of marriage the number of times I’ve been held by my husband can be counted on my two hands. When I’m upset it takes me mapping out the problem step by step. When I cry he has no idea why I’m crying unless I flat out tell him. I can’t make hints, he doesn’t get them. He’s too hard on Braiden. He doesn’t understand how to comfort Braiden when he’s upset. He lines up hot wheels cars and his obsessed with guns, sunglasses and tattoos.

I used to think that my husband was just a real jerk and he’d been putting up a good cover or maybe I was just blinded by that honeymoon phase for the first few years that I didn’t see all of this. Coming out of that phase, I thought I didn’t even know the man that I married, the man I had a child with. I slipped into a serious depression over how I was going to spend the rest of my life, and yes at one point I even considered a divorce.

I love my husband. I love my son. But this… this is hard. Yes now I know why they are both the way that they are. I know that they can’t help but tell me that I’m not good at something or that I look horrible when I’m sick (or when I’m not). They can’t help that when they are around a lot of people they aren’t comfortable. They can’t help their lack of affection or their blatant disregard for my existence some days. They can’t help how alone I feel constantly in my house even if they’re both sitting right beside me. I have to ask for hugs, ask for kisses, ask for attention. Its rarely just given. I cherish those rare moments when Braiden just comes to me to give me love without me asking for it. I cherish the moment when my husband remembers that I wouldn’t mind a kiss goodbye. And those super rare moments, where I get to just have a loving embrace with my spouse without him making a joke, telling me something I already know and hate about myself, pointing out something not pertaining to the moment we’re having like how he wrote five citations at work that day. Those moments when I get to just be a normal wife or a normal mother.

I’m strong. Yes, I know that. God wouldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle. Does it make me weak that nights like tonight when I just want to be held and told I’m doing at least a decent job, and he faces away from me instead which leaves me crying and writing at 2AM wishing for some semblance of normal? I cried on the way to my grandmother’s house this afternoon because Braiden had a meltdown at the pizza place when he was outside playing and spilled bubbles on his pants. Its hard enough to get him to wear clothes so we can go out, but with them wet and sticking to him? Nope its over. So I stripped him down to his undies and put him in the car. Do my tears over that make me weak?

“Nothings changed from before you knew either of them were autistic. Why is it so hard now?” Because now I know neither one of them can help it. Now I know none of it can really be ‘fixed’. Now I know that no matter what I do as a wife and mother I’m always going to be holding it all together. I’m always going to be the one whose emotions aren’t understood by the two people living under this roof with me. I have to be the rock in my marriage and grow thicker skin. I have to be the good parent, the nurturing parent, and the fun parent all at once. I have to laugh at the jokes that aren’t funny. I have to pretend it doesn’t bother me at all that I’m not voluntarily shown affection. I have to coach through meltdowns, stand firm through anger and frustration, and then at the end of the day lay in bed and pray for a better tomorrow. The good days are amazing, and again I wouldn’t trade my boys for anything in this world. I just have to vent, get it out, cry the tears and take the breaths so I can move on and face tomorrow with a clear head.

God wouldn’t have given me both of them if He wasn’t going to help me survive them. People look at the happy updates, the little celebrations of stimming and motor skills and (rare) date nights or outings with my family. Honestly, this is so hard. I love them both so much, but it is so hard to keep it together all of the time.

There’s a Reason For Everything

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Last summer, I was given a tough pill to swallow. After years of testing, therapy and being told my son was fine by professionals and autistic by his teachers and day care staff, I finally went to a highly recommended, pediatric psychologist. Four hours in a small room with a doctor and a team of different therapists and we were told that our son was high functioning autistic, PDD-NOS to be specific. He met all of the criteria for Asperger’s but he had a speech delay which doesn’t put him in the Asperger’s section of the spectrum, but he had a ton of social issues which didn’t align him with PDD. This put him into the PDD-NOS category (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified.)

On the drive home from Atlanta, my husband and I cried. I called my mom who promised me nothing was different than when we left Macon that morning. I cried some more. I can’t count the number of times I’ve broken down after a bad day. Knowing the reason behind his meltdowns does help to prevent them but that’s not a sure fire way to keep them from happening. So I have my days where I sit there, crying, and asking God why would he put this on me? I don’t see myself as strong enough to raise a special needs child. I watched my Nana raise my uncle, I watched my mom take care of handicapped kids when I was young, but I never saw myself as being strong enough to deal with that kind of thing.

This past year, I proved myself wrong. I’ve learned how to cope, advocate, educate, and sometimes… just cry. I called my mom, I cried all night to my husband, I vented to my friends (I love you guys so much), and I wrote… a lot. I got this job that I loved so much. I was taking pictures, I was working with kids and I was having so much fun. I survived the Christmas season and then things began going downhill, not with what I was doing, but other drama that no one should have to deal with while they try to earn a living.

One day while taking pictures for a customer a woman noticed my autism bracelet. She asked how long ago my son was diagnosed and we started talking about him. This lady went on to tell me that her son had been diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was younger and she started a business for people who were receiving behavioral diagnoses. The lost people wondering what the next step was to getting their kids the help they needed. My jaw dropped. When Braiden was diagnosed they gave me a stack of pamphlets to places in Atlanta and Augusta but nothing near me. For two months I was on my own, researching, educating myself. For the first half of Braiden’s school year I didn’t even know what an IEP was. Now I do, and now he has one.

After an hour of talking to the woman she asked if I lived in Macon and asked if I was interested in working for a company like hers. She only hires people who are raising or have raised a child with a behavioral diagnosis. I went to a class in Atlanta and she helped me get everything I needed. Next week I start my job as a Family Support Partner, where I get to be that helping hand in a family’s life who receive their diagnosis. The best part? I work mostly from home. I get to be a part of my child’s life without worry. I get to spend time with my family and during the week I will go and visit my clients, work with them and get them the help they need. I cannot wait to get started and now I know… I have Braiden because he was preparing me for this job and in turn this job will help me be better for Braiden.

I could not be more excited to leave the drama behind and start this amazing journey!!!! God is good and is in control. I could not be happier right now. Everything happens for a reason, even if you don’t know what that reason is at the time. Without Braiden I wouldn’t have this opportunity and without Braiden I don’t know what my life would be like. Keep the faith. If you’re going to pray for rain, then prepare your field to receive it.

Mama Bear Rant

“He doesn’t LOOK autistic.”
“Oh, that’s every kid though.”
“What he needs is some discipline.”
“You know how to get him to eat? Make him.”
“You baby him too much. You shouldn’t hold him when he’s upset or hurt. Tell him to shake it off.”

Almost a year into our diagnosis and I still have so much trouble dealing with people saying things like this to me. “Well, that’s every kid.” No.. its not. Yes your kid might cry when you tell them that they can’t have chicken nuggets and french fries because they want what they want when they want it. When I tell mine he can’t have it? He thinks I’m starving him because its the only thing he will eat that has some form of sustenance to it.

“He doesn’t LOOK autistic.” That’s because he’s autistic, which is a neural disorder not a physical one. He doesn’t have Downs, MD, or a physically VISIBLE handicap. There’s something different about the way his brain is wired. He doesn’t look a single way. Other than freaking adorable because he’s mine and he’s the most handsome kid on the planet. You can take that to the bank.

“What he needs is some discipline.” Let’s put our kids in a room together. I bet if you snap your fingers your kids will keep doing whatever it is you want them to stop doing. Mine? He will stop, apologize and ask if he can do something else (in his own form of garbled english that only a few of us understand.) Wanna know why? Because I discipline him and he knows right from wrong, but kids are kids and they will do what they do until that guiding hand steps in. My son knows when I snap my fingers and say his name, there’s no more warnings, and we don’t play the time out game. He might be special needs, but he doesn’t get special treatment in the discipline department. There’s also a difference between disobedience and misunderstanding or miscommunication. I know what’s what when it comes to my child. Unless you do, I encourage you to refrain from making such comments about how I raise my child.

“You know how to get him to eat? Make him.” Um… no. You know how you have an aversion for soggy tomatoes on your burger? Well that’s him about everything else. If it doesn’t feel right, taste right, crunch right, or if it touched other food on his plate, he won’t eat it. If its green its not happening. If its vegetables cut up to look like candy, its not happening. I’ve sat at the kitchen table for hours trying to force my child to eat something new, its torture for him, its punishment for me and his father. If he wants to try a new food he will, and it does happen on rare occasion and you know what we do? We shut up and keep eating like its normal. After he’s back in his room where he can’t see us? We do some of the most embarrassing happy dances known to man. (Much like we do on the days when he’s speaking in understandable english with complete sentences and everything.) The thing about autism is that every little bit of progress is worth a celebration.

“You baby him too much. You shouldn’t hold him when he’s upset or hurt. Tell him to shake it off.” I’m not coddling my child, I’m relishing a moment. If you knew how often my child didn’t want me to hold or touch him you’d want me to hold him too. He can get hurt and think that my touch is only going to hurt it more. I can’t always kiss his booboos. Sometimes I have to kiss the air above it and he’ll run off so that I can’t hug him. Am I spoiling him? No. I’m savoring a moment. When he says “Mommy hold you?” I’m usually dog tired and just want a break, but for him I will pick him up and hold him. Yes there are days when I tell him no because I’m learning the difference between rare moments and “I’m using this to my advantage.” Because I know my child, I know his father, and I know their evil plans to work against me. When he’s hurt? That’s a whole new ball game of its own. Do you know pain is different for those on the spectrum? While he can bang his head against the concrete and not even whine about a headache, he can get a paper cut and you would think he sawed his whole arm off. Pain registers differently in his brain. Telling him to shake it off doesn’t work. He doesn’t understand the metaphor. Shaking the hurt away doesn’t make sense. Him coming to me to help calm him down does because he knows that I will get him through it. I talk to him, tell him its not that bad, we breathe and when he’s calm, he realizes he’s fine. There’s a process, it doesn’t involve the person telling me I should let him shake it off, so keep those comments to yourself.

“She didn’t care about all this advocacy before.” You didn’t either. I didn’t even know what autism was until Braiden got diagnosed and then my entire world made more sense. From every meltdown to why he stopped eating, to his speech problems, all the way to his need to cover his ears when things got just a little loud. I advocate for my child. Am I asking for a cure? No. I wouldn’t change what he is for anything. What I advocate for is understanding, education, and the ability to get him the tools he needs to reach his full potential because I have a brilliant child who can’t articulate the genius of his mind.

This blog is mainly to vent and rant because God knows I’d lose friends if I went off at every comment and “Piece of advice” I got from people who are viewing this situation from outside the box. What we need is support, love and understanding. I have no time for being undermined, dejected and judged. I’m raising a boy on the spectrum to be a brilliant young man on the spectrum who will support others, be kind to them, and look at every situation with an open mind and heart.

Please go visit TheAutismSite.com and click the red button. Every click earns a donation towards Autism Therapy funding for kids and adults like my boys. You pay nothing, you just click and close. Thanks!!!

Lessons that carried more than face value.

The BB gun was put into my hands when I was eight years old. Black birds were a nuisance to my papa’s bird feeders. He put them out so that he could watch the cardinals eat while he drank his coffee in the mornings over the kitchen sink. He told me when I saw a black bird shoot it and I’d get a dollar for everyone I killed, but if I hit a red bird I’d be in trouble. I would sit on the front porch with that Daisy propped up on the brick rail and sit patiently. “Don’t pul the trigger, squeeze it.” No it doesn’t matter much with a BB or pellet gun, but he was preparing me for the moment he put a real rifle in my hands.

He was teaching me how to shoot a gun, but there was so much more to it. He taught me patience, because I had to sit there and wait for the right moment so I didn’t hit a red bird. He taught me observance because I had to make sure I was shooting black birds and not thrashers. He taught me to persevere, because as much as I’d like to say I was always a good shot, I wasn’t. Every time I missed I sat out there a little longer until I got at least one bird that wouldn’t come back to ruin my papa’s morning routine. He taught me early how to do a job, do it right and get paid for it. Earn what you want and need. Most importantly, he spent time with me, taught me, encouraged me, was proud of me and told me he loved me. All of those lessons by putting a gun in my hand.

A skeen of yarn, a crochet hook, and just me and Nana sitting in the living room. She taught me how to make a chain first. Tie your first loop, hook the string, pull it through and keep repeating. Over and over again I’d hook and pull, hook and pull until I had a seriously long chain that looked nothing like a blanket or scarf or hat. Hook and pull. Then she stopped me and showed me hot to go back and double crochet. Wrap around, hook under, pull through twice. That that chain grew a little ticker. It still looked more like a rope than a blanket. At eight years old your attention only goes so far and it didn’t look like I’d have anything like the blanket that covered my nana’s lap. I retained the lessons and when I grew older I made little things like pot holders and place mats. Now I’m twenty-seven and making hats, working on a blanket, fingerless gloves and scarves.

My nana taught me a different kind of patience. While papa taught me to sit and wait, Nana taught me to keep working through even thought it looked like no progress was being made. She taught me to keep at it because I would eventually make something beautiful. She taught me to enjoy the quiet. Our family was so big and so busy all the time, we never really had time to appreciate the quiet moments. I think the most important thing she taught me was how something extravagant and beautiful can be made from one piece of string. These big, beautiful afghans, baby blankets, shawls, hats, even Christmas ornaments. They were all made from this one long piece of yarn at a time. It took time, patience and practice but it taught me that even and eight year old little girl could do great things with very little.

Bad things in life have turned into lessons too. They aren’t lessons you ever want to learn that way, but lessons are priceless no matter how they are delivered. My parents’ divorce taught me that great father’s are’t made of money and material. Great fathers are made out of effort. A parent shouldn’t have to be forced or guilted into spending time with their kids. When my parents split up, I learned that the reason my dad was around when I was younger, was because my mother would tell him he hadn’t spent any time with my sisters and me. When he left it was more important to find someone to be with than find a way to support his kids. He always turned the tables to say it was all about money with us, when we never wanted anything more than knowing our father would make time for us without saying something like “I don’t have the money to take you out to a big dinner.” “I don’t have the gas money to come see you.” “I don’t have the money to buy groceries.” If he would just say “Sure, come over and see me.” or “I’ll be there in ten” and then not say one negative thing about our mother then it would’ve been enough.

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In that same time my mama taught me what it was to be a parent. Not that she hadn’t taught me before, but I watched my mother drop everything to be the best single mom in the world. She supported her girls, she fought tooth and nail to give us what we needed and was there for us when we fell down. There was never an excuse of “If I had the money I would….” It was always, “I’ll figure something out.” “We can make something at home with what we have and pretend we went out to Quail’s Nest.” Then there were those times when we were up until 2am watching TV and a Steak n’ Shake commercial came on and she said “Let’s go get Milkshakes.” Just because. It was never much but it was everything. So when drama is brought up about my father, I think back to the excuses made and the negative things he says, claiming everything was about money when really it was about effort. His heart belongs to another family and that’s okay. That’s the life he chose and I’m better for it in my opinion. I think that entire section of my life taught me about strength I never knew i had. It taught me to let go, because many people judge me for not talking to my father. “He’s the only one you’ll ever have.” I’m grateful that he did his part in bringing me into the world, but I’m not here to be his crutch, or his counselor, or his confidante, or the buffer between him and my mother, and I’m not here to be his grown up. I’m supposed to feel like his daughter and that is something I felt less and less like as I got older. He never fought for me and I’ve come to realize that he never will. That’s not the kind of person I want in my life or in my son’s life. My son needs people who will fight and advocate for him, not claim that there’s only so much that can be done without money. I’m a better, happier person without my father guilt tripping me every day, blaming my mom and lack of money for the issues we have with one another. So those people can judge me all they want, but until they’ve learned the same lessons the way I learned them, their opinion is invalid to me.

There are so many more lessons I’ve learned that would make this an awfully long blog post, and I’m sure some people didn’t even make it this far. I’m sitting her lying in bed before I have to go to work this afternoon and thinking about things I’m teaching Braiden and what he’s actually learning from them. He learns so much differently than I did. He remembers so many things that you don’t expect him to. Like I came home from work and asked him how his day was. He told me “Daddy honked the horn. The car went whooosh and daddy said are you serious and the horn it honked at the car on the road.” And Tim looked at me saying that it lasted maybe two seconds with someone trying to come over into his lane on the way home. He told me February is red because of hearts and love and valingtimes (Yes that’s how he gets it out). I can’t argue with him, he’s not wrong. I just pray that the things I teach him while we’re doing therapy at home have so many of these priceless lessons that stick the way the car horn honking does. I want to be the best I can for him, and I want him to think as highly of me as I think of my nana, papa and mama when he’s my age.

Eight years…

I know people probably read my blog posts and think I’m insane because I talk to you like you’re reading this with them. Maybe you are, maybe you’re not, but everyone has their own way of coping right?

I’m a few days early, but you’ve been on my mind a lot. Another year has gone by and I still haven’t stopped wishing that you were here. Braiden was diagnosed with autism and as many times as I’ve looked at him and wished he could meet you, I never thought I’d look at him and hear you tell me what you told me about Danny. He’s no different than any other kid, he’s special and you’ll never love him any less. Its true, but I wish you were here to tell me yourself. You taught me well enough that I know what you would say for everything I face, but that doesn’t change the fact that hearing your grizzly old voice say it wouldn’t make me feel a thousand times better.

Megan, your little mean-mi, had a baby. She’s beautiful, papa. Oh lord she’s gorgeous and you would’ve doted on her and got in Nana’s way of making her too girly like you did with us and mama. She’s got the best smile and she’s as spoiled rotten as you made all of us growing up. And that spit-fire of a grand daughter you got so much joy out of watching grow up is an amazing mother. You’d be so proud of her. I think Katie spoils both of the kids as much as you would though. Buying them everything they want or reach for, taking them everywhere, or babysitting every chance she gets. I think you’d enjoy making Mama feel old now that she has not only one but two grandbabies. I can just see you giving her a hard time while you hold Emma and watch Braiden run around the yard.

Your grandsons-in-law, are amazing. I only wish you’d have gotten to meet Josh, the one who tamed that mean ass Mimi. They are both amazing fathers and husbands, they take care of us like you would want them to. Yea they have their moments, but we’re all human. If there’s one thing you taught me in life, it was that it was okay to mess up as long as you fix it and learn from it. If they don’t learn from it, we beat them. I’m sure that was in your lessons somewhere.

Eight whole years and its still painful to remember losing you. I think the sound of that flat line will forever haunt me. I remember so many great things about you, and that constant beeeeeeeeep it just wants to pull me back to sadness. I want to build so many memories with Braiden like I had with you, but they’ve been delayed a bit. I don’t think he’s ready to shoot a gun, but I want to teach him. He doesn’t know how to be quiet enough to go watch deer cross the yard and fishing just doesn’t work out well for him. I’m trying though.

I think what I miss the most about you was how you were there to be the man who protected me. I wasn’t afraid to have Tim meet my dad. I was afraid for him to meet you and mama. I know that’s not how things are supposed to work. You were in my life to show me what the man in my life was supposed to be like. Every father should give their daughters an example of the kind of man that they should spend the rest of her life with. My dad never set that example for me. When he fought with mama, he always blamed her. When he got caught cheating, it was her fault. When we were broke, it was her fault. When me and mama had our fights, he never stood up for me or the girls. He was never honest with mama when she was being crazy and he never fought for us. You… you beat us with switches when we did wrong. You rewarded us for good grades in school. You made us do our homework. You gave us a place to hide when you agreed that mama needed time to cool off. You told us when she wasn’t crazy and sent us back home. You fought for us when dad left. And up until you fell asleep that last day, you argued with me about being in school instead of visiting you in the hospital. You taught me how to fight for myself too. You also taught me when to shut up and let it roll because fighting was exhausting at times and it was just better to save it for a bigger battle. I miss you fighting for us. When random drama comes from your ex son-in-law I just wish I could hand you the phone and let you tear into him. But I’ve gone silent because the battle is too exhausting and the outcome is never going to change.

But that phone call. I really miss that phone call. I look at my phone a hundred times a day, but if I catch the time between 5:00pm and 5:30pm, I sit there and wish it would ring. Just to see your number pop up. “I love you, baby. Bye.” Five words could make my entire day better and there are days when I know it would be the boost I needed to get me through to the next. Tears that I know you wouldn’t want me crying are burning my eyes just thinking of hearing your voice again. Eight years since my last phone call and I still wish my phone would ring when I look at it around that time of day.

I know I say a lot of the same things every time I write for you like this, but its true. It never stops being true. I think Nana bought Tim old spice for christmas this year. He hasn’t opened it. I think he’s afraid of the emotional break down I could possibly have if he hugs me after putting it on. Its kind of funny actually when you think about it. You’re scaring him without even being here and threatening his life.

I miss you. I really do. I still have moments when I just talk to you when the world feels like its caving in. The first night it finally settled in what the doctors had told us about Braiden, I had such an emotional collapse. I prayed to God, I talked to you, I talked to Gracie, and I laid in the kitchen floor and cried. I talk to you when Tim and I fight. I don’t know how you and Nana made it through all those years of marriage sometimes. I also now understand the tuna sandwiches being thrown at the walls. Sometimes, it just that infuriating to love someone so much even when you’re mad at them. I guess that’s something else you taught me without me really realizing it. Huh. I guess you’re still teaching me along the way, even when you’re not here. Its just little seeds that have been planted waiting on me to find the fruit to harvest it.

Kiss Gracie for me.

I love you, papa. Bye.

Six months into our diagnosis…

For a first time mom, I never knew what to expect as my son got older. I knew at age three he should’ve already been talking like an excited teenage girl about every new thing he saw, but instead he was barely able to say “mama”. So many people would say things like “Well, Einstein didn’t talk until he was almost four and look at where he ended up.” So I would push it aside and try to get him to talk.

I put him in speech therapy and for a long time I didn’t see a difference until I went back and watched videos of him before when he could barely say anything at all. Then his speech therapist talked to me about autism. My heart shattered. The first time the word was mentioned to me was when he was having trouble potty training at his first day care. I started research then and I always thought he was fine, but others I talked to would send me things like “You know drinking diet coke while you’re pregnant could cause it.” Or “If you didn’t breast feed him it increases the chances.” This wasn’t stuff I read, there were things that people who said they loved me told me.

In July when we got our diagnosis, my husband and I cried a good part of the way home from Atlanta. All that stuff people said came back to me and I just knew it was my fault. When we got home that day, I was playing with Braiden and I knew he wasn’t any different than when we had left the house that morning. He’s my baby and he always will be.

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Now that I work at a photography studio, where I see kids Braiden’s age every day, I’m faced with seeing what he could be like. I see parents complaining that their kid is smiling too hard when they are laughing at the games we play with them. I hear parents looking at their typical five year old and asking “Why did you ruin all of the pictures smiling like that?” And I can’t say a word. I sit there and let them pick out their photos while I’m thinking of how hard it is to get Braiden into a camera room because the lights are too bright, the flash pop is too loud, the colors of the background bother him, or the smell of a newly painted background is too much for him to handle. I listen to these kids tell me about their birthday parties in clear, full sentences, and I watch them pose (for the most part) without trouble.

I love my son. God knows I would die for the kid, but it breaks my heart to see him struggle with telling me the simplest things. I put on a strong face, I’m that strong autism mom that can handle anything. Then I have days like today when I wake up and get Braiden ready for school and I can barely understand a word he says. I think back to those parents who put their children in front of my camera and the discouraging things they say to their perfectly normal, typical, every day five and six year olds. Then I just hug my son, kiss his cheek and tell him I love him and we’ll figure out whatever it is he’s trying to explain to me.

I have him for a reason. I believe that babies are angels waiting to be mothered and when a childless mother prays for a baby, God sends them the one that is going to teach them the most. I also comically believe that my papa stood right beside God in that little area where baby angels are waiting to be chosen, and he saw Braiden and pointed at him. “Give her that one, please.” I can just see it.

Its a daily struggle and some days are so much better than others. I keep my strong face on, I go mama bear when I have to, I advocate, I accept, I encourage him, and I pray that I’m doing it all right. I love my son and I will struggle through every single bad day to make sure he has the proper amount of good days.