Grief and Autism

Many have asked how JR is doing.

So with the okay from my mother-in-law, let me tell you about a boy and his best friend, my son and his papaw.

Losing someone you love is hard at any age.  Its hard to wrap our minds around the idea that our loved one is not here physically anymore. It’s hard on adults to process the loss, so just imagine you are seven and autistic.

I was blessed to have my father-in-law in my life for over eleven years.  He was one of those guys that loved to help everyone. I swear he never met a stranger. If he had it and you needed it, well then it was yours.  His smile was infectious and that laugh, oh how I miss that deep belly laugh.  I did not know him as long as most, but in my time with him I discovered how much and how deeply he loved people. And you know what else? He loved being a papaw.

When my husband and I got married, my in-laws became instant grandparents to my two preteen children.  When my husband and I decided to become foster parents, they were on board with the idea and were excited for the journey that awaited us all. And from the moment our wild man was placed with us, all of our worlds changed.  From the second he came to us, so tiny and so sick, I knew he was ours.  And on a cool day in September 2013, two and a half years after wild man was first placed in my arms, papaw Jim(along with our whole family) was in the courtroom with us as JR became forever ours. JR had us all wrapped around his little finger from the beginning. But the two of them had a special bond. They were inseparable.

JR went everywhere with papaw.  Whether it was to the grocery store or down to the wrecker (tow truck) shop, it didn’t matter to them. He was so excited when papaw bought him his own car seat for his truck.  JR loves that truck, and he loved going bye-bye with his favorite person. My father-in-law never saw our JR as a child with autism, to him he was just his grandson. His beautiful, full of energy, always laughing, popcorn eating, adventure seeking grandson. 

After the “twins” arrived to our home, my father-in-law offered to start taking JR to his OT, speech, and music therapy appointments on Fridays.  It quickly became their thing.  My in-laws would pick him up shortly after I got our daughter on the bus and off they would go on their weekly adventure.  He loved spending his Fridays with them.  My father-in-law also filled in for us at his preschool when they would have special days or field trips that my husband or I could not go to.  He always found a way to make sure JR was included in everything at the school. He became more than just JR’s papaw, he was the classroom’s papaw.

In my son’s words, Cancer sucks ass. And he is 100% correct, cancer does suck ass.

My father-in-law was the healthiest sick man I have ever known.  He never complained or questioned why him, at least not in front of us.  He always had a smile on his face when he was around the kids.  They never seen him as sick. Hearing the words, he has cancer, took months for all of us to process.  How could he get sick? He was our rock. The doctor’s had to be wrong. He was a fighter. He did everything he could to stay strong and beat the hand that laid before him. As the days turned into months and he became weaker we tried to prepare ourselves and the kids. We explained things to our little loves in a way that we hoped they would understand, but how can we expect them to understand when we don’t fully understand ourselves? 

Halloween night, I called to see if he was up for some trick or treat visitors.  I drove my twelve passenger van through the sea of candy hungry neighborhood children so that our kiddos could get to papaw and mamaw’s house. Papaw made his way out to the porch and stood while holding the back of a chair. He made sure to tell all the kids he loved them and made sure they all got more candy than they needed. JR asked if he could go get a prize out of the treasure box and of course he was gone before anyone could say yes. We visited for a few minutes and gave hugs goodbye and off we went. When we got back into the van the first words out of JRs mouth were, momma papaw must be getting better. He was standing tonight. I will forever be thankful for this last memory he gave to our kids. I know it took everything out of him to come out and stand and pass out candy. But he did it for them. And he did so with his signature smile on his face.

JR did not just lose his papaw. He lost his best friend.

There has not been a day that papaw Jim is not mentioned at least a thousand times by our sweet boy. JR can not process what has happened. He is fixated on the why’s and how comes. He is lost without his number one fan. He loves for us to tell him things the two of them done, and he always has a few of his own stories to share. He sleeps with the flashlight he got out of the treasure box on Halloween night. And he talks to papaw’s picture he had me hang in his room. He asks if we can make an airplane and take a trip to heaven and he is full of questions about cancer and death. Some days he is happy, knowing he will see papaw again other days he cry’s non stop for he misses him more than anything.

The two of them shared a love of the ocean, swimming, and eating cheese flavored popcorn. They loved “fixing” things and taking drives. There will always be a great big place in JRs heart for his papaw Jim. And because of JRs unique look on life I know for a fact papaw Jim will live on through him and us. He may not physically be here with us but his spirit is strong, especially around our wild man. I know when JR is in his room and I ask, who are you talking to? And he replies papaw Jim, I know that he really is. Thank you for looking in on him. Life will be hard without him but you can bet JR will remind us of something the two of them did that will bring a smile to our faces daily. Their relationship will live on through the memories they made.

So thankful for the memories, precious, precious memories. In JRs words, Heaven is an extra special place now with papaw Jim in it. Yes it is little buddy. Yes it is.

Student of the Month

There are moments as parents we catch ourselves thinking about as our little loves grow up. There are the early questions, When will he walk? When will she talk?What sport will she play? Will he be in the band? And then questions that come as they get older, Will they go to prom? To college? Will she get married? Will he be okay? All questions that have ran through my mind more than once.

As an autism mom, some of even these simple questions leave me in tears after a long evening of stimming and repetition behaviors. Most days we fight the good autism fight. Our lives are arranged around what he can and can not handle. Is it always fair to our other little loves or our older two children? No, no it’s not. However life as we know is not fair. We do the best with what God has given us. And what He has given us is beautiful, chaotic at times but beautiful.

With my first two children, I was the typical mom. We had piano lessons, dance lessons, taekwondo practice, a little t-ball, and soccer. Then came high school and it was marching band, jazz band, color guard, concert band, winter guard, and still taekwondo, They received awards for most everything they participated in. I have a filing cabinet full of awards, still waiting to be scrapbooked. And while I was taken back if they didn’t win something, I didn’t worry about it because I always knew there would be another award/trophy around the corner. Then JR came into our lives.

Autism is so misunderstood and so complicated, yet beautiful and full of surprises. With JR we are not in a hurry to run from ball field to ball field, he could care less about sports. With him we get to see life through his beautiful heart and mind. He has taught me so many things about slowing down and enjoying the small things out of life. Not getting called up during an assembly to receive an award like the other students phases him not. But if I’m honest with myself, it bothers me a little. Ok maybe more than that, maybe more than it should. I know he could be that one in a million that becomes a childhood prodigy, but I know my son. I know that he is beautiful and funny and the happiest kid you will ever meet. I also have come to the realization that he has autism and that’s ok. He is exactly how he is supposed to be. My perfect little sometimes rotten wild man. But sometimes the “normal” mom in me becomes sad at the thought of a life he will never have.

So when my normally quiet seven year old came bouncing in from school, I knew something was up. Then I received a text from his teacher asking me if he had told me about being named Student of the Month? When I asked him about he got the biggest smile on his face. He told me all about hearing his name “over his head” (the school speaker) and how everyone knew his name now. He called his dad and told him about it, and then his big sis. He was so excited because it will mean that Santa would hear about it and maybe just maybe bring him an extra special gift at Christmas. Being student of the month is special momma. Maybe Santa gets special gift for me cause I did so good.

I asked him what kind of special gift he wanted from Santa, you know so I could pass the information along I was floored by what he said. He was not asking for a new plane, or new NASCARs, or LEGOs for himself. My son asked for a new kitchen for our house. I stared at him with a puzzled look and then he ran over to show me what he was talking about. On his tablet he had created a whole house for us. In the center of the house was a beautiful kitchen. From the cabinets to the flooring everything fit so well together. It’s the table(island) you like right momma? I can change the lights if you like. I fought back the tears. Instead of using his “extra gift” from Santa to get himself something he was thinking bigger. He was thinking about all of us. He truly he a special kid.

I don’t think Santa will be getting us that new kitchen, my boy has very expensive taste, but I’m sure he will get something extra. This beautiful little human has taught me so much about the importance of loving others and embracing life. I am so happy he is a happy child. Way to go wild man!!! Momma loves you!

I am so thankful he is adjusting well to his new school. We have been blessed with teachers who see his true potential.

We have also found some wonderful worksheets for all of our kiddos over at Education.com be sure to check them out

Your kids will love ‘falling’ into the season with this word search activity! Be sure to check out more language games and worksheets at Education.com

What’s Best for Him

Our school year is well underway, our little loves are adjusting to their new teachers, bus drivers, and schedules….well most of them. Our littlest guy was not adapting well at all. While his brothers and sister were excited to see what their new school’s had to offer them he was terrified. Completely. Terrified. This year he would be in class without his brother. This year he had a male teacher. This year he would start without knowing anyone. Kindergarten can be a scary place. His preschool had some worries about him starting kindergarten. Academically he was ready. He knows all of his colors, he can count to 100, he knows his shapes, and he can write all the letters not the alphabet. He can even correctly spell his full name. He can even sign the alphabet (forward and backward) I think he is pretty smart for a new five year old. But kindergarten is more than A B C’s and 1 2 3’s. Socially he is not ready. We tried the kindergarten class, but within a few days we knew it was not going to work. His teacher said he would stay to himself, he would not answer (or even acknowledge) anyone that asked him a question. He basically shutdown on us all.

He did not want to get up in the mornings. He cried as we went to the bus. He would not talk about anything that happened during his day. He didn’t want to go to bed at night because he knew he had to get up and go to school the next morning. Our happy, go lucky, always making a joke kid was miserable. My momma heart broke for him. When the school called for our meeting I knew something had to change.

As I sat in a room with teachers and staff that barely knew my son, I questioned if we/I was doing the right thing for him. If I stuck to the plan with him staying in kindergarten he could come out of his shell in a few weeks/months and everything could be okay. He could also be completely miserable and in the end fail kindergarten and have to repeat it again next year. Or we could place him back in preschool and help him build on his social skills and possibly transition him into the kindergarten class a few days towards the end of the year and that way he would be ready for kindergarten next year. The choice was clear. He needed another year of preschool. But how would he adjust to yet another change this year?

Part of me wants both of my five year olds in kindergarten together. But I want what’s best for him, not what I pictured life would be. He needs this. His teacher knew I was worried about the decision we made, so she sent me a few photos through this first day. I can’t tell you how much those photos meant to me. And when he got off the bus from his “second first day” the smile on his face said it all. He was happy, so very happy.

I hope as the years go by he understands why he and his brother are not in the same grade. I hope he understands we did what we thought was best for him. I hope he understands that every decision we make is in hopes of giving him a better life and giving him the best opportunity we can. But those are all questions for a later day. For now I will focus on the smile on his cute little face and know that he is happy and feels comfortable in his new class. Here’s to a great preschool year!!

Shorts made Me Cry Today

This make photo may look like a typical second grader heading off to another day at school. However, to those that know our little man this, is so much more.

When he was two and a half our little guy stopped eating meat. A few years ago he went from wearing shorts and T-shirts to long sleeve flannel. It could be 90 degrees outside and he would wear his magic pajamas outside. If autism as taught us anything it’s to be patient and to except what we don’t understand.

His magic pajamas are his safe place. He knows when he is home (or traveling in the car) he can be himself and no one will judge. We have received several rude comments and have seen the stares as we travelled when we stop at rest areas or restaurants and my adorable son would climb out of the van in all of his flannel. I can handle those that judge, my top priority is his happiness and wellbeing. Yes I worried about him become to hot, I’m his mom it’s my job. Imagine my surprise when he decided today he wanted to wear shorts to school.

As he was eating breakfast this morning he looked over at the TV. The weather man was talking about the heatwave and mentioned that today’s high would be 95. As he took a bite of his Cheerios he looked up at me and said, “momma that Man says it’s hot. Me need to wear short pants today.” I looked at him and said it was going to be very hot and that I thought shorts would be a great idea. It’s been three years since he wore shorts. Three. Years. Did I even have shorts that would fit him? Could his swimming trucks pass as shorts? No then he would think he was going swimming, can’t do that.

I ran through the house frantically looking for a pair of shorts that may fit before he changed his mind. With today’s high, shorts would be much more comfortable than his jeans. After trying on three pair we found a pair that he said would work, blue light weight basketball shorts. (Perfect, mental note to self go buy more shorts like this in a variety of colors). He even wore a T-shirt instead of his button up dress shirt. Today was a huge day of change for him. Today I will not worry if he is getting to hot on the playground. He prefers to wear button down dress shirts with jeans to school. He calls this his school gear.

I am sure when he returns homes this afternoon he will come in and the shorts will come off and his magic pajamas will go on. And that’s perfectly fine. We have learned to celebrate the small victories. And today was a victory. The thought that he understood it was going to be really hot today and wanted to wear shorts is huge. Who knew a simple pair a shorts could make me so happy. Here’s to small victories, Momma tears, and blue shorts.

Just checking in

Hello all,

I’ve been away for a little while, I apologize for that. I hope all is well with everyone.

This summer has been crazy. I won’t go into all the details but let’s just say I appreciate all the prayers for my close few and all of you out there that noticed I wasn’t here.

So many things have changed in a short amount of time. So quick, so unexpected.

I am a firm believer that God has a purpose for our lives and two years ago that purpose landed us in Bristol TN. The thought of leaving home back then scared me more than I care to admit. Our time there flew by.

We did not plan on being foster parents while there, but God always has a plan. We became friends with some amazing people and through those people conversations about the need for foster parents took place. People saw us as a normal family, not as the crazy family that adopted those kids. Our children were just children, not adopt kids out of foster care. We were free to be who we are. Maybe our time there was meant to get people talking about just that, foster care kids are normal kids.

We were able to help a few more little loves enter and exit our home while here (because our seven was not enough in God’s eye). With each one we opened our hearts so they could be broke again in order for these precious little ones to know what love was, to know what a family felt like, for them to know it’s ok to feel scared, angry about the situation. I would have my heart broke over and over again even knowing what I know now about their situations. They deserve to know someone out there cares. Foster care is hard but I would not change what we do.

We still had baby N when life happened. I don’t pretend to know why things happen, but they do happen and life takes a turn. After much prayer over the situation my husband and I decided moving back to our home State was what was best for our family. Moving during the school year would not be good for our children especially for our son with autism. So the move had to be made over the summer. This meant saying goodbye to baby N. She would not be going back to her momma, she would have to be placed in another foster home. My heart sank. I ran over different scenarios in my head trying to come up with a solution for her to stay with us until her momma could get her back, any solution. There was only two options: 1) she be placed in a different foster home or 2) her mom sign her over. I knew which one would happen. Handing her off to another foster mom just about killed me. I’m sure she is adjusting well, but I so miss her. I wanted to be the one cheering her mom along, helping her get her life back together so she could get her little one back. I wanted to be there, but life happens. I pray she knows how much she was loved by us. It’s times like this I want to question Why God, Why? Why did You bring her into our lives if we were only going to have to say goodbye so soon? I don’t know that answer, I just have faith that it was part of His plan.

We are so thankful to be back around family, yet we miss the “community family” we had down there. How did such a short time there change us so much?

I pray we accomplished what God wanted us to do there. I don’t know what this move has in store for us I pray we continue do follow His path for us. I pray we see His plan clearly and that we don’t hesitate in doing what He asks of us. I pray our children (as well as us) adjust well to their new surroundings and that they make friends quickly. I pray over the little things and the giant things. I pray continuously about this move and all it entails.

I will forever cherish the friendships I made there. I am forever thankful for those little loves that called us Momma C and Daddy T while there. I am so thankful I was there to see so many eyes open up about the need for foster parents. I know so many children will benefit from those opened hearts and homes. Two years ago Bristol was an unknown land, today and all my tomorrows it will be my home away from home. ❤️

Feeling Less, but I know I am so much More

**** this is not my normal laugh at what my kids did post. No this time, this one is about me****

Blah blah blah,

That’s how I’ve felt the last few days (okay weeks) This whole hysterectomy thing has really hit me hard in ways I did not expect.

Back in 2006 I had a procedure done where I was told it would be nearly impossible for me to get pregnant again. At the time I was trapped in an unhealthy, abusive marriage so I was fine with not being able to have anymore children. Bringing more children into that situation would not have been good for anyone. So I accepted my fate and moved on with life.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself divorced and personally struggling with not being enough for anyone. I had been told for years I was not smart enough, or pretty enough, and not worth being loved by anyone. In my mind I wondered who would want someone so unworthy like me? Would anyone ever be able to love me and all my brokenness?

Things slowly changed when I was reintroduced to Todd. In 2009 I was still struggling with my self worth but he made me see myself in ways I had never seen myself before. I was lovable and beautiful in my own ways. He loved me for who he saw me to be not the person I had been told for years I was.

After we were married I often wished I could give him a child of his own, I knew it was close to impossible but I held onto that ever so slim chance that one day it could happen. As we became foster parents and eventually adopted our five little loves the personal need disappeared. That was until I heard the words “complete hysterectomy” come out of my doctors mouth.

Those words played over and over in my mind on my four hour drive home a month ago. This phrase meant I would never have another child. That slim chance I had clinched to over our marriage was now gone. I felt the struggles of my old inner self, doubting myself worth. I would be less of a women, less of a person, I would not be whole. I would not be enough. It’s strange how things you have no control over mess with you on a deeper level.

I didn’t want to but I had surgery a few weeks ago. Those first few days after I don’t remember much, other than my mom coming into the room and asking my if I needed anything or asking me what cartoons the kids could watch (eight year old viruses a two year old. Got to find a middle ground) As I started to physically heal my emotions were all over the place. I caught myself thinking What will my husband think of this me? What if I can’t be the same me I was before surgery?

I could not do much of anything so it was the perfect time to dive into the Bible and spend some one on one time with my Lord. Page after page lead me to a story of someone who thought they to were not enough but God used them anyway. In His eyes we are enough. In fact we are more than enough when we seek His guidance and look to Him for our strength. My “inside parts” do not define who God wants me to be. They are not the only things that make me a woman and I am certainly not less of a woman now that they are gone.

Our society has, for lack of a better word, has brainwashed by setting a strong definition as to what a “woman” is. But that’s not ALL a woman is. We are strong, beautiful, independent, confident, caring, nurturing, and loving. Some of us have no children some of us have ten kids. So of us work outside the home some are stay at home wife’s/mom’s. Some of us run marathons while others prefer to dance. We are all different, yet we are all beautiful in the eyes of our Lord. He does not make mistakes He only makes masterpieces.

Do I feel different? Maybe a little. But I know I am still the same person I was. It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. My grandmother use to always work on them. Sometimes we would run across a puzzle she had picked up at a yard sale or at Goodwill and she would have “extra” pieces. After she fixed the puzzle she would just throw the other pieces out because they were no longer needed. The puzzle was already beautiful. I no longer needed my “extra pieces”. God knew I would still be me.

I Saw You Today

I saw you today but could not say a word. You have grown since I last held you in my arms. You look like you’re doing well. I heard your grandma bragging that you are trying to roll over, she looks tried but her face lights up as she talks about how far you have come. She will never know who I am, and I’m ok with that. She did thank us though your caseworker when you went to stay with her. I’m sure it’s hard on her knowing her own child put you through this, I know she is grateful you came to us until she could get you home (she told your worker that). I wish I could have asked her to send me updates on your progress or if she would care to send me a picture every now and then. But I’m just a part of your story no one wants to talk about. Foster care is hard sometimes.

I will never know who you turn out to be. And that is hard. You will forever be our little guy. Sometimes we get to watch, thanks to social media, how our little loves are doing, we cherish the friendships that have come from the dark spots of foster care. Not all forever homes are willing to allow us to continue to be apart of our little loves lives and even though that’s hard it’s part of foster care.

So I will cherish our time we had together. I will remember how you giggled as I tickled your feet, how you loved to be held as you fell asleep, and how you fit in my arms. Those are our moments. You will forever be part of my heart and a part of our family. And who knows maybe one day we will see each other again, and just like today I will smile from afar. I’m so happy God placed us in your path to get you to your forever home. I am so thankful He called us to be your foster parents. Moments like today make it all worth it.

Blessed to be a foster momma even on the hard days ❤️