He runs to make his mind still, to organize himself and to get rid of the noise from this loud, confusing world. The more he's moved, the more he's introduced patterns and rhythm into his routine. Laps around the house are a daily ritual. He's made it more complex as he's developed, but the basics are the same. There is a pattern of movement -- specific foot patterns based on whatever song or chant he chooses to accompany the run, and he can not be stopped until he is ready to be.

This is James, and this is our story.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Monkey Who Hated Gaijin

It was the first Thanksgiving I was spending away from home. My friends and I had our first 3 day holiday since arriving on the island of Kyushu, Japan as conversational English teachers, so we decided to take our first real road trip together to Mt. Sakurajima, a very cool and very active volcano.

Since we didn't have much money, we decided to stay in a "Love Hotel". They were super secretive hotels all over the place that charged by the hour (akin to the 4 hour short stay at the Grantmoore on the Berlin Turnpike, just without the jacuzzi and champagne). They usually had names like "Hotel Liberty" or "Hotel USA" 

My favorite love hotel name of all time was called "Hotel 2 in 1".
A visit to a love hotel was an adventure in itself. It worked like this; You would drive through a giant flap (like at a car wash) and into a darkened underground private parking space. They thought of everything to ensure your privacy: you could even place a barrier in front of your car to hide your license plate. You pay in advance for the number of hours you intend to stay by putting money in a vacuum tube that gets sent to the office like a bank drive-through and then the tube returns back to you with a room key so you can walk directly up private stairs into your room.

Ideally, you would never have to see anyone during your entire check-in or stay, but if don't think the love hotels' usual clientele included threesomes of 21 year old American girls who can't read instructions written in kanji or speak or understand any Japanese. Inevitably, and much to our amusement, we always ended up playing charades with the incredibly confused love hotel office workers. This made love hotels a staple and a highlight of our travels during the year.

So after staying up late with giggling fits at "Hotel White House", we hit the road early the next morning to head to the volcano. We were winding down a road through a forest and saw a lone car parked on the side of the road. 

And then I spotted it.

"MONKEY!" I yelled, having become recently obsessed with the ones who swung limb to limb in my calligraphy sensei's backyard. I watched them with amusement while practicing the same words "bride" and "wedding" over and over again (Sensei said he wanted to make sure I got the most important words perfected first). Apparently I was bit slow to catch on to the technique as a left hander being forced to paint with the right because I swear I worked on those two words all year long.

We pulled over and got out of the car, and watched as the man fed a monkey by hand. I was entranced. I was watching someone feed a wild monkey on the side of the road in the middle of a forest in rural Southern Japan. 

On Thanksgiving Day.

The monkey was curious, and stopped begging for snacks to check out us newcomers. He didn't seem phased as he looked at my friends so we inched a little closer. As we approached, he seemed to notice me. Or more specifically, he noticed my hair. 
With my sister the night I left for Japan. 

My long, very blond hair. 

He shrieked at the top of his lungs, and ran up into the top of the man's car. Then he took a running leap.


Stunned,  I pushed him off.

Everyone started at me and my friends were laughing. I think one of them started to ask "what the..." but she never got to finish because the monkey had turned and beelined back to the top of the car again. 

I backpedaled quickly as he once more got a running, jumping, flying start and leaped across the air to land on me and SINK HIS TEETH RIGHT INTO MY FOREARM!

My friend screamed "It's your hair! The monkey hates blonds!" as we ran to get back into the car while the Japanese man was doubled over, laughing hysterically and yelling "Gaijin!" (foreigner).

So as soon as we composed ourselves, we took a detour to find an international phone so we could call our friends and family to tell them happy Thanksgiving and share our story about the monkey who hated Gaijin

And as much as I couldn't wait to go climb the active volcano (the entire reason for our trip), the love hotel and the wild monkey who bit my arm by the side of the road are the most vivid memories I have of that road trip, and they are a reminder that it's often the unscripted, unplanned and undocumented moments that are the ones we end up remembering and appreciating most. 

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy ALL the moments. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coming Back to our Neighborhood

I love James' school with my whole heart, and I love everyone who has supported him over the past 3 years. I can not even begin to adequately express the gift that James and our family have been given as a result of being part of this incredible inclusive community. I never anticipated having this opportunity in our large city school district and I've always felt like I won the lottery by receiving this placement. After years of having to advocate tirelessly and switch schools yearly, this school offered exactly what James and our family needed. Johnny has been on the waiting list for over a year and I've been eagerly anticipating having both boys together at this amazing school through 12th grade.

But James has been struggling with school more and more each year. Not THIS school, just school in general.

ELA ruins my life, he cries to me. I want to stay home. I can't go to school because I will be gone from you for too long. I feel sick. Johnny's school is closer. He doesn't get as much work as me. I want to move where there is no school. I can't breathe because I'm thinking about school. I feel sick in the car. I can't ride in it anymore, I need to get air. 

This is what he tells me every morning during our hour long drive to drop Johnny off at his school and then cross the city to James'. Every day I see him blink repeatedly to stop the tears as he gets out of the car to go into the building.

And every day my heart breaks for him and I wonder if it is all worth it.

So last week I stopped wondering.

I transferred James into a school in our own neighborhood. He starts on Monday. It is also a fully inclusive school and my friends who have kids there feel as strongly about their school as we do about the one we are coming from. I know we will have a lot of support from both the community we are leaving and the one we are joining.

But there will still be ELA (English language arts). School will still take up most of his day away from home. It is going to be a really big transition and there will be blinking to hold back tears. It is going to be hard at first.

However, I think it will get easier, and I know that knowing he is 5 minutes from home instead of 45 will make a major difference for James. I know that being able to have friends who live around the corner come to our house after school is going to be a game changer for him.

And that's definitely worth it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why I Knock

You know me, right? I've always completely avoided discussing any issue where there is the slightest chance of conflict. I feel uncomfortable telling people that they should believe something other than they do, especially people I don't know very well.

So the absolute hardest thing ever for me is exactly how I've spent much of my free time for half a year now.

I've been talking to strangers about politics.

I am spending all my free time walking around Boston neighborhoods (alone usually), knocking on the doors of people I've never met before and making them stop whatever important task they are doing so I can ask them to vote for John Connolly for Mayor.

The first time I went out, I held my breath at every door. If nobody answered, I exhaled with relief. If they did answer, and said they weren't interested, I apologized for bothering them, said thank you and went on my way. I didn't even try to change their mind. But about 15 doors in, something pretty awesome happened. The woman who answered the door said she didn't know much about John, and asked me a few questions.

Then she paused for a minute, looked at me curiously, and asked "Why are you doing this?"

All of a sudden, I wasn't nervous anymore. And I told her this story:
When James was 5, he was in his 3rd school in 4 years. The only reason he wasn't 4 for 4 was because we held him back so he wouldn't switch schools. Each time he switched, he lost half a year trying to just trying to adjust. The IEP team had mapped out his next move, and it meant another 2 schools in 2 years. Then he could stay for 3 years but would have to switch again after that. 
Our school district didn't have many inclusion pathways. It was kindergarten in one school, then 1st and 2nd in another. The kids for whom transition is the hardest are the ones who had to move the most.
I paused, thinking she was probably starting to tune out, but she was listening intently.
After visiting every inclusion school in the entire city, I found 1 in which James would be able to thrive, and I spent a year advocating to get him placed there. John Connolly heard what had happened and wanted to make sure no other family had to go through that. He held a Education Committee hearing on inclusion and encouraged parents to speak about our experiences. He used the hearing to passionately implore BPS to develop set inclusion pathways. 
And he didn't stop there. He had his staff members attend SpedPac meetings. He approached my autism moms group and asked if he could meet with us to learn more. He listened to us and asked thoughtful questions. He asked what he could do to help us.  
I'm out here today, I told her, because he is out there for all of us every day.
And then she hugged me. She told me that it meant a lot to her that I would share my story, and she understood how much it meant to me that he be elected.  She thanked me for telling her, and said she would make a point to learn more about him.

I've been telling my story since April, and every single person has had the same reaction as that first woman. And many have told me their own story of how John helped a friend, or returned a call immediately, or listened and offered a solution. As the year went on, that first knock turned from a moment of fear and apprehension into one of curious anticipation. Those strangers became neighbors, and talking politics turned into talking about how to make Boston a better place.

This is why I knock.

Election Day is in just 2 days, on November 5. For the first time in 20 years, Boston will elect a new Mayor. We have 3 full days to make a difference. If you can spare an hour, I'd love to have you walk with me and talk to our neighbors about making Boston better. Please join me!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Moment of Truth Monday - All Done

One summer before the kids were born, we went camping just about every weekend. At the end of the summer, a group of us were driving home on Labor Day and decided to stop off at a random lake along the road. 

We swam, played Frisbee, and then sat around relaxing and drinking a few well concealed beers.  I remember we weren't talking very much - we were just soaking up as much of the afternoon sun as we could.

Then all of a sudden, a friend looked at his watch, then stood up and said "Well, that's it. Summer's over." We declared him a "complete buzz kill", but we all knew he was right, so we just got up and gathered our stuff to continue the ride home.

Labor Day is a frustrating holiday to me. I put pressure on myself to get as much out of the day as possible, knowing it is considered the last hurrah before "real life" starts again, but as much as I try to suck out of the day, I can never fully enjoy it because I don't want to let go of Summer's freedom.

So today, after driving 1 1/2 hours home from our weekend trip and finally dealing with the school supply shopping I'd put off until the last possible minute, I was frustrated and felt the need to go to our pool one last time. The boys didn't want to go, but I convinced Johnny saying his BFF would be there and it would be the last swim of the summer with his friends. 

We were late, and his friend was leaving as we walked in. Actually, most everyone was leaving. I thought Johnny would be upset that none of his friends were there, but he seemed completely fine and jumped right in.

"Watch me do this handstand underwater Mama!" 

I'm going to do the obstacle course! Time me!"

"Mom, here are my goggles. I'm going down the waterslide!"

I watched him play happily, and I thought about how I had stressed to him before we went that it would be "the last time for the summer". 

I wondered why I felt the need to make sure he knew this afternoon had to be any different than all the others he spent playing at the pool. He clearly didn't feel any pressure to make a big deal out of it, he was just playing. Like any other summer day. 

Knowing that standardized testing, homework, harried schedules and all things completely out of his control are coming up in the next few weeks, why would I try to make him start thinking about anything other than enjoying summer?

So I turned my chair towards the afternoon sun, and sat back and read my book, and I let him go. 

About 1/2 hour later, he walked up to me and said "I'm all done Mom. I'm ready". 

I got up and gathered our stuff and we walked out together. Pausing at the front desk, we said goodbye and thank you to the staff we had seen almost every day this summer. And as we walked away, Johnny turned back one last time and announced to us all: "I can't wait for school to start Wednesday! It is going to be awesome!"

And THAT was a great way to end Labor Day. For both of us.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Searching for a Friend

I'm searching for a friend. Maybe you've seen her?

I haven't met her yet, but I have an idea what she looks like. James reminds me incessantly of my mission. She is 2. She is not too big or too small - she is just the right size. She is black (well, it is ok if she is mostly black.)

I know what she will do. It's all very clear. She will run around a lot and do silly things. She will play with James and Johnny in the yard. Mostly she will be with James. She will sleep with him and comfort him when he wakes up anxious in the middle of the night. She will be there when he needs a friend to talk to or sit quietly with.

And she will completely ignore both cats.

I definitely know what she WON'T do. She absolutely will not eat Fluffy, Johnny's almost real stuffed kitty. She won't eat any of Fluffy's friends either. And of course she won't bark, jump, nip or whine too much. She won't mind sharing James and Johnny with a houseful of friends jumping and screaming and laughing and playing, and she won't get nervous when kids flap or make sudden noises or run back and forth across the room like squirrels.

I know. Good luck, right???

But here's the thing. Years ago, we noticed that James' mind stopped racing and his anxiety was visibly decreased when he was around dogs. Big dogs. Labs. He immediately went from completely out of sorts to calm and relaxed just by petting a dog. But with two older cats in the house, a  less than enthusiastic husband and a skittish younger brother, getting a dog for James wasn't a viable option. I tried to push it for a while, and then gave up.

James didn't however. His interest in dogs grew over the years. He started asking to drive by the off leash park on the way to school, and he kept a mental inventory of what kinds of dogs played there and when. James delighted in playing with friends' dogs. He would empty a huge basket of tennis balls all over the back yard for one lucky lab each time we went over to their house, giggling and flapping as Buddy would chase each one. He would go across the street just to pet Lola, and run back and forth in front of our neighbor's yard so their German Shepherd could run along side.

And then this past July we went to visit my sister and nephews in California. That story in pictures to come soon (I promise) but for now I need to focus on the task at hand. Because for three magical weeks, this is what I watched:

Gypsy. James' new best friend.

Johnny isn't skittish any more!

We've been back for more than a month and now both boys are constantly begging for a dog. James is stopping dog owners with a barrage of questions about age, breed, silliness level and bark frequency. All data is compared to Gypsy, his new best friend benchmark. The deer-in-the-headlight look I see in each of those unsuspecting people turns into amusement and understanding when I explain that James very much wants a dog. James rushes to explain EXACTLY what his dog will be like and that look becomes one of thoughtful mentor as each provides details, encouragement and (thankfully) responsible advice.

Having a dog is going to be a big adjustment for our family, and I know it is going to take a lot of time and care to find her, but I am lucky to have friends with a lot more experience and insight than I do who immediately stepped up and are helping me search. With their help, and with yours (if you know the dog described above who is waiting for an adoring new best friend) we'll find her.

And this new friendship is going to be totally worth it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mixing Martinis and Fire Pits is a Very Good Idea. If...

On World Autism Awareness Day, I wrote a post about why I wasn't going to put out a blue light on our stoop. James gets really upset when attention is drawn towards him and he is just starting to understand what having autism means. I don't want him to feel at all uncomfortable while we navigate together through uncharted waters.

I do, however, know how important it is for our children with autism to have the same opportunities as all the other kids in our community. And I know all too well how necessary it is for me to have time away with my friends to relax and unwind, so I can continue to be the best mom to James and Johnny that I can.

So when the chance came to spend the evening raising money for students with autism just by hanging out with my D'MAC friends drinking martinis at our de facto clubhouse... well, it was like all the stars had aligned.

A few years ago, folks from the West Roxbury YMCA approached us and asked how they could help. I'm not sure that at the time they realized how loaded a question that was. We had kids who couldn't participate in general swim classes and in many of the programs offered in our community. Our kids were missing out on some great opportunities to actively socialize. For some of us, the hours after school were the most difficult. Our autistic children needed constant direction and guidance and behaviors always seem to be more challenging when they get home after a long and frustrating day at school, but all our other children needed our attention also. Many of us felt like we were not doing enough for any of our kids.

We poured our hearts and our ideas out to the Y. They listened. They understood. And then they created an incredible program.

We now have an open swim and open gym where our kids can play and relax and just be themselves, in a safe and judgment free environment. Most importantly, we have an after school program with a ton of volunteers who take the students swimming and do OT based play. 

These programs provide incredible and much needed opportunities for our children, and for us.

So the fabulous Sonia and Joe Garufi at Sophia's Grotto decided to give back to the Y. They created a drink special called the Blue Spectrum Martini, and all proceeds from sales of this drink go directly to the Y's after school autism program. And they didn't stop there. They got some absolutely incredible raffle items donated by their generous vendors, including a night at the Colonnade in Back Bay, a case of Italian wine and a fire pit filled with bottles of gin and vodka! I almost feel like I shouldn't be telling you this because I want to win so badly, but I'll do it for the kids I guess...

If you've ever been to the Grotto, you'll understand why it's been my favorite restaurant since even before I was lucky enough to count Sonia and Joey as friends. If you haven't yet been to the little hidden gem in Rosi Village, you need to go. NOW. THIS WEEKEND.

The Blue Spectrum Martini and raffles will be featured until Sunday 4/7 (raffle drawing is Sunday evening.)
You'll leave the Grotto content after a delicious meal and happy you were able to help by having a fun night out. And you might even leave with a fire pit filled with bottles of vodka!!

D'MAC helping Steve make Blue Spectrum Martinis
Wicked Awesome Raffles. For the kids, right?

Just doing my part. For the kids...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Following the Leader

He was two. Although it was still a bit light outside, it was way past his bedtime and he was exhausted. We all were.

We couldn't figure out why he was so out of sorts. He seemed fine until we started trying to put him to bed, but each time we tried to put him in his crib he started screaming. He was trying to wriggle out of our hold. The closer we tried to hold him to console him, the more upset he got and the more he fought to get away.

He kept going for the front door. He needed to go outside. I tried to think of what we had done that day that might have set him off. Nope, nothing different. We did an inventory check of all the things he carried around. Everything was where it should be. Nothing was missing. Nothing was left out in the yard.

He kept trying to get past his dad blocking the door. We couldn't redirect him. We couldn't calm him.

We had no idea what it was that he was looking for, but we knew he wasn't going to calm down until he got whatever it was.

Finally, we gave up and opened the door. He bolted outside and went straight for the front gate.

Tony followed him. I stayed with baby Johnny and waited.

James went across the street to our friends'. Tony explained that he had no idea why, but James needed to come over and he now wanted to go in their house. They all watched James run through their house and out the back sliding door to their backyard. He bee-lined for the Little Tykes slide and went straight down.

And his face changed. In the 2 seconds it took to slide to the bottom, he became calm. He allowed Tony to pick him up and he rested against his dad as he was carried home. He laid down in his crib, relaxed.

I realized that night that James was the only one who knew what he needed, so we should follow his lead.

Last year I asked all my friends to wear blue for Autism Awareness Day and think of James. I put a blue light on our front stoop and left it up for the entire month. I put a puzzle piece magnet on my car. I wrote a post about what I thought we could do to educate others about autism. I did all the things I thought I should do as James' mom to help raise awareness and understanding.

But I realize now that I was thinking more about what I needed last year than what James needed. I wasn't following James' lead.

James has never liked to receive any attention. At all. He has always hated when we said "good job" to him or praised him, no matter how great the accomplishment. I think it puts too much pressure on him, but I don't know for sure. He's never told me why.

Lately his little brother has been talking about autism. I'm happy that Johnny is trying to understand it better, but James gets really upset when Johnny brings it up and he tells us in no uncertain terms to stop talking about it.

I'm trying to help James navigate it all without telling him how to feel. I don't know how much he understands because he doesn't want to talk about it, but I can tell it is on his radar. Out of the blue the other day James asked if his friend has autism. When I said yes, he told me that was good because we could bring the friend to our autism open swim at the local YMCA. It is little glimpses like this that confirm we are on the right track. It all just needs to be in his own time, and it needs to come from him.

I should follow James' lead on all of this. I want to make sure that I don't try to speak for him, because he has his own voice. And it is getting stronger every day.

So for Autism Awareness month, I am not going to draw attention to James by having a magnet on my car or shining a blue light on our front stoop. I will continue to support my son and quietly watch to see which slide he chooses to go down next. And I will follow his lead.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quirky Quips & Backseat Banter - Presidential Disqualifiers

The public inclusion school that James attends in our district is second to none. After he was moved around to 3 different schools in the first 4 years, I fought like hell to get him into this one. It is the only school that is able offer the small and nurturing environment he needs to feel safe as well as the social, emotional and academic support he needs to be able to thrive. AND it goes through 12th grade.

Three years later, I still feel like I won the lottery every day.

They have an incredible (and FREE!) after-school program with fun activities focused on improving social skills. As much as James dislikes school work and being away from home, he has asked to stay late every day this year to participate in the after-school program.

Unbelievable, right? There must be a catch. Right?

There's always a catch...

It is clear across the city from where I live, so driving home at rush hour is a nightmare. Luckily there are a handful of kids from our side of town who go to school together, so my friend Patty and I set up an "after after-school" carpool to get them all home.

As you can imagine, if you drive a bunch of kids who have just been released after 8 hours of following rules and behaving in school and who are now crammed together in the back seat of a car to be stuck in traffic for 30 - 45 minutes, you are bound to get some pretty awesome sound bites.

Especially if most of those kids are literal thinkers who happen to be on the autism spectrum.

Patty was lucky enough to be driving the day of this fabulous interaction. She is also lucky she didn't pee her pants laughing...

Sean: "Justin Bieber can't be President of the United States because he was born in Canada."
James: "John Lennon can't be President either."
(slight pause)
"Because he's dead."
(longer, seemingly reflective pause)
"Being dead is lame."
All kids in rare agreement: "yeah, it is SO lame!" 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday - How's Your View?

A text conversation I had with my husband while I was away for the weekend with a few girlfriends consisted solely of the exchange of these two photos...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Surprise Party

I looked up startled. 

I didn't just hear his name. That couldn't be him in that picture.

Not on the noon news. It was an alert for a missing child. It couldn't be. I played the clip again.

12 year old boy. Dorchester. Aspergers. The picture didn't really look like the boy I knew on first glance. But when I looked again, I saw him.

His name and an old photo. The police said he'd been missing since 8:30 am. I looked at the clock.

12:05 pm. I thought about how cold it was outside. So cold that I was talking myself out of even going for a quick run a few minutes ago. I was hoping the weather person on the news would say it was better to stay in and I'd have an excuse. I never thought I'd hear this instead.

I called his mom. No answer. I texted her: "I just saw on the news. I'm getting in my car now".

I texted a few mutual friends as I threw on my jacket. Jeanette would jump in her car to go look. I privately posted to some ASD parents who I had been talking with earlier that morning. I told them I was freaking out. It is all of our worst fear. A child with autism missing. They asked if the alert was on-line.

"I don't know. I just saw it on the news. I need to go help".

Within 30 seconds, Jim found the alert and posted the link for me to put on my wall. They all shared it immediately on their pages to their collective thousands of friends. Alysia tweeted it and got her own autism mama network out in Central MA ready to mobilize to Boston. Lexi called from RI wanting to drive up and help.

I grabbed my phone charger and a cereal bar and headed out myself. The car seat was freezing. The steering wheel hurt my hands to grip, so I unfolded my sweatshirt sleeves over my hands to steer.

How could he be outside all morning? It is only 20 degrees and the wind is so strong it stings and makes your eyes water. The news said all he had on to protect him was a fleece jacket and a baseball hat.

I drove around his neighborhood, thinking about all the recent shootings in broad daylight. I looked in the few stores nearby. I went to the zoo. I went to the Boys and Girls Club and left his description and my cell phone number. I called two of my best friends. A police officer and an EMT for the city. Both D'MAC. Autism mamas. They would know what to do. They would know where to look.

His mom texted me back with details. They had an argument on the way to the bus stop and he ran from her. She thought he'd go back to his grandmother's house, but there's been no sign of him.

"And it's T's birthday today. I can't tell him his brother is missing. He HAS to be home by the time T gets back from school".

I called her immediately. "We'll find him." I promised. "What time does T get home?"

I checked the clock. It was 1:30. I did the math in my head. I suddenly knew how to make something better, at least for now. At least for T.

"Bring T to my house after school. We're having a birthday party."

I called both my boys' schools saying something has come up and I would come get them early. I sped the 20 minutes to Johnny's school, grabbed him and went straight to the store. We ran up and down the aisles of Stop and Shop for 5 minutes, getting everything we would need for a kick-ass 9 year old boy party. Frozen pizzas, juice boxes. Cupcakes. Streamers. a ToysRUs gift card. Johnny picked out some streamer crackers and those little capsules you put in water that magically turn into sea creatures ("O-M-G" he yelled. "These are going to make the party totally awesome!")

I texted Jeanette again in the check out line. Balloons. We need them. Can you bring them?

I got a text from Alysia saying that Autism Speaks and Holly Robinson Peete were asking if there was a clearer photo to tweet. I felt incredibly grateful, but the realization that they were helping almost knocked the breath out of me. I instantly thought of all the urgent RTs I had seen from them both, all about missing children with autism. I knew the instant feeling of dread and helplessness seeing those faces and hearing those descriptions that were so familiar and, oh god, hitting so close to home even though I had never met them. But this time, it was my village. This was one of my boys. This couldn't be happening.

Johnny's excited monologue about the confetti crackers brought me back to where I needed to be, and I texted his mom to check for a photo while we walked quickly back to the car. 

On to James' school. We were cutting it close. It would take at least an hour to go across the city and back at this time of day.

Arrived at James' school. He and his friend Sean looked confused when they were brought into the office. I told them we were throwing a party for T. Cheers and screams of delight echoed through the office. The school secretary, the teacher who got the boys and I all exchanged concerned glances while they danced with joy.

Got home just in time to decorate the living room and make a sign for T, who was beyond thrilled when he arrived. Jeanette and I hugged his mom and sent her off before T saw her starting to tear up.

They spent the afternoon playing Wii and Minecraft. They "made" their sea creatures and took turns firing confetti at each other. They ran around shooting each other with foam dart guns and laughing.

When you are so rushed you don't pay attention to the party games your 7 yr old picks out,
you are bound to end up with something his sensory sensitive brother can't handle. Sorry James!

I fielded the continuous stream of texts, phone calls and FB tags asking for updates and offers to help.


Time had never flown so fast, yet somehow everything was in slow motion.

T yelled that he was having the best birthday ever. Jeanette and I both forced a smile and avoided each other's eyes.

I stepped outside and called my officer friend back. What was the word? She gave me an update on how many officers and canine units were searching. I hugged myself for warmth and started shivering as she spoke. It was the coldest I'd felt all year and I was only outside for 2 minutes. My EMT friend texted me right after I got off the phone. She had questions, and she had ideas. What did I think?

I checked the weather when I got inside. 18 degrees. Real feel below 0. No gloves. No hat. A fleece. He had been missing for almost 12 hours now.

We had the pizza and cupcakes. Sean had to go home. There was homework to do. It was getting late.

Tony got home from work and we got a text from my officer friend. A boy fitting his description was spotted at a pizza place, but was gone when officers arrived. Tony looked at me and grabbed the keys. I felt hopeful. If Tony saw him, it would be OK. He trusted Tony.

1/2 hour later Tony came home alone. He checked every place in the plaza. Showed them a photo he took when they went to a basketball game last year that he kept on his phone. I couldn't believe I forgot about that. I called my first responder friends back. I have another photo. I'm sending it now. It might help.

T announced that his mom was the greatest because she was letting him stay out so late. 8 pm on a school night was incredible even for his birthday. I laughed as I looked away and silently pleaded. God please find him safe and bring him home. Now. Please.

T's mom called. Still no word. Tony brought T home and I tried to help the boys with their homework. It was a disaster. I gave Johnny all the answers, and wrote everything out for James. I just needed things to be easy. James got upset because he was supposed to read and it was already so late and he was going to be on yellow if he didn't do it. I promised him we would read in the morning, knowing that I would just mark it down. I had to do it. I needed them to go to sleep happy.

My EMT friend called just as I got James tucked in with his weighted blanket for the 3rd time. Her brother, a police officer, was working the case. They were trying to think of where he would go based on what her own son with autism might do if he was out there. I couldn't imagine having to consider my own child missing as part of my job to try and save people on a regular basis. I realized then she had 100 x the strength I already thought she had.

Tony got home after talking to T's mom. Still no word. I heated up leftovers and had at most 2 bites.

While I furiously exchanged texts with all our friends, we watched the 10:00 news. Banal meaningless snippets. Nothing. @Assignguy came on at about 10:25 with the same police alert photo and the same missing person announcement, and said he'd be back after the break with some other photos. I tweeted our recent photo to him. "I hope it helps" I said.  He tweeted back immediately "Thanks. Trying to get the word out".

I finally checked Facebook and Twitter and saw the incredible number of my friends and their friends who shared and commented and pleaded and prayed and offered to help search. I read Diary of a Mom's post with the link to the Boston Police Department and her message (to her almost 12,000 fans) saying "Please spread the word. This is OUR kid". Tears started flowing as I tried to write a response to all the people who were asking questions and sending prayers in the comments of her post. People I didn't know, but who were not strangers. They were all in my village. I needed to say something to them. I just didn't know what.

And just as I was about to hit send on a comment saying "thank you for your prayers", my phone rang. It was the EMT. As soon as I answered, someone else called. It was my officer friend.


And with those words, everything was suddenly OK, and it was just T's birthday again. The way it should have been all day.

Note: I'm telling this story based solely on what it was like for me that day, because I can't even begin to comprehend what his family must have been going through. There were so many people who reached out to the family through me, or through Facebook and Twitter. People who had never met this family but offered to drive hours to come search in frigid weather, on city streets with a recent history of random shootings. It was a day during which both my real life village and my friends who live in my computer jumped to help out however best they could, and everyone I knew stopped in their tracks to figure out how to help a 12 year old boy get home.  I'm fully aware that I am the luckiest person in the world to have such incredible people in my life. His mom is not on Facebook or Twitter, so she may not realize exactly how many people came together to help her son, or the extent to which her son's photo was shared and prayed over, but please know that I will make sure she understands that she was not, and never will be, alone. She has a village of people standing by her side. A village that stretches all the way to Australia.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Saying Yes

"Mom? MOM? MOM! Where's the glue?"

I hesitated for a second. I didn't want to answer.

"Mama! Please? I want to make something!"

No. I didn't need an arts and crafts project right now. I was annoyed. I was tired. I just needed to escape for a few minutes. Not now.

"Mom? I found the glue!"

Shit. I needed a break. I didn't need to be cleaning up glue.

The weather was awful again, and we had been stuck in the house for days without a car. We were all bored. I was letting them play as much Wii as they wanted, going through the motions of cleaning and organizing. I wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. I've never been able to handle staying in one place without feeling completely trapped, so after a few days of confinement I was starting to unravel.
I did NOT want glue.

I stared at the 3 huge baskets of laundry to be folded and sighed.

He called again. I stomped downstairs. They needed something every second. It was all too much.

I walked into the dining room to see glue all over the table, and Johnny trying in frustration to stick a piece of paper on another.
Aggravated, I said:  "See, this is what happens with the glue. It gets all over".
"But Mama, it's stuck. Can you help me?"
I sighed loudly and took the little red piece of paper out of his hands and stuck it firmly on the larger paper, barely looking at it.

"Now I'm going upstairs. If you can't do it without spilling then I'm going to make you stop".

I half stomped upstairs to pretend to do laundry again, only to sit on my bed and feel the tears of frustration start to swell. Why didn't I just say no and make him go play Wii again? Why did I always let them do things that I had to finish, fix or actually do myself?
And then right in the middle of my little pity party, Johnny came running upstairs. "Mama! Look what I made!" he sang, and he handed me his paper as he jumped around happily. I put on the biggest forced smile I could and got ready to look excited as I took the paper from him. 
But the second I looked at it, I didn't have to pretend anymore. And I remembered why I say yes.

I make sure I keep it where I can see it though, just for *those* days...