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Be the Kind One

My husband and I tell my kids they can be anything that they choose to be. 

If they can dream it, they can do it.

We want to them to embrace who they are and not allow their peers or society to make them feel that they have to conform into any little box. 

They can be astronauts or first responders or rock stars or artists or dreamers. They can be anything that they choose to set their minds to. 

But.

There is one thing that they cannot be. 

They cannot be unkind.

We teach them to embrace their differences and the differences of others.

We don’t all look alike or think alike or feel alike.

We have different beliefs and different values.

We teach them that what makes us different and diverse is what makes this world a beautiful and special place.

We need the dreamers and the doers and the tender hearts.

Everyone has something to contribute and we all deserve a place at the table.

We teach them to go ahead and march to that different beat. Do their own thing, but understand that others are doing the same. 

We teach them that understanding and kindness aren’t negotiable.

Because in a world where you can choose to be or do anything, it will never ever, ever be wrong to choose kind.

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Awareness Versus Acceptance

April is a month in which autism has the stage and the world is listening— perhaps a little more than the other 11 months of the year.

Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Acceptance Month.

Awareness versus acceptance.

Which one is it?

Maybe it’s both?

I think it’s both.

You cannot have acceptance without awareness. Awareness leads to understanding. Understanding leads to acceptance. And in the most perfect world, acceptance leads to inclusion.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Truth is, it isn’t that simple.

1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism, but we’re still so far from awareness, acceptance, and inclusion.

I think that comes from misunderstanding or lack of understanding what autism is. Autism is a spectrum and no one person with it presents the same. That can make it had to truly understand.

It’s hard to understand what life with autism is like if you aren’t living it or if it hasn’t touched your life personally.

For me, autism awareness and acceptance is as simple as understanding that autism is a part of our family story through our boys.

It is as much a part of my boys as the color of their eyes. It doesn’t define them. They are who they are and I love every fiber of them. They are not less. They are good and perfect gifts from above.

I’ve learned so much about autism because of them and from them. They’ve truly become two of my greatest teachers.

I’ve learned to advocate for them and for others who are like them.

That’s why I’m here. That’s a lot of why I write— to increase awareness and understanding and hopefully, through that, acceptance and ultimately inclusion.

Awareness leads to understanding which leads to acceptance which leads to inclusion.

I’ll never stop pushing for that.

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You Can Do Hard Things

You can do hard things.

You were a quiet baby— barely cried and always had a smile and a giggle for me.

But, you barely babbled and you didn’t speak. 

By your second birthday, you were my quiet child.

But you always had a smile and a laugh for me.

We started speech therapy and were told you had Childhood Apraxia of Speech.

I dug into every book, every article, every resource I could find and you dug into your therapy.

Other children went to summer camps or other enrichment activities and you went to therapy twice a week.

You worked so hard. You showed grit and determination and kept working and always had a smile on your face.

And I prayed. I prayed for you to find your voice. I prayed to hear you speak. 

Then it happened.

It was like a light switch flipped and it all connected and the words came and I cried.

It was a couple weeks before kindergarten started when your speech therapist discharged you. She said you had caught up to your peers and we didn’t need therapy anymore.

She told me before we left that day that you had defied her expectations. When you first started working with her you were considered severe and she wasn’t sure you would ever speak.

And I cried.

Kindergarten came and went and you started to realize that you spoke differently from your peers.

It was in first grade that your teacher saw the need for more speech therapy. When you weren’t understood you would get frustrated and shrink into yourself. She advocated for you and helped us to get you on an IEP. 

You worked for years with the speech therapist at school. I sat through IEPs and ETRs and cheered you on. It became old hat and just another part of our routine. 

Today I sat through another ETR.

We went over the test scores. We talked about your strengths. We discussed your progress.

This meeting was different though.

At the end we didn’t set your follow up IEP meeting.

Because it wasn’t necessary.

Your speech and articulation is solid. You can speak and be understood. Your apraxia no longer affects your ability to communicate effectively.

I disconnected from that call and I cried.

I prayed for you to find a voice and you did. 

I prayed for this day to come and it did.

You came home today and I shared the news with you.

And this time, it was your turn to cry.

I’m so proud of you. You never gave up on yourself. You never let a difference define you. You never stopped smiling through it all. 

You climbed a mountain.

You can do hard things.

Parenting, Special Needs, Uncategorized

It’s In That…

It is hard to believe it is mid-August.

It is harder to believe that the return to school is just around the corner.

Back to school is full of wonder and worry for both parents and children alike.

I love the promise of the coming school year and I love the growth I see in my children by the following summer.

I know my children are anxious to get back to their friends and their learning environment– even if they aren’t exactly excited for schoolwork.

All parents have to trust that they will send their hearts off to school where they will be loved and cared for. We all want our children to be accepted and for others to be kind. We all want to see our children grow and learn and reach their full potential.

There’s an extra layer of apprehension that comes along with being the parent of two boys with special needs.

It’s in the hope that their educators will understand them and cherish them like we do– these are our most precious and vulnerable gifts being entrusted to them.

It’s in the extra breath that is held from drop off to pick up– until we know our child made it through the day.

It’s in the silent whispered prayer that the other children will be accepting and kind–that our children will make a friend.

It’s in the tears of joy for a well earned success and in the tears of frustration that will be present too.

It’s in the stressful sighs exerted at an IEP meeting as we advocate for the basic accommodations that our children need.

It’s in the knowledge that we send our loves into a world where we can’t protect them and aren’t a part of and in the hope that that world won’t break their hearts or spirits.

It’s in my wish that you will teach your children to be kind and accepting. I hope you will encourage them to sit with the lonely kid or befriend someone “different” from them.

It’s in all of these things and more…

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The Hindsight of 2020

Here we are. It is another New Year’s Eve. 2020 is finally coming to an end and we are preparing to turn a page into the next year.

On this night last year, we celebrated with friends and proclaimed that this would be our year.

Spoiler Alert: It Wasn’t.

2020 wasn’t the best of times, but for me, personally, it wasn’t the worst of them either. I know how fortunate I am to be able to say that.

No, the year did not go as planned. Crap, I chucked the planner in the trash around mid-July. But, we came through. We came through with our health, a roof over our heads, and each other. We were lucky to not lose a job or income or any loved ones to the pandemic that raged on. I count those blessings each and every day.

Yes, this year held disappointments.

We missed out on birthdays and holidays and time spent together with family and friends. We learned how to wear a mask and made social distancing part of our lifestyle. We cancelled trips and gatherings and adjusted as we went.

We remotely learned. I learned that being a teacher is 100% not within my general capabilities. I struggled to help my daughter with fourth grade math and maintain my sanity and patience along the way. I appreciate teachers more today than I ever have.

Resiliency and going with the flow were key to our survival this year. We learned to swerve and then swerve again and again and again.

But there was a bright side too.

No, 2020 wasn’t all bad.

Before the pandemic stopped us all, we had a chance to take a vacation to Mexico with my parents and one of my brothers. It was a wonderful calm before the storm that came.

My cousin and oldest friend who I had not seen in several years due to military life came home and we were able to spend time together with our babies. It was something my heart very much needed.

I spent more time together with my husband and children in the last 10 months than we have in our entire lives together. The slowdown and slight pause in our lives was the gift we didn’t know we needed. The time spent watching movies, playing in the yard, having game nights, and dancing in the kitchen will live in my heart forever.

Yes, 2020 will be memorable for ways I never envisioned coming.

There have been harder years for me than 2020 and there have been much better years than 2020. But, in it all I lived. I loved. And I learned.

Some lessons were harder than others.

The world showed a lot of it’s ugly this year. There were people I deeply respected that I just can’t any longer. There was cruelty and there was division. Somewhere along the line kindness became weakness, disagreeing peacefully became old hat, and helping out your neighbor became a faux pas.

But. There was also beauty too. There were simple acts of kindness. There are people who fought for change and will continue to do so because if nothing changes then nothing ever changes. There were the soft hearts that kept on doing what they do and sharing their beautiful hearts because if they didn’t, then the world would win.

Intent was my word for 2020.

I wanted to be intentional in all that I did this year and I think in some ways I accomplished that. In some ways, I just survived.

As I reflect on where 2020 left us, I realize I learned a lot about contentment this year and appreciating what I have. I have four walls that keep me safe and warm. I have a doting husband and four pretty fantastic kids. I have an amazing family and a pretty spectacular collection of friends. This year really highlighted who and what mattered most.

My biggest lesson or self realization, if you will, came from really understanding the difference between a want and a need. It’s more about learning to love what you have than always having what you want.

Focus

As we move into 2021, my word for the year is focus.

I want to focus more on cultivating friendships and creativity and even my garden. I want to continue to spend time with family and friends and love my tribe with all I have. I want to focus on my physical, mental, and spiritual health and that of my family’s. I want to focus on doing more of what matters to me and what is important to me. I am learning to say no and accept the unique challenges in my life.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

I wish you all health and happiness in the coming year. I hope you are safe tonight and celebrate in whatever way feels right for you.

I’ll see you next year.

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Vacation Had to Get Away

Last week, my little family and I escaped out state. We got out of Dodge. I am not even going to lie about how incredibly nice it was to stare at something other than the same four walls of my house.

We took a week long trip to Tybee Island, Georgia last summer and fell in love with it. Shortly after we got home we booked another trip for this summer. The past few months we debated back and forth whether or not to go. I spent weeks watching the COVID numbers and what the area of Georgia we were headed to looked like. We decided to go for it.

And you know what?

It was the best possible thing for our family. We spent a whole week being beach bums. We would wake up go to the beach, break for lunch, beach again, and break for dinner. The kids had the best time. Between building sandcastles and taking turns burying each other in the sand, they enjoyed they waves.

They did some body surfing and even talked me into trying it. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t a success. The first way knocked me under and my sunglasses were paid as tribute to the ocean. Thankfully Josh did not have the camera ready and zero footage exists of what Emma says was the most hilarious thing ever.

We all got amazing tans and ate way too much ice cream and slept in and napped and laughed so, so much together. And then we came back to Ohio and all lived happily ever after.

But you want to know something else?

When we went to Tybee last year Josh spent 90% of his beach time chasing Wyat. Wy couldn’t relax and enjoy it and in some ways, neither could Josh or I.

This year was way different. He willingly engaged with his siblings. He was able to sit in the sand for long periods of time and play and build. He didn’t run without abandon or caution into the surf.

It was a clear signal to me that even in the stress of the last few months with delays and cancellations in therapies for his autism, we are making progress! So much progress! The occupational therapy is working. The speech therapy is definitely working.

There was a moment where Wyat grabbed Emma’s and walked with her to the edge of the ocean. They stood there together staring out at the surf. It is a vision I will hold in my heart forever. It was a beautiful sight- my oldest and my youngest standing there together as if they were contemplating all that was before them.

That moment wasn’t possible a year ago or even six months ago. But that moment, it will live on for me. It will forever be a reminder to me about hard work and pushing through. It will be a reminder to never ever give up hope just because you aren’t there yet.

Yet will come soon enough.

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Welcome!

So glad you are here!

You’re probably wondering who I am?

Photo credit: Caitlin Breann Photography

Well, I am Marisa. I am a 30-something wife and mother just living her best life in a small suburban town.

Two years ago I left a soul sucking job in corporate America and now I spend my days moming it up. It was the absolute best decision of my life even if there are times I miss conversation with other adult-ish people and the extra money.

I have a wanderer’s soul. I would spend all my extra time and money exploring the world if I could.

Photo Credit: Kinkaid Photography

I am lucky to get to do life with the best guy I know. He’s my best friend with benefits and the yin to my yang. I would not want to parent or exist with anybody else. He gets me like no one else. Bonus, he has a really cute butt!

Photo Credit: Kinkaid Photograpy

My four kids are the absolute coolest kids you will ever meet. I might be biased, but so what? They are freaking adorable and awesome. My two boys are on the spectrum so you might hear me talk about that a lot. Autism plays a pretty big part as a dynamic in our family life. Their journey has taught me so many things.

A few of the best years of my life were spent in college in Nashville, TN. I met some of the most fascinating people in the world there and I made some of the best lifelong friends. I left a piece of my heart there when I left.

I love music. All music. Country is my favorite and Willie Nelson is king and The Chicks are the queens, but I can find something in any genre I would enjoy.

Writing is my passion and I am so excited to get back to it and share it with you.

I cannot live without good coffee and no, I don’t mean Starbucks. Yes, I will drink it, but Starbs is not the bees knees.

I think phrases like “the bees knees” are grossly underused.

I am a tough cookie, but once you hurt my feelings they stay hurt. I can hold a grudge and when it comes to the people I love, I can hold a grudge for them way after they are over it.

I am a Tennessee Volunteer football fan. Most days I wish I was on ole Rocky Top.

I am a Parrothead. I love Jimmy Buffet. One of my bucket list items and the greatest college spring break trip ever grew out of a visit to Margaritaville in New Orleans pre-Hurricane Katrina. I want to have a margarita in all the Margaritavilles. So far, I have visited 11.

I think most of the world’s problems could be solved with a good nap and a warm hug.

I firmly believe it costs nothing to be kind. If you can, you should help the next one in line.

I am a Disney Nerd. I love it. My kids love it. I’ve made my husband love it.

My race is not your race and vice versa. Run your own race.

Speaking of races, I got into running in the last year. Before that, running was solely reserved for when my life was in danger. And even then, well, even then it was dependent on how great the threat was.

As long as I can get to the end of the day and know I did my best, that is all that matters.

Welcome to my crazy life! Sit back and enjoy the ride.