Keeping the Peace

Travel Is Our Love, Summer is Our Peace, But Fall is Our Jam

Summer is finally coming to an end and we have soaked up every last minute of it. This summer we ventured out again on one of the many road trips we’ve taken across country. Let’s be clear, this was a trip, not a vacation. Vacations are sitting seaside, with a pina colada in your hand and no children in sight. No my friends, this was a trip. It’s an adventure with a lot of wonderful experiences, but A LOT of work!

Even so, there’s something about travel that is so liberating and also so peaceful. You would think that the sometimes faster pace of travel would not necessarily bring peace, but I discovered on this last trip that letting go of a lot of the planning that I’m typically known for played a huge part in that. It felt so carefree this year and I fell in love with it all over again. I also realized while we were away that our daughter has really grown to love vacationing and even thrives while we are traveling. It’s like she enjoys the routine of not having a daily routine. It makes no sense to me and totally goes against everything I’ve learned about autism, but hey, I’m just rolling with it.

In past years, transitioning to and from summer break was difficult for us. This can be a common challenge for kids with autism. For our daughter, it use to be that fall and it’s steady routine could not come quick enough. She lived for filling in her school agenda (with how she’s planning for her day to go, of course) and she could recite the class schedule for me, even with it’s daily changes. If she missed speech or something else in her regular schedule, it would completely throw her off. Now that she’s maturing, she’s learning to enjoy her time off and is learning to go with the flow more instead of trying to control every situation (sounds like someone else I’m vaguely familiar with) We’ve been all about the flexibility these last few months though. Summer was definitely her peace this year and mine too.

These days she’s a bit more hesitant about what new rules, teacher, friends and routines she will encounter in a new school year. Even so, she adjusted really well to third grade and we all adjusted quickly back into our old routines. We’re a family that loves the fall season, at least what we have of it here in South Florida. We love traveling north for leaf peeping and seeing all the fall colors. There’s nothing like apple picking, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and hot apple cider! So as much as we found our peace in summer, I think we were all ready for the school year to start and get back into our groove.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that at one point, fall was a very sad time for us. Five years ago today our daughter was diagnosed with autism. We were devastated by the news and for a long time we were just struggling to find answers and get her all and any help we could. It’s a date that we will never forget, but we’ve come a long way these past few years. Just like our daughter isn’t defined by autism, fall is no longer defined by that time. It’s a time for new beginnings and a time to celebrate a beautiful season!

Now we’re just hoping for some cooler weather and a break from this heat! If we have 3 days of boot and sweater weather, it’s a miracle, but you know that doesn’t stop me from wearing them or getting my pumpkin spice everything on (yeah, I’m one of those annoying, pumpkin obsessed people and not afraid to admit it). The point is, we all thrive and grow so much in the fall and that’s always something wonderful to look forward to and be thankful for.

So, I hope travel will always be our love. I hope summer will always bring us peace and a break from our daily routine. But I’m ever so glad that tomorrow begins the fall season because I truly believe it’s our jam!

Blessings and Peace for fall Y’all!

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Keeping the Peace

Moving Through Grief Toward Peace

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Photo Credit: Awilda H. Roberts

Not everyone feels comfortable talking about death. Truth be told not only do I detest talking about it, but I fear it immensely. I have a strong faith and believe that heaven is a very real place and most definitely a much better place than this. I’m confident that I will be there someday with the Father and my loved ones, but I’d be lying if I said that it doesn’t scare me. The thought of it causes me anxiety and while I know I can’t control when my time comes, I’ve been known to make more careful decisions about certain things than most. The events of 9/11 definitely made me more fearful, but it’s a fear that has really grown in me since having my children and since losing a parent. On the flip side, those two things have also made me stronger and made calmer.

I don’t want this to be one of those depressing posts about grief and how difficult it is. We all know it’s inevitable and that fact doesn’t make it any easier. Most people have lost someone in their life and so they understand loss. They know how hard it can be. I think there are so many people though who have not yet experienced the loss of a loved one and I hope this provides them with some insight into what others have gone through and helps them someday work through their own grief, in their own way.

Today marks ten years since my father passed. I can tell you, it hasn’t gotten any easier for any of us. A little part of me died that day too. Death and loss become part of your life. It sucks a lot when your heart is broken into a million little pieces that you think you will never be able to put back together, but I’ve found a way to change my grief so that living through it brings me peace.

The truth is, the only things that have helped are to continue experiencing this life and to keep moving forward one small step, one day at a time. The world moves forward much more quickly than those grieving and more than their grief does. But we, the grief-stricken, move forward nonetheless. Ironically, that’s how we find peace in our grief. It’s a process that’s very personal and with each step, we get back one of those million pieces of our heart, in the very moments of our life we continue to live.

Our children have been the best medicine for my grief. They have an inherent joy and they propel you to keep moving, keep experiencing, keep making memories and keep dreaming. They did not have the opportunity to meet their grandfather, but they keep his memory alive as if they did and talk about him more than some kids who have a grandparent around. My son is the super sensitive one, always bringing him up, declaring how much he misses him, and comforting everyone else. It’s so sweet and endearing. My daughter on the other hand asks a lot of questions about him. Now that she’s had more religious education, she talks about where he is now and seems to understand that concept, which can be hard for any child to grasp. It’s comforting to hear her talk about him and she does her best to empathize. She’s still learning to be a bit more sensitive with the topic of death, but that will come as she continues to learn about feelings and facial expressions. She has come so far with her social skills, but she still is (and will probably always be) very literal. So when your child tells you repeatedly that “Your dad is dead” or “You don’t have a father anymore”, it’s hard to hear, but you really have to remember how far she has come in understanding and what a valuable lesson about life she is learning.

It’s not always easy and it’s hard work not letting grief consume you. It’s hard not dwelling on every date and anniversary. You have to remember every moment is precious. You have to live each day to the fullest. You have to feel happy that your children feel his spirit. You have to revel in the fact that their favorite meal is breakfast just like their grandpa and they have his same passion for cheesy grits. You have to take pride that they inherited his love of books and reading. Your heart has to burst with love and unending joy every time you pull up to the ranch where they love to spend time with and ride their horses, just like grandpa did. You have to find peace in knowing that he may not be physically here, but that will never diminish the amount of love that is felt for him or that he feels for all of us. Our loved ones rest in peace. We just have to work harder at living in peace while keeping them close at heart.

Keeping the Peace

Pain. Passion. Purpose.

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The irony of this day and how it has unfolded is not lost on me. It’s the first day of Autism Awareness Month, but all of the things that have been coming up have been weighing on my heart and mind for a while. There are no coincidences.

It started out with my return to a networking event that I use to frequent. I was finally able to attend after many months away and it just so happen that the presenter was a local autism advocate who was speaking on how to turn your passion into a vocation. In recent months, I had been thinking more and more about how my passion for autism advocacy and my passion for writing could somehow meld together and serve a greater purpose. It just so happens that the speaker was a writer and used her passion for it to help others in the autism community. This was a message sent directly to me.

Since I was a teen, my mom has always encouraged me to write a children’s book. There were these little packages you could send away for and you would fill out the information, write your story, and then submit it with the possibly of getting published. It was a long shot, I know, but it seemed really exciting at the time and even then I loved the creative process. I lacked the confidence in myself that was needed to follow through with it back then. I always loved writing and over the years it became something I was pretty decent at. My mom has always been my biggest supporter, encouraging me in my writing and cheering me on to write the book or books I’ve always dreamed about. It only took 25 years or so for me to realize that it’s something I’m more than capable of.

So now the kids and I are going to work on this creative process together and see where it leads us. We’ve been wanting to create something that’s just ours, whether it be a business or some kind of other creative project. It will be great to share their ideas and unique perspectives of this crazy journey our family has been on. Never in a million years did I think that something that has challenged us all so much in the last 5 years and on so many fronts, would light the fire I needed to pursue this dream. Of all things, autism and its lessons are driving me. Pain. It sometimes gives you Purpose.

This afternoon I received some difficult news. It always saddens me to hear about the loss of people’s loved ones or about an illness, but when it comes a bit closer to home, it hits you like a ton of bricks. You’re reminded of how fragile this life is. In the past I wasted a lot of time worrying about our child’s future with autism and how both of our children would fare someday when we’re gone. It’s something I hate to think about, but I’ve become increasingly aware over the years throughout several losses that time isn’t promised. I’ve learned that worrying about the future just robs us of today. Now those concerns have just become something that drives me to live more and live every moment to the fullest. It pushes me to want to do my very best to advocate for her, for autism and for acceptance. It makes me realize it truly is my mission. It has strengthened my faith in their future and has given me the confidence that we are doing our very best to prepare them for this life. Pain. It sometimes fuels your Passion.

So many beautiful things come out of pain and struggle. It’s the hardest part of this life, but we all go through it and eventually we come out on the other side. You always come out changed, but if you can do something positive with what you endure, you can truly make a difference in this life. Maybe it’s just one person that’s impacted, but it’s a difference nonetheless. I won’t pretend that this month of Autism Awareness all across the news channels and social media is not painful for those of us who are acutely aware of it on a daily basis. It’s a lot of reminders when as caregivers, autism is a part of our lives. I choose to see it as an opportunity to help others understand autism better and to promote acceptance of all people. It is a month that is vital for children and adults on the spectrum, but especially for our children, who will one day be grown and possibly on their own. They will still need resources and some kind of support team when they enter adulthood and our world needs to be aware of that so that it can be prepared for what’s to come. That’s why this month we do our best to shine a light on autism, no matter what the color. It’s important for their future and it’s important for the future of our world.

No one wants to deal with any kind of loss, struggle, or heartache. It’s not a cup that any person would willingly take, but you just learn to accept it as part of your journey. As for our kids on the spectrum, we do whatever we have to because we love our children as much as any parent does. We don’t love autism or wish it on our worst enemy, but it’s a part of our kids, so we do our best to give them the best life we can. We have a responsibility to our community and our world to get them everything they need, to share our story, to educate those who are not aware, and to try our best to make a positive impact on their lives. Likewise, our world has a responsibility to learn, accept and make positive changes to support autism and all differences. That’s what these painful reminders are really about.

Pain. Sometimes it’s just pain. Then one day, it creates some beautiful things like peace, understanding and acceptance. It reminds us how much capacity we have for love, especially when there are challenges or loss. It’s really a common thread that binds us all and yet, we sometimes let it separate us because our journeys are so different. We just have to use that pain and those differences to bring us together as a world instead of tearing us apart. So this month think about the pain you’ve faced and what your fellow man may also be enduring. Use that this month to learn acceptance and then teach it. Do it for her, for everyone with autism and for all people. Take your pain… Be passionate. Serve your purpose.

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Photo By Courtney Ortiz of
Courtney Studios

Keeping the Peace

Peace In Faith

I’ve tried many different things over the years to help bring me peace and calm my anxiety. Some have been temporary fixes and some have definitely helped over the long haul. It’s sometimes uncanny to me that my daughter and I both struggle with these things, given that we are 34 years apart. At her young age, she has learned to cope with anxiety so much better than I ever have. She’s become such a great advocate for herself and knows when she needs a break or something to calm her. She’s able to recognize the things that will truly bring her peace beyond the moment. Recently she provided me with a much needed reminder about the one thing that has always been there for me, giving me the peace I need. This is how it all played out.

Our daughter prayed the other day. I mean, she says her prayers every day before school, before meals, and before bedtime, but this day was different. We were offering up prayers for help and at first she wasn’t ready to share. Then when we came back around to her, she was so eloquent and clear about what she wanted. She said “I want to ask God for help with the things I have a hard time with”. It blew my mind and brought me to tears, all at the same time. I couldn’t believe the words she chose and how mature she sounded. Just like an old soul. Faith is a hard concept for adults to grasp at times, let alone children. It’s that much harder for a kid with autism, who is very black and white, to trust in something they can’t see.

Flashback to a couple weeks earlier and what was probably our third conversation with our daughter about autism. The first time we asked her what she thought autism was, she said “Autism is beautiful”. The second talk was met with a blank stare. I think this time might have been the first time where she really started to understand that her brain works a little bit differently. We explained that some things, like math, come a bit easier to her, but that other things, like social situations, are a bit more difficult and can cause her stress. We did our best to explain it, but autism is a complicated thing and it’s a hard to describe to an eight year old. I guess she was listening and starting to understand. More importantly, she knew the best way to get some help with the things that are hard for her.

We’ve been part of a wonderful family group at our church for the last few months now and it has been an incredible blessing. Our kids are growing in their faith and it has been so nice for them to be surrounded by other families like ours. Our daughter has also been given the opportunity to do her first communion, something that we thought would never happen. It has been a wonderful experience for all of us and it has had a huge impact on her. She has learned so much and she has shown me how much peace can be found in our faith. I’ve seen her be more present. I’ve seen how calm and focused she is when she is talking about her faith. It’s been amazing to watch and again, a great reminder.

We all have different beliefs, but we can all agree on one thing. Having faith and believing in something, even if it’s just yourself, can bring a serenity like nothing else. It gives you the strength to persevere in difficult times. It gives you the confidence to live each day, each moment to the fullest. It helps sooth your fears and keeps you from worrying about the future.

My faith has always been here, bringing me peace, so long as I have had the strength to put it before everything else. There are lots of things that can help with anxiety and provide a temporary fix, but nothing provides the constant comfort that believing does. All I needed was a reminder from a little girl to turn to it and to ask for help with the things I have a hard time with. You can’t get help if you don’t ask. I haven’t been asking enough, but that is changing now. I choose to have faith first, before I try to find my peace anywhere else. We are on this journey together and I’m so thankful that together, we’ve found our peace in our faith.

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Keeping the Peace

Guiding Me To Peace In 2016

As I sit here (still in bed and in my pjs) on this, the last day of 2015, I’m wondering where the time went. How are we already at the end of another year? Every year that passes, I learn more and more how important it is to stay ever present because time flies by and we never know how much time we truly have. Time is our most valuable commodity and yet we spend a lot of it in anger, in resentment, and without gratitude, instead of being present and at peace.

For many of us, a new year means a clean slate and a fresh start, but for others it can be a painful reminder of loss or where we’ve struggled along the way. The one thing I believe we all want in a new year and yearn for is peace. That “peace” can look very different to each and every one of us. Maybe it’s peace with ourselves and who we are, maybe it’s the peace your faith gives you, maybe it’s financial peace, or just peace in your relationships. We want to work toward improving certain aspects of our lives to achieve this feeling, but most of the time, it’s hard to know where to start and motivation could be lacking.

A couple of years ago, I really started working on being more intentional and being present in the moments. Being more and doing less. It’s a daily practice like anything else. It’s not perfect, but it definitely serves as a constant reminder of what is truly important. Around the same time, I started choosing words to help guide me through the new year, rather than making a long list of resolutions that were completely unattainable and would leave me feeling like I hadn’t accomplished anything at all. If you know me, you know it was nearly impossible to abandon any sort of list. I thrive on them. I love to cross out and check off. My lists have lists. You get the picture.

I could never pick just one word that encompassed everything I was looking for. It got harder and harder to pick just one. I always felt like it would take a few to really explain my desired feelings and to help remind me of what I’m striving for. One word just wasn’t cutting it. This year, when I was thinking about what I wanted for 2016, I stumbled on a blog post that spoke to exactly how I was feeling. You can read it here I realized that just like I can’t use one word to describe myself, there also isn’t just one word that can define all the ways I want to grow in 2016.

In 2015, my words were Create and Forward. They are just words, I know, but words are powerful. This past year, I constantly reminded myself that I wanted to Create things, whether it was doing crafts with my kids, making my own art, taking pictures, writing, or playing music. I wasn’t perfect at it, but the objective was to make the effort. I paired it with the word Forward, so that I would be reminded to move in that direction in anything I did that year. It helped me to let go of the past and live in the present.

This year I have three words and based on the blog post I cited above, I realize they work well together for what I’m trying to achieve. My ultimate goal is always peace, so the words guiding me to a peaceful 2016 are Blaze, Abundance and Truth. How will they help me find peace? I chose Blaze because I want to Blaze a new trail, taking on new endeavors and adventures. A blaze is a fierce and bright flame. I hope to shine a bright light in the new year for myself and others! I chose Abundance, not because I want a large quantity of material things, but because I want an abundance of all those things that you can’t put a price on … hugs, kisses, memories, love, peace … I could go on and on. Abundance in all things of importance! Finally, I chose Truth because I want to continue to be authentic in what I say and do. I want to stand up more for Truth. I also think that my own truth, the truth of who I am as a person, got a bit lost during motherhood. Raise your hand if that happened to you? So I hope to do some more self discovery in the new year and figure out what I’m all about.

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The truth is that any words you choose can help guide you to the peace you seek. It doesn’t matter what struggle you may be going through. We always have something to be grateful for and if you give yourself positive things to focus on, you will experience personal growth that will inevitably help you find that still, quiet place inside. That place is peace. One of my favorite quotes about peace sums it up perfectly!

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Wishing you all a prosperous 2016!! Let’s hope we can all grow a little bit in the new year. Peace be with you!

Keeping the Peace

Kindness – making friends, peace, and happiness since, like, forever

I’ve been dreading this post for years now, but the topic just keeps coming up. I’ve been hesitant to reveal my feelings on the subject, but as you all know, I’m an open book, at least on here. It’s important to share these things and one day, I hope my children read this, especially my daughter. I think it’s something that we can all relate to whether you are a child or an adult and most definitely if you’re a girl or woman. It especially hits home when you’re child has special needs and is a bit different from typical children. So you’ll have to prepare yourself and allow me a bit of a longer post this time around.

I’m talking about the whole making and keeping friends thing. Can we all just agree it’s not always the easiest, especially the older you get? When you’re younger you want to be friends with everyone and when you grow up it’s all about the quality, not the quantity. I mean, you can have a million acquaintances and people you are only slightly familiar with (like some of those here on facebook), but those close, close friends are few and far between.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH FRIENDS

Growing up I had some great girl and guy friends that I still consider friends to this day. Those friendships were pretty straightforward and just wonderful, from when I was a kid to now as a grown up. In college and when I met my now husband, I made some more amazing, lifelong friends. These have always been pretty simple, constant, and just plain great people!

Then, when I became a mom, I made a whole new group of friends. These are the relationships that became a bit more complicated, mainly because we were exhausted and had no time for anything other than taking care of babies. It was a great support system to have, but at times it was also a ton of drama. That’s right, I said it! Women love their drama lol Well, let me be clear, I don’t think we all love it as much as when there are several women together, it can thrive there and our emotions can sometimes take over. Don’t get me wrong, women and mothers are inherently, for the most part, loving, caring individuals. It’s just sometimes When there’s a group of us together, we can be clicky, super competitive, a bit malicious and downright mean.

Enter my daughter’s diagnosis several years later and let’s just say I learned pretty quickly how to categorize people into groups of who was a friend and who wasn’t. As a matter of fact, I stopped using the word “friend” as casually. It took on a whole new meaning for me. I learned that drama had no place in our family’s relationships, that if you’re different you aren’t always accepted, that we wanted friends who were loving, inclusive and accepting of us and our children, and that a clique was no place for me. Then as time went on, my group of friends expanded into this great community of people who have children with all types of special needs and are some of the most extraordinary people and parents you’ll ever meet. When our kids reached school age, we were fortunate to meet a lot more great parents at our school who have become friends. A lot of them have been going through similar struggles and in general, it’s a pretty supportive group of people too. Still, it has sometimes been a bit of a lonely road over the years. Our life and what we can and are willing to be involved in, is quite different than some of families. You don’t always have a lot in common with people anymore. Friends have come and gone. The quantity of friends greatly diminished, but quality has remained.

It really rings true that there are friends in different phases of your life, for different seasons. These people who surround us now, along with our family, are really at the center of our lives. They are our extended family that support us in our faith, in raising our family, and in our challenges with autism. The lessons I’ve had through my friendships, combined with what autism has taught me has really forced me to take a good hard look at what I truly admire in a friend. They also gave me another much needed lesson in forgiveness, something I’ve been freely given, but have had a harder time giving once we learned of my daughter’s dx. In the words of our ever favorite Elsa, I’ve become quite acquainted with “Let It Go” as sort of a mantra in my life. After autism, much of what we let go in our lives was a blessing and for the best for our family. In some cases though, we were separated from some of our closest friends, but have been so thankful to be reunited with them. I know it’s because of love, because of letting go of the nonsense, and because of their innate goodness and kindness. More on that last quality soon.

MY KIDS’ EXPERIENCES WITH FRIENDS

This part will be a lot more about our daughter’s friend experiences, but I thought it was important to include our son as well. Often the siblings and the effects of autism on them are not addressed. This blog is mostly about how I’ve found my peace through experiences I’ve had amidst our daughter’s autism, so I generally talk more about her. He has been a big part of it all though. We’ve always been pretty in tune with any of our son’s needs and it’s been important to explain things to him along the way, even when he may not understand. He is an important part of her friendship experience, but it’s also important to share the differences in his friendships and hers to drive home a few points.

Let me preface these comparisons by sharing the one thing we have always taught our kids. The one thing that we’ve always emphasized to our children, (from the moment they could understand what it meant) was that the most important thing to be in this world was kind to every single person. Now they are still kids and far from perfect, much like myself, but for the most part, they try to remember and apply that on a daily basis. In a world where society is showing them that the most important thing is to be happy, no matter what the cost to yourself or others, I’d say they have learned that being kind makes you the happiest of all! That being said, not everyone lives by these values.

Our son has made some good friends. He developed pretty typically. Not only that, we call him the social butterfly and the hug mayor around school. He is very friendly and has a personality larger than life. We also call him the comedian of the family, although many of the Giol men find themselves humorous. He makes friends very easily and has made some really great friends over these two years he’s been at the same elementary school with his sister. He has also been his sister’s first and best friend. He is so supportive and protective of her. I’m thankful that he has learned such compassion and that he is so accepting of people’s differences. I am not so secretly hoping he becomes a teacher or some kind of therapist. His social strengths have definitely had a strong and positive impact on his sister’s social life. There’s plenty he doesn’t understand about autism, but he understands the most important thing about it and that is to show kindness.

Our daughter’s friend story is quite different. When she was little, she played alone a lot. Some of that was typical for someone like her, but I believe it also caused her much less social anxiety than trying to play like others or fit in. I remember in Pre-K she started trying to develop friendships. Autism can be a very self focused disorder. She wanted to feel in control and had trouble sharing and things of that sort, but most kids struggle with that at one point or another. She worked really hard to improve her social skills, and with that she learned about feelings, she learned to be empathetic, and learned all about facial expressions. It all helped her to have more courage socially, but it wasn’t until last year in first grade that she really seemed to blossom from a social perspective. I saw her trying to make friends and while she may not have had all the social cues down by then, she was making the effort. She kept kindness at the front of her mind and she didn’t understand if anyone was not being kind to her. Sometimes, it felt like she was blissfully unaware.

Fast forward to second grade and the whole reason why I’m writing this long, drawn out blog post that I am hoping inspires and enlightens you versus possibly boring and puzzling you (see what I did there?). Let’s just say, second grade has been tough. I have been preparing myself for middle school to be challenging, but had no idea that at 8 years old we would be dealing with what we have been lately as far as friendships go. I didn’t know the cliques, the meanness, and the manipulating started happening this young. I can say definitively it didn’t happen when we were kids. We were just interested in playing with everyone at recess and what mom packed for lunch. I’ve witnessed my daughter being on the receiving end of some pretty sad mean girl behaviors recently. It’s almost like it became uncool to be kind and forget it if you’re a tad bit different too. You are just not welcomed in as part of the group. I say girls because quite honestly, and going back to my own personal experiences with women, girls can be downright ugly to other girls. I have to give kudos to the boys because they may have their own challenges among them, but they don’t concern themselves with the drama, they don’t care as much about the silly nonsense and pesky details, and in my daughter’s case, if you like superheroes, you are cool with them. They have just been much more accepting and kind in general. You’d think as girls/women we would have learned to be more compassionate to each other and lift each other up more, with all we have faced in this world and all we have overcome. It’s very disheartening when your kid, who loves school and work in general, starts waking up and dreading school. It broke our hearts this morning when she said she didn’t want to go to school because she didn’t want to be treated badly anymore. It took us most of the morning to convince her to go. There was a lot of crying before she left and a ton more for both mom and dad after she’d gone. At 8 years old, no kid should be feeling that way. My guess is this is happening all over our elementary schools. I like to think we are probably at one of the best, if not the best, school in the county and it happens to our kid. So, it’s not the school, but it seems like it’s what we are teaching our kids and the example we are setting.

In wrapping up this novel, my point is this – We can’t expect our kids to make good friends or be good friends if we aren’t teaching them to be kind first and foremost. Isn’t that the thing that will make them the happiest? We can’t expect our kids to be accepting of differences if we aren’t accepting of them ourselves. If we’re inclusive, they will be inclusive. They follow our example. If we let things go and show forgiveness, our kids will do the same. They can be kind without being doormats. Just because you show people kindness consistently doesn’t meant that you have to be friends with them or have them in your life. Friend is a strong word that is to be valued and to be treasured. In the end, our daughter has made a few wonderful, kind friends. This is just the beginning of her challenges socially, but we will get through it with prayer, love and kindness, and support from our amazing family and friends. So I’ll leave you with some of my husband’s and my favorite quotes that we teach our children and I hope you will share them with yours too. I would also ask that you encourage your kids to see kindness as cool and to reach out to the kids they see getting left out. I guarantee they will feel good about themselves and they will be positively impacting a child’s life and the life of their family.

Have courage and be kind ~ Cinderella
Different Not Less ~ Anonymous
The only way to have a friend is to be one ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that ~ Martin Luther King
The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good ~ Samuel Johnson

Photography by Courtney Ortiz of Courtney Studios

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Keeping the Peace

Made My Peace With Fall (and all the seasons)

I have so many wonderful memories of this season. Time with my family, holidays, cool brisk days (well, the one day a year we get “cool” here) road trips to leaf peep, mom’s pumpkin pie, dad putting up the tree…the memories are endless. The smells, emotions, colors, and the sounds of laughter all come back to me in an instant, especially this time of year. As you can see, fall is my favorite time of year and it’s when I feel the most joyous. It took me a while though to get to that joyous place this year.

We had a wonderful and blissfully peaceful summer. No schedules, lazy days, adventures, and fun times with family and friends. Typically summer is a bit harder on me since I do “mommy summer camp”. That doesn’t allow for a lot of breaks. It’s also typically a tough time with our daughter who has difficultly with changes in her routine. Usually school ends, our daily schedule changes, and she has a hard time adjusting. This summer we breezed by with less than a hiccup. She smoothly transitioned into summer and so did I. In the past, I would struggle to be happy, to relax and to just let things go. I could tell this summer was different though. I was letting loose more and enjoying my days with the kids. I let go of everything, including blogging (hence the the 7 month hiatus). It was so freeing! I stopped putting pressure on myself to provide a camp like experience every moment, to accomplish a million things, and to do do do. Instead, I just concentrated on just being and being together. I had conquered summer!

So, it caught be by surprise when we returned from vacation in August (having just had that pure Michigan experience) that I began to experience a lot of anxiety. This is usually how approaching summer feels to me. Fall was my favorite season though. It was all PSLs, mountain visits, and apple picking. It was my joyous season where I didn’t let anxiety live, only now my season was approaching and anxiety was rearing it’s ugly head. I usually fell in love with fall and this time I was wondering if I would be able to enjoy it at all.

I struggled for weeks trying to get to a calm place and let things go. I knew the build up to school starting again was probably a big part of it. Who would my daughter’s teacher be? Would she make friends this year? How would my son adjust to kindergarten? Would he enjoy being in his new class? Would we need to start therapy again for her? How would I manage my business, their school, being a wife and mom, and getting them and myself involved in a few activities? Where would the time for me come in?

It took some time before things settled down and I found a good flow with things. There were a lot of ups and a lot of downs. It felt a bit like the roller coaster of change, anxiety, and fear our daughter faces daily. I noticed that she seemed to transition so much more smoothly into fall this year, much better than I did. She didn’t seem as anxious about her new class and teacher, something I thought sure would be a source of distress for her. I noticed she was excited about school, which wasn’t always the case. I realized she wasn’t afraid to try new things. As a matter of fact, she’d spent the summer traveling around the country, changing hotels sometimes daily. She had tried many different foods and had branched off from Italian to Chinese and Latin (I knew the Puerto Rican in her would eventually come out). She was a bundle of spontaneity, adventure, and change. She was thriving and I was paralyzed in fear. Seeing her face adversity and her struggles head on, motivated me to find my joy again and to do what I needed to make my peace with this new season.

We all know that kids feed off of us and our energy. I was setting the stage for her to take on my fears and I would not let that happen. I’ll spare you all the details of the many things I tried over the course of those weeks to center myself and find my peace again. Let’s just say it was all on the up and up, but it ranged from starting to read my bible more regularly again to regularly coloring like a school kid does. I found lots of ways to ground myself again, adjust to the changes, and yes, I occasionally sought help when I needed it from my tiny little pill or even from my therapist (I’m a firm believer that every person on the planet should have one,the therapist, not the pill). The peace search continues even now. There may have even been a 7 season binge watching of The Gilmore Girls a few weeks ago and my hubby probably thought he needed to stage an intervention. The reality is, I carved out more space for myself and allowed myself the chance to adjust to this new season. I stopped letting change freeze me and I took a page out of my daughter’s book and tried new things. It has been liberating!

Change is hard sometimes, but it can be good. It can open you up to new adventures. You can learn a lot about yourself and others. I learned that when I grow up I want to be like my kid. I may have my struggles, but I’ll take on the journey without fear and I’ll make peace with the seasons of change. As for fall, it’s still my favorite and I will do my best to keep the peace I’ve made with it all year long.

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Keeping the Peace

The Dreaded “A” Word

At first glance you are probably thinking the “A” word I’m referencing is autism. Maybe some other “A” words come to mind too, but while this has a lot to do with autism, it’s not the sole reason I’m writing this piece today. The main reason is another “A” word that like autism, is also a large part of our family’s life, particularly my daughter’s and mine, and that is Anxiety.

Anxiety comes in many different forms. Everyone has experienced a little bit of normal anxiety, whether it be nervousness or worry. It’s when it’s debilitating and causes a person to at times, change the way they would normally live. It could be in the form of social anxiety, phobia, or even panic disorders. It’s not something that seems to be talked about much and if it is talked about, it’s sometimes looked upon as an imaginary disorder or just weakness. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s very real.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a lot of our kids on the spectrum deal with anxiety regularly. I know for our daughter there is a lot of anxiety associated with changes in her routine or schedule, not being able to control certain things, and other aspects of her life. So having a parent that has been diagnosed with anxiety can be no picnic for her. Kids in general have that keen ability to sense when things aren’t right with someone. My daughter is even more attune to feelings and while she doesn’t always know how to react to them, she’s really good at feeding off of my anxiety. She’s great with empathy when someone is hurt or sad, but anxiety just makes her…well anxious.

As many of you know, the last year and a half has been somewhat of a peace journey for me. I’ve managed to learn ways to keep myself calm and find peace when things become difficult (I hope to share some of these in an upcoming post). I keep a pretty positive attitude which is a huge help, but the reality is, sometimes this disorder can take charge and shooting out rays of happy and sunshine all day long just can’t minimize the effects of it. In the words of my friend Forrest Gump, “Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks”.

In the last few weeks our daughter has had a bit of a behavior spike. There’s not one thing we can point a finger too, but school wide testing, changes in schedule and routine, constant sinus issues, and lack of sleep have probably all contributed to it. It’s a catch 22 really because her anxiety is partly why I started getting anxious again and then she picks up on my anxiety. It’s a vicious circle. But I don’t want to place all the blame on autism. There are other factors that contribute to anxiety and when things pile on, it rears its ugly head. Autism is just the one daily and consistent struggle that starts to weigh on you.

I’m very conscious of complaining because I realize how great we have it in this life and that there are so many people that have so much more difficult situations. But I’m done minimizing our story, the struggle, or the effect it has on us as a family. It’s no harder or easier than anyone else’s story, it’s just that, our story. It’s all about perspective really. My reality is autism has worn me down recently and after so much time of feeling peaceful and calm, anxiety came crushing down these last few days. There’s no sugar coating. It’s ugly. It’s stressful. It’s debilitating. It’s upsetting. It sucks.

It’s when I had to take that little X pill for the first time in over a year, that I realized that much like autism, anxiety is a disorder that is here to stay. I will constantly have to learn ways to manage it and cope with it. My mind does not have an off switch, at least not one that I can find, but I have to continue to work hard at somehow shutting it down sometimes. I have to learn to live with it, just like I’m learning to live with autism, and not just for me, but for my daughter. Studies have shown that the stress and anxiety that an autism mom faces is at the level of a soldier in combat as you can see by this article here. That must be where the “autism warrior mom” name comes from. All I know is that this is a battle that I will not allow autism or anxiety to win. I will find my peace again.

If you or someone you know deals with anxiety or if you think you might be struggling with it yourself, I hope that you will be open with someone about it and get the help that you need. Own your story no matter what it is. Never minimize it or the struggle. If you are dealing with any of these things in excess, just be mindful of it.

Excessive worry
Sleep problems
Irrational fears
Muscle tension
Chronic indigestion
Excessive stage fright
Self-consciousness
Panic
Flashbacks of traumatic experiences
Perfectionism
Compulsive behaviors
Self-doubt

I’m no expert, so ask your doctor if you’re concerned. Most importantly, if you are a caregiver like me, make time for yourself. Do things that make you happy, make you feel beautiful (as my friend says), and carve out time for your peace. Give in to your truth and find that place where you heart and soul can be still in the struggle.

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Keeping the Peace

From Peace and Serene to the Autism Mom Funk Queen

I’ve been on a journey of peace for the last year and it has truly turned my life around. That doesn’t mean that I’m filled with peace each day and that there is no turbulence in our life as a family. Funk happens sometimes and I’ve been digging myself out of one for a while now.

By funk I don’t mean I’ve been skipping showers or that groovy kind of music that’s a mix of blues, soul and jazz (not into missing bath time, but totally digging that funky beat). I’m talking about being in a funk, when you are just completely out of sorts. It happens to a lot of people and it most definitely happens to moms. Shake your head girl because you know it’s happened to you too.

Lately I’ve been the queen of funk. The new year has come and gone and my get up and go, got up and went. It’s always hard to come off the holidays and get back into your routine, but this year it seemed a bit harder than some years. I fell off the grid for the holidays and it was nearly impossible for me to jump back into the thick of things. Add in additional holidays, days off from school, some extended family struggles, constant change in weather, sinus issues, and oh yeah, autism, and you have a recipe for some serious chaos in our world.

For the last couple of weeks our daughter has been having a hard time with all the transitions she’s been dealing with. The changes in her daily schedule, her school schedule, an annoying post nasal drip effecting her sleep and the weather, have all taken a toll on her. I’m guessing she feeling the funk from my end too. This, of course, takes a toll on us as parents too. We worry every day because that’s what moms and dads do, but seeing her anxiety and struggle has been upsetting for us. The last couple of days have been particularly hard for her and yesterday it came to a head.

She’d had trouble understanding she couldn’t get her way (something most kids can’t grasp) and since she has a hard time expressing and managing her feelings, she screamed and cried when things didn’t go the way she wanted. It was her way of coping. You see, she’s learning about flexibility and how things don’t always go our way in life, but for a child that cannot control much of anything,thank can be a hard concept to get. She is always looking for a way to control a situation so she can feel at ease. That’s why she thrives on her regular routine because she knows what to expect.

So yesterday was her second meltdown (this not a regular child’s tantrum, but a complete breakdown) and this one was directed at her teachers. By the time I picked her up she was crying and not yelling anymore, but when I went through our regular entrance in our neighborhood, she started to ask me to go through another way and completely broke down when I wouldn’t turn around and do what she asked. It was just plain awful.

The screaming and her meltdown went on for over an hour and I’ll be honest, it felt like days. I could see she was anxious and in pain. I could almost see into her head for that moment and could understand what she must be feeling. This is something I learned a lot about from an amazing book I read recently called The Reason I Jump (I’ll devote a whole post to that game changer later). I tried to hold it together, but once we gave her some space and my son and I moved to my room to wait it out, I completely broke down. Now we were both deep in the funk.

My poor five year old boy was consoling me and literally grabbing tissues for me, blowing my nose, and hugging me. At one point he even told my daughter “leave Mommy alone”. Of course, she wasn’t doing anything to me, but he was coming to my defense because he saw I was so sad. I hated that he saw me that way, but at the same time it was such an incredibly sweet moment. Let’s face it…we all break down now and then and I definitely don’t want my kids thinking life is peaceful and perfect all the time because you and I know that’s far from the truth. I think about all he has seen between therapy appointments and daily autism struggles the last few years. I worry how it may be effecting him, but at the same time I see what an incredibly compassionate little boy he is. Secretly I’m hoping he becomes a world famous neurologist, a teacher, or possibly a behavioral therapist. I’m good with any of those choices (big smile).

I spent a lot of time talking to our daughter after she was able to get to a more peaceful place. I’m not sure how much she understood, which makes having the conversation with your seven year old that much harder. She understood she should apologize to her teacher, to her parents, and to her brother. I’m not sure how much of my speech she actually comprehended on how none of us get our way in life all the time or how mommy and daddy have rules to follow too. All I know is that she seemed a bit more at peace and if you can get to that place, it makes it easier to deal with any of life’s blows.

Today came and I was so thankful to hear she had a great day. The three of us had a peaceful afternoon together after school. I got too comfortable though and right before bed we had a repeat of the same behaviors. Right back to the funk again. I realized that peace sometimes comes in waves, when we need it most. It’s not a given or a constant, but when we give ourselves time to get to that place of peace again, it’s something that can pull you out of whatever deep funk you are in or whatever anxiety you might be dealing with.

Yeah, I’m sometimes that autism mom funk queen. I own it, but it doesn’t have me. For now, I’m giving myself a chance to relax and get back to my serene place. Tomorrow is another day. It holds the promise of more peace for me, for my family and for my princess. If we have that, we can get through all of life’s challenges. My princess and I will keep our crowns, but you can bet we will be kicking that funk to the curb!

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Keeping the Peace

Holiday Happiness

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I love the holidays and I enjoy celebrating them all month long. Call me crazy, but I like to celebrate them in their respective months. As a family, we make the most of this time of year and really make time for making lots of memories. I feel like dragging out the holidays can take away from them and their meaning sometimes. It also makes me nuts to be shopping in October and find Christmas decorations up when the words “Halloween costumes” have not even been uttered in our home.

Our daughter started her Christmas fixation before Halloween had even been packed up this year. I thought to myself, how are we going to enjoy the next couple of months if we’re already here? We were knee deep in Christmas videos and singing Christmas carols before most people even knew what day Thanksgiving fell on this year. Then it hit me…She’s excited about Christmas! Holidays have not always been the happiest for her, so that made them difficult for all of us. Sure there were lots of great moments that we were blessed to enjoy, but there were a lot of train wrecks too. Sometimes, at the end of a day, my hubby and I would feel completely defeated. We would grasp some peaceful moments in the evening curled up with a bottle of wine and hope that the next day offered us a reset button. Maybe she would wake up and feel differently that day. She would get so fixated on the date of the holiday that before we ever reached it, she was completely done with it. It just took away a little bit of fun away for everyone and no one more than her.

Was this holiday happiness a fluke? Maybe a one time deal to lull is into a state of bliss only for it to come to a crashing halt on the 25th of December? I thought for sure when her birthday approached in November we would get a nice dose of reality (see my last post about our birthday blessing and lucky #7). Instead it was total birthday bliss! This mama was over the moon!

So, when our daughter donned one of her hat creations just after Halloween (more on this hat thing in another post) to ring in her holiday happiness, everything changed for me. Normally I would feel so grouchy that the holidays were being shoved down my throat so early that I would be in a holiday funk (and may I say, I still can’t stand how commercialized society has made them). This was so different though. She finally understood what it was about. She had Christmas in her heart and wanted to share how merry she was with the world. I felt like she got the true meaning of Christmas…it’s all about love, joy and believing. It may sound hokey, but until that moment I think I had forgotten what it was all about too. I would get so worked up about being so behind in holiday preparations. I was obsessed with getting our decorations up “on time” and making sure everyone had enough presents, that I couldn’t enjoy the true magic of the holiday anymore. It wasn’t her challenges that were stopping me from enjoying it…I was stopping me.

She’s been wishing Merry Christmas to everyone she encounters since last month and I say more power to her. If only more people didn’t get caught up on the words and just felt the love and sentiment that she and others are sharing by saying them. She has the spirit and I think it’s all because she is starting to comprehend things much better. I know that all of her hard work over the years has something to do with that. It wasn’t always easy, but my husband and I, her teachers and her therapists all played a part in helping her grow and get to this point. It makes me so proud to see how far she has come.

Holiday peace and happiness have arrived at our home and let me tell you, it rocks! Her merriment is contagious! In the spirit of the season and our wonderful daughter’s enthusiasm, I hope you will enjoy the holidays, whatever you may celebrate. Be present in the moments and accept holiday greetings as words of love and joy. The spirit of the holiday should really be something we aspire to year round. Oh, and don’t stress about the decorations and all that extra stuff…there are still just four ornaments on our tree, 21 days left until Christmas, no Christmas cards made and not one present purchased. It’s all good people.

Peace, Love & Joy