Tear Stained Burgers

It was your typical Saturday of errand running, busy and with numerous stops. That evening we decided to head to one of my favorite restaurants, well known for their yummy hamburgers. It was a big treat for me, and the boys’ first visit. As we entered and were shown our table, the hostess complimented us on our adorable boys.

The kids menu was a picture menu, which was exciting for me; Eli tries so hard to tell us what he wants to eat, but his verbal communication, although progressing, is still very difficult to make out. Picture menus provide him the opportunity to choose an item with a simple point of his finger. The drinks, however, were not of the picture variety. So I asked Eli if he wanted lemonade or milk. I heard “Lemonade”; that was mistake number one. When the lemonade arrived, Eli began to argue rather loudly and unintelligibly. I smiled gently and said to him,” Here, take a drink”, hoping that a taste would change his initial objection. He tried to take a sip, but he spilled some lemonade on his shirt.

Now, you should know that even though my son loves baths and swimming pools, rain or the slightest water sprinkle sends him into a tailspin.

Back to the spill: With a small spot of lemonade on his shirt, Eli lost it. He screamed and cried and yelled, “Milk! Milk!”  I tried very quickly to quiet him down, and as I gradually calmed him down, the waitress graciously handed him a new cup with milk. Crisis averted. And almost on cue, a nearby table started singing “Happy Birthday”.

Did I mention Eli cries in terror over that song? Yep, in our house, we do not sing “Happy Birthday” without first designating a family member to take Eli for a short walk.

At this moment, my husband quickly scooped him up and took him to the front of the restaurant, leaving me and the other two boys at the table. At this point I smiled and realized…wait, I have two other children! Poor kids! As I tried to make conversation with Adam, and avoid all eye contact with anyone in that room, my youngest, Joseph, began to cry.

I grabbed him out of the high chair and tried to soothe him. The waitress returned to our table, this time with coloring sheets and crayons. Poor Adam! He sat back in his chair and colored silently. Meanwhile, Jason walked back to our table with a now calm Eli and returned him to his seat.

Not even a half a moment later, Joseph cried out loud, and Eli erupted again, this time into an ear piercing scream, pounding his head against the back of the chair as if in total pain. I handed off the baby to Jason and took my crying son away from the table.

As I sat in the front lobby, Eli tightly hugging my neck, I looked out at the restaurant. I checked back on our table.  My husband was trying to engage our oldest, so he didn’t feel left out, and soothe the baby at the same time.  I looked at the hostess and guessed that she didn’t think our boys were so “adorable” now. I looked at the customers sitting near us and wondered if they wished they had been placed in a different seat, or worse – thinking they must be drawing massive conclusions about Jason and my lack of parenting skills.

I tried to hold in the tears as a calm-again Eli, noticing the front door being opened and closed, flapped his hands excitedly.

I am good at choking back the tears and wearing a smile. Why? It’s easier.  A smile makes others around me feel more comfortable.   It makes me feel stronger despite their stares, side comments, and judgmental glances. I refuse to let them see my pain.

When I noticed our food was being served, I took Eli back to the table. He bounced up to his chair like all was right with the world and the last twenty minutes had not happened. I gave him a smile and a kiss.  He squeezed my arm, and he began to eat

I looked at my husband; he shared quietly with me that the table close to us asked to be moved. I smiled – can you blame them? They paid money to enjoy a nice meal, scream-free. We chuckled a little to ourselves, but there was a tinge of sadness in our halfhearted laugh.

During our meal, we discussed if we should stop eating out with the kids. Honestly, we had only experienced this kind of outburst twice. Usually, Eli did well when we ate out; I mean, he has no volume button and can be loud, but we pick loud family friendly places on purpose.

Toward the end of the meal, I noticed Eli getting agitated yet again because, wouldn’t you know it, someone else was having a birthday. I quickly picked him up and asked Jason to pack my food up so I can finish in the car. I grabbed Joseph and Eli and headed for the door, expecting to hear some sigh of relief from everyone I pass.

As we walked to our car, Eli attempted to tell me something, but I could not understand anything he said. He started yelling out his words to me until, finally, he dropped to the ground in frustration. Though I simply could not understand his speech, I am sure he felt he was being ignored.

I walked quickly to the car, and now, I was unable to hide my tears. The pain of not being able to understand my son, and the reality of the entire evening, had taken its toll on me. By the time Adam and Jason came to the car, I was a mess. What a sight I must have been in the parking lot, crying and holding on to my husband.

This was one of those days that brought more questions than answers, and more frustration than peace. In moments like these, we feel very alone and helpless, but it is in these moments where we decide if we will allow it to break us. Are we going to hold onto each other, to our boys, to our faith?

Not all days are wonderful. Not all moments are easy.  There are many scriptures that have powerful meanings, but one that I turn to in the times I feel most distressed is Lamentations 3:21-23

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Christmas Miracle

Christmas is my favorite time of the year and I always feel a bit sad to see it go. This year, however, I am finding it a bit more difficult to let go of the season. This Christmas offered a lot of wonderful firsts for our family. Joseph saw his first Disney Christmas this year; I love seeing his eyes light up at each and every twinkling light he sees! Adam was very involved in making cookies and crafts, which is something I have dreamed of doing with my children since before they were born. But one of the more extraordinary blessings this year came to us from little Eli.

Last year, at the age of three, Eli showed no interest in any lights or decorations as Adam had at that age. We would take trips around the neighborhood to look at lights and, while Adam pointed excitedly at every display he saw, Eli was only very involved in inspecting the toy he had in his car seat. When we decorated the tree that year Eli preferred to play with toys in the room and he had to be coaxed into placing just one ornament on the tree for the sake of a photo. As I relished every Christmas tradition and moment with Adam, a small piece of my heart cried for what I would never experience with Eli. That year Christmas happened around him.

This year, as the Christmas season began to come upon us, I embraced what was sure to be the wonder and joy of Adam and Joseph and resigned myself to including Eli as much as he would allow. Was I in for a big surprise!

It came one night during our weekly search for Christmas lights. Our neighborhood begins to decorate in late November, so I decided to swing by a few houses after Thanksgiving that are usually decorated early in the season, As I approached the first house I pointed and yelled, ”Look! Christmas lights!” Adam squealed from the back, Joseph strained to see from his car seat, and I was surprised to see Eli actually looking out the window. We passed a few houses that night and Eli seemed very interested.

Then it happened: one night as we were driving home, I saw a nicely decorated house and pointed it out to the boys. Adam called back excitedly, “Christmas lights!”, and rather unexpectedly Eli literally screamed out the words “Christmas lights!” I looked to see him smiling and pointing at the display.

From that moment on, no display would escape Eli’s sight, and no ear was safe from the screaming pronouncement “Christmas lights!”  if that were not enough, at Walmart he became obsessed with the Christmas department, though, unfortunately, his favorite item was an inflatable Santa in an outhouse. He loved that display so much I honestly considered purchasing it. Thankfully, my husband was there to talk some sense into me by reminding me that we did not need Santa’s outhouse on our lawn..

One day, Eli came running into the living room and hollered, “Christmas tree right there!”, and pointed at an empty space by the wall. The next day we bought a tree and Eli helped Adam decorate it until the last ornament was hung.

Even more so than pointing out Christmas lights, were Eli’s obsession with Charlie Brown Christmas, both the book and the movie. One day in the car, out of nowhere, he began to sing ‘Hark the Harold Angels’.one of many Christmas songs he learned this year.

Last year I had cried over the fact he could not participate in the church Christmas program, but this year he was a shepherd.

Christmas is about the love and hope that came down from heaven in the form of a tiny baby that would save all mankind. I could not help think that this was God once again, sending me his hope and his love in the form of a little child. A child who last year could not say more than ten words, but this year sang along with several Christmas songs. A child whose future at times seems so unsure, but who was teaching me to have faith, faith in not what I see, not what doctors tell me, but faith in a God who is so much bigger than my small understanding of things. Faith and trust!

This was my Christmas miracle. It was more precious than any gift I could receive. It came in the sound of my little Eli wishing everyone he met “Merry Christmas!”.

Autism: Our Journey So Far

Eli was one and a half when we began to notice something different about him.  He did not speak except for high pitch squeals and an occasional “da-da”. In fact, we called him R2D2 because he made the cutest squeaks and squeals.  Whenever we did something out of the normal routine (such as going down a different aisle in the grocery store) he would have a huge meltdown. The meltdowns were major, but we attributed them to his frustration with being unable to communicate. On one occasion, at an aquarium, I noticed Eli physically shaking at the sight of swimming fish, and his hands would move in a funny way. There were other behaviors that would follow, like his obsession with circles; he ran in circles and wanted to touch and step on anything round, especially manhole covers.  All in all, he just seemed like a quirky little guy.

At his two-year old appointment I expressed my concern on his lack of speech to the doctor. After a brief discussion she recommended speech therapy, but then paused and asked me “Does he make eye contact with you?” I was dumbfounded; it was a behavior I really never paid attention to. I stammered a bit, trying to point out instances when Eli did look me in the eye, to which she replied “Let’s start with speech first and go from there”.

Driving home from the doctors, it dawned on me: all those cute little quirks that I loved so much about Eli did not seem like simple little quirks anymore. As a public school teacher, I know enough about children to realize what the doctor was silently implying – autism.  I immediately went home and googled signs of autism.  All signs pointed that way.

My husband and I started Eli with speech therapy and had his hearing tested. After his hearing was found normal in December 2012, we started on our journey with a wonderful neurologist. Our new doctor didn’t rush into a diagnosis, but, rather wanted to take her time observing and testing Eli  because of how young he was, and really take time to examine every aspect of what could be going on.

Fast forward to July 2014: Eli now communicates with some sign language and pointing but he is also beginning to use a few words. Every day that I hear even the slight sound or semblance of a word, it is an amazing and indescribable feeling!  But with this small sign of progress, other signs of autism, like his hand flapping, have become worse.  More than ever, he is unable to tolerate certain sounds or pitches, and he pinches members of our immediate family for reasons we still cannot figure out. Though at times he can be sweet as pie, more and more he exhibits very aggressive behavior.

On July 3rd a team of specialist and doctors sat down with us to discuss what we already knew in our hearts: Eli is on the spectrum. He has level two autism that is moderate to severe and they believe he may have apraxia of speech, unrelated to the autism, that needs further testing.

The diagnosis was not hard to swallow. We love our baby and we had been preparing ourselves for this diagnosis for a while. The most difficult part came when we asked ourselves“ Can we do this?” Are we able to raise a child with autism?  What if we fail? Research proves that Eli’s current age range is the most critical time for intervention, and the specialist suggested to us that he needed 40 hours of applied behavioral analysis therapy a week, two hours of speech therapy, and two hours of occupational therapy; where were we going to find the time to fit in this much-needed therapy? And then there is the finances – the idea of 3-4 co-pays a week made my husband feel sick. Oh and by the way… we have two other babies who need us just as much. The worry and concern was overwhelming. But in spite of all our unknowns, we always had one thought in mind: we have to do this, all of this, , and do it right to give him the best shot in this world..

And that is how our journey began,  with hope, lots of worry, but more than anything, with the strength and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. For me, this is crucial. I have hope because of God. Yes, I get overwhelmed on a weekly basis, but at the end of the day I know with whom my hope is in.

We don’t know what the future holds for our beautiful boy, but we know who holds our future. I take great comfort and peace in that. All we can do is try our best, work like it depends on us, and pray like it depends on God.

My Three Sons

I am the proud mother of three beautiful boys, Adam age six, Eli age four, and Joseph age one.

Adam is the oldest and, as the oldest, he is sweet and feels the need to take on responsibility for everything. He is in the first grade this year. While he does well academically, I am always worried about his young age. He turned six late August and will more than likely be the youngest in his class.  He is currently obsessed with roller coasters and American Ninja Warrior. We watch roller coaster videos on YouTube together, and he plays roller coaster with his cars. He also enjoys building Ninja Warrior courses out of Legos to run his men through, and when that doesn’t work, my living room furniture serves as his own private course.  I often wonder how long before he breaks a bone!

Eli is the cream in the Oreo sandwich – sweet, in the middle, and unique from the other two. Just recently he was diagnosed with level two moderate to severe autism. He is almost four and is a little sponge, soaking up everything around him. He has always marched to the beat of his own drum; it may be the autism in part, but I believe that is just who he is. He is cute and quirky and just plain lovable.

Joseph is one and, so far, my most adventurous one. I am sure he fully embodies the whole youngest-child persona. He is demanding and defiant (yep, even at one year). I catch glimpses of his personality every day, like when he is crawling toward the entertainment center for the fourteenth time and I tell him no; he will look at me with a sly smile and continue his crawl anyway. Oh my, we are in trouble!

Being the mom of these three boys is the most challenging and rewarding job I have ever had. There are times I feel like I may lose my mind and there are times I am so amazed that they are mine!  I can’t wait to share more stories of our adventures together with you!