Thursday, August 22, 2013

To "One Pissed Off Mother"

By now, I'm sure most of you have seen this rather nasty letter that was slipped under the door of an Ontario, Canada family's home. When I first read this letter, I was pissed off. Actually, I was more than pissed off, I was thoroughly enraged that someone could be just so mean to write such things. Telling a family to donate the "non-retarded parts to science" and to "euthanize their child"? How cruel. To top it off and to be so cowardly as to do so anonymously? Do they really think they won't be found out? As most know, we too, are a family that lives with Autism on a daily basis. While my own son doesn't have the same behaviors and characteristics as the child referenced in this letter, my heart breaks for this family to have been exposed to such hatred and vengeance and yes I'll say it, flat out ignorance and stupidity.

But now, a few days later, I'm filled with pity for this one pissed off mother and filled with happiness and peace knowing the community has rallied around the family and their amazing child. But I ask, why does it take such a heinous act to bring out the good in people? I know there are good people in this world. We've been blessed ourselves with an amazing group of people who not only support our choices for our son, but accept him for the incredible human being that he is and want only the best for him. They worry right alongside us when he's having a bad time, and they rejoice in every milestone reached, no matter how long it's taken him to achieve such milestone. They understand his quirks, his mannerisms are just a part of what makes him who he is.

To One Pissed Off Mother,
I can only hope that your children (if you are really, indeed, a mother) have been sheltered from the hatred and ignorance that you spewed in your letter. I hope that despite having such a vile human being as their mother, that they turn out to be amazing individuals who seek out those less fortunate and those with special needs and do everything they can to understand and live beside these people as a community. I hope they learn to accept that no one person is better than the next, and that their life is not to be valued any more than anyone else's. We are all humans living on this great planet, and everyone deserves a chance to be understood. Everyone deserves to be accepted. Everyone deserves a chance to be loved.

I wanted to hope that you'd get a chance to walk in this family's shoes, for just one moment. To live life as they have to, worrying about their child with Autism. Worrying what the community around them thinks. Worrying about the educational worries that goes along with having a special needs child. Worrying that your child may never fit into a world not meant for them, but knowing that they have to learn. Worrying about what happens when they themselves die? Learning to live with the mantra that "I need to live one day more than my child." But, you don't deserve that chance. You would throw away that blessing like a used up paper towel without ever realizing that your life would have been forever changed, for the better

Being the mom of a child with Autism, I can assure you, that this life is not always an easy one but we are infinitely blessed to be given the gift of raising our child. He's the biggest blessing we could have ever hoped for or been given. I love my son more than life itself, and I hope that he knows that. I also have what you would probably consider a "normal" child (I hate that term with a passion, by the way). My "normal" child is far wiser, far kinder and far more understanding of special needs than you will ever hope to be. He is one of his big brother's biggest fans, and he will do anything for him. He has gotten upset when people have stared and made comments directed towards his brother, as he understands just how wrong it is to do so. He's the younger "big brother" and he plays that part very well, without ever being asked to. He just does, because he knows that without us, our son wouldn't have the support system that he has. His family is the most important part of that support system and if we fail him, than so does that support system.

I hope only that with time, you will learn to feel remorseful for the hatred you spewed. That you will come to see how ignorant and vile you were. I hope you will apologize to this family and that you will truly mean it. I hope you will take it upon yourself to learn more about Autism. You need to be educated. You need to be aware. Most of us never asked to be the parents of special needs children, be it Autism or anything else. But most of us will also tell you, we have learned far more from our children's courage and dignity than we can ever hope to teach that child. I can promise you that your life will be infinitely blessed and enriched if you can rid yourself of the hatred that you have deep inside and learn to accept those with differences.

Come forth, accept the consequences of your actions and then let yourself be free to acceptance and forgiveness.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Perfect Day: Surfers Healing 2013

Our fourth Surfers Healing experience with the Surfers Healing VB crew.

Our second Surfers Healing VB 5K experience.

Our first race without Ashton's best friend and favorite Team Hoyt VB pusher, who is away at college.

All of that equalled one amazing experience, literally, One Perfect Day.

One. Perfect. Day. 

That was the theme of this year's Surfers Healing experience. August 17, 2013 did not disappoint. Nor did the night before either. On August 16th, there was an amazing Welcome Luau for the surfers of Surfers Healing on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Amazing food, great entertainment (the boys enjoyed watching the dancers) and the opportunity to connect with members of the Autism community is always a major plus. Meeting the Surfers and reconnecting with some of our favorites from years past is always a blessed moment. We trepidatiously watched the weather forecase all day and were overjoyed when the Surfers Healing VB folks decided to go ahead with the luau.

Happy Boys prior to the Luau....
We arrived at the Oceanfront for the luau and immediately started running into friends that we knew. The boys were starving,  and were so ready to eat dinner. Luckily, shortly after we got there they started serving food and the dancers and entertainment started. The girls looked beautiful in their costumes and were wonderful dancers.

Then the introduction of the surfers took place. Ashton was thrilled to see his past favorites, Kalani Brown, Kalani Kahalioumi, and Izzy Paskowitz as well as meeting some of the others. 

I knew I was in for a treat when Ashton started wondering around looking for his favorites, wanting to say hi. What a little social butterfly he's become! He was thrilled to see both Kalani's as well as seeing Izzy again. It's always heart-warming to see how these "big surfer dudes" interact with this amazing population of children and families. 

Ashton and "little" Kalani Brown
I was shocked Ashton remembered that this was "little" Kalani upon seeing him!
Kalani had surfed with Ashton on his second time out last year and Ashton loved it.
One of those heart-warming moments that shows Ashton is "aware" and not just plodding through life.
Ashton and the man, Izzy Paskowitz
Always a pleasure to see how Izzy relates to these kids. Izzy's way of connecting with these kids and getting eye
contact from even the most stubborn of kids. He even complimented Ashton in his "good talking" and social skills! Izzy even asked Ashton where his sunglasses were! He remembered that conversation from a
couple of years ago! Amazing considering the number of kids Izzy comes in
contact with every year. Thank You for remembering!
Ashton, the 'blue surfer' Kalani Kahalioumi and Holden
Kalani was Ashton's first surfer back in 2010. He is one of those special souls that Ashton just connected with,
at a time that he didn't easily connect with strangers, or even those outside of his immediate family.
Fortunately, we consider Kalani an extended member of our family now and we even exchange
holiday cards and such at Christmas. Ashton was also thrilled to realize he's nearly
as tall as Kalani now! You know, priorities! :)
We left the luau after meeting new friends, connecting with some previously "Facebook-only" friends and having seen some old friends from various Autism groups and running groups that we're a part of. Ashton even found a little-bitty cute baby that he absolutely adored meeting. He went up and introduced himself to baby Jacob and his family. What was so sweet was the interaction between Ashton and this family. Blair and Jacob, thank you for being so understanding with Ashton's impulses and letting him give the baby kisses and hugs. I've only heard about Baby Jacob about a million and one times since we met you on Friday (hahaha), and Ashton has loved seeing your pictures on Facebook. I'm so glad Aydin had a wonderful time surfing! What a little cutie pie she is!

It was interactions like that one, that lets me know that we've got an amazing and supportive autism community in this area. People are so understanding and forgiving. Not many people would take too kindly to this big 14-year-old boy running up to them and wanting to impulsively touch their baby and give them kisses.

We left the luau with the promise of waves and a fun time the next morning. Ashton was super stoked for the Surfers Healing 5K race and then to surf again. Home for meds, bedtime and packing out stuff up for a fun day at the beach the next day.

I was only slightly worried about how Ashton would do in this first race with Marc being away at college. Fortunately, Marc had helped arrange for his friend, Amory Langley, to push Ashton in this race. I later found out it was a mutual decision between Marc and Amory for this to work out, and for that gentlemen, I am grateful. It helped would could have been a traumatic experience for Ashton, be very pleasant and a lot of fun. Also pushing Ashton in this race was Michael Davis, a fellow Team Hoyt VB runner and dear friend of ours who had pushed Ashton with Marc in last year's Surfers Healing 5K race.

Ashton and Amory, pre-race
Amory, Ashton and Michael, pre-race
Fortunately, nothing could dampen the excitement surrounding the Team Hoyt VB group on Saturday morning the 17th, not even the cool, windy and dreary looking weather. This was to be Amory's first race with Team Hoyt VB and his excitement was a bit catching! Ashton had an amazing 5K race thanks to Amory who finished with a time of 22:58 and also with Michael who finished with a time of 23:37. Amory wanted to make a final push for the finish line so him and Ashton crossed the finish line without Michael. The look of determination on Amory's face was kind of hilarious, seeing as how I'd never really gotten to see him run before. I can see now why he and Marc get along so well. Two peas in a pod those two. David and Holden also ran this race and finished with times of 47:21 and 28:23, respectively. Impressive times by all of them!
Nearing the finish line - Way to run!
Team Ashton ROCKS!
Holden nearing the finish line! As always - perfect form! :)
David, smiling after walking his 5K this time around.
Not sure I'd be so happy after a 5K, even if I was walking!
Then it was time to scope out our place on the beach. We had my inlaws (hubby's parents and his brother) as well as Amory hanging out with us, and a little later, Ashton's former teacher would arrive to hang out as well.

Ashton got his baby fix - baby Jack!!! :)
He didn't even mind sharing his hat with Jack :)
Ashton's surf time was scheduled for 10am and it wasn't long after we got settled that they started calling for Group 3, 10:00am surf time kids. Following in Marc's footsteps from last year, Amory led Ashton over to the line of kids to wait and get his life jacket on.

Ashton had a blast hanging out with Amory!
Ashton decided once again to surf SOLO! This always freaks me out a bit initially, and slightly disappoints, only because when he's asked a question, he nearly almost always answers yes. I know he'd enjoy surfing with someone steering him through the waves probably even more than he does surfing alone. But, he was determined, so off he went, and went he did. He had a BLAST!

hand in hand, he walks off with a volunteer
quick lesson before he gets in the water

A quick little video of Ashton surfing..... :)

Then, I came across this amazing image of Ashton surfing, from Danny Holland, a local professional photographer. This image is actually copied off his Facebook page, so it's not the greatest of quality, but that winning smile makes it my absolute favorite image of Ashton surfing, ever!

Thank you Danny for capturing this amazing picture!
Thank you again to Mr. Christian and Ms. Sonya for assisting Ashton in the water
and making his second solo surfing experience so enjoyable and fun!
That was it. Ashton had a blast! His fourth experience with Surfers Healing had been his best one yet. His first race with Marc being away had went off wonderfully due to Amory's willingness to step in for Marc and with Michael's help, Ashton had a great 5K. His social growth was apparent, his connections with people was apparent and he just had a blessed and wonderful time. 

We're number 1! Hanging out at Tini's frozen yogurt bar. 
But that wasn't the end of his day.... oh no, there was still a surprise in store for him! Marc and Ashton got to Skype Saturday evening, the first of what I'm sure will be many such conversations while Marc is away at Georgia Tech. Just the interactions, even over the computer was so cute and typical of these two. We met Marc's roommate, Andrew (hope I got that right! lol) and Marc's girlfriend, Kaylie. But what warmed my heart, more than anything, was how Ashton and Marc gave each other double high 5s over the computer, just as they would normally do in person. So sweet. Ashton was excited to see and talk to Marc and luckily Marc took Ashton's constant jumping up from the computer very well. After we got done talking to Marc and hung up from the Skype call, Ashton kept looking over at my computer to see if Marc was still there. So cute.

One perfect day. One day away from judgement. One day where Ashton could be as impulsive as he wanted to be and no one would stare. One perfect day with friends, new and old. One perfect day, racing with his favorite group of people. One perfect day surfing. One perfect day of summer.

Yes, it was quite simply, One Perfect Day.