My son has begun to leave traces of his drawings and coloring everywhere. He loves drawing these days because Mo Whilems taught him how to draw a pigeon trying to drive a bus. He also loves coloring because alpha blocks are zesty and full of colors. They taught him how to color within alphabet known as blocks. It’s as if he has begun an endless hunger for art. But it’s his art assignment at school that has me mesmerized this morning. Coloring or drawing didn’t come naturally or easy to him. Here is a boy for whom coloring between the lines or within spaces was a chore. There were assignments full of coloring that he never really completed, never really understood, and saw as a waste of time, if as things to assign. The colors he placed rather haphazardly disturbed nothing, moved nothing too. From then on, coloring became a chore, another thing to do, another thing, often described as boring, this thing that we bore into him.

Pigeon from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
Alpha block

Until this summer, our summer of light, our summer full of discoveries. It was this summer, one with no therapy, that my son discerned for himself, the intimate sustained surrender to art for art’s sake. In the absence of demands, through frames that are separate, yet particular, a pigeon, alphablocks, and now the Virgin Mary, this thing that was once boring, complements his minds’s many dazzling ways, deepening an enduring desire to do more, be more, involved yes, but consumed more with what he creates with his own hands. A pigeon, alpha blocks, even the Virgin Mary all pry open the pages of his intriguing mind. His art, has become now, more important, than his silence, more important than days where his mind frays or melts down. This is a keep worth reliving over and over again, one where his art is becoming life, one frame at a time.

Virgin Mary

I asked him, why he even painted Virgin Mary brown. Most depictions are of a fair lady, fairer than the white of snow. His is only 7 years and I am fascinated with how he depicts humanity. His response as clear as a sunny day: because she is supposed to be brown. I don’t take this response lightly. His mind is a puzzling masterpiece to all of us that know him intimately. To see this journey, to watch as he follows his path, through art, through colors, through people, is to see possibilities with minds on a spectrum. All of us that are typical have so much to learn from children on the spectrum, whether from their thoughts on pigeons, or alpha blocks or Virgin Mary. Don’t wait for society to tell us how they should act or speak or even react to ways that are untypical to a typical mind. Each of us are destined to use the skills we have to meet minds that dream of days were dreaming is life’s streaming, this beaming in need of more esteeming. I am learning each day that those of us with the privilege to see how the brain works differently are the lucky ones. How each coloring, each drawing becomes a thing worth keeping is my prayer for you, for me, a desire for what to come when we all keep coloring. Keep it, because it’s what you, we, are all supposed to do.

There is nothing like introducing a child to Shel Silverstine. ‘A light in the attic’ being one of my favorite of his. Of course ‘where the sidewalk ends’ is equally fantastic. Then don’t let me get started on ‘the giving tree.’ Everything he wrote and illustrated is truly worthy of praises. Not because he was gifted with his craft, but more so because of his rare combination of poems and drawings for dreamers and those who love to imagine, believers and those who like to believe differently, thinkers and those who do so differently, dream, believe and think, different. To introduce him to my son was a delight. To watch the light in his attic flicker on was joy. We spent the entire summer drawing, all sorts of pigeon particularly from Mo Willems ‘Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus.’ Discovering drawing with cartoons was one of the best thing we did we all summer with him. I never knew he loved to draw until this summer thanks to Mo Willems and his brilliantly simple tales of a pigeon.

It allowed him to focus, as in not for minutes but hours even on pigeons, drawing and illustrating books and books of it in other versions like The Pigeon gets a hotdog. He was not only drawing, but committing words to memory, reciting them all to himself in ways that make sense to his mind. Doing so, allowed him to temper his meltdowns. Some drawings will be poor, full of mistakes too. Some will make you mad, disappointed or frustrated with yourself too. But the ones that stand the test of time. The ones that defy the odd and leap through the pages to tell your story as clearly as you want are the ones full of joy, full of delight, full of all his light.

Now enter Shel Silverstine. Before there was Mo and all his pigeon tales, Silverstine shined brightly. A light in the attic is a classic of his. Short and sweet for minds quirky but full of treats. And my son’s mind is superb, with Silverstine’s work a gentle treat, so soft but full of power like the sounds of a drumbeat. Where he ends, whether with the bridge that only my son can take across his mind past moonlit woods on a magic carpet through the air or past whistling and whirling winds from skies so grey, is where my som begins. The journey is endless with Shel Silverstine and I can wait to watch as he journeys through it all. There is a light in the attic of his mind. Though we are all outside, we keep looking as flickers with his light.

On nights we make believe, I tell the story of the old lady who lived in a shoe. It’s a short story and my kids seem to like my many take on the lady. Like why a shoe, or why so many children? Why even feed them one by one? Why didn’t she even know what to do?

These questions often come to mind the moment our storytelling begins. We never find a definite answer but I like the creative process of thinking through in depth, more details about the old lady and her shoe. My son said she loved the shoe that’s why they lived in it. I asked, can you imagine what it would be like to live in a shoe? How tight such a space maybe? How big might the shoe even be for all of us to wiggle and snuggle ourselves in? And what about the old lady, why did she do all she could to still feed her children?

Stories like the old lady personify why motherhood is full of moments that linger on in my mind long after events go by. Moment that are not only full of struggles like those of the old lady but also full of strength and survival especially with our children. Moments like yesterday.

On the plane back to Saint Louis yesterday, I reminisced about the first days of traveling on airplanes with my son on the spectrum. They were horrible and forever etched in my mind as one of the many things not to do. Yet we did them because we had to travel. One moment I recalled was a trip from Indianapolis to Augusta, Ga via Atlanta. We had to get on two planes. My son cried from the beginning to the end of the trip. He was only 2 years old. I was like the old woman in the shoe. I never knew what to do in those days. Nothing worked. Not IPads, not snacks of all kinds. Nothing seemed to work. My son cried and couldn’t whip him soundly to sleep.

But yesterday, as I watched my son, now seven years old, totally mesmerized by his growth, I felt like the old woman in the shoe. His ways are truly full of moments that linger on long after they occur. You have to literally take them all one by one, whip them soundly into unforgettable moments, like the old lady in the shoe. The layers to his being, are literally being peeled away, one by one and I am learning what to do these days with ease.

I asked if he was having a great time. He said yes. I asked what was his favorite part of the trip. Being on the airplane, he said. Here was a boy who cried and cried in the beginning. We still have miles and miles to go. But I am learning to love watching him grow day by day.

We went by water yesterday. My kids and I. Not a big water park as before. But a small indoor pool perfect for cooling down the rays of heat of a truly scorching summer.

I didn’t want to go. I still remember the meltdown from our prior excursion to a water park. I didn’t even bring out my green swimming suit. No need to swim when your mind and eyes need to stay alert. And I was prepared to stay alert this time around.

I spoke to my son with a gentle ease. I do it all the time too, eyes to eyes. He seemed to listen with ease, talking and repeating word for word like a gentle breeze. I told him we would go by water again and this time we will have a great time. I reminded him of the need to not cry. I took him to the side to quell all the noise I knew his brain was destined to make. Spoke power to him to overcome them, to enjoy being one with water, to look forward to the experience coming to an end too. I did all this because I didn’t want to end as we did the last time. I didn’t want eyes on us. I certainly didn’t want a meltdown like before. I still feel tense whenever I recall the experience. I also know he doesn’t mean it hence why I would still take him by water even though I know it may end badly.

We got dressed. He wore his favorite blue swimming shirt and pants. The words fortnite in a camo print were written on his shirt. Praying to not rewrite history still kept me alert. I watched as he gently made sense of all the water around him. I did so watching his other siblings too, better than any hawk would too. His sister went up and down a large yellow water slide. His little brother found joy up and down a red water slide. My son stood next to the water dripping down in a progressive style next to the water slide. The twirling water from little spouts seemed to make him joyful and surprisingly gentle.

He seemed happy to just watch water gush out of the spouts gently. Watching him watch water kept me in a state so gentle. Honestly words failed me. Here I was expecting the worse given our prior attempts at a water park that left me so drained. But he once more proved why children on the spectrum are truly divine by design. By the end of the day, approximately 20 minutes to my timed departure, when I said it’s time to leave, he asked if he could have one more turn on the silde. His response kept me stunned that all I could do was nod my head.

I watched as he went up and down the slide one more time, watched his face light up with joy one more time, saw as he came out of the pool with his brother and sister one more time, all with a gentle ease that kept me stunned for a long time. Here is truly my son, whose spectrum is perfect and by God’s design. I cannot fully make sense of the changes we go through with him all the time. But I am grateful to see the boy his is growing up to be one step at a time. Keep these gentle ease for kids like him. Great days are full of joy, full of ease, truly gentle, and all by design.

As a flower, Hibiscus ranges from white, to pink, to orange and red. It’s beauty greets your eyes and leads you on a journey where your heart is fully fed. The diversity of its shape, it’s size and it’s color, even it’s shrub is outstanding, full of brilliance, full of elegance. My hands touched a hibiscus this week. It was at the swimming lodge by our home, where my children attended a week-long swimming camp. It sent the petals on it way, whirling through the air, these tiny specks bobbing, all through the air. A brilliance seemed to surround the flowers, all around them beamed, a great brilliance. It’s power I noticed, strikes you in the heart and in the head. For one brief moment, you too are like the Hibiscus, and brilliance fills your being wholly.

I imagine this is what great days in the summer are like with children. Brilliance like pink hibiscus flowers that, wholly fill your being with a joy, you may never have imagined, joy that you hope to capture, even if fleeting, for even now, you maybe wondering, how joy became your portion, with the demands of your children occupying every single minute of your day. As hibiscus flowers open up, as their brilliance radiates in full bloom, even if for a moment, you will feel joy, screaming through your pores, even when you lay helpless wondering how the summer days will last. My motto, take it one moment at a time. Summer days as a mom are supposed to be brilliant and they rarely are. The demands of your children are supposed to end once you address their needs, but they rarely do. The hot air is supposed, to want them to stay cool, even lay low if they can, but they never do. Yet through it all, how we mothers find ways to reach and teach, listen and lead the scenes, all of them from summer camps to summer schools, even for brief rare moments, leaves me thankful for the blessed assurance of Hibiscus.

I knew that summer days following homeschooling and a pandemic would be tough. What I didn’t plan for was to be sent home early after only day 2 of swimming camp with my middle child. I knew that anything with water would be a problem for him. But I also wanted him to learn to manage his meltdowns whenever he goes by water. Day 1 involved crying at the end of the day, because I didn’t bring a change of clothes. I was following the camps instructions and hoped for a better Day 2. It was disastrous. I wondered why I kept insisting that my son learnt in this way. The camp counselors called an hour into camp and noted he was crying. He wanted to go on the slides. His shorts had rivets. Campers with rivets are not allowed on slides. My son had a meltdown. They asked what to do. I said try saying Dad was on his way to get him. They did. He cried louder. I eventually came and got him. This was only Day 2. These meltdowns are dreadful. Especially when his minds cannot get past the denied access for example. It’s denial makes him cry non-stop, repeating the same phrases over and over again. Like ‘no slides.’ ‘But why.’ Nothing seems to end it. The anguish subsides for a moment when you remove him for the place causing the meltdown. He may still sob. But eventually, it comes to an end, and slowly his brilliance returns and surround his being. Day 3, armed with new swimwear and a change of clothes, meant that my son had a brilliant day. The utter brillance in his demeanor, left the counselors stunned. It was like night and day. We know, always that when the conditions are right, his being would be brilliant. The conditions were right the rest of the week. By Friday, the last day of swimming camp, he got an award for the individual with the most fun. His sister got one too for the best participation. She was instrumental with helping to ensure he had a great time at the swimming camp.

Looking back, the brilliance of this week were like those that surround hibiscus flowers I noticed at the swimming lodge. A brilliance seemed to surround us this past week with swimming, all around a great brilliance. From the meltdowns, to the upside down nature of mothering on the spectrum, the diversity of nurturing from moments to moments, keeps my head and heart fully fed with joy. Keep the brilliance of Hibiscus for mother’s during summer days.

My son loves to go to water parks. It always ends in disaster. I also seem to forget this happens all the time. Today maybe the last time. We planned to go to a water park awhile back. Today was the day. The kids have been waiting for it’s arrival. It began like most days, very uneventful, but full of excitement. They all got up early. Took their bath without prompting. Got dressed, ate breakfast. I should have known that the ease with which the day began was premonition of sorts. We got to the water park. Things started to go out of control the moment they saw all the rides. My son on the spectrum became another being. Gone were his stimming or anything that makes him recognizable as being on the spectrum. There are no signs, no visible scars or disabilities to say out loud, treat him with care at the park. So naturally everything went out the door with him.

He was cutting lines, jumping from one water park slide to another, all with pure excitement that almost all children at the park had. I knew I was in for trouble the moment I said, lunch. Any other day, my son would be ready for lunch. Ready even to tell you what he wanted. I also have code words for leaving parks. For example at the Zoo, we almost always end the day with trains and then ice-cream. It works all the time. Maybe it’s because we go to the Zoo frequently. I had no exit plans for the water park and I knew I was in big trouble. I said let’s get some ice-cream. Nothing. Let’s get Papa John’s pizza. Still nothing. Can we listen to music. Nothing. What about Dad? Should I call him. Nothing. Absolutely nothing I said to him helped to usher our departure. And so what started as a fun, even uneventful day, ended up in massive meltdown.

I was that mom with a child crying inconsolably that everyone started to stare and stare. If I could hide, I would. He screamed, shouted, shaked himself, almost took his clothes off even, all because I said we were leaving the water park. It took us close to 30 minutes to change his clothes and the whole time he was crying nonstop. Everyone was staring at us. Everyone. I tried to calm him down. Asked to take deep breaths, even held him tightly to quell the meltdown. Nothing worked. It didn’t help that it was an extremely hot day and everyone was tired. His cries meant, baby was crying as he wanted my attention. My other neurotypical son who is pretty chill during these occasions started to cry himself asking that I hold him too. We literally cried from the park all the way to the car and all the way back to were we are staying for the weekend. And yes by the time we got home, I was that mother that said emphatically ‘no more water park.’

I have said it before during our last meltdown 2 years ago during another similar incident at a water park. Something about water parks just doesn’t work for my son. I know he loves water and he would love to stay at one all day if he could, but the meltdowns at the end are so severe that it makes me look like a bad mom with everyone just staring with eyes that question why we can’t control him. I wanted to shout that he is autistic. Stop staring and leave us alone. But that would be futile too.

At the end of the day, after still giving him music and ice-cream and pizza post the meltdown, he seems like the angel I know. I almost feel tempted to go back and say, see he is not a terrible kid, just on the spectrum and kindly show empathy to us, to him. It’s the keep for me. Autism is tough, but we are tougher and when you see any child crying uncontrollably, don’t stare. If you can, help to console him. Otherwise, move on with your life. Your staring makes it’s worse as he feeds off your stares and no we are not bad or terrible parents. Just parenting as best as we can even through the meltdowns and your questioning stares. And stop staring. It only makes things worse and doesn’t help. Keep this in mind the next time you see an autistic child crying inconsolably at a water park.

I watched as she accepted her brothers ways. As she knew he was different, knew he had meltdowns, even knew we called it autism. I vividly remember the day a parent from her school sent an email to me because of what she shared in class. She told her classmates that her brother had an illness, one that makes him different from most children. The parent reached out, to console us. I thanked them and explained his type of difference, his being on the specturm. They understood. I wondered if she did. If she too bore the weight of his difference as she would say. The many times we canceled one activity or the other, one event or the other, was never really about her but him. I wondered if she knew.

Over the years I have seen the toll being a sibling to a brother on the spectrum can take. I have tried my best to shield her from it, from his meltdowns, from his difference. There are days when we struggle and nothing seems to make sense to his brain. On those days, everyone wishes for this difference as she calls it to go away. But then there are days, when his essence is like a ray of sunshine, when his smile is like the perfect poetry, long on words that vividly make the soul leap with joy, like a new born in their mom’s womb. On those days, I wonder what she is also thinking. I wonder if the weight of this difference is a bit lighter on her too.

It’s hard to comprehend what the past 7 years maybe for her. But I still vividly remember the day she first met him at the hospital. Her hair was tied in knots we call thread hair style, a feat accomplished by mama. She wore pink overalls, with a pink turtle neck sweater underneath and pink tights. She was so happy to see us at the hospital. Her joy leaped up some more the moment she laid eyes on her baby brother. All she muttered over and over again while holding him close to her heart was he is mine, mine, mine. He has always remained hers over the years and he knows to. Always seeking her attention, her approval for things as mundane as what to read or how to play. She has become the fearless leader of men, not afraid to walk the earth because she boldly leads the way. I love her leadership and I know only time will tell but for today keep the many wonderful ways of being a sibling in mind. Especially to one on the spectrum. They are beyond resilient in every single fiber of their being because they first loved and saw love differently.

In the spirit of resting, I had this grand idea to go by the lake yesterday. I have heard so much about Creve Coeur Lake and so the goal was to finally check it out. Summer plans for this year will include nature walks and trips to the lake at least in my plan, since it’s only 15minutes from our home. It was also close to 80 degrees by the time we set out around 11am. I anticipate this would be a long hot one given that it’s only May. The lake itself was beautiful. Simple with a long stretch of trail for walking, running or biking. Everyone seemed to be doing the same thing I wanted which is to simply be closer to nature. One of my sons on the other hand, had other things in mind. I keep forgetting about his love for repetitive behaviors whenever he comes across certain things he has done before. Today’s request, a boat ride on the lake.

At Creve Coeur Lake!

Early this year, I wrote a post about wanting to go on a train at the Saint Louis Zoo, just for us to end up on a boat ride next the Zoo because of a massive meltdown at the Zoo (the trains were not working that day). Little did I know that despite all his tears and pleas for the train, he actually loved the boat ride and well associated it with lakes, all lakes now. At the Creve Coeur lake, there were 2 white sailboats on the lake and a father with his 2 sons and a daughter kayaking. There were no boat house or places to rent a boat. And so the repetition began. Rather than simply enjoying the walk by the lake, or playing with the water as his siblings were, my son pleaded for a boat ride.

Next to the lake!

His insistence on going on a boat began the moment we crossed the street and started our walk until the end. I spent the nearly 40 minutes walk we took, assuring him that we will go on a boat ride, just not at this lake but by the boat house at Forest Park which was about 22 minutes from the lake. It was almost like I was talking to a brick as nothing I said to assure him seemed to work. He also seemed to a least walk along the trail so that helped a lot. Plus being close to nature I have come to learn does wonders for his being. Though his insistence for a boat ride occurred throughout the walk, he walked nonetheless, repeating the same thing, as he walked. When the walk was over, I motioned it was time for lunch. Then we go on a boat, he said, almost immediately. I said sure. We got lunch. He barely ate his, just focused on the boat. He even knew the road to the boat house. I never really think that he is paying attention, but with each passing day, I see and know first hand that he is. When we got to the boathouse, the place was crowded. An impromptu band was playing next to the restaurant. I drove up a bit to see if there were any boats sitting on the dock. There were some. So we packed our car and headed to rent a boat. The moment we got on it, my son looked like he was in heaven. Rest also became his portion. I also seemed to know how to drive the boat this time such that we all took the time to enjoy the many wonderful gifts of nature.

Like a white egret which flew across our path along the lake. Or the quiet streams of water flowing through the lake. Yesterday was as gentle and beautiful as I never would have imagine. And a boat ride, thanks to my son’s love for sameness, helped usher in rest. Sometimes society, myself included may feel like we have all the answers and know what is best for us. I am learning everyday with accepting my sons love for sameness, that connecting certain things together like a lake and a boat ride is just as powerfully as merely walking on a lake. We started the day walking next to a lake. I thought that was plenty. But we ended the day literally on the lake. It was the serenity I didn’t even know I needed until my son vocalized it over and over again. I listened and my soul at the end of the day, felt at ease. Keep boat rides on lakes in mind even if vocalized by a 7 year old on the spectrum. They do wonders for the soul. Ooh and now he thinks Saturday’s are for boat rides. Wish me luck this summer.

The school year is coming to an end. My son is thriving. Something that seemed so difficult to do back in the fall, seems so easy to him these days. Homeschooling a child on the spectrum was by far one of the difficult things I have ever done. Not because my son isn’t bright, but more so because home is home and not school. Merging the two, home and school was too much for his brain to handle. And so we had our share of meltdowns, so many that recollection won’t even do them justice. So why even keep this? Because I see the possibilities and potential everyday. I see his light even as the school year slowly comes to an end.

It’s like a switch is flickering, deciding still if to stay full lit, but definitely hovering towards light. That’s what schooling my son feels like these days. Pure night and day. Pure joy and bliss. To watch him do work all on his own, without prompting, without cajoling, without pleading, without even bribing him, none of which worked on our tough days, is bliss. That this day has finally arrived even as the school year comes to an end is like the quote I shared previously about things being impossible. With kids on the spectrum, it will always feel and seem impossible, until they in their own unique way, defy expectations. I was simply fine with whatever we got out of him. But to see him pushing himself, without my help is the light I needed to see at the end of this pandemic school year tunnel. For kids like my son, ‘there is always light,’ like Amanda Gorman would say, ‘if only we are brave enough to see it.’ I see it everyday, and it truly fills my heart with joy. Keep this light for boys, and children like my son. They will defy expectations if only we are brave enough to see it, brave enough to them light up this world. And to see them in their light, to see and feel their potential is the very thing I needed as we begin to wrap this very strange school year up. It’s amazing how he continues to light my world.

My son never ceases to amaze me. He did again with math during homeschooling today. He was preparing for a test next week and his teacher wanted to assess whether he would be able to do it all by himself. The instructions were to give him the worksheet and let him be. I knew this was going to be a long morning. I gave him the worksheet and his pencil. He wrote his name with ease, without any prodding. I should have known that would be the sign of how our morning would occur. He proceeded to start and before completing the first problem, he asked whether he could have my computer afterwards. I said yes. The worksheet was complex, at least to me. It had both addition and subtraction. His brain loves order and so I figured this may not be an an easy one for him. The first math problem asked that he add 8+7. He stared at the problem and did nothing. I asked that he focused. His mind wandered. He asked if he could have the computer again. I said sure. He asked whether he could do the problems on his own. I said by all means. He asked if I remembered how he used to do all his work by himself at our old house. I said of course and can you do the same now. He started to play with his pencil. He looked at the worksheet after close to 3 minutes and said 15, the answer is 15. I was shocked.

I expected him to count, to write out sticks, anything from all we have been doing to teach him how to do math. He had other ideas on his own. I actually thought it was a fluke too and proceeded to ask that he try the next problem, this time 9+8. His mind had other plans of its own. He asked if he could have the computer after work again. I said of course. He reminded me that he could do the work on his own. I said please go ahead. We did this back and forth until he blurted 17, the answer is 17. I was now in awe. How come? If you know what we go through with teaching him anything then you would understand.

Here is a kid who has a love hate relationship with school work with the hate winning on most days. But on days where love is supreme, nothing can stand in the way of the brain’s many gifts. So I proceeded to walk away. Maybe I’m the distraction. Maybe he can’t seem to focus because I remind him always to focus. I went in search of additional light as the room felt dark to me. I stepped away for about 3-4 minutes and by the time I returned, he was on problem 7. I checked prior math problems. They were all correct. I said nothing and watched in silence as the brain did what it knew best. A short time later, he was done. He didn’t count, he didn’t draw sticks, he just looked at the math problem and supplied the answer.

I really have no words except to keep this here today. This is a reminder to myself and to all mothers with kids on the spectrum to say that we should never underestimate the brain’s many unique ways. Here is a child for whom homeschooling can be though, for whom even math problems can be difficult at times, but today, when he did what worked for him, everything, including completing a math problem that seemed complex was as gentle as a breeze. Keep seeing this form of thriving with kids on the spectrum. They do and can underestimate even your own ideas of their abilities if you let them be. Keep thriving even with math