Following The Advice of My Son

Little TDJ has developed a new, favorite expression, “Take it with us.”  He uses it anytime that he wants to bring a toy or a food item from its current place, to travel with us somewhere else.  Normally it refers to the iPad that he’d like to take in the car, or a toy that he wants to take from his play room to another room in the house.

His vocab doesn’t yet contain the words bring or keep, so he uses “take” to represent all three concepts.  Lately, he has been using it to refer to photos of his dad.  Once we’ve completed our nighttime routine and we are preparing to get into the bed, he will grab different framed and unframed photos and say, “take it with us.”  The first time that he asked, I was a little shaken.  He and I got into the bed, along with a pic of our family of three.  I know that he misses his dad and it’s a struggle for him to express how he’s feeling.  That was the first night of many that MrTDJ has “joined” us and whenever he does, our son falls asleep with a smile on his face.

Hmm, I realized that Little TDJ was on to something good.  I’d been trying to find my own way to keep him with me. Regardless of what else is going on, thoughts of my husband are never far from the surface.  And yes, I am still carrying his wallet.  But, I’ve been wanting something else; something tangible.  I know of many who get tattoos in honor of their loved ones.  I debated on that for about three nanoseconds.  Aside from being completely freaked out by the thought of pain, I simply don’t like body art enough to get any on myself.  I’ve seen bumper stickers and back window decals, but I don’t really dig those too much either.  License plate?  Nah.

And then I discovered Posh Mommy.  BAM!  Found it!  My necklace arrived last week and it is perfect.  MrTDJ and Little TDJ in one place.  I touch, rub and twirl it all day.  I am amazed at the sense of calm that drifts over me when I do.  I’ve found my own way to “take it with us”.  Thanks to Little TDJ, a little dude that is wise beyond his years.

***The opinions expressed in this post are mine, and mine alone.  I received no compensation or incentive to write about Posh Mommy Jewelry***

Smiling Through the Tears

It’s back to school time and this morning LittleTDJ headed off for his first day.  He’s returning to the same school that he attended in the spring of this year but he has a new teacher.  It’s his first day of school without his dad there to kiss him and cheer him on.  It’s the first of many, but the sting of the first is definitely strong.  My heart aches and I wish I could make him appear to put an end to this awful, cruel joke.  **deep sigh**  I’m trying to take comfort in the idea that MrTDJ is smiling upon us and watching over our steps.  Have a great day sweetie!!!

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The Intersection of Grace and Grief

During a business meeting today in regards to my husband’s recent death, I was stunned by the comment that a stranger directed at me.  Through eyes glistening with tears, she said, “My heart aches for you and I’m so moved by your grace during this difficult time.  It’s obvious that you are sad and grieving, but your composure is amazing.”  Hmmm.  I’ve heard a variation of this a few times over the last 26 days from family and friends, but hearing it from a stranger gave me pause.  I can hear my husband’s voice in my ear, as if he were still lying beside me in our bed.  “Girl, you’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.  You don’t see it, but everybody else does.”  Ironically, one of MrTDJ’s favorite Whitney Houston songs was, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”.  That’s one of the songs that has been on repeat over the last couple of weeks.

I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster that seems surreal and dizzying most days, but I suppose my internal struggles aren’t visible to the world.  I feel as if my heart has been shattered into a trillion pieces and there’s no such repair kit available.  I’ve always heard the term that everyone grieves differently, and now I actually understand what that means.  As the minutes, hours, days and weeks begin to pass, the loss of my life partner has actually gotten harder.  Since I’m an event planner by trade, my brain outvoted my heart and I put on my business hat to make it through the moments and days right after his death.  I’ve not really allowed my deepest emotions to show because it’s been easier to focus on the “to do” actions.

Our love was strong, flaws and all.  There are moments when I simply crave the perfect imperfections of my life prior to June 9.  Allow me a few minutes to talk about my dear MrTDJ.  Often in death, the deceased is unintentionally canonized into a model of perfection.  Um, no.  Not gonna happen here.  No one walking this earth lives as such and I don’t seek any such illusions for my husband.   My statement isn’t meant to color him in a negative light, rather to say that he was as imperfect a creature as any of us.

When he and I met, we were both young and new to love however we knew from the beginning that we’d found something special in one another.  Folks around us weren’t quite as certain because we appeared to be polar opposites, but we naively and innocently dug our heels in pushed forward.  From 1992 to the morning that my husband passed away, humor united our hearts.  Laughter stayed at the core of our relationship, through all the highs and lows that a twenty year relationship can traverse.  Thinking back, I can’t help but smile at the memory of teaching MrTDJ to tie a necktie, and in return, he taught me to shoot dice.  LOL!  See what I mean?  We were so different, yet alike in the areas that mattered.

I am so happy to have shared the milestones of my youth and adulthood with my husband.   I am blessed with a son who looks just like his father.  Looking into my son’s face, I am transported back to the hallways of T.C. Williams High School and the first time that I laid eyes on my husband.  There are moments when the similarities between the two are a little too much for my fragile heart, but I am hoping that one day those things will bring me nothing but joy.   As a testament to the strength that he believed I possessed and with the support of my family, friends, neighbors, listserve and facebook friends, and this amazing blog community, I am holding it together minute by minute.  I’m wearing clean clothes, keeping my pedicure fresh and not crying in line at Sam’s club.  Being told that I look composed, graceful and calm is a good thing, I suppose.  But please don’t let the glowing skin that’s due to consuming more water than food in the last month fool you into thinking that I’m ok.  My wounds are deep and raw.

Monday, July 2 was my 36th birthday and I was without MrTDJ for the first time since 1992.  He and I celebrated my 16th birthday with Good Humor bars from his neighborhood ice cream truck, and he gave me a shiny new “Virginia is for Lovers” key chain as a gift.  I wanted to write a little something for a few days, but Monday took me to a low place and I wasn’t yet ready.  Today I felt compelled to write.  I debated if I wanted to write in my journal, or share things on the blog.  Words have always brought me peace and comfort, so I decided that a blog entry might be a baby step toward my healing.  MrTDJ was my biggest fan and always encouraged me to write something every day, whether I shared it with no one, him or the world.  He even mailed me an actual “fan” letter once.  That dude.  ***deep sigh***

My husband was known for his loving heart, his quick wit and certainly his smile.  Do a little something for me, would ya?  Please share a laugh and a smile with someone today.  Tell someone you haven’t talked to in forever how much you miss and love them.  And, if you wouldn’t mind, please continue sending all the positive energy and prayers.

When A Mama Bear Reacts

As a young child, I was always mothering my younger cousins.  I’m a nurturer and it seemed that I had an incredible amount of empathy even then.  I’ve been overweight since I was about 10 and one by-product of that has been my empathy for others.  Being judged by the amount of weight you carry is such an awful feeling, I went out of my way to not judge people based on what I saw.  Walking in someone elses shoes is an incredibly hard thing to do, and frankly, most of us don’t do it well at all.

This past weekend, while at the grocery store, Little TDJ and I encountered two very ignorant and vocal women.  We exchanged words and our interaction left me feeling hurt and angry.  I started writing this post on Sunday, but I was still too angry.  Realizing that my anger would do nothing to help the situation, I decided to try to use the moment to share a bit of insight.

There are many who fight about using the terms autism or autism spectrum disorder, they fight about calling it a disorder, disease or disability, they fight about “managing it” vs “curing it”, they fight about whether vaccines cause it or not, etc.  I simply fight for my sons right to live a full life.  I fight for him to be treated with the same kindness and respect that we are each entitled to.

The grocery store can be an overwhelming experience for many children with autism and Little TDJ is no exception.  Because of the bright lights, loud sounds, loads of people and his discomfort with knowing “what comes next”, a supermarket can be the setup for a perfect storm.  I try to shop without him, but that’s not always possible.  So to prepare, we look at picture of markets and watch a few minutes of a cartoon like Team UmiZoomi as they take an adventure to the supermarket.  In the car on the way there, I tell him calmly that we’re going to the market several times and encourage him to clap about our trip.

On Sunday, we set out on a quick trip to pick up a few items.  Our trip started off pretty well.  My son rode in the cart happily and had fun by announcing the number to each aisle that we passed by.  Little TDJ is in love with numbers and knowing their patterns is like a soothing balm for him.  He understands numbers and delights in predicting/remembering their patterns.  In his delight, Little TDJ shouted the numbers very loudly.  Yup, I’m all about full disclosure.  His voice is loud, and sometimes he even yells.  My son didn’t babble much as a baby until about 15 months and he uttered his first word just before his 2nd birthday.   He’s so excited to have found his voice and he wants to be heard.  Since he’s not crying and we’re not in a movie theatre, library or Catholic church, I let him enjoy himself I do encourage him to “talk softly” by placing one hand over each of my ears, a gesture that he understands from school.  Right now however he’s too excited and he can’t.  **shrugs**  We shop on.

Once done, we get into a short line and prepare to check out.  Little TDJ is now focused on reciting the numbers to the check out stations.  We are at line/stand 7.  Unfortunately for us, lanes # 6 and 8 are not open, therefore the numbers above the lanes were not lit.  As Little TDJ counted down from check stand 18, after speaking the number 9, he got to 8 and paused.  Since the 8 wasn’t lit, it flustered him.  It was an unexpected scenario and one that he was unprepared to handle.  He looked at me and I rubbed his back to soothe him, while nodding before speaking.  “It’s ok Little TDJ.  The light is off.  What number comes next?”  He turned away from me and started again at 18.  We  moved slowly in the line and I willed it to go more quickly because I knew my son was on the verge of a possible meltdown.  He paused again when he got to 8.  His eyes welled up with tears and he pointed at check stand 8 accusingly.  I tried to speak to him softly and distract him with counting the keys on my key ring, but he wanted none of that.  He began to shake, cry and he asked for his “Bink” aka pacifier.

So, mouthy ladies 1 and 2, decided to start a whispered dialogue about my son.  Y’all, I can ignore most things from the mouths of strangers and I normally do, however this little convo was intended for my ears.

Mouthy 1:  You could hear him screaming all through the store, I thought somebody was attacking him or something.

Mouthy 2:  And look at him now with a damn pacifier in his mouth.  Child that big has no reason for a damn pacifier.  If he can say his numbers, what he need a pacifier for?

Mouthy 1: ***laughs loudly***  You ain’t neva lied.  Must be retarded or something, and the mama too.  That’s what’s wrong with kids today, their mamas don’t know how to raise ’em right.

I swear it was the “r” word that got me.  I hate the word and find it highly offensive.  A few months back, there was a discussion over at Creole in DC’s blog but I didn’t chime in.  I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I read interesting posts at other sites and can’t quite get my thoughts together at that moment to write the kind of response I’d like to write.  I didn’t even want to include the word in this post, but I wanted to convey things the way they happened.

A quick internal discussion ensued.  Did I need to say something or could I let it go?  I know that my son does not suffer from mental retardation, nor do it.  Was it important to let those women know?  Aside from the laughter and scorn, I heard judgment in their voices.  Did I care that they were judging me and making a snap determination of my parenting skills?  And if I did care, why?  The people who know and love Little TDJ and myself know what kind of child he is and what kind of mother I am.  We’ve discussed his usage of the pacifier thoroughly with his medical team and we’re all on the same page.  Why was I so upset with two strangers whom I would never see again?

I could come up with a really long explanation but here’s the quick and simple truth – their comments weren’t nice and they hurt my feelings.  My son isn’t yet able to understand those kinds of conversations, but when he is, I’m sure those comments would have hurt his feelings too.  I was offended for Little TDJ, for myself, and for other special needs parents and children.  So, I let loose on them.  In my head, it went something like this:

But, in reality, I spun around and said, “You don’t have a right to know, nor do I have a responsibility to educate you but I will so that someone meaner than me won’t whoop your asses one day.  My wonderful son has autism.  Neither his counting or sucking a pacifier to calm down are any of your f*cking business.  He’s not retarded but clearly you’re both stupid as hell.  Watch your mouths and mind your business!”  I was shaking when I finished.  I whipped back around and paid for my groceries.  From behind me, four other patrons were doing this:

Once Little TDJ and I got into the car, I thought of a million other things that I could have and should have said to them.  But, in that moment, I was too emotional and I’m lucky that I was even able to be that coherent.

I recognize that we all people watchIt’s human nature.  We notice things and we make assumptions.  Then sometimes, we take our assumptions a step further and make judgments and often, when in the presence of others, we turn those judgments into jokes to be shared.  I’m not the moral authority on anything, but I suggest using more empathy and I encourage folks to not be so quick to make assumptions and harsh judgments.

Shining My Little Light

I’ve been blogging since November of 2006.  Wow.  Really??  Yes, really.  I had to go back to the archives to confirm the date.  I never actually thought I would blog this long, but I love getting my thoughts out.  An unexpected by-product occurred when I started “meeting” and getting to know other bloggers and commenters.  I’m one of those bloggers that walks the line between anonymity and being known.  I started off completely anonymous, barring my initials of course, then along the way I met other bloggers who’ve posted my picture and name on their sites, with links back to me my site.  No biggie, I’m not wanted by law enforcement.  Eventually, family and friends who don’t blog asked me to post my blogs to facebook.  I complied without giving it too much thought.  Not quite so anonymous anymore, huh?

I’ve been having an internal debate over a few issues that I don’t speak about on the blog.  Then two things happened – Sunday’s “Stream of Conciousness” topic was “What are some things you wish you could blog about but can’t?”.  One of my blog buddies, Rose’s Daughter, opened up in her post.  I felt myself leaning toward publishing a draft that has been sitting for months.  Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control released new findings regarding autism in America.  I sat at the computer this morning and started typing.

In January 2011, my fantastically happy, rambunctious, clever two-year old son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (for the purpose of this post, I’m simply going to refer to it as autism)  I’d never met anyone with autism and it simply wasn’t something that I heard discussed often.  Of course I knew it existed, but like most people, my only real point of reference was Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant performance in “Rain Man“.  Announced yesterday, 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls) in the US have autism.  One in 88 children?  One in 54 boys?  Think of 2 elementary school classrooms.  At least one (if not more) of those boys will have autism.

Thankfully, we noticed some things that didn’t feel quite right at a very early stage.  For a disorder like autism, early intervention is the key to providing the best therapeutic and educational opportunities.  LittleTDJ has been blessed with some of the best therapists and teachers.  We are so very honored to have him in our lives.  He’s teaching everyone around him that labels are unimportant as he continues to exceed all stereotypes and preconceived notions regarding his diagnosis and his future.   My son’s diagnosis is not the dark, gloomy cloud that I feared it would be.  Rather, he’s brightening each of our days with his unique ability to see the world in a truly different way.  In fact, his charismatic personality and engaging smile have thrust us into the forefront of some autism awareness activities such as participating in the production of educational videos and commercials.  I decided to share with my blog family because I think it’s important to give a voice and face to this disorder.

I’ve never posted a picture of myself or my family on this site, but I’ve decided that today is the day.  I’m delighted to show my blog family a picture of Little TDJ.  He is the greatest joy in my life.  And today’s the day that I ask y’all to do something for him.  For our family.  For families around the world.

April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.  Light It Up Blue, in its third year, is a unique global initiative by Autism Speaks to help raise awareness about the growing public health concern that is autism. Iconic landmarks around the world will Light It Up Blue to show their support.

What can you do?  Well, I’m happy you asked.  We need your help in shining the light on autism.  You can mosey on over to Home Dep.ot, Low.es, or Targ.et and grab one, two or ten blue lights.  Change the bulbs on your porch/patio and shine them brightly on April 2.   You can wear an item of blue clothing.  Heck, leave the bulbs in all month and wear as blue as your own.  And, if you get a chance, do a little reading about what autism is and what it isn’t.

Having autism is only one part of who my son is.  He has blessed and enriched our lives beyond measure and he’s just 3 years old.  Together, my family and I will be working to shine the light on autism in America, especially amongst minorities where children are diagnosed at lower rates and at higher ages.  I’ve decided to start a series of posts related to autism and how it is affecting our lives.  Not sure how regular it will be cause y’all know I don’t ever want to feel pressured to blog.

I believe that LittleTDJ was a unique gift bestowed upon me from God.  He hugged me this morning and issued one of his favorite requests, “10 kisses please”.   How could I resist?

Why aren’t more people talking about autism?  I don’t know.  I do know that the initial diagnosis hit me like a sledgehammer and I needed time to adjust.  Time to conduct research, time to get my emotions in check, and time to get myself ready to face the world on behalf of my son.  Has autism affected you personally?  Do you have any experiences that you’d like to share?  Do you have any questions regarding autism in general?  Ask away and I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability.  Please don’t utter the phrase, “I’m so sorry” or I’ll ban you from the blog!  =)

What Did MrsTDJ Say?

Hey blog world, what’s the haps?  I’ve been busy at work, therefore kinda quiet over in these parts.  But, I had to pop in to tell you about a conversation that I had in the office yesterday.

Hubs, LittleTDJ and I took some pics over the Christmas holiday, so I framed one pic of LittleTDJ and placed it on my desk at work.  Folks had been gently teasing me for months since the last pic I had framed was from his dedication ceremony, October 2009.   Yeah, yeah, I know. Zip it!

The pic is of a happy and smiling LittleTDJ, the same as my current facebook profile pic for any of ya’ll who are my buds over there.  Insert random co-worker who seems to have a somewhat weird fascination with LittleTDJ.  Let’s call her Dorothy.  Why?  Because she reminds me of Bea Arthur’s character, Dorothy, from the Golden Girls.   So, prior to my pregnancy, Dorothy and I were barely on a “hi/bye” level.  Once she found out that I was pregnant, she began stopping by my desk to chat and emailing me once a week “to check on your health”.  Um, I’m fine.  How are you?  **sigh**  She bought me a big ticket baby shower item and she’s constantly hovering to see pics of my dude.  Hmmm.  Ok.  I tend to keep our convos short and brief, he’s great, he’s happy, getting big, blah blah blah.  I know that random folks love babies and feel connected and happy just being around them.  I get it, but Dorothy is a little um….extra.

Anyway, yesterday went like this:

Dorothy:   Oh my gracious!!  This is a new picture!

**clearly it is, so I remain silent**

Dorothy:   Wow MrsTDJ, he is such a handsome little boy.  I mean each picture and he keeps getting cuter and cuter.

Me:     Thanks Dorothy.  He’s a really great little guy and he brings us so much joy.

Dorothy:    And his features, they’re just so…..so…..exquisite.  I just can’t get over how beautiful he is.

**ok Dorothy, I get it.  He’s cute.  You’re starting to creep me out a little.**

Dorothy:    You know, he favors you a little, but he really takes after your husband.

Me:    Yup, he sure does.  Two peas in a pod.

Dorothy:    And since your husband is handsome, and then you add in your complexion, I’m almost speechless just looking at him.

**ok Dot, I’m gonna need you to cool  your heels.  I’m already creeped out and you’re getting ready to make me mad.  You’re approaching a minefield and you seem completely oblivious**

Dorothy:    I’ve just gotta say, over the years, I’ve seen some really cute black babies.  But really, this little guy takes the cake.

**silence and hard stare**

 

Dorothy:    Honestly?  I think that blacks make much cuter babies than blacks.  Even when the parents aren’t that attractive, you guys turn out the best babies.

Me:  ????????????????????????????????????????


So dear reader, how long have ya been reading your girl?  Do you feel like you have a teeny inkling about your girl would react in this situation?  What do you think I said and did in response to Dorothy?  What would you have said and done?

Tears, Shears and Fear

In my world, long hair is for women. Personally, I don’t like men with hair.  I’m more than a little grossed out when I see grown ass men with big afros, cornrows, perms, curls, braids, ponytails and dreads.   Ice Cube?  Yuck with the Jherri curl, Nice with the low cut.  Luda?  Icky with the cornrows and afro, Cute with the low cut.  Snoop?  Ridiculous with the curls, perms and braid.  Without?  Well, he’d still be a NO, but you get my point.  Grown men shouldn’t have that much hair.   Why is it that I can only think of rappers or sports figures with an abundance of hair?  Hmm. . . . . . Anyway, as adult men, they are allowed to make those decisions.  However, I’m downright irritated when I see any variation of the same on little boys.   I hate it!  It’s their child so my opinion means nothing, but I get a little pissed at the parents too.  Sorry if I’ve just described your son or the child of someone you love, but I still hate it!   I know that many like it, love it even, but not me.

My son was born January 13, 2009 with a head full of hair.  Ugh!  His hair became my nemesis, my arch enemy, my Achilles heel, my kryptonite!!!   I simply hated it; every long, curly strand.  And, the longer it got, the more I hated it.  Unfortunately, MrTDJ and my grandmother, LuLu the Great, were adamant about him not having a hair cut before his first birthday.  They are both pretty superstitious and the folklore behind cutting a baby’s hair before age 1 is serious.  “You’ll make him stutter”, “You’ll stunt his growth”, and my personal favorite, “He’ll become cross eyed.” There are a million more, but those are the three explanations that you hear most often on this subject.   I knew that I would NOT be doing anything other than brushing and oiling my son’s hair until such time as I could cut it all off.

I was excited for baby TDJ’s birthday because a baby’s first birthday is super special.  That first year was hard, and I was proud that MrTDJ and I hadn’t accidently killed him, or deliberately killed each other.  But, secretly, I was more excited about the haircut that we would give him on January 14.  I was so anxious that I wanted to take the day off work to prepare for the event.  I didn’t, but I wanted to.  Due to circumstance outside my control, we didn’t get to actually do the cutting until January 16.  And folks, it was the most miserable 3 hours I have ever spent with my husband and child.   My little guy cried, moaned, wailed and made sounds I didn’t know were humanly possible.  Our neighbors surely thought that his father and I were KILLING him.  Because his hair was so long, we initially took some length off with scissors before going to the clippers.  Lawd, that boy gave me and the scissors the side eye, while doing evasive maneuvers with his neck. Once MrTDJ went in with the clippers?  **SMH**  The little guy cried, I cried, MrTDJ got frustrated with the both of us while trying not to cry.  I know that baby TDJ wasn’t actually in any physical pain, but it really hurt me to see him in so much discomfort.   I think fear of the unknown mixed with the irritation of being partially restrained by me, frustrated and angered our little guy.  I kept trying to reassure and soothe him, but it didn’t help one bit.  No one of us was any better until the process was complete and the clippers were firmly back in their case.  These early cuts don’t even include a shape up!  Whew!  It was an ordeal.

So, tell me ya’ll, why 3 months later did I think it would really be any easier? Last night, MrTDJ and I again tortured our little man with his 2nd haircut.   I suppose I hoped that because he was a few months older, he wouldn’t be so upset by the process.  I hoped that it wouldn’t seem as new and as scary as it had the first time.  Well, I guess I was half right – it must not have seemed new, because the minute he saw the case to the clippers, he dropped his cookie and burst into tears.  **sigh**    I’m still drained from all the tears.  My optimism, that this will get easier with age, is fading.   I had hoped that one day soon, I’d have the little dude smiling below at the barber shop, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I guess this is still better than having to braid the hair of little girl.