True, Special Friends

Aaron attends a special needs day group on Monday through Friday.  This day group, Paradigm, has clients of various ages – all adults – that have a variety of special needs.  They are out in the community nearly every day attending a host of different events and activities. 

Aaron has developed friendships there over the years.  Like any group that is together as often as they are, there are ups and down.  Then you throw in the special needs, medicines and side effects of medicines, behavior issues, lack of filters, and so much more – and there can be plenty of noise and drama and action. 

But there is something else I have seen there that is very touching.  I have seen empathy for each other.  I have seen real caring.  And I have seen forgiveness.

Aaron is in a very good place right now with his behaviors.  He has, in the past, struggled with anger and has had eruptions because of his lack of control.  He has come home with broken glasses, broken watches, ripped clothes, and many tears…his not being the only tears, for sure.  So while he is still loud in his playfulness, and loud in his talking, and loud and sometimes inappropriate in his teasing – he is basically very happy and helpful. 

When he was having behavior issues at Paradigm, there were very many times when it was his friends who warmly welcomed him back the next day.  He may have hit one of them, or insulted them, or yelled at them…but they would warmly tell him that it was all right, that it was a new day, and that they still liked him. 

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When he would have a rough day, he wouldn’t want to go back to Paradigm the next day.  Almost always, though, with our encouragement he would return.  I remember times when he would want me to walk into the center with him, as if my presence would buffer him from either being rejected or from bolting back out the door before he faced his friends again.

I would hear his friends call out to him.  “Hey, Aaron!” one would say, and then another.  I was just amazed at their forgiveness and their fresh start as they helped Aaron pick up the pieces and have the courage to face them again. 

Once I walked with Aaron over to a table filled with his best friends…all girls, by the way.  😊  Aaron was very nervous about talking to them after whatever had happened the previous day, but they spoke to him as if nothing had happened at all.

Aaron’s eyes filled with tears as they darted around the table, afraid to make contact. 

“I told Mom I was afraid you wouldn’t like me,” he finally said, his voice trembling and thick with emotion.

He was so like a child, this adult man.

“We like you, Aaron,” one of the girls said.  And they all said those same words as they affirmed to Aaron that he was their friend.  What wasn’t voiced, but was as clear as the morning sun, was that they understood Aaron, and they loved and accepted him just the way he was.

Aaron has made huge strides in learning to accept his friends there, as well, on many different levels.  He is sometimes curious about their physical handicaps…wheelchairs, muscle issues, deafness, seizures, etc.

He has seen many behaviors that are disruptive, loud, angry, and irritating.  And other behaviors that are just very unique – the young man who wears a suit and tie every single day, or the one who keeps a towel around his neck, or the person who rocks – and so many, many more. 

He has been curious about those who can’t hear or who can’t talk well.  About those from different ethnic backgrounds.  Or ones who are from different countries.

“Mom!” he said one day.  “Giselda said she was sorry in a Mexican way!” 

What is very sweet to me is to see how this setting is now so very normal to Aaron.  I hope that makes sense.  We might walk into Paradigm and see special needs.  Aaron walks into Paradigm and sees friends.

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Not long ago, as Aaron and I stood at the card counter trying to pick out a greeting card, Aaron remembered that he wanted to tell me something.

“MOM!!” he bellowed for all around to hear.  “I forgot to tell you something!!”

“You did?” I asked when he paused in order to see if I heard him.  How could I not?!

“YES!!” he continued.  “Guess what?!”

Aaron is great at making an effect.

“What?!” I obediently asked.

“Shauna got a NEW wheelchair!!!” he exclaimed.

My emotions tumbled at that point.  I didn’t let Aaron know this as I responded with excitement and asked him to tell me all about it.

You see, most 33 year old men would be saying things like:  “Guess what?  So and so got a new job…or a new car…or is having a new baby.”

But Aaron was just as excited about Shauna’s new wheelchair as anyone else would have been about those other life events.  It was sweet, but sad to me in a way, too.  It was just something that drove home to me once again, out of the blue in front of the card counter, the reality of Aaron’s life.

As I dropped Aaron off at Paradigm a few days later, Shauna and some of his other friends were coming down the sidewalk.  Aaron quickly lowered his window.

“Shauna!!!  Come and show my mom your new wheelchair!!” he yelled.

So she rolled over to the van to show off her new ride, and I loved every minute of it.  Aaron was so very excited as he jumped out, rubbing his hands together in pure delight.  Shauna was all smiles. 

How could I be sad when there are so many reasons to be thankful?

Watching him walk into Paradigm with his friends just gives me every reason in the world to be happy as I drive away, on so many days. 

And to the business owner across the street who one day called the Paradigm clients “a circus”:  I would choose that “circus” over yours any day of the week. 

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Other’s Colors

Do you remember that old song, Color My World, sung by Chicago?  I’ve always LOVED that song!  The meaning of those lyrics takes on a different hue when I think of our life with Aaron, and how he most definitely puts his own color on everything that we do. 

For instance, on Sunday after church I took Aaron with me to our local Dillon’s.  The grocery store is one of Aaron’s very favorite places!  Every aisle is full of discovery to him.  And since those discoveries involve his taste buds, he is especially eager to go along if offered the opportunity. 

Sunday was a chilly day, but not a super cold day.  However, Aaron decided that it was super cold, no matter what I said.  So he walked outside to the van with his toboggan perched goofily on his head and wearing his thick winter gloves.  I could have insisted that he take them off, but after suggesting such, he still wanted to wear his arctic garb and so I just let it go.

We went in the store, and as I headed to the pharmacy, Aaron veered off to explore the candy and snack aisle.  No surprise there!  When I veered up the same aisle to join him later, I had to laugh at the sight of him standing there examining the selection of peanuts. 

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He did not think it at all unusual to still be wearing his hat and his gloves.  Nor did he think it at all unusual to talk loudly when he saw me coming toward him. 

“Mom!!”  he bellowed.  “I’m looking at the peanuts!!”

And with that update, he proceeded to bend over to examine the jar that he thought he wanted.

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And then he had to stretch his arm out to retrieve the perfect jar.

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“See, MOM?!” he continued to bellow.  “These are lightly salted!  Is that good?”

I assured him that this jar was a great choice, and off we went to the self check-out…where he proceeded to talk to the attendant there about his lightly salted peanuts, in his commanding voice and his even more commanding presence…hat and gloves still included.

Sometimes it’s easy to be embarrassed by Aaron.  He doesn’t need the funny hat and gloves to be noticed, trust me!  So on this day, as he was even more noticed than usual, I just smiled and tried to see Aaron through fresh eyes…to relish how unusual he is…and to enjoy the moment.

The colors of that moment could have been red from my red face, and maybe my face was slightly red some of the time.  But that’s OK.  A little red doesn’t hurt me one bit! 

Another aspect of my colorful life with Aaron has been the joy of getting to know other moms of special needs children and adults.  The special bond we share is a rare treasure.  It’s very encouraging to walk the same path with others, though none of us would wish our circumstances on them.  But here we are, together on this journey, and our shared experiences make us all stronger. 

One of those friends, Joyce, has a particularly rough path as she mothers two adult sons with very significant special needs.  I truly am in awe of what she must handle on a “normal” day, much less on the kind of days she has had lately.  One of her sons had his wisdom teeth removed.  Then sickness hit the family, including Joyce and both her special sons.  Intestinal…respiratory…fevers…seizures…many, many sleepless nights. 

Her world is most certainly colored right now with the colors of poop and puke and puffy eyes, to be honest.  So on Sunday afternoon, I called her and I asked if she might want to escape for a bit…go somewhere and catch a breath of fresh air.  Change the colors a bit.

“Yes!” she said.  And a short time later, when I pulled into her driveway, she strode out to my van with a big smile on her face.  I was amazed, though knowing Joyce, I shouldn’t have been.

“Look at your smile!” I told her as she climbed in. 

“Well, I know what I want to do!” she happily declared.

I was expecting her to name a restaurant…or a park…or maybe the mall. 

“I would like to go to Dollar Tree,” she continued, “and get five vases.  Then I want to go buy some tulips and take them up to Oxford Villa.” 

And again, this woman amazed me.  Oxford Villa is a senior assisted living center where her mother used to live.  Joyce wanted to take some vases of flowers there for some of the residents who might not have anyone who loves them and brings them flowers.

Wow!! 

Joyce, I thought, needed some color in her life.  But instead, she wanted to GIVE some color to others!  I was so touched by her unselfishness!  So impacted by yet another lesson taught to me by this dear friend!

Instead of sipping a coke or coffee while eating a piece of dessert somewhere, I watched Joyce buy pretty colored vases and then examine the beautiful colors of tulips at another store.  We realized that Sunday was not the best day to deliver the flowers, though, so that job will be completed another day.  I hope I can help make that delivery!

Sometimes the best way to mix up our colors in this all-too-demanding life of parenting special needs children…or any other part of life that is draining you…is to look beyond yourself and see the needs of others.  To reach out and help carry their burden while taking your eyes off your own for awhile.

There was joy for me in watching goofy looking Aaron find just the right jar of peanuts.

There was joy for me in watching Joyce’s delight in finding just the right colorful vases for some unknown, needy seniors. 

Looking beyond ourselves causes us to see so many stunning colors that otherwise would have remained hidden. 

It’s so worth the effort, even with red cheeks or through tired eyes!

Thank you, Joyce, for your wonderful and colorful friendship!

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I’ll Be Your Friend, Part 2

I wanted to quickly share with you another sweet Aaron moment from today.

I wrote yesterday about Aaron’s sad day on Tuesday, but how that episode confirmed to him that he truly does have wonderful friends at his day group.  Here’s the link to that blog – I’ll Be Your Friend

He not only gave Natalie a card yesterday, but he also filled a baggie full of Cheez-Its for her, which he happily carried with him to Paradigm that morning.  I’m sure he was all smiles as he handed that baggie to Natalie. 

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But he also has another friend there, one who is on a very restricted diet.  Aaron has often felt sorry for her and has wished that he could give her some of the snacks that he takes to share with others. 

When Aaron took his baggie stuffed with Cheez-Its yesterday, he asked Barb if he could give some to his friend, H.  But Barb said that he couldn’t due to her strict diet.  But, Barb added, H. could probably have four or five of those crackers. 

And so today, before we left for his day group, this is what Aaron did.

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Five Cheez-Its, just for H. to enjoy all by herself.  To me, this is a picture of simple kindness.  I love that beneath all the complex layers of Aaron’s personality and of his autism, he has a heart that loves to give to others. 

Gary and I have talked occasionally over the years about how, when Aaron was young and we lived in Germany, we met with a professional.  This man talked to us about Aaron.  We were pretty offended by some of the things he said…things about how Aaron would probably never go to college, get a big job, yada yada yada. 

So O.K.  Aaron hasn’t been able to do many of the things that his peers have done.  But today, Aaron put five Cheez-Its in a little baggie for his friend, because she can only have five.  He didn’t find a cure for cancer…or put a man on Mars…or finish his fourth doctorate.

But he made his friend, H., very happy. 

And my mother’s heart is as proud of him as a mother’s heart can be. 

I’ll Be Your Friend

I pulled up to the curb in front of Aaron’s day group yesterday, a little early to pick him up at the end of his day.  Soon Aaron walked outside, heading toward the van, followed by Barb.  Barb is like Aaron’s second mom.  She is also a manager at Paradigm.  Sometimes Aaron wants Barb to come out to talk to me so that she can tell me something fun about Aaron’s day.  However, fun was not part of our conversation on this day.  I realized this right away as I looked at the tears on Aaron’s face when he sat down beside me in the van. 

“Mom!” Aaron choked out through his tears.  “Natalie got mad at me and called me…….”  And on and on he talked, his voice thick with emotion and his hands rubbing together in frustration. 

Aaron loves to give his money to his friends, especially to Natalie, and it’s sometimes a real problem.  Aaron isn’t supposed to give away his money, and Natalie isn’t supposed to ask him for money, and when they are found out, it can be touchy.  Both Aaron and Natalie have trouble controlling their emotions when things get stressful, which certainly happened yesterday.  Words spill out…tears are shed…accusations made… 

If you close your eyes, and if the voices were far younger, you would think that once again we were on the school playground trying to settle a spat between two kindergartners.  But these are two adults, who because of their special needs happen to, at times….many times….still operate as little children. 

Aaron was being very dramatic, which showed me how much his giving heart was hurting.  He had done wrong and tried to deny it.  Natalie had done wrong and got very mad at Aaron.  Both were hurt and upset.  But Aaron…his heart wants to give everything he has to his friends and when it all messes up, he feels betrayed and lonely and adrift.

“I don’t have any friends,” Aaron sadly declared as his voice broke with emotion.  “And I don’t want to come back tomorrow!!”  Just then, standing behind Barb, came the voice of Koren.  She’s Aaron’s friend, and though at times she’s hard to understand, I clearly understood this.

“I’m your friend, Aaron,” she said.  “I’ll give you a hug.”

So Barb stepped aside and Koren gave Aaron a dear, kind hug along with a few pats on his back.  It was just the sweetest thing!!

Aaron and I sorted through the story with Barb before finally pulling away from the curb.  But soon Aaron said he had left his billfold with Barb, so I quickly turned around and drove back to Paradigm.  I went inside, and when I came back out, there was Aaron leaning inside the van that held Natalie.  I was concerned!  But as I stepped closer, I heard Natalie say, “I’m still your friend, Aaron!” 

Aaron backed out of the van, his face a picture of relief…and Natalie’s face alight with a smile. 

Later Aaron, as he so often does, asked me if he could give Natalie a card the next day.  After saying he didn’t want to go to Paradigm the next day, I knew that wanting to take a card was a good sign that he was softening about going.  So I found a card for Aaron and he carefully wrote Natalie a note…a short note with a huge message.

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We all need a friend, don’t we?  One thing that amazes me at Aaron’s day group is to walk in and see the interactions of these special adults.  They love being and having friends, just as much as you and I do.  Life is so very hard for them, harder than I can even begin to imagine.  Sometimes it would be easy to feel sorry for them, sorry to the point of tears. 

But then I see them welcome Aaron when he walks in the door.  I see their smiles, their hugs, their concern for each other expressed in various ways.  I see Aaron welcomed and loved, even after having a hard day previously. 

His friends there are a picture of love and acceptance.  I don’t see jealousy or judgment or bullying.  Maybe those things happen at times.  But there, among all the varying special needs and all the medical conditions…from wheelchairs or braces…with halting speech or deaf ears…curled hands and bent bodies…I see so often the joy and the love of friendship. 

That scene has touched my heart more than I can express.  I would love to share pictures, but privacy issues won’t allow it.  So you must take my word for it, and try to imagine it yourself. 

Sometimes the most needy ones are the ones who give to each of us a picture of what we need the most. 

Genuine, unconditional friendship. 

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The Best Gifts Aren’t Wrapped!

Aaron had a birthday last week…his #33!!  My goodness, when did THAT happen?!  Of course, you know what that makes me…but since I’m the one choosing the subject of this blog, I choose not to choose to talk about ME, and MY age!!

Aaron unabashedly loves his birthday.  It’s one of the treasures of his way of thinking, that he doesn’t outgrow the pure joy of his special day.  Yet he also shies away from too much attention, too much hilarity, too much of anything that makes him feel like he must do something that he’s not quite sure how to do.  Yet this year, he was more relaxed with all the excitement and well wishes from others.  He showed it in several ways that were out of his norm, and it was wonderful to see. 

Yet the very best part of his birthday were the gifts.  Oh, I’m not talking about his presents and cards from family and friends…though they were great, and Aaron loved every single one. 

The absolute best part of this birthday, as the celebrating carried over for several days, was for me to sit back and watch the priceless gifts from some amazing people in his life.  I’ll try to let my pictures do most of the talking.  And speaking of talking, I did not get pictures of him talking to his sister, Andrea – or his Aunt Sandra.  But the smiles on his face and the conversations were very sweet indeed…even when he interrupted Andrea in the middle of her sentence to give me back the phone.  We got a great laugh out of that one!

His long and special friendship with Rosa continues as each year they make time to share their birthdays with each other at Chili’s.  Rosa’s mother, Louise, has become a dear friend of mine, as well.  They are a gift!

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I think it was Rosa who suggested that the servers sing to Aaron.  And Aaron, who has never wanted that attention, agreed to it.  Their gift to Aaron was fun…our server there in the middle was wonderful…and look at the joy on Aaron’s face.

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What can beat the gift of sharing birthday ice cream with your very special friend?

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On his actual birthday, Aaron agreed to take cupcakes to his day group.  He has NEVER wanted to do that!  I was so happy! 

We stopped at Sam’s on our way to Paradigm. Aaron, in his typical way, grabbed the attention of someone who works there and asked them where the cupcakes were.  That someone was one of the butchers, and as I tried to tell Aaron and the butcher that I knew where the cupcakes were, Aaron excitedly said to him, “TODAY is my birthday!!”  So this very kind young man told Aaron to meet him at the bakery down the aisle, and he gave Aaron two free cookies.  Look at the joy!

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There is the gift of the very patient therapy dog at Aaron’s day group.

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And the gift of our own Jackson that we took on a walk that afternoon.

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There was the look of total delight as he held his sister’s gift to him.

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And laughter as he later opened his brother’s Artsy Fartsy card…complete with fartsy sound effects.

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There was the gift of Barb, from Paradigm…and her daughter, Casady, coming for lasagna.

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And Aaron wanting Casady to help him open a gift.

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One of the most touching pictures on his birthday was this picture, sent to me by Barb…taken at Paradigm…of Aaron and his friend, Koren, with good old Piper.  To me, it sums up how impacting and touching are the friends in Aaron’s life. 

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How much our special one’s desire to have love! 

How many ways that love can be shown in their lives, even by perfect strangers! 

 Aaron may not always give a verbal thank you very easily, but the smiles on his face last week told it all. 

And that is a wonderful gift for me and Gary as well.

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The Beauty IN The Beast

My phone rang this morning, and there on the line was my very dear friend, Wendy.  I knew right away from the sound of her voice that something was wrong.  It was Elijah, Wendy said, her tone flat and exhausted.  He had run away again, on his bicycle, and had almost gotten on highway 24.  Somehow Wendy got him back, although we didn’t go into all the details of that.

Elijah, who turned 20 years old yesterday, suffers from the worst form of Epilepsy there is.  He has horrible seizures that often require oxygen, and sometimes require strong drugs to just stop the awful seizing.  Those drugs may help to save his life, but they also cause his life to be miserable after the seizures stop.  Life saving drugs like that are also life changing drugs because of the terrible behaviors that usually follow their use.

It’s an awful catch 22……a dreadful dilemma for Dan and Wendy, his loving parents.  And for Elijah……and the whole family…….they live between a rock and a very, very hard place.

Seizures cause changes in the brain.  These changes can contribute to behaviors that defy reason.  Drugs to control the seizures often have the very unwelcome side effect of causing even more behaviors.  Add to all this the sometimes necessary brain surgeries that children like Elijah have had…..multiple brain surgeries…..and the mix is indeed toxic when it comes to the brain being able to make the connections that you and I take for granted.

Gary and I face these same dilemmas with Aaron, trying to find the balance between seizure control and quality of life……both Aaron’s and ours.  Yet preventing or lessening seizures is of paramount importance.  It’s literally a life or death situation.

But so are behaviors, sometimes, when those behaviors can be as dangerous as Elijah’s.

And let’s not forget autism.

BLAHHHHHH!!!!!

Sometimes it’s just too much!

No disease or syndrome of ANY kind is easy to bear.  But some are, sadly, easier to explain.

I do believe that explaining……let’s just say it……bad behaviors…..is tremendously embarrassing and frustrating to us parents who find ourselves having to do it over and over and over.

We get “the look.”

We get the questions, spoken or not.

We get “the talk” from teachers or our friend’s parents.

And sometimes we DON’T get…..the party invitations…..the friendships……the understanding…….the listening ear……the sympathy, that we so desperately need.  That our special children desperately need.

It was just last year that someone came up to my car window, and with great exasperation, said, “Can’t you DO something about Aaron?”

I looked at her in disbelief and said, “Do you have ANY idea what all we have been doing with Aaron for over 30 years?!”

Today I gave our Aaron a fun day after his four days in the hospital.  We went to see Beauty and the Beast.  Aaron wasn’t totally sure that this was prime movie material, but the thought of popcorn and time with Mom won him over.

As the movie progressed, I was pretty amazed at Aaron.  He was completely enraptured by this movie.  He was so still and quiet, except for the rubbing of his hands together that is just so Aaron.  He rubbed his hands softly, unless there was a very exciting piece of action.    He ate his popcorn but didn’t even want a second tub.

As I glanced at him during the movie, I saw him smiling.  His eyes were big and focused totally on what was taking place on the screen.  He loved the characters and the drama and most definitely the music.

But the character he loved the most was the Beast.  Aaron was registering in his mind every nuance of the Beast……his anger at the first, his softening as the movie progressed, his smiles, and his joy as he fell in love with Belle.

Aaron at one point simply said, “I love this movie!”

And when he said it again, a little later, Aaron laid his head on my shoulder.  It was pretty incredible.

Aaron wasn’t the only one, though, that was completely taken by parts of this love story.  I was, too, but for reasons that went far beyond Belle and The Beast.

I was looking at what can transpire when a Beast – or a person – is loved.  Is truly loved and valued for who they are under their rough exterior.

Wendy’s sad and tired words played through my mind as the music played on the big screen.  My own sometimes weary burden over our Aaron’s behaviors was heavy on my shoulders.

Elijah and Aaron are so much like the Beast in some ways.  They can evoke a measure of disbelief in how they act and in what they say or do.  They are at times unlikable, impossible to understand, and downright annoying.

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But there is another side to them, and to so very many others with these same issues.  A side that blooms under love and understanding, as much as possible.  And when we, or others, can’t really understand we at least know deep down that many actions are beyond their control.

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All of this was playing in my mind as the movie played today, with Aaron’s gently rubbing hands and big smile beside me.  And it’s why tears rolled down my cheeks as the words of this song, Something There, burned into my heart.

            There’s something sweet

            And almost kind.

            But he was mean and he was course and unrefined.

            And now he’s dear,

            And so I’m sure,

            I wonder why I didn’t see it there before.

            New and a bit alarming,

            Who’d have ever thought that this could be?

            True that he’s no Prince Charming,

            But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.

Aaron and Elijah, and many like them, have so much more in them than we often see.  They are wonderful and funny and smart and have so much to offer to the world……and the people…..around them.

They need what the Beast needed.  They need the “something there that wasn’t there before,” as the Beast’s friends sang at the end of this song.

That “something” is love.  Some days the love is harder in coming than on other days, but even when our boys aren’t being Prince Charmings, they still deserve as much love and understanding as possible.

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Aaron and Elijah have lots more awareness than we realize.  Aaron has always known who is real and who is not when it comes to how they react to him and interact with him.

You know what Aaron said tonight?

“Mom, Gaston fake loved Belle.”

Aaron gets it.

He knows very well that the Beast loved Belle for who she was as a person.  That’s real love.

And it’s the love our special kids need……the love for who they are, deep under all the medicines and conditions and labels and diagnoses.

I’ll be the first to say that it’s easier to write the words than it is on some days to live it out in real life.

But our kids will grow under unconditional love, some days more than others.

And all of us giving them real love…..not fake love…..will grow even more.

There truly is beauty in the beast, if we just love and look.

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The Picture We Leave

Today I have found myself, several times, with tears in my eyes.  We all have days where emotions are close to the surface, don’t we?  Maybe it was the very, very touching video I watched today of how some boys reached out to their neighbor who was their age and in a wheelchair.  If Aaron hadn’t been with me, I would have cried much more after watching that clip than I allowed myself to cry.

Maybe I was teary today because of stories I’ve seen of others who are bearing sorrows and pains of this life.  Some hit close to home when the stories are from ones I know and love. 

Maybe I was feeling vulnerable today because Aaron had a small but hard seizure very early Sunday morning.  He was fine all day yesterday, but threw up last night.  A bug?  Or the amount of pizza he ate for lunch?  He stayed home today, not feeling too great yet, and had another seizure this afternoon…..a hard, three minute seizure.  My already raw emotions were knocked around even more during that seizure, which isn’t usual for me. 

I know, though, that the real reason for my unsteady emotions goes back to a picture in my mind…..a snap shot of Aaron on Friday afternoon, in Subway.  Aaron wanted a sub for his special Friday supper.  I always hope that there won’t be anyone in front of us because subs take a while to fix…..and Aaron is usually talkative, loudly, with me never knowing what he will decide to discuss there for everyone to hear. 

As we pulled in and parked, though, I saw that there were several cars in the parking lot.  A young family was walking in just before us.  Dad and Mom were each holding a young daughter.  There were others in front of them.  I asked Aaron if he was sure he didn’t want a pizza instead, but of course Aaron’s heart was set on a sub. 

As we stood behind the young family, the little girl that was being held by the dad caught Aaron’s attention.  I looked over and saw that Aaron was looking at her, and then leaned around him a little to see that he was holding his hand up.  He was showing her his favorite thing……the peace sign.  She wasn’t sure what to make of that, or make of Aaron.  She may have been three or four years old, and so I’m sure that Aaron’s peace sign meant nothing to her. 

It really was funny……Aaron standing there holding the peace sign steady, with a very serious look on his face.  No smile for the little girl……no emotion……no explanation.  Just somber Aaron doing all he knew to do…..spread some peace, thankfully.

The little girl thought that maybe Aaron wanted to play peek-a-boo, but Aaron didn’t cooperate.  He was just a statue, with a peace sign displayed.  So I played peek-a-boo with her as she tried to hide behind her dad’s shoulder.  Aaron was still in peace mode. 

But then, while I was immersed in this cute little girl’s smiles, Aaron quickly unzipped his wallet.  Before I knew what he was doing, he was holding his open palm out for the dad to see.  And in Aaron’s open palm was the rest of his money left over from his day at Paradigm.  Three cents.  Aaron was trying to give this young dad his money…….all three cents……but a fortune to Aaron. 

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Aaron loves to give things to people.  He really loves giving money away to others.  So he had decided to give this dad his money to help him pay for their dinner.  I knew all this in the split second it took me to see what Aaron was doing……and to also see that this young dad was completely uncomfortable with what was happening.

The dad was looking down into Aaron’s palm but he didn’t say a word.  I thought for sure that he would thank Aaron for the offer but then tell him to keep his money.  I thought he would look at Aaron and smile and be kind to special Aaron.  But no, he just looked at Aaron’s three cents and kept looking down, not making eye contact and not saying a single word. 

It was so awkward and so sad……and honestly, pretty hurtful to me.  I doubt that this young man had any idea that it was hurtful.  He was just clueless about what to do.  I find that amazing, though.  A kind word, a look in Aaron’s eyes, a thank you, should not have been that hard to do.  Right after that, this dad moved away from Aaron and then eventually went with his little girls to sit in a booth while his wife ordered.  I don’t know if it was because of Aaron or not.  But he sure did miss a great opportunity to show Aaron some kindness, like Aaron was showing to him. 

But it’s made me also think of another quite opposite experience that we had when we were home in West Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We had recently gotten Aaron a Nintendo 3DS game for his birthday.  We let him play it at our family gathering, which wasn’t the best idea because it was all he wanted to do.

Anyway, when the time together was wrapping up, the sweetest thing happened.  Young Moira……granddaughter of my cousin Jim and his wife, Patti……daughter of Kat and Farman……walked over to Aaron.  She said hi to him and then she asked him about the game he was playing.  She asked what it was called and wondered if it was fun.

I held my breath for a second, hoping that Aaron would be nice in return.  And he was!  He was really happy that someone had asked about his game.  He told her what it was and then he actually asked her if she wanted to see it. 

Moira said yes, and Aaron very proudly opened his game and let her play it for a few minutes.  It was so sweet!  I was glad I captured some pictures.

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Moira is being raised well.  She wanted to engage Aaron, you could tell.  She thought that asking about his game would be a good way to do that…..and it certainly was! 

But more importantly, Moira showed that she has a heart for others……especially others on the outside.  What maturity, way beyond her years!  That simple interchange meant more to me, and to Aaron, than Moira knows.  Or maybe she does know.  Ones with that kind of heart often do.

All of us can take a minute to follow Moira’s example…..to look every day for ways to love and bless someone around us.  And even if it pulls us out of our comfort zone, like the young dad in Subway, a simple smile and a kind word is all anyone needs to see and hear.

So thank you, Moira.  I haven’t forgotten your sweet heart that you showed to Aaron.  And on a day like today, when my heart is tender, I can choose to see your picture that makes me happy instead of the other one that causes me some hurt. 

Remember, we are all leaving a picture in the minds of others that we meet.  Let’s make it a good one.