Safer

 

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and the girls and I had just gotten home from church. Brandon was deployed in Iraq. Admittedly, I was distracted. To this day I’m not sure if Rhema followed me in from the garage and then went back out or if she never came in at all. All I know is that about 10 minutes went by before it hit me that something was very wrong with Rhema. I didn’t even stop to look for her in the house – I just flew out the door yelling her name.

We lived on a busy street at the time, and the road inclined before our house just enough so that a driver could not see what was on the other side.

When I got to the end of the driveway I could not see her. It was raining hard and three cars had pulled over to the side of the road. My heart pounded as I screamed her name. Then I saw her a little ways down the street in someone’s yard. A man, frantic, was holding her hand. When I got to them he began shouting, “She was in the middle of the street! I got out of my car… I didn’t know what to do! I was trying to find her home!”

All I could do was thank him profusely and apologize. Shaking, I grabbed my silent, soaking girl and ran home.

Not long after we were home, a police officer arrived at my door. Someone had called the police. This was not the first time the police had been involved when Rhema “disappeared.” I was questioned about the events, questioned about measures I had in place to keep my child safe.

I cannot even tell you all of the emotions that went through me. Suffice to say, I felt horrible – like life was spiraling out of control (it was), and I was losing my grip on everything.

Too many ways. Too many ways I could have lost her that day.

.

Nearly a year later my friend Jess invited me to speak with her friend Drew O’Brien, State Director for Senator John Kerry’s office. I shared a bit of our story with him and detailed some of the obstacles we’d encountered in trying to get an appropriate emergency locator device for Rhema. Drew promised to help.

Over the next many months letters and e-mails went back and forth. Our local police department was contacted as well as the CEO of Brickhouse Security, a distributor of electronic monitoring devices.

“Rhema is very physically active and extremely coordinated. She is also tremendously curious and has absolutely no sense of danger. This combination of traits has caused a number of terrifying incidents in which Rhema has gone missing.

Despite taking every possible precaution, including but not limited to specialized locks and alarm sensors on all doors, locked gates, fenced yards, etc., Rhema has wandered off on numerous occasions. Her longest elopement lasted over an hour. (She had made her way into another home and was only discovered after the confused homeowner returned from work and found Rhema playing in her toy room.)

While all incidents up to this point have ended in Rhema’s safe return, [we] are obviously gravely concerned for her ongoing safety. First, Rhema does not respond to her name being called. Second, she is incapable of offering any identification should someone find her. Third, she would be helpless to defend herself and would freely go off with anyone intent on abducting her.

Additionally, as it is for so many parents of children with autism, drowning is a very real fear. Rhema loves water, but does not understand its inherent dangers. She cannot swim well enough to stay afloat for long in a pool or at all in the tides of the ocean/open water. If she went missing near water, there would be a very limited time to find her.”

These efforts resulted in the coming together of many people to help our family. Not only did Mr. Morris of BrickHouse Security supply Rhema with a security device, he generously offered to cover the costs of all the service fees associated with the 24-7 monitoring through the EM Finder system. (!)

Thank you Senator John F. Kerry, Drew O’Brien and Ashley O’Neill for your dedication to the autism community. Thank you for putting all of these pieces together to help us keep our precious girl safe.

Thank you Mr. Todd Morris of BrickHouse Security for your time, effort and generosity.

Thank you Jim Nalley and Chris Buehler, founders of EmFinders, for providing the EmSeeQ device and for working with us and the local police department so extensively.

Thank you Chief Mark Ray and Captain Negrotti for your willingness to help and for making the safety of our children a priority.

Thank you Sergeant McCarthy, Officer Desmond and Officer Deroberts for taking the time to do a thorough test run with us.

Thank you Jess for being more than just beautiful words on a screen. Thank you for caring so deeply for our family, for connecting us with the right people, for writing letters. Thank you for crying tears of joy when this all came together. You are an amazing friend.

At every turn we have been met with kindness and compassion – even the jeweler who patiently fitted her device. When I think about the hopelessness of that rainy Sunday afternoon I am overwhelmed at how God has blessed us through others and given us such comfort and peace of mind.

Today Rhema wore her bracelet for the first time. (She doesn’t like it, of course, but she’ll get used it!)

Our hearts rest easier today, and we are just grateful.

Writing – from dreams to reality

Not so long ago Rhema was learning to use a stamp with her name on it

because it was not likely that she would ever learn to write independently.

But Heather, her OT, and all of her teachers have an against-all-odds, inexhaustible supply of belief and hope in my girl.

Last summer they taught her to trace the letters of her name,

and I cried because it was a taste of faith-becoming-sight, and I was so grateful and so amazed and I’ll never forget how hard she worked and how God comforted us with the gift of it.

Rhema’s “R”, traced with no prompt!
Heather told me she had a dream that she came to work one day and Rhema was independently writing her name. In the dream, she is so happy and excited that she calls another teacher over and they record it all on video. “One day,” she said. “It will happen.”

.

A couple weeks ago I observed Rhema at school. Her teacher was working with her on writing letters in boxes beneath her name. Rhema was humming and drawing horizontal lines repeatedly. She needed a lot of physical prompting and guidance. And even then, if she managed to draw a letter it was in the wrong box, out of order.

For some reason, learning to write the name has been an emotional journey and I feel like God has been teaching me something along with Rhema. Maybe it’s because people told us it couldn’t be done, and I went home and buried the dream. Maybe because writing is communicating. If her spoken words are few, perhaps she’ll learn to write her heart?  Maybe because once upon a time I just took it for granted that I’d have children who could write their names, and now we fight and try and work for every little thing and now we want it so much more. I cannot express how deep my hope, my desire is for her to pick up pen and write.

And even with the amazing gains she’s made, watching her that day a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was really ready for this. But they must think she’s ready, I thought. Well, this is going to take a looooonngg time.”

But Rhema has always laughed at my time tables.

When I picked her up from school last week, Heather was waiting for me. Beaming, she handed me a piece of paper.

Look what she did, friends. 100% independent! Look! what! she! did!

.

.

With her mouth

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (Is. 40:8)

.

I still say her verse to every night as I put her to bed.

I still pause at the end of each sentence, waiting, hoping she’ll whisper the Word. Like she once did.

She no longer says the words, but I am certain now that she still knows. This Word is in her heart.

(She gives me pause. I can say all the right things, the holy talk I’ve known since I was young. But is it engraved in my heart? Do I know it, believe it in the deepest places?)

One day she’ll speak them again.

 .

As I’ve filled out oodles of paperwork for respite care, and completed phone interviews and home visits, a common question has been “Is there a history of seizures?”. Followed by “What exactly is Landau Kleffner syndrome?” I’ve given the textbook answer: a rare seizure disorder that affects the parts of the brain that control comprehension and speech; sleep often activates these epilepsy waves in children with LKS.

And each time I explain it I can picture an image of the brain, the highlighted areas – the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas – the centers for understanding and language production. I envision the continuous electrical storm right there, in her head, how it deafens, interrupts, scatters, silences words.

Then I am amazed at God, amazed that this ever happened.

We only speak because He gives us voice.

Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth?… Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will be with your mouth and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:10-12

Oh, how we have seen Him ‘with her mouth.’

 .

I posted the video clip below a year and a half ago, and I’ve linked to it several times.

You might have seen it, heard it.

Here I am posting it again just to remember that anything is possible.

 

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:8,9)

Homecoming Surprise

Fourteen months to the day Brandon left home,

he returned and surprised the girls at school!

.

Hope was speechless. And that is saying something. She just hugged him, no, clung to him, for the longest time.

  

.

Rhema, who used to never seem to notice us or greet us, was all giggles and melted in Daddy’s arms.

 

.

(Here’s a link to the news story if you cannot get Youtube):
http://www1.whdh.com/video/player/?clipId=5239695&clipFormat=flv&topVideoCatNo=72115#?autoStart

.

.

*Link to The Salem News: A Happy Homecoming

.

Sweet day. Thank you, Lord.

.

Midnight Plane to Georgia

Hold on to me
I’ll hold on to you
Let’s find out the beauty of seeing things through
 

~Loving A Person, Sara Groves

.

“I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not…
It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go…”
~ Song of Solomon 3:2-4

.

Friday morning I began receiving scripted phone calls that my husband’s unit would be arriving at Fort Stewart, Georgia with a homecoming ceremony scheduled for 11:35 that night. I was not surprised to get the calls – I knew Brandon was making his way through Iraq and Europe because I had not spoken to him in days. Weeks earlier we had discussed the homecoming and decided that the girls and I would not attend. We could not be exactly sure when he’d arrive – it was too expensive to fly to GA on short notice and just too hard to plan for.

But as the calls came in, I suddenly knew I had to be there.

It meant booking a last minute flight, making hasty arrangements… and asking for help. I called on friends to make grocery store runs and take 4-hour shifts of babysitting throughout the weekend. They gladly blessed me by caring for Rhema and Hope  – (Thank you so much Gail, Amalia, Melissa and Yoon!). My sister spent the nights with the girls at home so as not to disrupt Rhema’s routine.

It was a BIG DEAL for me to spontaneously leave my girls for a whole weekend. But it was important and necessary for me to put us first. Those of us who are blessed to be married – whether you’ve been at it for 5 days or 50 years, whether you’ve been apart for a year or you think you see way too much of each other – we all have a chance to do something new. Show more grace, serve in love, build up instead of tear down. (Thank God for second, third, fourth, fifth chances.) For me, this day, it meant finally letting go of some things and running to my man.

.

I made it there just in time, only to learn that the group of three hundred and fifty-four soldiers had been delayed and the ceremony would not begin until 1:05 am. Around 1000 people gathered on the field: mothers, fathers, spouses, children. There was such a sense of excitement and anticipation – understandably so – as these families have been waiting fifteen months for their soldier to come home. Kids ran back and forth across the field, babies were bounced and bundled. There were large, homemade signs, red-white-blue balloons and flowers everywhere. A not-so-good band played patriotic tunes, and murdered hits like “Mustang Sally” and “Superstition.” But we danced anyway. Someone handed me a flag.

We waited. And we waited and waited. My toes grew numb from the cold and I had to use the bathroom but I dared not leave. Instead I walked the Warriors Walk – a memorial to Soldies killed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom- that surrounded the field. I prayed for the families of soldiers who’d been lost. I thanked God for keeping this husband and father safe and bringing him home. I thanked God for the long, hard year. It felt surreal to finally make it to this point, the deployment’s end. I thanked God for all of the people who have loved us and supported us and prayed for us these past many months – I named every one I could name, knowing there are some whose names I don’t even know.

After my walk, it was announced that the buses carrying the soldiers were minutes away. I turned and saw people lining the streets, cheering, waving signs and flags. It was 2:30 am. White buses with soldiers leaning out the windows made their way down the streets, and they received a hero’s welcome. So many young ones. They had done their duty, and they were home. My heart was gripped, and I was honored to be in the number cheering for them. Lonely, painful scenes from the past year filled my mind, but I wasn’t bitter. I thought, maybe just maybe all of the hard stuff was worth it. For this moment.

The buses pulled around the back of the field, out of sight. There were tears and cheers as everyone waited for the soldiers to get in formation and come onto the field. The not-so-good lead singer crooned “Soooooldier. Get on off that bus. I said, get on off that bus.” Finally they marched onto the field, and the crowd went wild.

Someone sang the National Anthem. Men and women in uniform on the field and in the bleachers stood at attention. An older man standing next to me, in his Harley Davidson leather jacket, doffed his hat and belted out the words with tears streaming down his cheeks. The chaplain prayed. The general gave a speech. The Army song was sung. And then family and friends were ordered to “attack the formation”, and people raced onto the field.

A friend of Brandon’s who had served with him in Iraq for a time motioned for me to follow him – we had not seen Brandon yet. I spotted him first. His head was down slightly as he walked quickly off the field. I saw a mixture of emotions on his face – relief, exhaustion, happiness, a little sadness that his family was not there. His friend embraced him. Then he said, “Hey, I’ve got someone here to see you…”

The look on his face when he saw me…

well, then I knew it had all been worth it. All of it.

.

One of the things that has always moved me are the signs at homecoming ceremonies. They are always colorful, personal and wonderfully decorated. When Brandon came home from his first deployment in 2005, there were signs that said “God Kept You Safe”, “You’re Our Hero”, “Job Well Done”, “We Love You, We Missed You”, “Your Country Thanks You.” At this ceremony, a little girl wore a shirt that said “Outta my way, I’ve got to get to my Daddy.” Another rather busty woman wore a tight T-shirt with hearts and lips all over it that said, “Welcome Home, Baby.” A little boy, about five or six, carried a sign that read “Welcome Back, Mommy!” (That one got me). The Harley-Davidson dude held a poster that said, “I’m So Proud of You, Son!”

Last week when I thought I wasn’t going to be at the ceremony I made a simple sign and got my sis to take a picture. It’s not colorful or fancy at all, it took me 2 minutes to make. But it means everything in the world. Believe me, more than you can know. And so I carried it with me on the plane all the way from Massachusetts, and when I saw ‘my soldier’ I stepped back and held up my sign.

To every one who has prayed for us – specifically for our marriage – and encouraged us on this journey – THANK YOU.

By God’s grace alone,

 

.

Brandon will stay in Georgia for another couple weeks, and then he’ll be home for good.*

.

 

Airports, autism, anarchy

How cool moms like Angelina, Heidi and Victoria do it. I look EXACTLY like this when I travel:

 

.

I once tried to pitch the good Lord an idea. It went like this:

Dear God, I was really impressed with the breastfeeding thing. Love the supply and demand idea – the more you nurse, the more milk you produce. And there’s the weaning process – during which the body actually secretes a hormone that sends a signal to the brain that the milk isn’t needed and milk production gradually shuts down. Genius! God, I propose that mothers of two or more young children and/or mothers of children with special needs grow an extra arm! With a hand attached.  It can grow right out of the elbow. When the kid(s) get older and the extra arm isn’t needed you can treat it much like the weaning process. The extra arm can just wither up and fall off the elbow. Amen.

Brilliant idea if I do say so myself. And Monday at the airport is my case in point.

I had a backpack, a carry-on suitcase and a booster seat. If I put the backpack on and balanced the booster seat on the suitcase that left me one free hand to hold on to Rhema. “It could work,” I said to my brother-in-law, Joel, as he dropped us off at the airport.

Rhema is not fearful of new situations like some kids on the spectrum. She doesn’t always know where she’s going or why she’s going, she just knows that she must. get. there. So it was at the airport.  Me, with the luggage in one hand while holding on to Rhema for dear life as she sprinted up and down the escalators. Escalators are on her obsession list and Logan Airport was paradise, she was bent on riding every single one.

Joel went with us as far as he could – to the security check point. The poor man (so dear to me) looked like he was dropping us off at the edge of Hades. I gave him a quick, brave smile and nodded goodbye. I had our boarding passes out, but my ID was in my wallet in my purse in a pouch in the backpack on my back. I could slide said backpack off my back onto the floor and even stoop down while holding the carry on suitcase and the carseat and Rhema-trying-to-escape all with my pinky finger. But to open said backpack and fish out my purse and then my wallet and then my ID… well, that would take two hands.

At which point Rhema broke free and took off running like she was late for a popsicle handout. She slammed into a metal signpost and cut her ear, but she barely slowed down. I had to leave all of our stuff in the line, run and catch her and bring her back. She got away from me twice.

Try as I might, I could not manage to get my shoes off, her shoes off, the laptop out of the backpack and into one of those trays, and the carseat and the carry-on luggage onto the belt and get us both through security. I’d told one of the security dudes that Rhema had autism, but no one was helping us.

Then Joel was at my side.

“I got a pass. I can go with you to the gate.” Oh thank you, BRO!

A woman in line who had witnessed the whole ordeal was very perturbed. She said to Rhema in a huff,

“You need to learn some discipline. You need to learn to listen to your parents!”

My nerves were already frayed.  “She has autism,” I informed her as Rhema yanked me away.

By the time we got to the gate I had to check the suitcase and the carseat. I had wanted to avoid going through baggage claim (for obvious reasons), but there was no way I could handle it all. I should have known, should have planned better. But I just thought/hoped that she would be calmer this time (she’s flown before).

On the plane our struggles continued. It was a ‘full flight’, and Rhema kicked the living daylights out of the seat in front of her. She slid the window shade up and down, up and down… and then the tray table in front of her, up and down, up and down. The entire flight. (When the flight attendant calmly explained to her that all tray tables and seatbacks had to be stowed in their upright and locked positions for takeoff and landing, Rhema was unmoved.)

For good measure, she dumped her apple juice in my lap.

As the plane descended I wondered which was a more frightening prospect: the plane blowing up or Rhema and I trying to get through baggage claim.

Of course we couldn’t stand there and wait for our luggage like “normal people.” Of course we had to run up and down escalators, during which Rhema scraped the back of her leg. Of course we were the last two souls at the baggage claim area late at night with no suitcase or carseat in sight. Rhema was at the end of her rope, and I could not make her be still or sit down. She fought me. She kicked me. She pushed me.

I had to go potty, I was famished, I was weary in body and spirit. And then she got up and ran toward a group of soldiers. She had been running all afternoon, not seeming to see anything or anyone around her. But she saw soldiers in desert fatigues and ran to them. Is she looking for her Daddy? Is that what she thinks this is all about? I will not cry, I will not cry.

After we finally found our luggage, we went to the restroom. Now normally I never go to the bathroom (myself) when Rhema’s with me. Too risky. But this time I couldn’t hold it. So while I sat on the germ-infested potty-chair, I held Rhema’s hand and begged her to ‘stay with me.’ But my darling child managed to undo the lock on the stall door. The door bust open, and she bolted… with me in mid-stream. Now, I ask you, what’s a girl to do? This girl kicked the door shut, finished her business and hoped for the best.

Thankfully, I found Rhema drinking soapy water out of the sink.

I won’t bother to mention all of the gory details. Like the fact that we had to wait 20 minutes for the shuttle bus for the rental car to come. (Rhema has a waiting ABA program at school – she’s up to a whopping 3 seconds. Do you know how many seconds are in 20 minutes?). Or that I tried to feed her some rice while we waited outside for the shuttle… and she spilled it… and tried to eat pieces of rice off the pavement like she was starving… and burst into tears when I stopped her. Or how one of the businessmen observed that she was ‘quite a handful.’ Or that she tried to climb into the shuttle bus driver’s lap while he was driving.

When we finally stumbled into our hotel room at 11 pm, I had a message from my husband that simply said Ps. 34: 17-18.

“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
       he delivers them from all their troubles.

 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
       and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

It was late, but I pulled up Kari Jobe’s My Beloved on the iPod, gathered my girl in my arms.

And we danced.

This dream does not tarry

“For me writing has always felt like praying…”
~Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

.

A couple weeks ago I blogged about Rhema learning to trace the letter “R”. I wrote about Heather, her OT, believing in her and the dream she had that Rhema would one day write her name independently. I believed with all my heart that that “one day” would come, but I knew it would be in the far-distant future. I settled in for the long haul (-standard procedure where Rhema’s concerned), happy to have a reason to dream again.

 .

So I was totally not ready for a miracle when I picked Rhema up from school.

Jenny, one of her teachers met me at the door.

“I don’t know if you’ve gotten an e-mail yet. But you’re going to receive a video we recorded.” She paused. “Rhema traced her entire name independently today.”

I stared at her, confused, and my heart started pounding.

She must be mistaken. Rhema is still just learning the R, and that took months!

Maybe I heard her wrong.

Or maybe I heard her right.

But, oh, don’t make me hope… because in this moment I want nothing more than this.

She was wiping away tears, and wonder and gratitude filled me up and began leaking from my eyes.

“Come back to the classroom. They’re going to have her do it for you.”

I cried. I did. Right there in front of people. Nose running and everything. 

. 

There’s a song that our old youth choir used to sing based on Habakuk 2:1-4.

“Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.”

I’ve always loved the phrase “write the vision”, and even dared to hope that blogging might be something like that. The writing out of faith like a prayer, recording the good, hard lessons, waiting, and then watching Him give what we don’t deserve and do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Thank you, Lord.

.

Some may watch the video clip of Rhema tracing her name and think it insignificant. They won’t know the hours and hours it took to get her there, and that some said it couldn’t be done. They won’t know the happy tears her teachers and I shed as we watched her trace with no physical prompts at all. They might not even notice that her pencil grip is still immature and her E needs a lot of work. They won’t realize that we still have a long way to go before she can write (instead of trace) independently, but that she just took one super-sized leap toward that goal.

They won’t understand how my girl wrote the vision, made it plain.

And gave us a little more hope to run on.

.

Our summer with a honey bee

This past spring, my sis and I took the girls to a park. It was a gorgeous day after a few days of rain, and Rhema was ready to run free. Before I could stop her she tore across an open field. The ground was still wet and she splashed through mud with abandon. I watched for a few moments and then gathered my energy for the chase. In the far distance I could see two figures lying on a blanket, and Rhema was making a beeline for them. I took off running across the field, calling after Rhema in vain.

I knew I was not going to make it in time.

When I reached the couple on the blanket, they just sort of stared at me, dazed and confused. They seemed frozen by surprise. The man was lying on his stomach. And my silent, six-year old, muddy girl was straddling him, sitting on his back.

I half expected her to dig in her heels and say, “Giddy up.”

As I pried Rhema off the man’s back, I did not offer an explanation. Just a quick apology to the woman for… “interrupting.” Before either could say a word, Rhema took off, and I raced her back across the field.

Oh the looks on their faces! My sister and I laughed until our sides hurt.

.

Soon after that I got serious about finding someone to work as an aide for Rhema for the summer. We needed someone to just be with us. To go to the park or the zoo or the pool with us; to help keep Rhema engaged at home or in the backyard.

I interviewed a number of people for the job, and knew within seconds that Melissa was our girl. She had no experience working with a child with autism, but her compassion made up for her lack of knowledge, and she naturally seemed to know how to relate to Rhema. She quickly became a student of Rhema, observing her, making note of her patterns, asking me lots of questions. I told Melissa about Rhema’s tendency to bolt and wander, and her lack of a sense of danger.

“I need you to stick with her,” I said.

Has she ever. When Melissa is with us, Rhema never plays alone. If Rhema goes down the slide, Melissa goes down the slide with her. If Rhema jumps in a bouncy house, Melissa jumps in the bouncy house with her. At first I wondered how Rhema would handle the “intrusion”, having to constantly interact with someone outside of school. But it’s been great for her. And great for us. Instead of chasing Rhema, I’ve had the opportunity to carry on conversations with other mothers at birthday parties or give Hope more attention or just take a deep breath. We’ve been able to embark on many summer adventures because Melissa has been with us.

She’s dodged puke two out of three times, and she keeps coming back.

Once we picked her up on the way to the park. Our plan was to just get our feet wet on the beach, and Melissa was dressed to go out on a date later that evening. I was discussing snails with Hope when I looked up and saw Rhema hightailing it into the ocean. A moment later I watched Melissa recklessly plunge in after her. When she caught up to her, Rhema jumped in her arms and they both stumbled in the water. They emerged completely drenched. Ahh, love her, I thought. She sacrificed her date hair and outfit just for us.

Recently, after a long day at the pool, we dropped Melissa off at home. Hope, whose level of understanding never ceases to amaze me, said in her three-going-on-thirty way,

“Thanks Melissa. We couldn’t have done this without you.”

Yes. Thanks, Melissa, for a great summer. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Happy Birthday!

One Year Later: A Father and His Girls

One year ago, Brandon sat on the couch with Rhema before she left for school. He held her and explained that he was going away for a while. Rhema seemed completely oblivious – it was just another day. She had no idea that she would not see him for so long. Brandon was thinking ahead to when she would realize he was gone. He wanted her to know somehow that he had not left her.

When her school bus came, I let him take her out. I stayed back, not wanting to intrude on his goodbye to his girl. But I know he was praying that God would keep her safe. I heard the driver call out, “You’re in our prayers!”, and the bus pulled away.

I cannot pretend to know how difficult that goodbye was.

The night I went into labor with Rhema, I was alone in a bedroom in my parent’s house and I journaled my way through contractions. Brandon was deployed then to Iraq for a year, and I was concerned that he would miss out on key bonding moments with his firstborn. I wrote a prayer in my journal:

May she be the apple of her father’s eye. As he is apart from us, Lord, give him a supernatural, blessed connection to Rhema that will always be. Thank you, thank you, oh thank you my Lord for giving her to us.

Despite the frustrating barriers of autism, the lack of spoken language, and two years now of separation, God has honored my prayer. Rhema and her father have a uniquely special bond. Sometimes I think she understands the idea of father better than anyone simply because of who he is. He settles her, and in an unpredictable world that does not often make sense, she trusts him. If he is there to love her, she’ll be o.k.

They always just pick right back up where they left off – as if no time has passed between them. When he came home last May for two weeks of R & R, we met him at the train station. I let Hope run ahead to greet him while I stayed with Rhema in her carseat. Rhema was fiddling and fighting with her buckle, ready to bolt. For a moment she did not notice the hands trying to help her undo her buckle. But then she stopped, looked up and saw him. A wave of laughter overtook her; she threw her head back and giggled herself right into his arms.

Brandon's homecoming in 2005

Brandon's visit in May 2010

 

That morning a year ago, Hope and I watched Brandon load his bags into the car. He had already explained to her why he had to go away for a while – “To pre-tect us!” she would squeal enthusiastically. To us, Hope has always been like a prized exhibit in a museum. Too precious. A rare, irreplaceable gift. She brings us inexpressible joy, and when you’re away from her you feel like you’ve missed out on something. I don’t know how to go a day without her Hope-ness.

I didn’t know how my husband was going to manage a year without it.

When it was time to go, he said, “Give me a hug, Hope,” arms outstretched.

She came running, and as she wrapped her arms around his neck as tight as she could, she said,

“I’m giving you a big DINOSAUR hug, Daddy!”

And I watched the man hold her and weep. In over a decade of marriage I’d never seen a hooah-hooah-fly-helicopters-jump-out-of-airplanes-soldier cry like that.

This past year Hope had her first first day of school – lost her baby fat and grew tall – turned three – had asthma, swine flu and pneumonia – learned to write her name- learned to swim – turned into a princess and became a fashionista – prayed for her Daddy everyday.

This past year Rhema changed schools and medications-  turned six – learned to ride a bike – healed from lead poisoning – learned to say many new words – learned to trace the letters R and H – lost her first tooth – matured into a lovely young girl.

We cannot wait for the day when he comes home to stay.

B, I thought you might like to see how much your girls have grown up to this past year:

A Cinderella Story

Once upon a time there was a little girl who dreamed of being a princess. She had gowns, wands, sparkly shoes and a tiara for every occasion. She expected all of the plebians in her life to address her as Princess Strawberry (or Aurora or Anneliese or Ariel or whatever name struck her fancy). She memorized the book “What Is a Princess?” At the supermarket she’d wave her wand at a watermelon and command it to “turn into a coach.”  

Her mother took her to see Cinderella at the North Shore Music Theater. The little girl was so excited she even wore blue Cinderella undies.  When they arrived they saw that the music theater had been overtaken by a fairytale convention. In a sea of little-girl princesses, Hope did not need make-believe, she was Princess Cinderella.

From the moment the curtain opened she was entranced, this was better than a dream! When the Prince came on stage the mother was sure she heard her 3.5 year old swoon.

The mother enjoyed watching the little princess more than she did the show. Then she glanced at her watch and realized in a panic that they would have to leave in fifteen minutes to pick up Hope’s sister from school. Ooops. She had not expected the show to last so long!

This was an emergency. Desperately the mother scanned the audience, looking for someone she might know, someone who could watch the girl while she went to pick up her other child. But there was no one. The mother contemplated calling someone, but she couldn’t use her cell phone in the middle of the show.

They would have to leave the show early…

right at the part where Cinderella runs from the ball and the clock strikes midnight (or really, 2:15 pm).

The mother carried the royal child out of the theater, a mass of pink lace and taffeta, her arms and legs outstretched toward the stage. In the aisle, her glass slipper sparkly shoe fell off her foot. The mother grabbed it, but did not try to put it back on. Even the ushers looked horrified as they exited. How could they leave now?

Her highness, stunned, said nothing as she was buckled in, her gown threatening to overtake her through the carseat straps. Crown crooked, wand dangling, huge crocodile tears spilled down her fairy cheeks.

“I’m so, so sorry, Princess.”

The girl sobbed.

“Oh, fair princess. Look! I have your glass slipper!”

The child looked up and wiped the tears from her angel face, eagerness in her eyes.

“Let’s start at the beginning of the story, o.k.? I’m Cinderella.”

“O.K.! And I’ll play the Fairy Godmother!”

“No,” she sighed, “You’re the evil stepmother.”

Clearly.

.

The End.