Retail therapy

My middle guy is now a high school freshman!  (Yikes!)  One of the many new things he’s doing is the high school percussion ensemble.

And what did this mean for me?  Dun dun dun….. shopping with my boy!

He needed a black sports coat, black pants, a white shirt, a black tie, and black dress shoes.  We had the black dress socks covered.

Shopping with him is an interesting experience, even when it is an in-and-out trip.  9/10 times he disappears and I spend more time looking for him than I do what I’m shopping for.  I am not good at measuring and estimating sizes, so I just knew this would take for-EV-er!!! We have to try on half the store!  But I need not have worried- we had a great time!

We went to our local Haggar outlet store. The assistant manager, “Janet,” took one look at my son and guessed his size immediately.  What a time saver!  We quickly found a dress shirts in his size.

My son quickly got into a routine.  He’d go in the dressing room, sing to himself, and take too long his time putting on the clothing.  Then, he would come out, and say, “How do I look?”

He first time he came out of the dressing room, he was wearing a white dress shirt with his blue t-shirt underneath.  I didn’t correct him because I thought this was a good indication of how his dress shirt would fit over his undershirt. We found one on super sale, thanks to Janet.

On to the next item on this list. The first time he came out to model black dress pants, I noticed they looked bulky.  I discovered that he kept his shorts on underneath the pants.  I said, “Sweetie,  you need to take off your shorts, so that we know that you pants fit correctly.”

“But I kept my t-shirt on when I tried on my dress shirt.” (Good generalization!)

“Yes, but you will wear a t-shirt under your dress shirt.  You won’t wear your shorts under your dress pants.”

“Oh, I get it!” he said, as he went back in to the dressing room.

The worker quietly chuckled. She told me she thought he was cute.  I smiled, agreed with her, and tried to wait patiently and not tap my foot too much.

He came out and said, “How do I look?” and it was a perfect fit.  I asked him if he’d like to try a different style, so he could see which was more comfortable.  He was more than happy to do so.

He went back in, put on his regular street clothes, came out of the dressing room, and said, “How do I look?”

Puzzled, I said, “You have your regular clothes on.”

He looked down at his clothes.  “Oh! Never mind!” he exclaimed, and he went back in the dressing room.

We laughed so hard!

We left the store with a black tie (I found one that is machine washable!), black pants, and a white shirt.  We kept shopping until we found everything.  We went to three stores that day==.  Yes, THREE.  Our cousin went with us to the third store.  That’s another blog post.  It was fun!

As I reflected on our day, I realized that our day was truly “retail therapy.”  My son learned about generalization, practiced fine motor skills, and learned how to interact with sales personnel. We worked on manners.  But most of all, we enjoyed one another.  After a very stressful time in our family, that was very therapeutic! I look forward to more days like this as he grows and matures, and that gives me hope!



Tough love

We told our oldest son that he had to leave our home.  There were many reasons. Due to respect for his privacy, I will not go into details on the blog.  Please trust me when I say that we gave him many chances and tried many different things that would enable him to stay.  This decision was not easy.  We have the support of our family and friends, his service providers, and others who know us personally. For now, he is living with an extended family member until housing options come available.  He’s safe.

It’s been the toughest time in our family life.

What is the hope in this?  Well, I’ve pondered several lessons that I’ve learned as a parent.  These were things I already knew intellectually; but the time finally came to enforce and give serious consequences.

So, here are the lessons.

1. Being a doormat is not helpful for anyone. It is extremely important that my kids, special needs or not, respect us, our home, and our parental authority. Otherwise, the disrespect of others will carry over into other parts of their lives and they may not get jobs, roommates, or friends.

2. Allowing my kids to use their disabilities as an excuse for rudeness, entitlement, and “passing the buck” for their own lives is more detrimental than the disability itself.  Empowering my kids to live to their full potential and be as responsible for themselves as possible is one of the greatest gifts I can give to them.

3. When my children make stupid crazy decisions with negative consequences, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve been a bad parent.  I can listen to, love, converse with, provide for, and give my kids all the tools in the world and set them up with therapies, job coaches, two rounds of driving school, teach them to cook and do laundry, get behavioral services and lessons in self care, purchase med counters and charts with rewards so they don’t forget to take their meds (a hint as to why our son had to leave), provide healthy food and structure, allow them to collaborate on house rules, have family therapy, etc., but if they don’t follow through and use the tools, that’s on them.   This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn and accept.

4. Tough love is still love.  My friend Maria told me that, and I am so grateful for her comment! Enforcing tough consequences doesn’t mean that we love our son any less.  In fact, I believe enforcing consequences shows that we truly love him enough to help him grow up and become an independent adult, even if he chose the most difficult path.

5.  Just because he is no longer in our home doesn’t mean that he’s not he in the family.  After he left, we did a lot of things “behind the scenes” to help him be successful.  This included keeping all of his service providers informed, and they have made sure that he has options.  We also fixed his bike so that he has some form of transportation.  When we were cleaning out his room we found unopened products– and their receipts–  from his massive shopping spree this summer.  We returned the items and put the money back into his bank account so that he has some funds.  We washed, folded, and packed all of his laundry, toiletries, sheets, etc. so that he has fresh clothes and bedding ready to go. His coffee maker and soda stream machine are safe in a closet.  We also provide transportation for him to his appointments when he needs us and always answer the phone when he calls.  When he’s angry, we don’t hang up on him even when it’s tempting.

These have been the toughest weeks of our family life, and we have been through a lot that I have not written about on this blog.  In fact, many of the tough things are the reasons why I haven’t been writing.

So where’s the lighter side?

Perhaps it is that our home is a lot less stressful.  Or that our son seems to be learning that he can’t escape from himself or his issues.   I think he’s already realizing what he had when he was here, even though he has claimed that we did nothing for him and never helped him– typical teenager stuff, but on steroids.

Son, I’m pretty sure you are reading this.  Please know that we love you and only want the best for you and our family.  See you soon.


Showing off his temporary license after the exam.

Showing off his temporary license after the exam.

After a year of practice, two rounds of driving school, and two driving exams, we not only have a high school graduate, we have another driver in the house!

The day of his second test, we ( my middle guy, and I) piled in the car and and my oldest drove first to a practice course in the city.  We practiced parallel parking, which was what “got ‘im” on the first test.  I coached him from outside the car (and made him put his window down so he could hear my harping coaching) and made him do it correctly 12 times before we drove on to the Department of Transportation for the exam.   (Yes, there was something in it for me and my husband.  We were very tired of driving him back and forth to work.  Those 3-11 shifts were getting old. So I was invested in this test!) Not to be left out, my middle guy found branches and kept putting them in the parallel parking spot and instructing his brother not to run over the sticks.

After correctly parallel parking 12 times, my oldest drove us to the testing place, and while he took his test, my middle guy and I went inside the building to renew my own driver’s license renewal and to get my younger son to get his state-issued id.   I kept looking behind me at the door to see if my oldest would walk in, triumphant or dejected, however the case would be.  I was somewhat of a “nervous Nelly.” I  I must have missed him, because when my younger son and I walked in the picture taking room, there sat my oldest, waiting for his picture for his new license! We celebrated as we three got our pictures taken, then we went out for a celebratory lunch. (We discovered right away that we were also entering the new realm of setting up curfew!)

What a day.  My oldest PASSED HIS DRIVING TEST!  On to independence!!! :)


Ladies and gentlemen, we have a high school graduate!

Walking in line at the graduation ceremony

Walking in line at the graduation ceremony

It has been a long road, but it has been worth it.

Our oldest (my stepson), who is on the autism spectrum, graduated.   He got his actual high school diploma, and is looking toward a bright future!  Hopefully he will be attending school in January, as space becomes available at a special school here in PA called The Hiram G. Andrews Center.  Not only will he be able to get an associates degree, but he will also continue to learn independent living skills at this residential school.  Yes, residential! We are all excited for this!  :)

But more about that later.  Right now we are basking in the excitement and the glory of his graduating from high school.  I have not told his story on this blog in order to protect his privacy, but it suffices to say that, when I married my husband, my then little 3-year-old stepson was not expected to ever be independent.  There are many reasons for this, but we are so thankful that he overcame all of those obstacles!  Here’s a little of his educational story:


Celebrating at the graduation party!

Celebrating at the graduation party! Not so little any more!

  • Entered school for the first time at age 9, as a third grader (when he came to live with us).  He didn’t know all of his alphabet or his numbers.
  • Caught up to 3rd grade math, after not knowing all of his numbers, by 5th grade.
  • Was in special education most of his school career.  However, as a senior, was in a regular senior English class!
  • Graduated on time, with an 81 GPA!

When my oldest crossed that stage at the graduation ceremony, my younger boy called out, “It’s been tough, but your made it.  Go, big Brother!”  And that sums up how we all feel. He has overcome much.  We, as a family, have overcome much.  And we are looking forward to what God has in store for him.

Congratulations, buddy.

Ok, who is this kid? Music makes a difference.

As I posted previously, my son plays in the bell choir at our church.  It’s a good way for him to be part of a group, learn to take direction, and make music– one of his passions.  (I give great kudos to his hand bell choir director, who has learned how to work with my boy and been very patient. I bet he was a great band teacher and school administrator prior to retiring!)

The bell choir plays about 4 times per school year.  Usually, I am my busy self and it dawns on me the Saturday afternoon before the Sunday morning performance that my son needs to have his clothes, shoes, etc. ready.  More than once we’ve had to run out at the last minute to get him dress pants or shoes that fit.

This time, however, was different.

I reminded my son, “Hey, remember what tomorrow is?”

“What?” he replied.


“Oh yes!  Mr. F. wants us to wear green.”

“Yes, we are supposed to dress like it’s spring.”

“Oh.  Well, I don’t think you have anything green.”

“Yes, I do.  I am going to wear my Hawaiian shirt because it has green in it, my light brown pants, my brown dress socks, and my dress shoes.”

Waaaat???  Planning ahead?  My son?

After I recovered from the shock, I asked him, “Do you have those things ready?”

“I’ll go up right now and get it ready, Mom. OK?”  He ran upstairs to his room.

“Ok,” I replied. I had to sit down.  This was amazing.  I had this feeling of relief that I didn’t have to do it, but at the same time I felt a sadness that I wasn’t as needed. But mostly I was relieved.

A few minutes later, my son called from upstairs,

“Mom, I need to go out to get a new belt.”

“Why?” I called.

“Well, does my blue belt match my Hawaiian shirt?”

Okay, by this time I was about to faint because never has my boy cared about matching.  But I recovered quickly, and said, “Yes, the belt matches.  There is blue in your Hawaiian shirt, too.”

“But Mr. F says green.”

“I don’t think Mr. F. cares about your blue belt.  He said ‘spring,’ right?  Not just green.”

“Yes!  Okay, thanks, Mom.”


My boy proceeded to lay out all of his clothes, including his socks, shoes, and belt.  The next morning we were actually early for the dress rehearsal because he was ready in record time.  He even complimented someone at church on their shirt.

Double huh.

Music makes him want to prepare and get up in the morning. Music is helping him be independent.  I have hope that my husband and I may indeed be empty-nesters.  And that’s a good thing!

Expectation, crying, and a call from the school

At 7:30 AM,  my son’s learning support teacher called. My son, P,  was very upset and crying.  She was concerned, as this was the second time she had seen him cry in three years.  He said he would feel better if he could talk to me.

The issue: his older brother M did not wear a coat to school.  (Also, another kid reported that M and another student hitting P while on the school bus. So she was going to report my older son and this other kid for bullying on the school bus.  But Philip was mainly upset about the coat issue.)


As my husband listened in, I consoled my boy. Here’s a snippet of our conversation.:

Me: Hi, sweetie, what’s wrong? You were crying?

P: Yes.  M. did not wear a coat to school! And Dad told him to.  He needs to listen.

Me: He didn’t wear his coat?  And that upset you? Well, he does that sometimes.  It’s his decision.  It’s weird, but it happens.

P: Yeah.

Me: I’ll have Dad talk to him about it, ok?

P: Ok.

Me: Was M hitting you on the bus, sweetie?

P: Yes.

Me: And who else?

P: “Jake.” (name changed)

Me: We’ll take care of that too.

P: Ok.

Me: Is there anything else? Do you feel better?

P: I feel better now.

Me: Ok, sweetie. You have a good day.  You can start your day over right now, ok?  I love you.

P: I love you too, mom.  Bye.

My husband and I looked at each other and took a deep breath and sighed. My husband said, “Oh, boy.”  I shook my head.  We were  upset by the bullying and that P. didn’t report it himself.  P. was upset by the coat.  So there’s two life lessons that P. needs to learn: letting people make their own decisions and standing up for himself.

I am so grateful that other students were looking out for P.  I’m grateful for an understanding teacher.  I’m most of all grateful for a son who knows that he can call me if he has a problem and for teachable moments.  And this gives me hope.


Investigation: The Case of the Missing Tablet

I am just beside myself with joy!  Want to hear a true feel good story?

When we helped out at the church’s pantry on a Saturday, my son’s tablet was stolen. He had left it unattended to come find me.  I was sad, but not surprised. We tried to track the tablet electronically, but it had been purged and reset.  So sad.  We figured that the tablet was gone. My son, husband, and I had lots of conversations about what my son would do next time if he took an electronic to pantry day, or anywhere else.  We decided to work on street smarts with all the kids.

However, my church family was not content to just be sad and chalk it up to “lesson learned.” In fact, they were pretty upset.  My “sister” Wendy, who is going to partner with me for a new ministry at the food pantry, and “Peanut,” a man who comes to the pantry and has become active in church, “investigated.” Peanut then called his suspect and told him that if he didn’t return the tablet to Peanut within 1/2 hour of when Peanut got off work, then Peanut was going to come get it and bring the police. Peanut had the tablet within 25 minutes.

When Wendy messaged to tell me, I was shocked. I’ve never had someone watch out for my family like this… and sadly to to say, especially in the church! Wendy and I were so excited, and I could hardly wait to tell my son.

“Guess what!!!” I said to my boy.


“You know Ms. Wendy and Peanut from church?”


“They did an investigation!”

“An investigation?”

“Yes, and guess what they found!”

Pause.  Look of wonder emerges on my boy’s face.

“My tablet?!?”

“Yes!  Do you want to go with Wendy and me to pick is up from Peanut?”


So my boy and I picked up Wendy at her place and went to meet Peanut at a 7-11 and got his tablet!

 My boy was so happy.  He danced, ran around the parking lot, exclaimed, “You even got the charger!”, and hugged Wendy and Peanut.
I love it that we have have a community that watches out for one another, and that we can watch out for, too.  I was able to explain to all of my kids that they have a real church family that cares for them and really likes them, a lot, and that they can count on this.  We can do the same for them, too.  I explained how rare this is, and that this is God’s love in action.  We still need to have street smarts, but we also know that someone has our backs.
Community, love, and justice.  It was a great day!

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