My Valentine


I remember the conversation but I don’t recall a specific instance of it. That’s because it happened so frequently, throughout my childhood. Sometimes, it was as I was being tucked in. Other times in the car. Whenever I was alone with my parents and things were quiet, it seemed like the subject was inevitably going to come up. It started something like this:

“Craig, do you have any idea how much we love you?” they’d ask.
“I guess” would be my typical response.
“We do. We’d do anything to protect you. I’d lay down my life for you. If a bullet were coming at you, I’d jump in the path to keep you from harm.”

If not the most probable, this hypothetical bullet was apparently the most dramatic scenario they could muster…because it was ALWAYS the fictional way they’d demonstrate their love. It must have made an impact because I believed them. Wholeheartedly. It made me feel safe. It made me feel important. It made me feel loved. It made me feel the way that every child should, but so seldom do. Still, I could never imagine doing that for anyone else.

When Cailyn was born, I remember feeling awe. I remember being overwhelmed with fear and the weight of responsibility. I even remember wondering if her head was going to be shaped like a cone for the rest of her life. What I don’t remember was an immediate and overcoming feeling of unconditional love. That first night, as Cailyn repeatedly interrupted my sleep, I laid there and battled the guilt of these emotions. The next morning, while I played with her, I noticed that she didn’t cry as much with me as with others. I’d walk her around and sing softly to her and I swear I saw her smile. I learned that some sounds got her attention a little more and she cried less when I rocked her a certain way. I recall picking her up from her crib, putting her over my shoulder and patting her back. Suddenly, her back went rigid and her head flew back…she was choking.

The nurse, who happened to be in the room, told me not to panic. She walked over and stuck her finger in Cailyn’s little mouth to try and clear the obstruction. After a few, never-ending seconds, she looked over at me and said to hit the red button. I immediately felt the impact of the moment and how this little girl needed me so badly; That I understood her more than anyone else in the world and she needed me to be her hero and that I just wanted her to stop hurting. In my adrenaline-induced stupor, I couldn’t even find the button. I slid out to the hallway and yelled.

“Help! Someone help! My daughter is choking!”

If love didn’t happen instantly, it grew quickly and was in full force shortly thereafter, as I learned the intricacies of her personality. She was “daddy’s girl” in every sense of the phrase. She laughed for me, she fell asleep for me, she LOVED the way I played and wrestled with her and she completely trusted me. I can’t count the number of times people watched, in awe of the way I’d launch her up in the air only to catch her coming down. She’d laugh hysterically, almost begging me to keep going with her smile. “Wow, she REALLY trusts you.” the onlookers marveled.

…and so she should. Daddy loved her and with that love, grew to hate anything or anyone that would do her harm. I knew that I’d never let anything bad befall her. I ran at and frightened a little boy at a playground, who hit her. I despised people driving too fast down the road, because they put her in danger. I avoided people with aggressive children, because I couldn’t stand to watch her get hurt…intentional or otherwise. There is no question I’d take a bullet for her.

Protection, however, becomes infinitely harder when the person you love and are trying to protect hurts their self. So often, I’ve stood helpless, watching Cailyn suffer. She bangs her head against the wall and floor, she hits her face and chin, she pokes her finger into her eyes, she bites her own arm, and scratches are her back, legs and stomach. A few weeks back, I was called to her classroom at church, because she was hitting her head and elbows against the wall. I took her to the car and drove around town to calm Cailyn down. I looked back and saw the bruises on her forehead and couldn’t help but be overwhelmed my helplessness. I tried pointlessly bargaining with God, offering everything I own to find the source of her pain, which was apparently so intense that she tries to numb it through more pain. I told Him that I’d gladly give my own life to take this obstacle of Autism from her. It’s a bullet I couldn’t take for her.

This afternoon, on Valentines Day, we had to take Cailyn’s iPad away because she’s been obsessive with it and won’t be social. Her intense reaction to not having it, only confirmed that we had to stick to this and not give in. She screamed and beat her head. When I made her sit in time out, she began scratching her stomach. She picked up a toy and jabbed it into her face and started kicking her feet against the hard tile floor. When she started banging her head and wailing at the top of her lungs, I could no longer compartmentalize my love for her and my hate for things that would hurt her…I just wanted it to stop.

I picked Cailyn up and (surprisingly) calmly walked her to the couch. I sat down and restrained her completely. I made sure she couldn’t hit or scratch or kick. She then resorted to pressing her chin against my face and then banging her head against mine. I looked at my wife, defeated, but simultaneously determined to break my daughter’s will. Amber looked back at me with an equally hopeless stare…one possible solely from the one other person in the world that has lived our life. We wanted to stop each other’s pain just as much as Cailyn’s. Finally, minutes later, her violence stopped. As I let her down, my baby girl, my heart…my Valentine turned and looked at me. It wasn’t a look of trust or safety…it was one of anguish. Although I had done everything I could to protect her, it was emotionally painful to her. I had become the source of her harm…and I then hated myself for it.

I sat there, staring blankly for the following few minutes, but my mind moving at breakneck speeds. Finally, I dismissed myself and walked to my bedroom closet. I sat in the corner, with my head in my hands and cried in a way that people only cry when they’re completely alone. I began heaving and leaned over, into the wall, when the door to the closet cracked open.

“Daddy?” Dalton, my three year old son cautiously asked, peeking inside. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s sissy.” I respond, trying to compose myself. “She hurts herself and I can’t protect her.”
“Oh…” Dalton stands for a moment, obviously deep in thought. “I can’t fix that problem.”
“I can’t fix it either, buddy. No one can fix it.”
“I have an idea.” Dalton says, and he bends down, grabs my hand and lowers his head.
“Bless mommy, bless daddy, bless sissy, and bless me. Help sissy not have Autism again and help her talk good forever and ever…amen.”
He sealed his prayer with a hug as his dad, three decades older, bawled in his arms.

After I had to restrain her, Cailyn wanted to be alone. She went to her room and told everyone coming close to “Go away.” I went to the store to pick up some groceries and came back home, still completely entrenched in guilt. I walked into the door, took off my shoes and coat, and went straight to her room. I was expecting the look of hurt and pain, but was instead met with a smile.

“DADDYYYYYY.” Cailyn growled with a smile and her eyes wide. “Piano. Want piano pees.”

For the next hour, I danced with her, I tickled her, and I threw her around, as she smiled. She jumped around and asked for more, begging me to squeeze her and falling off her bed, into my arms. A peace came over me, as I had a comforting epiphany. I didn’t feel safe because my parents said they would take a bullet for me and I never felt loved because they said it, even though they always did. As much as teenagers will throw words around, love isn’t communicated in words. Despite our smut-peddling entertainment industries attempts to try to sell it, love isn’t proven in moments of passion.

Love is the practice of placing someone else’s needs before your own so consistently that it becomes habit. Love is an empathy that hurts you more than the person experiencing the pain firsthand. Love is taking a moment to pick up a hanger from the floor when you’re running late for work, because you don’t want your wife to have another inconvenience in her day. Love is willing to take an iPad away and let your daughter (and yourself) hate you for a moment…for her long term well-being. Love is established through a lifetime of selfless action and results in a trust that isn’t shaken because of a single moment. It’s a language of it’s own and, in those moments, my daughter’s eyes told me that love’s translation surpasses Autism.

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Perfectly Different


Just days before Cailyn’s birthday and I’ve already been to the store multiple times. This trip was already nearing an hour and I’d seen every single individual toy in the building…twice. I circle back to an aisle so bright and pink that it makes me dizzy. I pick up items, one at a time and read the packages carefully, pressing each button and pulling every cord. I’ve excitedly grabbed and held about a dozen boxes for varying degrees of time, even making it the checkout line once, only to relent and painfully and carefully put it back in it’s place. On my way, I pass several people shopping for their own children. Sometimes, my face is so warm and my eyes so glossy, that I’m sure I’m completely transparent. One mother walks by with a jewelry creation set she just picked out with her little girl, barely older than Cailyn. I wonder if she realized she just passed the most empty person in the world.

Every holiday, birthday, and special occasion, I go through a similar ordeal. Each time, it’s a little longer…a little darker. Like many men, I work hard and sacrifice my time to make sure that my family is comfortable. Children don’t REALLY understand why their dad is gone for the majority of their waking hours. They don’t get mortgages, the price of utilities, or the fact that food isn’t free. The only tangible result of a man’s efforts, sure to make a kids eyes light up, is triumphantly throwing open the door and proudly exclaiming “I have a surprise!” Sometimes, after the hardest days of work, I’ll bring something small home for the sole purpose of being the hero of the evening.

I can walk into a room and instantly identify something that my son will love. We intentionally get him things to stimulate his growth, while still playing to his interests. Cailyn, is a different story. Our home is littered with unused toys that we’d purchased, in the hopes that it could spark a more typical interest and potentially move her along in development. At one year old, we got her a train for fine motor growth and she sat there all morning, looking at the bottom and spinning the wheels. Her second Christmas, we bought a kitchen set for pretend play. Instead, she found the button that triggered sounds, promptly ripped off the oven door and just pressed that. These were actually success stories, as most of her gifts just sit unused. She’ll open them up and promptly toss it aside.

I dream of Cailyn playing with dolls, brushing hair, making jewelry, or modeling a dress. I’d pay a fortune to walk into her room and catch her playing out a conversation between two of her animals. I’d die a happy man if she could someday bat her eyelashes at me, because she wanted an expensive outfit…which I’d then promptly purchase, against her mother’s wishes. Instead, Cailyn goes for light up and sound-making trinkets. She’ rather hold onto disassembled, colorful plastic pieces, than to play with them as part of the whole toy.During Christmas time, I’ve begun taking for the “giving tree” and intentionally picking items for girls her age. I buy things that I wish I could get for Cailyn and I often pretend like it’s FOR her. Each time, I drive home feeling as though I’ve done something deeply disturbing. I sit in the garage and wipe away the lines of tears on my face, until I’m convinced that I can pass Amber’s inspection, when I walk in.

That is when this birthday became different. Immersed in another reminder of my daughter’s difference, I gave in to another warring faction in my mind. As if it were an army bursting through the gates of a fortified city, my demeanor turned. I immediately ran for a plastic magnifying glass I’d seen, earlier. I then ran to the candy and found something we’d usually not let her have. These were small things that she would love, to go along with other non-typical gifts she’d be getting for her birthday. I got home and immediately walked through the garage and into the house. Amber saw right through me and we held each other for the next few minutes, crying. It was definitely sadness, it was perhaps even more shame. It was the most recent instance of me casting aside selfish denial, in the best interest of Cailyn. I was no longer forcing my 30+ years of social conditioning on her, instead acknowledging and embracing the things that made her unique.

Every time that I’m convinced I’ve come to grips with Autism, I’m simultaneously and unwittingly entrenched in another battle that will eventually shake me to my core. Each of these are only symptoms of the larger war. While Cailyn has most, if not all, of the basic needs of any person…she’s operating on a different plane. Like two opposing wheels of a car, Cailyn is perfectly different. She and I turn together but our realities are engineered to never meet. The only way for us to exist together is through the pain of one or of us both. While there is a time and a place for her to come into my world for the sake of her growth, it’s even more important for me to grow by sacrificing my own comfort to give her the gift she really craves…company.

A few weeks ago, I hugged my wife and said “we’re the only ones in the world that understands what the other has been through.” In that moment of relative loneliness, I was hit with the realization that Cailyn is the one living Autism…and NO ONE understands her. Cailyn lives in a world of her own making. She isn’t privy to the norms and constructs of our world. She can’t communicate to anyone and likely never completely understands the depths of her own feelings. Society tries to change her and her needs are unintentionally marginalized by the ones, who claim to love her most.

So my growth as a husband, father, and man must shift. Instead of trying to “fix” my unbroken daughter, I need her to know that I’m her place of safety. I can no longer gift from my heart, but demonstrate through gifts that I know HER heart. Instead of asking her about her day, I take the time to sing her favorite songs. Rather than having her mimic me, I’ve memorized and now repeat the language that she uses. Since the day she was born, Cailyn and I never had the same outlook on things like language, gifts, or fun. She says “I love you” because Amber and I say it, but she expresses her love in smiles and squeezes. So, when I get stuck in my world, hung up in the differences of Autism and how life hasn’t lined up with my superficial expectations, I am simply fulfilling my own prophesy of separation and depressing. As I move throughout the house, obsessed with myself, I could be walking by her room without even realizing that I’ve just passed the most empty person in the world.

God, give me Your eyes, that I might see her as You intended; Perfectly different.

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Known


It was late January, and I was on a yearly business trip. About mid-way through, I learned that Cailyn was sick. With each passing hour, I followed up more and inexplicably became more concerned. I was a thousand miles away and felt so helpless. I packed my suitcase a day early, so I could leave on a moments notice. I must’ve seemed distracted, because a coworker called me the night before we were scheduled to leave, with an opportunity to hop a corporate flight back…provided that I was ready to leave right away.

After finalizing the details, I rushed down to the lobby and called Amber on the way. Her reaction was more worry than relief. She assured me that Cailyn’s temperature was down before she put her to bed, and that she was doing better. I had left my old car at the airport exposed, somewhat low on gas, and we were dealing with sub-zero windchill back in Ohio. On top of it all, I’d be traveling on a late night flight in less than perfect weather conditions. Amber was worried and almost talked me out of the trip, but I decided to leave anyway and eventually made it home without issue.

The next morning, I was awake before Cailyn, which was odd. After an additional hour waiting, I went to her bed to check on her. When I found her, she was unresponsive. We rushed Cailyn to the ER and she was admitted to the hospital for multiple nights with a severe case of the flu and croup. The doctor was direct in his diagnosis.

“She’s in pretty bad shape and her oxygen is dangerously low. I’m glad you brought her in, when you did…she may not have been able to wait much longer.”

Nothing in life is more frightening than uncertainty, especially in situations where we lack control. Somehow, watching a recorded game is less gut-wrenching than a live one, even when I don’t know the result in advance. The decision has already been made, the path set in stone…the future known. It feels as though the limitless permutations are removed and the result no longer in doubt. Similarly, the scariest part of a suspenseful movie is BEFORE you see a villain pop out, when the hero is walking from darkened hallway to darkened hallway and nothing bad has actually happened…only anticipated. For much of my childhood, I was completely paranoid of roller coasters, without having ever actually been on one. Only when I finally rode one, did I discover that I wasn’t actually afraid of coasters, rather the idea of riding them.

There is a comfort in knowing our favorite TV characters are likely to to be scripted into the next episode, or that statistics are strongly in favor of surviving the next amusement park ride or airplane landing. Unfortunately, the statistics for a child with “severe” Autism aren’t quite as friendly. Every night for nearly 18 months, Cailyn would wake up between two and four o’clock in the morning, crying and screaming. We slept whenever we could, because a restful night could never be assumed. We felt almost terrorized and completely defeated. More recently, we went through a half dozen whole-hearted attempts to potty train. Each time, giving up after a couple weeks and numerous changes of clothes because she “just didn’t understand.”

Each of these seasons of our life were demoralizing, seemingly without script or hope. Only in retrospect can I look back on them and see the beauty and growth in the trials. The most recent of which resulted in every door and comfort in Cailyn’s outside-of-home life being stripped from her in the matter of months. Her teacher and aides were changing, we’d moved to a new church, and we were moving to new outside therapy programs. To make the situation more tenuous, we’d decided to move schools and every door we sought, seemed to slam in our face. Instead of pushing them open, I implored Amber to wait for the open one. We’d been down this road and I had a peace that everything was going to work for the better.

Within a week of Cailyn transitioning to the new (and public) school that was honestly our third or fourth choice, we received a note home that they were willing to be consistent with potty training, if we were willing to send her in underwear. This was a sensitive topic around our home. Amber broke into bittersweet tears when Dalton, although two years younger, was using the restroom before his sister. The hope was refreshing, but the uncertainty was stinging. Only a few weeks later, I was sitting at home when I heard Cailyn walk into the restroom. I ran in just in time to see her flush. She hasn’t had an accident since. One day, she looked at me, smiled, and said “daddy proud.”

Through Cailyn, I’ve discovered that fate is merely a cosmically impossible series of events which, in retrospect, work in perfect synchronization to save us from ourselves. Every new teacher, impossible task, change in school or church, or other adjustment in Cailyn’s life has been a gateway to improvement. Each mile marker on her journey was facilitated by a moment of crisis, not accomplished in spite of them. Every tear of pain has been book-ended by one of thanks and joy.

The Earth is full of people, asking for a sign. It’s natural to want certainty and guidance in storms. We seek any indication that we are valued, accompanied…known. In reality, these signs rarely come as a flashing light, burning bush, or hungry whale. Instead, they are revealed by examining the past as series of events, each of which absolutely foundational to our current existence. Although sometimes painful and perhaps unscripted, the guidance is undeniable. Whenever I’m feeling fulfilled, I can’t look back at any of my trials without realizing that my more abundant life would be impossible without having experienced them. When I’m suffering, I’ve come to accept that it will eventually be a pivotal season in reaching my next peak. I can have this assurance because I see evidence that I’m playing a role in someone, whose end purpose is bigger than my own…and you can’t plan the end without planning the means.

When Amber and I were dating, we talked about a lot of the things that a serious couple would/should. One of the most important topics was children. Initially Amber wanted two or four children. Although she had this number, she only had one name. She said that, if she had a girl, she always wanted the name to be “Cailyn.” Just as though I’m watching a game with the outcome set in stone, or a movie, wherein I know the hero is victorious, it gives me peace. It is yet another sign that, even before I was entrusted with her life…Cailyn was known.

The Heroic


But truly, women are amazing. Think about it this way: a woman can grow a baby inside her body. Then a woman can deliver the baby through her body. Then, by some miracle, a woman can feed a baby with her body. When you compare that to the male’s contribution to life, it’s kind of embarrassing, really.
-Jim Gaffigan

As long as I’ve known my wife, Amber, her passion has been singing. “Passion” almost doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. It’s been her dream to sing since she was in grade school. She’s followed the rainbow from Ohio to Missouri, Phoenix and back again. She’s invested thousands of dollars and hours into her pursuit. It’s a longing so strong that she prays about it every day…it sometimes even wakes her up at night. Before I ever met my wife, I heard her music…and her dream has never been unreachable. She is AMAZING. So, you can imagine my surprise when, a couple months ago, she came to me one day with a revelation.

“I feel like I should give up my music.”

She explained that she wanted to see change in Cailyn more than anything else, and that her pursuit of singing had occupied a space in her life that she felt led to sacrifice for the love of her daughter. In the weeks since she made this commitment, I’ve seen more positive change in Cailyn than in the prior year…and I’ve seen more joy in Amber.

The word “hero” is thrown around a lot, these days. The term took on a new meaning for me, when I returned home a few days ago. I grabbed the mail, walked into the house and saw Amber patiently working with Cailyn on her tracing. There was food cooking on the stove and Dalton was going wild around her. There were chalk drawings outside, she had cut the lawn, cleaned the house, and the laundry was in the final stages. Just then, I looked over at the bills in my hand and realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d written a check. If a “hero” is defined by a person, who gives up their life for another, then I am certain I married one.

She isn’t alone. It takes a hero to commit 31 years out of the prime of her life to selflessly and gracefully raise four strong-willed and often ungrateful children. It takes a hero to battle the day-to-day stress of restaurant ownership, knowing that the demands at home will never allow her to “punch out.” Heroes commit to their children, sometimes working multiple shifts to provide when the father walks out. Heroes decide to keep, love, and protect their unborn child…even when the doctor discovers birth defects. A hero carries their baby with care for nine months, knowing that she’ll have to give it up to someone else, so it can have a better life. It requires a hero to cope with, let alone thrive in, a home with a child who has special needs.

A few days after we took Cailyn home, I called my mom. The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, you did a lot of things wrong with me, but you were just a KID. I only now realize that you had absolutely NO idea what you were doing, but I can see that every decision you made was with my best interest at heart, because you loved me. I guess it’s life’s greatest injustice that we never understand how much our parents love us until we’re out of the house with our own. I can only hope that Cailyn understands these things and makes this same call to me, someday.”

There are millions of strong, capable, and talented women with dreams. So many of them have sacrificed youth, ambition, and personal freedom to guide new life through an unforgiving world…and, quite frankly, to perform feats that leave their husbands in pure awe.

Though their personal passions and dreams never fade, they are surpassed by a love that overwhelms self; A bond that is developed during overnight feedings, wiping butts and runny noses, kissing boo boos, breaking fevers, driving to events, waiting up all night; One that could only be formed by having another human living INSIDE of you for nine months…a love that defies the explanation of man, because it is unique to mothers.

When you compare that to the male’s contribution to life, it’s kind of embarrassing, really.

Happy Mother’s Day!
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A Road Paved with Never


“Based on these test results, Cailyn is extremely delayed…based strictly on what we’ve observed, I can’t say that I would expect her to communicate verbally; certainly not in sentences.”

We quickly learned that the depths and complexities of Cailyn’s capabilities couldn’t be so easily summarized by anyone. Just months after hearing that Cailyn wouldn’t speak to us, her first repeated word (“bubbles”) was triggered as an incentive to play with bubbles. Her second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. all followed within minutes. She could suddenly say ANYTHING and it was as simple as a switch “on.”

This was no anomaly, but the beginning of an emerging pattern: Cailyn was only a single connection away from an exponential jump in progress. One day, while playing with a Christmas gift, we captured another amazing moment on camera as Cailyn spontaneously used a sentence. As she began to place a car sideways to go down a ramp, she realized it wasn’t going to work. She turned it around, made sure she could see the headlights and said “Car goes like this.”

The search was on. If incentives and toys could flip the light on, we were going to try anything and everything to jumpstart another achievement. Unfortunately, Cailyn wasn’t exactly able to communicate the things she loved. We began a painfully long and expensive cycle of trial and error, where we would buy anything if she showed interest. We’d give families gift ideas for birthdays and Christmas, only to get the same response.

“All done.” Cailyn would say, pushing away the item.

While she has made progress using the word “yes,” Cailyn doesn’t understand the abstract concept of “no.” Negatives are actually quite complex. The word “not” makes an entire statement into the opposite. We learned that Cailyn wouldn’t respond when we asked her not to do things, so we had to give her positive reenforcement to perform another task, instead. So, as opposed to asking her not to hit herself, we’d instruct her to put “hands down.” Cailyn can’t even tell us when there is a problem, she only knows solutions. Instead of telling us when she doesn’t feel good, she asks for “medicine.”

Over time, we’ve slowly happened into items and incentives that have led to miraculous gains. Equine therapy sparked her ability to follow multiple-step instructions and resulted in tear-free fine motor gains. Cailyn’s therapists had worked with her fruitlessly on tracing, when we discovered she responded to an iPad tracing game using stars as points. When her teachers used stars, she excelled. Now, we’re using numbered points and she’s connecting the dots. Her love for suckers have even led to her beginning to spontaneously and independently use the restroom.

Progress is rarely overnight. To get Cailyn to ask for things she wants, we started by letting her pick a picture on a set of cards. We moved on to labeling these items in the house, so she’d take us to them. Then we took off the labels. When she learned to repeat words, the labels became vocal. Then we began making her use the name of the item, even when she couldn’t see it. Now, we make her use sentences, ask her to be polite, and are pushing adjectives. It’s a beautiful thing to hear the toilet flush, see Cailyn run in without pants, and then hear her speak…

“Mommy, I want sucker, please. Pink. Yes.”

Cailyn should not talk; She’d never use sentences. She can not go to Kindergarten and could not keep up in a typical class. Cailyn is not fit for a job, can not meet a boy, and will not live independently. These are the things we read, see, and are told every day…even by our subconscious, in dreams. In a moment of vulnerability, I might admit to having believed every one of them.

Cailyn’s journey is littered with impossibilities, riding a road paved with “never.” She’s surpassed each of these expectations; relegating unrealistic milestones to her rear-view. Step-by-step, and sometimes in leaps, Cailyn is defying every one of us and becoming the girl I was afraid we’d never see. She doesn’t know your limitations…

…because Cailyn has never been good with negatives.
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Burn the Fleet


I’m anxiously pacing down the hallway with Cailyn’s hand firmly grasping mine. Sometimes she’s excited, prancing beside me and giggling uncontrollably. She may also be upset and need comfort, begging me to hold her in my arms and pat her back. Cailyn’s mood, however, is as fragile as it is pronounced…and her mood for the rest of the day may be dictated by the next few moments. It’s a regular trip that I anticipate and often dread…the moment when I discover who will be watching my daughter.

Sometimes, we’re blessed with individuals who have a passion for Autism and Cailyn. These people (you know who you are) have impacted our lives and brought us joy, that we can never fully express. Other times (especially in new places) we’re met with confusion as we try to summarize the complexities of Cailyn’s particular spin on Autism, into a 2 minute conversation…all while a dozen other children are racing around playing in the background.

“Ok…are you planning on any loud sessions? If so, she’s going to freak out and need to be away from the others.”

(Blank stare)

“Here is a brief summary of words that you may not understand from her, but may be the difference in her being manageable or screaming and hitting herself the entire time…Snacks are in her backpack with the diapers. Did we mention she isn’t potty trained?”

(Eyes widen)

“Here are some signs that she may be starting to melt down…If any of these begin, she might ask you to hold her. She uses closeness and touch to calm herself down. Are you by yourself, today?”

(Mouth now beginning to hang open)

“Please come get us if there are problems.”

It’s a “no win” situation. Cailyn naturally has a more difficult time with the unfamiliar. Unfamiliar kids, unfamiliar teacher, unfamiliar classroom, unfamiliar time…all can trigger extreme anxiety in her mind, which manifests itself in behavior that an unfamiliar teacher doesn’t often know how to manage in a five year old. It isn’t fair to any party in the transaction and the results are often very similar. I’ll walk back to the class and Cailyn will be in the corner all alone, while the other kids are engaged in activity with the teacher. She’ll already have her coat on (who knows for how long) and her diaper will be soaked almost through. She runs to me, wants to be held, and can only say a few words…

“Car Seat. Please. Bye Bye.”

We can’t maintain a lot of friendships. Most people grow tired of the overhead that comes with family time. We don’t do ANYTHING on a whim because the benefit of joy in any last-minute activity will be negated by the price we pay for a lack of preparation and forethought. Most houses aren’t Cailyn-proof, so going to other people’s homes can be a tedious exercise of head-swivel and saying “No. Don’t touch.” It’s just not worth it. Such is the life of a family with a young, special needs child. We’re separated from the norms of everyone else.

So, the next time we’re a little too quick to correct our children, it’s not that we’re “high strung.” When we don’t make an effort to get together, it’s not because we think we’re better than anyone else. If we get overwhelmed by the thought of last second plans and opt-out, it isn’t that we’re aloof or “no fun.” When we don’t go to events, whether private, charity, or church…it’s not a flippant decision to be separate. It’s a calculated sacrifice to hold onto the last beacon of sanity in our lives. What everyone else sees is nothing more than a fleeting glimpse into every moment of our new lives.

While you may be encouraged by gathering with others and singing a song, remember that I just dropped off a person I love (much, much more than myself) into the hands of people who don’t understand her; Into a place where she may be sad, scared, neglected, unwanted, and confused. Then, with that knowledge, I’m asked to stand, sing, and praise the God that permits it to be. Fellowship and community can be a supplement, but just as easily a barrier to faith.

I’m not targeting anyone, but speaking about our general state of mind and the existence of some families battling Autism. Over three years ago, our lives set out on an entirely different path. We’re no longer citizens of your land. We’ve embarked on a lifelong journey, the perils of which have no basis for explanation in your tongue. We wake under a different sky, fall asleep to a more ominous moon, and each moment in between somehow feels different because Autism can reach up and pull the rug out from any moment of serenity. In spite of this, we press forward because the love for our daughter overwhelmed our desire for normalcy. We set our sails ablaze…and here we will remain.

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Autism Awareness


Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:40pm EDT
Craig Holbrook updated his status.
Peace, be still.

This was the day; the moment that I knew that my life would never be the same. It was at this time that I KNEW that my daughter, Cailyn, had Autism. In an instant, I set out on a journey of ever increasing awareness for a cause which, just days earlier, didn’t even register in my consciousness. We all do it, to an extent. If our minds weren’t able to filter out the ever-present white noise of pain surrounding us, we’d all just stay in bed. That is why we have “awareness” days. It’s not to burden everyone with a cause, but to plant a seed of remembrance into your mind…so when the situation arises, you are equipped to bring a moment of peace into the life of someone in turmoil.

Sometimes, I feel like we all are guilty of glamorizing the journey. We sensationalize the miraculous woman with Autism, who has a doctorate and is wildly successful. We celebrate the news feature about the non-verbal girl, who writes novels. We watch American Idol, a national anthem, or an ESPN video of a person with Autism, root for them and shed a tear…so we’ve done our part for the day. We’re a nation of armchair advocates, living blissfully unaware of the real lives of others. The fact of the matter is that estimates now place one in every sixty-eight children on the Autism spectrum…and most of their parents will never see their child’s daily victories go “viral.”

“There is no true despair without hope.”

Many reading this blog have been privy to the wonderful things that Cailyn has done. She’s truly made progress beyond what we were told to ever expect. I feel blessed for that. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to guide her, love her, and protect her. What you haven’t seen, or haven’t been told, is the day-to-day fight of having a child with “moderate-to-severe” Autism. No one wants to hear the story about a five-year old child that can’t be left alone, because she’ll poop herself and smear it all over her room and eat it. No one wants to think about a child that can’t put herself back to sleep, so she wakes up in the middle of the night, every night, for months on end. It makes you uncomfortable to read about a girl hitting herself, banging her head against a wall, and scratching her face when we ask her to say her name or restrict her iPad time. We avoid going to homes of other people, because we’ll do nothing but try to keep Cailyn from hurting herself or breaking things. We can do very little as a full family, because Dalton’s presence alone often throws Cailyn into a spiral of screaming and crying. We limit trips to stores and almost never go to restaurants, because we get looks and comments from people, who don’t think Cailyn “looks Autistic”…whatever that means.

Maybe I’m too freaking sensitive. Then again, maybe you’d be on edge too, if you dealt with your child running off in public, knowing full-well that she couldn’t even call for you or tell someone her name. Maybe you’d get a little testy every time someone tried to suggest one of her challenges are similar to that of all children. Maybe you’d be paranoid if you had recurring dreams about having someone watch/teach/care for your demanding child, only to have the person you trust harm or neglect her…and she can’t even tell you. Maybe you’d hate yourself…just a little…if you felt jealous seeing another man having a good time, talking with his little girl.

I can only now bring all of this up, because many of these are ghosts of our past. We’ve found ways to cope with the challenges, Cailyn is making wonderful progress, and Amber and I act as each other’s therapists…each one strong, when the other is weak. We constantly see hope in Cailyn’s achievements and those of others in the community, for whom we sincerely rejoice. Simultaneously, we are humbled by our blessings, as we’re confronted daily with families, who have it far worse.

I know Cailyn. I love her. I see things that many of you could never see. That is why I can never go back to being an armchair advocate. I balance husband, father, employee, and many other roles, but I’ll count myself blessed to be known as Cailyn’s dad. There are millions of parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and families of children with Autism, who feel the same way. They don’t buy a colorful light once a year and forget. They live a life where disappointment, frustration, and despair hit like the drip of a leaking faucet but the love for another overwhelms their desire to quit…so they limp to the next day.

You can make a difference in the lives of these people by:

  1. Knowing the signs of Autism and having difficult conversations with people you love when you suspect there may be an issue. Early intervention is the key.
  2. Staying informed of Autism-related legislation and taking the time to write or call in support.
  3. Donate your time and resources to local special needs organizations or reputable research and advocacy foundations.
  4. Support frustrated parents of children acting out in public, when you encounter them. Take a moment to empathize and make them feel human, instead of an annoyance.
  5. Sharing this information with your family and especially with your children, so that they have a foundation of treating those who are “different” with respect, love, and kindness. If there is one thing I’ve found, it’s that none of us will “defeat” Autism. With a little awareness, however, you may just be able to bring some hope to the day of an exhausted parent or frustrated child.

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…In The Way They Should Go


“Hmmmmm…”

Dalton pursed his lips and tapped them with the index finger on his hand. You could almost see the gears in his head spinning. He tightly held a quarter at his fingertips, moving it back and forth between the slots of two porcelain banks.

He had recently watched “Monsters University” with Amber, at the movie theatre. This sparked a new fascination with “Monsters Inc.” which he repeatedly asks to watch at home. Now, he was talking about monsters all the time. He wanted Monster books, Monster clothes, Monster action figures…Monster EVERYTHING. That is, until he was walking with his mom through the store and saw a large Monster stuffed animal. THAT was what he wanted.

Amber and I started to work with Dalton on the concept of accruing small rewards to a long-term end. We had utilized a sticker system with great success, but felt that this may be a good time to introduce money and the concept of saving for a goal. Dalton began officially saving to get a Monster. The rules were simple but following them wasn’t quite so easy. I would come home from work everyday and ask Amber if Dalton had been listening “the first time” that day. This was a subjective call, but her answer was the difference in him getting a quarter or having a stern discussion with daddy. He also had the opportunity to earn pennies, nickles, and dimes by going “above and beyond” in various ways throughout the day. You’ve never seen a child as happy as him, when he would get a quarter and put it in his monkey bank for storage. Soon, he claimed, he was going to buy a monster.

—————–

Before Dalton was born, expectations for him were set irrationally high. We only had Cailyn at the time and were focusing on how good it would be for her to have a brother. Amber and I discussed how having a (hopefully) typical child around the house could assist in modeling for Cailyn. We hoped he would help her become more social and that he would take an interest in being a friend and eventually an advocate for his sister. These, in hindsight, were lofty goals for a fetus.

After he was born and not long before his dedication ceremony, my dad asked me what I wanted for Dalton’s life. After writing all of my thoughts down, I read back through them, lowered my head in shame and erased it all. I realized that I was asking him to live his life for his sister. I preseted my thoughts to Amber before changing my approach. We decided that we most wanted Dalton to be independent and “not to be bound by our expectations.” My prayer was that my son would be free of obligations, but that he would have a sincere heart and allow himself to be led by that.

…And independent he would become. Dalton challenged us on nearly everything we asked of him. Many times, he refused to do things simply because we told him to do it. He’d scream, fight, and rebel over commands that seemed minute. He’d also obsess over completing tasks without help, trying fruitlessly for long periods to perform actions that were well out of expectations for his age. What was worse, we were struggling to find a good way to make an impact in discipline.

That is, until we took his stuffed dog away from him. We quickly learned that Dalton would get upset when we put his dog in the closet, because that meant the “Dog was sad.” We started getting a better reaction from him when we expressed sadness instead of anger as a disciplinary response. We also found that we could nicely ask him for almost anything he had and he would give it to us. Dalton’s independence, it would seem, was only surpassed by his empathy for others.

One day, Dalton and I had a very adult conversation about his sister, as we rode through in the car. I remember that he screamed at me for not giving him exactly what he wanted.

“Dalton,” I said “I’m not going to give you what you want when you scream. No screaming.”

“Sissy screams too.” Was his retort.

“Dalton. Sissy is different. She isn’t like other kids and she has different rules, sometimes. She is sensitive and when people scream, it makes her very sad. Do you understand?”

He subtly nodded his head and then looked out the window for a few minutes, before piping back up.

“Daddy, I scream and sissy cry. I want sissy happy.”

Dalton would come to learn and recognize many ways in which sissy was “different.” When she became upset, he discovered that she would respond better to him hugging her than to playing or talking. He began to freely give toys to her if she was crying or when she tried to grab for them. He patiently played her games, even when they didn’t always make sense. One day, I asked him if he was daddy’s boy and he calmly responded “I sissy’s boy.”

I’ve learned that these unselfish and loving responses to Cailyn aren’t unique. I’ve had many awe inducing moments as I’ve observed other children interacting with my daughter. One time, we were at a 5k run and I was watching our kids as Amber ran. All the other children were out running and playing soccer when a young boy stopped, turned to Cailyn and asked her to come play with him. For nearly a half hour, he ignored all of his friends in favor of including and entertaining her…yet he was the one with the biggest smile. I know his family and recognized that this was the fruit of discussions they’ve had and lessons he had been taught.

Every Sunday as church is ending, I walk back to Cailyn’s class and peek through the window. I like to see how she interacts with others when I’m not around. One day, I watched as she quickly ate her fruit snacks and then threw a fit because she had no more. The teacher did exactly what I would have done and began to explain that she had eaten all of them. Just as she began to calm down, one of the other kids waived their arm.

“Here Cailyn!” the four year old child exclaimed. “You can have one of mine.”

This set off a chain reaction of children offering Cailyn one of their fruit snacks. She went around the circle, from one preschooler to another, grabbing fruit snacks and popping them in her mouth. I stood there, mouth agape, and probably tearing up. As I took Cailyn away from class, I heard the usual choruses of “Goodbye Cailyn!” and watched as another girl told her mom “That is Cailyn. She’s my friend.” I know that these weren’t spontaneous acts of kindness, but blossomed seeds planted by teachers, who understand Autism and have made a point to translate this complicated concept into the language of children.

Although there are personality traits at work with these acts of kindness, the action is anything but random. In life, habits are formed through practice. Proper execution in any given moment is governed by preparation for the situation. Every night, I tell Dalton a story (or three) before bed. One way I prepare him for life, is through these tales. One of the most common stories goes something like this.

“One day, sissy was outside playing and other kids were being mean to her. They laughed at her and made her very sad.” Dalton is noticeably distraught by this part.

“THEN Dalton comes outside.” He smiles because he knows what is coming next.

“Dalton says, ‘Hey, don’t laugh at sissy! I love sissy and God loves sissy.’ This made sissy very happy, because she knew Dalton loved her. The kids even stopped teasing her. Dalton came inside and mommy and daddy were so proud of him, because he did the right thing and took care of Cailyn, even when the other kids were all being mean. The end.”

It’s amazing how proud Dalton is, for an action he has not yet had need to perform.

—————–

On this day, however, Dalton is at a crisis point. He has just discovered Cailyn has a coin bank too. Although She had broken her first one when we were trying to teach her to put change in it, she still has a small pair of porcelain baby shoes. For the most part, this bank is empty. Dalton asks us to bring it down and immediately notices the rattle of just one or two coins. Compared to his giant coin laden monkey, it’s a pathetic site.

“Clank!” The unmistakable sound of a large coin hitting the bare bottom of a bank. I look down to see Dalton’s empty hand still hovering over a small porcelain pair of pink shoes.

“I give quarter to sissy.” Dalton says with a big grin on his face. He jumps up, runs down the hall yelling “Mommy! I give quarter to sissy! Mommy! I give quarter to sissy.”

I sat him down shortly after the excitement wore off and explained to him that, although I’m very proud of him, his mother and I have no expectation that he will give his money to his sister. He has earned that money and has every right to it. I’ve also told him that, when he gives it to her, that money does not help him buy a monster.

Every time he runs to his room to deposit money, Dalton now asks for Cailyn’s bank too. He doesn’t always make the same decision, but the war is ever present in his mind. We’ve never rewarded Dalton for giving his hard-earned quarter to his sister, in part because his smile is bigger on the days that Cailyn becomes twenty-five cents richer. Dalton has learned a lesson beyond his years: There is an irreproducible feeling of satisfaction gained in sacrificing yourself for someone you love.

I’ve learned a lot through being a husband and father, but I often summarize it in one sentence. Dalton will learn it, know it, recite it, and hopefully see it through me.

“Boys live and men sacrifice.”

…and a man shall he be.

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Lessons in the Wilderness


It was the first day after 2012 Spring Break. Cailyn was in her car seat singing and grinning from ear to ear. Amber pulled into the school and helped her out of the car. They made their way to the door, Cailyn clumsily skipped with her tiny Dora backpack dragging on the blacktop. Amber didn’t even get to say her customary goodbyes. As soon as the door opened, Cailyn darted off to class. Her happiness was a welcomed sight after a long week of temper tantrums and time-outs. With Dalton around, preschool and ABA therapy became a release for Cailyn. She loved the routine and structure and she seemed to be thriving when she was there.

If school time was Cailyn’s release, it was a parent’s life saver. Amber no longer had the time to give Cailyn eight hours of uninterrupted, individual attention each day. It wasn’t fair to Dalton, who turned out to be so much more demanding than his sister. As we attempted to spread our efforts and time equally, our daughter’s progress slipped. When she began school full-time, things started to change. She was making real, tangible progress. What’s more, we were seeing all her accomplishments laid out in a student binder that we reviewed every day. Instead of treading water, we suddenly felt like Cailyn was moving forward again…and then break hit.

It was a perfect storm of Dalton moving around the house a lot better, finding his voice, and Cailyn being home more. The net result was all day scream-fests, violent outbursts, and a lot of crying. Cailyn was unable to focus on anything but her brother and he loved whatever attention she would give him…even if it was the bad kind. She began hitting herself and putting her hand in her dirty diapers, again. Even her sleeping was worse. She was rebelling against the change. We weren’t responding much better. Patience had run short, discipline was in great supply, and we were flailing around in vain, trying to establish a class structure to get us through. I remember laying there one night, unable to sleep. I looked over at Amber, completely defeated, and asked “How are we going to make it through summer?”

Summer came, school ended and, predictably, Cailyn’s behavior changed for the worse. During this time, my relationship with her changed. Instead of pressing focused lesson plans and charting progress, I decided to just concentrate on making her happy and having fun together. I’d get home and tickle her, give horsey rides, play games and run around with her. This was not a selfless endeavor, but my resignation to a life of Autism. I no longer had the energy to play the role of Sisyphus on my daughter’s mountain. If the boulder was going to crush me anyway, I was determined to have some joy on the ride down. I no longer had faith that anything I did mattered, and so I quit trying.

…At least that was my original intention.

One day, Cailyn and I were outside playing. She was galloping down the sidewalk like a horse and I was jogging more slowly behind. Suddenly she stopped. She turned to me, grabbed my hand, looked me square in the eyes and said “Ready, Set, Go!” She bolted off, holding my hand just tightly enough to force me to put some leg into it. She giggled excitedly as she ran and repeated the pattern, despite my best effort to explain that daddy wasn’t quite so in shape. When we came inside, I told Amber the story. What followed has been a recurring conversation in our household.

“Where did she learn that?” Amber asks, often stunned.

“Oh, she and I play that together sometimes. She must have picked it up.”

“She always imitate the things you do!”

This is just one small example. We were seeing all sorts of these changes in Cailyn. It was as if all of our efforts to teach her had been creating stress and discord (in everyone) and the “quitting” approach was actually encouraging her to interact and be a part of her surroundings.

One particularly fun-filled night I sat on Cailyn’s bed, before she went to sleep. I prayed with her and then looked her in the eyes and I saw a different look in them. She seemed so much more aware. I began talking to her, just as I would another adult. I’ll never forget the conversation.

“Cailyn, there is a part of you inside that understands me. I know things are scary and don’t always make sense. I just want you to know that, when you’re ready to tell us what you’re going through, Daddy is here. You can come to me and I’ll protect you. I’ll listen to you and make sure that you have everything you need to feel safe. I love you so much and, even if I never hear you say another word, I’m so proud of you. You’re daddy’s girl and you’re absolutely perfect.”

She never broke eye contact and, when I finished, she grabbed my face and brought it into hers and rubbed our noses together. I knew then that we were going to be okay.

It’s been a year since I left the bondage of a life, wherein my sole purpose was to fix Cailyn. Looking back on it all, I see how far she’s come. She’s become more social and aware of others, craving interaction and praise. She is communicating needs, wants, and even her emotions. She engages in pretend play and has made great strides in receptive communication, following instructions better than we imagined possible at this age. The most gratifying part is that I don’t have to look on a chart to see all of this progress…I was a participant. I’m discovering that she has these capabilities within her and I’m convinced that one day the switch will flip and she’ll confound and amaze. Not because of any specific effort we’ve made, but because she sees that we are safe.

I’m somewhere between Egypt and Canaan, so far from where I was found and an immeasurable distance from the place I hope to be. Here, the discontent and restless venture in circles, only to have their footprints filled and their bodies buried in sand. I, on the other hand, have been set free to live each day new. While I still struggle with the weight of a journey, yet to come, I’ve come to learn that time is a commodity without price. A man with an uncertain destination will leave Earth with only regrets unless he learns to find beauty and joy in the scenery.

Who knows, someday, while we’re all enjoying our time together on Cailyn’s journey, the light may just…

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A Life Less Frightening


It was a beautiful fall Saturday. Amber was working and I decided to take Cailyn to the park before a full day of football. The park nearest our house has a huge play fort made of wood. The most fun parts of it are meant for children over three but we never paid attention to that. Although Cailyn was a bit too small to climb the stairs, I always held her hand and made sure no kids ran her over.

Once we made it to the top, she’d run around, smile, and squeal. That is, until she got to the bridge. Made of wood panels, held together by metal suspension cables, it is incredibly secure but designed to sag and sway when you run across. Cailyn would run up to it, look down as if to judge the risk, and run immediately in the opposite direction.

At first, I tried to be gentle and would walk with her up to the edge, encouraging her to take a step. She always cried and screamed, so I’d relent. After a few tries, I was tired of games. I knew that she’d be fine if she just tried it once. We watched other kids run over it a few times and I finally decided she was going to do it. I began to press up behind her and gave her no room to turn around. Finally, I gave her just a final little nudge. She went to step and was doing great, until her toe caught the edge of the platform. As she fell, she put her hands down to brace her fall and she pinched her finger in the bridge.

For two and a half years at work, I went to Subway and ordered the same sandwich for lunch. I would walk across the street each morning at 11:27 AM and would be spotted by the manager. My sub was ready by the time I walked through the door. Life mirrored my meal choices, as I avoided anything uncomfortable or uncharted.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted predictable, average, and safe. At a young age, I decided that my life’s dream was nothing more than a wife, two kids (hopefully a boy and girl), and a stable job to keep it all together. I recognized a career path that I thought suited me and I followed through, not because I was passionate about it, but because it seemed to maximize my potential for success. My senior year of high school, I had an assignment to write about what I would be doing in five years and it is unbelievable how closely it matched my eventual reality. Sometimes, I swear I was born for project management. When given the time, I’ll find and mitigate risk where others see smooth pavement. I’ll plan contingencies for my contingencies and find some way to control and deliver on exactly what I envisioned.

Except no one plans to have a child with Autism.

Cailyn laid on that bridge and bawled her eyes out. I’m sure some of it was the pain but the fear loomed larger. Being a father, I immediately scooped her up and held her to my chest. I insisted that she’d be fine and tried to soothe her, partially because I felt responsible in some way. As she started to calm down, I decided that there was no quitting. She had to move forward.

I don’t know the exact statistics but it sure seems like there are a lot of single parent homes impacted by Autism. The diagnosis comes with a degree of sacrifice, frustration, and fear unknown to those who haven’t dealt with it. Many times, it’s a life-long commitment. To be perfectly honest, I can’t even blame someone for being self-aware enough to know they can’t handle it. In my twenty-eighth year of life, it was the first thing to ever really and wholly “shake” me.

I remember lying in bed in the morning with my eyes closed. I’d concoct a scenario where some extent of my current existence was a dream. I’d begin to imagine that I was lying in the apartment and Amber would be beside me, still be pregnant with Cailyn. Sometimes, I’d wonder if I was still asleep on my old bachelor couch that sunk down to the floor. I’d talk myself into thinking that If I just counted to three and opened my eyes, that I could return to a different time and this dream as a way to mitigate the risk of my future…that I could hit the “reset” button. Instead, I’d see the recessed white ceiling of our bedroom.

Although Amber and I were both in the house, for a short period of time, I’d quit. My commitment and love for Amber and the kids kept me present, however I’d abandoned all hope of change. I accepted a life without progress and just decided to go through motions of normalcy, to trick myself into believing that I hadn’t colored so far out of the lines. I would spend all day playing with Cailyn and not pressing her to do anything that could result in her acting out, I would hug her when she was having good moments, walk away when she’d hurt herself, and throw on headphones when she screamed. Meanwhile Amber was doing therapy and dealing with the stress all alone.

After a few weeks of this, I remember one specific day where we had just returned from vacation and I wanted Cailyn to do some simple activities with me. With almost no notice, she flipped into a rage, started screaming, and hitting me. She went on to biting herself and even hit herself in the head. After a vacation week with almost no structure or progress, the emotions of the previous year hit the surface. I ran across the room and flipped our coffee table into the wall, breaking the table and putting a hole in the drywall. I let out a yell that went until my voice cracked, began beating my fists into our front door as hard as I could until I had no more energy, and I just sunk with my face in the corner sobbing. Amber was on the other side of the room doing the same. She wasn’t scared. I think she knew I was back; That I was willing to risk heartache to fight for my family.

I was invested, again.

The following try, Cailyn didn’t step straight onto the bridge. She sat down and scooted to the first plank. She trembled as she stood up and began to walk. Every few seconds, she’d stumble and stop immediately with her arms out to balance. Fear draped over her, but she kept moving. I watched at a distance, knowing if I were closer, my instinct would compel me to catch her. She needed to make this trip alone for her own good. With each step, she became more confident and eventually she reached the incline on the other side. Then, she slipped.

Through no virtue of my own, I’ve stumbled to the place I am, today; My footing as uncertain as the day I first read the word “Autism” on a computer screen. Doubts are frequent, frustration is plentiful, and hope sometimes fleeting but if there is anything I’ve discovered, it is that the human experience wasn’t intended to be sterile. Instead, I feel reborn into the fullness of the life God intended because of my trials, not in spite of them. It is a bridge I was too stubborn to walk of my own volition.

When we settle for a life less frightening, we deprive ourselves of the highs as well as the lows. We trade an existence of impact and meaning, for one of comfort and imprisonment. Through the gift of Cailyn, I’ve learned to appreciate every milestone, achievement, moment of clarity, and word my children speak. I’ve discovered a previously impossible well of strength in myself, a flood of admiration for my wife, and an unconditional love for my children. I no longer only exist, I now live more abundantly.

Even more importantly, I’ve discovered there are other people who need us. Individuals who, without Cailyn, would see us as too contrived and clean for credibility.

I fought my every impulse to run and grab Cailyn, as she again picked herself off the wood. She was a little shaken but didn’t cry. This time, a little girl walked over to her and started talking.

“It’s okay. Watch me!” The girl said, as she jumped down onto the bridge, wobbling quite a bit, herself. With the added excitement and motion, Cailyn suddenly decided that walking across the bridge wasn’t nearly as fun as bouncing on it. She began to laugh and scream with excitement. The little girl eventually said goodbye and walked away, smiling. As I watched her leave, I couldn’t help but wonder if she had one day fallen and pinched her fingers, as well.

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