Tag Archives: Dreams

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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Through a Glass, Darkly


Cailyn and I were sitting on a bench, watching kids run back and forth on the playground. She sat perfectly still and her head followed the movements of a few of the kids. She turned her head up to me and looked me straight in the eyes as I spoke.

“Cailyn, do you want to go play with the other kids?” I asked.

“No, thank you, Dad. I want to stay with you.” was her reply.

We sat there for a few minutes and, although I don’t remember the exact conversation, we talked, joked and laughed. These talks usually ended with me telling her how proud I was of her and she always ended with “I love you.” Then the sound of loud music would startle me. I opened my eyes to the familiar green glowing numbers on my clock. I just sighed. Six o’clock. Time to get ready for work.

I’ve always remembered my dreams. Like everyone else, they run the gambit from horrifying to downright stupid. They’ve always been breathtakingly realistic, however. So much so, that I’ve had trouble drawing the lines of where they began and ended. I even have those “déjà vu” moments, where a scene of my real life lines up exactly the way a previous dream did. It only lasts for a few seconds, until actual events begin to slightly deviate from the path of my dream and the feeling suddenly drops.

Since the day that Amber tied a yellow pair of baby boots around the steering wheel of my car, I’ve had two significant recurring occurrences in my dreams.

In the first, I realize during the dream that I have a loose tooth or several loose teeth. I spend the rest of the dream fighting to maintain a normal lifestyle as the tooth gets worse. It begins shifting dramatically, until it falls out and I’m left staring at it in my hand. It’s always a prominent tooth and I know that everyone is going to notice.

The second are conversations with Cailyn. There are a few variables to them. They started just before she was born. Sometimes she is older than in real life. Other times, she is the same age. Sometimes I’m shocked that she’s talking so clearly and, in others, we just continue the discussion as if we were old friends. What remains consistent is that she speaks in full sentences and has perfect, plain speech.

I’ve told Amber many times about both of these dream scenarios. Shortly after they began occurring, I tried to look up meanings, online. Unsurprisingly, consistent dreams about losing teeth are supposed to represent a paralyzing fear of not having control. When you are losing a tooth, there is really very little you can do about it and it begins to guide your actions and thoughts. It’s the ultimate subconscious metaphor for a real-life fear.

I was less successful in finding information about the root of my dreams of Cailyn speaking. That is, until she began to get older and the speech never came. Increasingly, the dreams began to make me sad and even angry. I felt taunted by some interaction that I was being robbed of. It was like I was looking through the window of an alternate reality, where my life was once headed until it began to deviate off course. I surmised that the dreams began as moments I most looked forward to, and they became the moments that I most feared never obtaining.

A few times, in dark moments shared between only Amber and I, I would share the mounting resentment. More than anything else, I wanted my daughter to be able to tell me that she loved me. I selfishly wanted a conversation between she and I. I wanted to know what her voice really sounded like. They are things, for which you never anticipate longing, they are hammered into your mind every time you see another child interact with their parent, they stab you in the chest every time you hear another adult reference their child talking “too much.”

I remember the last dream of her conversing with me. I was in New York, away from my family for a week. That night I dreamed of a conversation that I had with Cailyn. All I remember about it was that she looked me in the eyes the whole time and I was focused on the little brown “freckle” in her eye. A few days later, I would come home and she would sing “Somewhere, over the rainbow” to me. Apparently, my subconscious was calmed because the dream I had at least a dozen times before has never returned,

I still have the “déjà vu” moments, however. One of these events, which inspired me to write this post, occurred on my 30th birthday. I got Cailyn out of the shower and wrapped her in a towel. I held her, cradled like a baby, as I often do. She just sang along with a random song that was playing on the iPad when, all of the sudden, she stopped and stared right into my eyes. It must have been for at least thirty seconds. I saw the little freckle in her eye, imagined hearing her voice speaking to me, and started to tear up a bit.

“Cailyn” I said “I’m so proud of you. Daddy kiss?”

She gave me her cheek and said “I yub you.”

I told Amber that it was Cailyn’s birthday gift to me. Maybe the best I’ve ever received.

These moments come and go, as we lose control and Autism forces our world down a different path. Someday, however, I believe that my dream world and reality will be on roads that converge into one and the same. For, today, I see that little girl through a glass, darkly. Someday, I’ll see her face to face.

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