My Michelangelo.

Oh my independent one,

Today, you are seven years old.


It seems like only yesterday that when you cried, felt overtired, or just woke up from a long sleep, I could snuggle you and squeeze you and comfort you. But it wasn’t yesterday. It’s been quite a long time—except when you had the flu, of course—since you’ve needed Mommy to soothe you or baby you. Last year at this time, I had a kind-of-sort-of big boy finishing kindergarten. This year, there is no denying your lack of babyhood. You are my tall, skinny first grade boy and every day, more and more, I am inspired by the independent person you are becoming.

One of my favorite memories in your year as a six-year-old happened during our Eastern Caribbean cruise last summer. Daddy, you, and I boarded Harmony of the Seas to visit St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and Haiti. It wasn’t your first cruise, but it was your longest and you enjoyed every single second of it. You got to ride on a yacht, swim in the ocean, watch airplanes fly overhead, and even meet your greatgrandfather for the first time. But secretly, those weren’t Mommy’s favorite moments. While Daddy went off to play one day, you and I spent some time together, and the most precious moment for me was when you and I relaxed in the infinity spa. You kneeled on the step in that hot tub with your elbows over the edge, looking out at the horizon like the world and everything in it belonged just to you. I love watching you watch everything else—seeing the world through your eyes is a beautiful thing, and I think if a genie granted me one wish, I would wish to take a stroll through your inquisitive little brain to hear your thoughts about what you see.

Infinity Spa

On the cruise, every night, we ate dinner and then walked around the ship. You loved riding the elephant on the carousel and playing the claw game in the arcade. As a matter of fact, that cruise ship was where you first found your love of “pluppy duckies.” The claw machine company says Plucky Duckies, but call it what you will. We spent months finding claw machines in every mall and arcade we visited and Santa Claus brought you your very own set of multicolored pluppy duckies and your very own claw machine! I’m always impressed at how well you can capture the toys!

Just like every year, this last year brought some changes. In October, we realized you were very unhappy in your school, and so Mommy and Daddy found you a new school. Your entire schedule changed—Abuela no longer drove you to school, we had to leave much earlier, you met new teachers and new students and new therapies—but you rolled with it, like you always do. I know that unexpected changes to routine can be anxiety-inducing, but you have embraced your new school and our new normal. You are my DJ on the long drive in the morning and afternoon, telling me which songs to play: Sia’s “Chandelier,” Clapton’s “Layla,” Chris Brown’s “Forever,” Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” and “Sing,” Gorillaz “Feel Good,” Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” Coldplay’s “I Want Something Just Like This” and “Adventures of a Lifetime.”

Some of the things from this year that I never want to forget:

-You carrying Mickey Mouse every place we go and filling your bed with all of your friends before you go to sleep.

-The way you pretend your wooden trains and toys are rides from Disney World: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Tower of Terror.

-Your constant whistling, something nobody taught you but you do so well.

-How if you hurt yourself, you ask me for a “feel better” and take the Band-Aid I give you to put on top of your boo-boo.

-The way you can spot a Jeep across the parking lot, and when we’re driving, you say, “Hi Jeep, bye Jeep!”

-Your communication skills and how hard you to try to be heard. This year, you finally started commenting on things. It is music to my ears to hear you step in the tub and say “It’s too hot” or refuse to go down a slide at the playground because “It’s wet!”

-Your imaginary play. With Ms. Amanda, your speech therapist, you like to play with the baby doll and put her in the swing, on the potty, and tuck her into bed.

-Your face when you rode the Harry Potter Hogwarts Express train at Universal Studios with Daddy, Mommy, and KK.

-How when I needed my nails fixed recently, I debated stopping at the salon with you, but figured for the first time, I would give it a try. You amazed me and sat perfectly still with your Mickeys on your lap. Another client complimented your good behavior. We live in a difficult world that isn’t always kind to people who are different. I know that sometimes, you have been mistreated for your struggles and this time, a stranger commented on what a good boy you are. I’m so proud of how far you’ve come! I know you’re special, but it means a lot to know others see it, too.

-The way you lock the door when you use the bathroom because apparently at almost seven years old, you require extreme privacy.

-Your funny little missing front tooth, just a few days before your birthday, as if I needed another reminder of you growing up.

This year, you didn’t ask for much for your birthday. You wanted to go bowling, eat pizza, and have a “didna turtles cake.” I’m not a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, but when I was planning to buy you a t-shirt to match the theme, I asked your daddy which turtle you would be. Without missing a beat, he said, “Michelangelo.” Why? Because pizza. Because fun.


There is a lot of fun left to be had, sweet William. In a few weeks, we will be embarking on a new adventure and moving into our new home. You’ll not only have a big house and room to call your own, but for the first time, you’ll have your own pool. We have a nice big fence around our yard so you can swim and play and make all the noise you want while you splash with Daddy and me.

Our purpose in life is to keep you safe, healthy, and happy. All we want is to make memories with you and for you to know that you are so loved.

So eat your pizza, my Michelangelo. Have your fun. You deserve it, today and always. Let’s make lucky #7 the best year yet!


(Not So) Tiny Prince

Tiny Prince,

Happy 6th birthday, William Thomas! In the blink of an eye, another year flew by and here you are, 44 inches tall, 42 lbs solid, full of life, love, beautiful curls, and long, twiggy legs. In this year as a five-year-old, you faced some changes and challenges mixed with exciting moments and I’m sitting here, reflecting and reliving every little bit.


-Road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
-Family visits in New York and Pennsylvania
-First train/subway rides
-Learning to read words
-First school bus ride and field trip to Homosassa Springs
-Moving up to Level 6 at Seal Swim School
-Disney, Disney, Disney!
-Being tall enough to ride Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom for the first time
-Competing in Special Olympics

Current Favorites:

-Kit Kats
-Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”
-The “row-coater” that KK bought you
-Your own face in the mirror J

Words to describe you:


Things I will never forget:

-The wonder in your eyes looking out the window of the New York train
-You choosing your dinosaur backpack and your first day of school outfit—a blue polo shirt and khaki pants. (You INSISTED on “pants!” even though I told you it would be hot outside.)
-Doc McStuffins holding your hands, looking into your eyes, and crouching to hug you at Hollywood Studios on your fifth birthday.
-Your face watching the “snow” fall during the Frozen Sing-Along at Hollywood Studios.
-Your big, belly laugh when Magical Mickey spoke to you and said, “Cheeeeeese” at Magic Kingdom.
-The sound of you driving the Power Wheels Jeep into the bookshelf on Christmas morning.
-You learning to call “Mommy!” when you need me. Last week, you woke up and couldn’t get out of your bedroom and you called out for me FOR THE FIRST TIME.
-Your first crush—Ms. Kaitlin at Heart 4 Kids, where we took you for an occupational therapy evaluation and you smiled and got stupid shy and closed your eyes and tried to kiss her!
-You demanding that I still push you in the baby swing at the park.
-Your ability to stop and listen to explanations before getting upset. I love you so much for this.

Disney Characters You Met:

Mickey Mouse/Minnie Mouse/Daisy Duck/Donald Duck/Goofy/Doc McStuffins/Jake/Sofia/ Handy Manny/Chip/Dale/Pluto/Aurora/Cinderella/Ariel/Baloo/King Louie/Snow White/ Anna/Elsa/Tinkerbell/Olaf/Woody/Buzz Lightyear/Pooh/Tigger/Piglet/Eeyore/Alice/Mad Hatter/Mary Poppins/Joy/Sadness/Viking/Pocahontas/Peter Pan/Rafiki/Belle/Tiana/ Rapunzel/Elena/Princess Jasmine/Moana/Chewbacca/Kylo Ren/Aladdin/Merida/Mulan

Oh, William, you’ve had so many great moments as a five-year-old! Sure, we’ve struggled a bit with academics and you’ve gone through both teacher and therapist transitions, but I want to focus on all the positive experiences you’ve had!

You’ve become Mr. Independent now that you’re in kindergarten and Ms. Landis pushes you to advocate for yourself. When Abuela brings you to school, you dismiss her by saying “Bye Way-la” when you’re ready to walk with Ms. Morrison to your classroom. When I pick you up, you insist on carrying your belongings, putting your backpack on, and clipping it across your chest. At Disney Springs a couple months ago, your actions demonstrated your independence. You handed your token to the operator, picked your seat on the train ride, and fastened your seatbelt. Part of me feels a twinge of sadness when you don’t need my help, but more of me finds such solace in the fact that you are moving forward and learning to take care of yourself. For the most part, you have learned to get help when you need it and you’ve learned how to put on your shirts, underwear, shorts, and socks! You. Are. Capable!

You’ve learned to communicate in your own unique way when you cannot use words to express yourself. You love to pull our arms places and tell us where to sit. You like to play chase, and ask us to “Stand up” and “sit down” and “I’m gonna get you.” You even take bandaids and put them on your belly or on your teeth to let us know that something is hurting. You had your first loose tooth as a five-year-old… you’re getting to be such a big boy!

For your birthday last year, Daddy and I were able to buy annual passes to Walt Disney World, and I must say, we have made the most of those passes! We’ve stayed at All Star Movie Resort, All Star Music Resort, Art of Animation resort, Caribbean Beach Resort, and the Hilton Buena Vista Palace. You explore the hallways, playgrounds, elevators, and swimming pools at these resorts as if you live there and Daddy and I just adore watching you take everything in. You even like to use the key cards to open the doors to the hotel rooms yourself. We’ve eaten at nearly every character dining experience and you’ve had the opportunity to meet so many of your favorite characters!

JasminePeople refer to Disney as “the most magical place on earth.” I must say, you have made that statement true for your daddy and me.

IMG_9161It has been a joy to experience Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios with you! You’ve even gotten to share these experiences with other family members–Tio, Titi, Leli, and Gramps! At Magic Kingdom, you run around in the splash area near Dumbo and you request “Snow White row-coater” over and over again. By far, Snow White Mine Train and Splash Mountain are your absolute favorite rides! You even watch Splash Mountain videos on YouTube at home! You laugh and laugh when we watch the Mickey’s Philharmagic 3D show and when we meet Magic Mickey. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile or laugh as much as I have when you hear that giant mouse say “Cheese!” Your eyes light up and you stand perfectly still when watching the “fire fires” light up the sky at the end of the night, even when you have to try really hard to stay awake.


At Cinderella’s Royal Palace for Valentine’s Day, you met Cinderella, Aurora, Jasmine, Snow White, and Ariel. Each princess said something about your beautiful curls (Jasmine called them “magic carpet curls”), and Cinderella referred to you as “Tiny Prince.” You rode the elevator with her twice—like the king of the castle!

Cinderellas Castle

You’ve also become quite the Harry Potter fan (or “Hippo Popper,” as you like to say). You put these magical movies on and listen to the music in the opening credits so carefully. When you were sick, I was able to get you to watch the first two movies completely and half of the third. Someday, I hope we can sit and read the books together.


I love that you’re interested in the characters at Disney and in Harry Potter… magical stories like these remind us that good triumphs over evil, that there’s more to each person than what’s on the surface, and that one person can rise above obstacles to achieve greatness.

Magic: wonderful; exciting; fascinating, captivating, charming, enchanting, spellbinding, magnetic, irresistible

You are magic, William. You brought magic into my life when you were born and you fascinate and captivate and charm and enchant me every single day. You wake smiling, you fall asleep smiling, and I smile because of you.

This year, at 6 years old, I wish you more magic, fun, smiles, laughs. I wish you strength as you face obstacles, and when you’re not strong, Daddy and I will be strong for you and with you.

In closing, I want to leave you with the lyrics of the song you ask me to listen to every day on the way home from school. It’s a beautiful ballad from the soundtrack of Me Before You, one of my favorite books turned film that coincidentally tells the story of a young man named Will. I know the book tells of a tragedy and the story behind the song stems from a child whose parents are facing divorce, but when I hear it, I think of how sometimes, Mommy and Daddy are overwhelmed and don’t know how to make sure you have everything you need, but you always reassure us that all you need is for us to hold you and be with you.

“Unsteady” by X Ambassadors

Momma, come here

Approach, appear

Daddy, I’m alone

Cause this house don’t feel like home

If you love me, don’t let go

If you love me, don’t let go


Hold on

Hold onto me

Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady

Mother, I know that you’re tired of being alone

Daddy, I know you’re trying to fight when you feel like flying

But if you love me, don’t let go

If you love me, don’t let go


Hold on

Hold on to me

Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady

I will always hold onto you. I will never let you go. Happy number 6!

❤ Mommy ❤

No Point

Every Christmas, my husband and I watch one of our favorite movies: The Holiday. It’s not really a Christmas movie per se, but the setting is a mixture of London and Los Angeles over the holiday season, so we always work it into our schedule.

There’s a scene in The Holiday that always stands out to me. Iris (Kate Winslet) finds out that Jasper, the man she is hopelessly devoted to even after he breaks her heart, proposed to one of their coworkers. Iris goes home from work after the public announcement, puts on sweats, and sobs into her sleeves while brewing some tea. The part that gets me is when she takes the pot off the stove. She stops for a minute, then leans over to inhale the fumes from the gas stovetop as if she’s realized she has no reason to live. After about two inhalations, she blurts, “What am I doing?” She turns the knob on the oven, opens the window, breathes in the fresh winter air, and slaps herself, saying over and over, “Low point. Low point.”

I’ve always thought there were two meanings to this phrase in her mind. First, she was at a low point in her life and didn’t see the point of living a lonely life without the man she loved. Second, she came to her senses and saw her low point for what it was. There was no point in ending her life over this man.

I often have days that feel pointless. As an autism parent, there are things I just don’t get to experience the way the parent of a neurotypical child does, and it can be disheartening. Though guilt rises up in me admitting this, I ask myself frequently, “What’s the point?” Then I have days when I remind myself that it’s just a “low point” and there’s no point in wallowing in self-pity. My son is my son and we do what we have to do.

In May, my husband and I had plans to take our son to see Frozen on Ice. My son came down with something and we took him in to see the on-call doctor who prescribed medication for him and then went on to say that we probably shouldn’t take him to the show. “He’s not contagious,” she said. “But it’s a better idea to stay away from crowds so he doesn’t pick up something else. Plus, he doesn’t really understand so he won’t know what he’s missing anyway.” I stopped listening, calmly excused myself, and made it to the car before my husband and I both shared tears over her tactlessness.

She said this garbage in front of my son. She had “known” him for about five minutes. And in that small amount of time, she determined what he could understand and what he couldn’t. She assumed.

I seethed. My son loves Frozen. He loves Bubble Guppies. He asks to go bowling and to go to the beach. He picks certain foods and avoids others. He’s not stupid. He’s not unresponsive. He’s alive and well and he’s a person with likes and dislikes just like you and me.

So we took our son to see fucking Frozen on Ice. And he watched. And he smiled. And in my head, I punched that doctor in the throat. Because on every level, human and professional, she was dead wrong.

Friends and family members jumped to defend me and shared in my anger when I posted about the situation on Facebook. They supported me and commented on all the pictures of William clapping along with his favorite Frozen songs. He wasn’t 100% himself because of his ear infection, but he had a couple of days of antibiotics in him by the time we went and damn it, we were going to Frozen on principle alone at that point.

One of my friends genuinely asked me via private message, “Would William know the difference?” I thought about it. He had never been to the Amalie Arena. He had never seen any show on ice. He had never seen a person ice skating, come to think of it. That had nothing to do with autism, though. So I told her that he understands we are seeing Frozen. I told him it’s in a big arena. I told him we’re going with his aunt and his daddy. He could think we’re just going to watch the movie. But couldn’t any four-year-old think that? Any child might not be able to picture or grasp something brand new to them. And I like to think even if he couldn’t picture the entire setting, he was looking forward to it.

I think people, like this on-call doctor, often believe there is no point in attending big events or attempting to celebrate holidays with children with special needs like William. Because they don’t react the same way. Or they can’t experience it in the same way. But this is funny to me, because how many people do you know who take their infants to Magic Kingdom to meet Mickey Mouse? How many spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts for a child who will forget the toys and play with the boxes? How many of us throw Pinterest-inspired first and second and third birthday parties that are really more for the invitees than the guests of honor?

Here’s the thing: memories aren’t just for the child. They’re for the parents, too. We do these things to see our children smile, sure. We do them to build our families. And we do them to make ourselves happy, too.

Every year, I’ve selected William’s Halloween costume. I remind him how to say “Halloween,” “trick or treat,” “pumpkin,” and other seasonal phrases. I take pictures and I laugh at him holding a pumpkin full of candy. But it’s hard repeating myself year after year. I shouldn’t be teaching my four-year-old to say “trick or treat” when that was all he could say two years ago, right? It’s hard. But you know what? He is what we have. He is who we have. His abilities are progressing every year, slowly. So we embrace it.

He was an astronaut. Then Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Then Danny Zuko from Grease. Then Albert Einstein. This year, because he loves watching baseball—specifically, the Tampa Bay Rays—I decided to buy him a Chris Archer jersey, fro out his crazy hair, find some baseball pants and cleats, and make him a Rays player. I knew he would like it.

But this year, I faced a couple of obstacles…

One of my friends asked me about William picking his costume. Though I’m pretty open about our struggles, people—out of both ignorance and sheer curiosity—ask questions or make comments that remind me that we’re different. Her question kind of took the wind out of my sails. Would he ever pick his own costume? Should we even try? What’s the point?

Then, William all of a sudden developed a sensory issue with button-up shirts. I started worrying that the jersey thing wouldn’t happen. He wouldn’t wear it. Should I even try to get him to wear it? What’s the point?

On Labor Day, my husband and I took our son for a ride to the Spirit Halloween store. I thought maybe, just maybe, he’ll walk up to a costume that catches his eye.


My son, like always, wanted to run up and down the aisles over and over again. He wanted to push the button that awakened a screaming banshee hanging from the wall over and over and over again. He wanted to see the red lights on the zombies and the smoke coming out of the wolf’s mouth over and over again.

I sat on the floor of an aisle and text my best friend while my husband chased my son. “There’s no point,” I sent her. No point in asking him to pick a Halloween costume. While little boys and girls around me pick their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Elsa costumes, my little boy repetitively pushes buttons and runs in circles. Oblivious. My emotions spiraled. No point in Thanksgiving. No point in Christmas. No point in Easter. No point in birthdays. He doesn’t even notice. I felt tears coming. Then a text message came in.

“He’ll get there,” she answered. And she’s right.

I stood up, put on my bravest face, and walked toward where my husband and son stood. I was determined to try, and I was determined to not fall apart if my attempt failed.

I took my son’s hand and said, “William, first we need to pick a costume. Then we can push the button.” He said, “Push button.” I said, “First, let’s pick a costume.” And I had an epiphany. Choices. Too many choices.

I walked up and down the aisles in the boys’ section and selected things he would recognize. “Look, Will, it’s Woody from Toy Story!” I said. “Cowboy,” he said. “Look, it’s Superman!” “Superman!” he repeated. “And this is Dracula from Hotel Transylvania. We watched that night.” I did my best Dracula impression, “Dracula—blah, blah, blah.” And he laughed. “And this one over here is Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon. He’s kind of like a knight because he’s wearing armor. We’ve seen both of those movies.”

I put all four costumes on the floor. “Do you like any of these?” I asked him.

He pointed. POINTED WITH HIS FINGER. Which he never does. He pointed at the vampire costume and said, “Dracula blah blah blah!” And he smiled.

He picked his costume, guys. For the first time.

He probably didn’t pick it like your kid picked his costume. But he picked it.

We did the typical autism parent thing and put the shirt, pants, and cape on, which he yanked a couple of times, and then we distracted him by giving him what we promised: the chance to go push the button to make the hanging woman scream again. (That sounds kind of morbid, doesn’t it?)

He ran through the store, the Dracula cape flying behind him. He pushed the button, flapped his little autistic arms excitedly, and left that freaking costume on for another twenty minutes. It’s a winner.

Sometimes, it seems like there’s no point. It seems like he won’t understand. It seems like we can’t experience the “normal” things.

But really, there’s always a point. Always. Because he’s the point. And he’s a seriously cute Dracula… blah blah blah.


I’m Sorry.



1 I was sorry to hear about his accident: sad, unhappy, sorrowful, distressed, upset, downcast, downhearted, disheartened, despondent; heartbroken, inconsolable, grief-stricken. ANTONYMS glad.

2 he felt sorry for her: full of pity, sympathetic, compassionate, moved, consoling, empathetic, concerned. ANTONYMS unsympathetic.

3 I’m sorry if I was brusque: regretful, remorseful, contrite, repentant, rueful, penitent, apologetic, abject, guilty, ashamed, sheepish, shamefaced. ANTONYMS unrepentant.

4 he looks a sorry sight: pitiful, pitiable, heart-rending, distressing; unfortunate, unhappy, wretched, unlucky, shameful, regrettable, awful.


“Hey, that’s my foot!” “Sorry!”: apologies, excuse me, pardon me, forgive me, my mistake; informal my bad.

“I’m sorry.” When said genuinely, this phrase can reconcile friends, family members, or lovers. When said genuinely, this phrase can heal wounds, create forgiveness, resurrect burnt bridges, express sympathy or empathy. When said genuinely, this phrase can mean, “I feel for you” or “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “I’ll never do that again.”

Though I’ve received quite a bit of support and encouragement since my announcement that my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’ve also encountered both ignorant and patronizing responses, all of which I wish I could un-hear, un-read, un-see.

One of these sentiments is: “I’m sorry.”

I know people mean well. I know the intent to show care and compassion. But I’m sorry means that you wish my life was different than it is now. I’m sorry means that you regret my situation and wouldn’t want it for yourself. I’m sorry means you are “heartbroken” for me or “full of pity” for me. And you know what? I’m not sorry. 

I’m not sorry that my son is walking, jumping, singing, playing, throwing, and kissing me goodnight.

I’m not sorry he’s breathing deeply and sleeping sweetly, peacefully through the night in the most angelic positions under a sheet with no pants on–because three years old means always wanting to be naked apparently.

I’m not sorry that I see his father when I look in his brown eyes or that when he leans my face against mine to look in the mirror, our chins and skin tones are shockingly identical.

I’m not sorry that he spins around, that he makes Tarzan noises, that he likes to pick up every leaf and every acorn when we walk, that he stacks blocks and knocks them down, stacks blocks and knocks them down, stacks blocks and knocks them down.

I’m not sorry that he has a warm home, a dog to play with, food on the table. I’m not sorry that eats and digests everything with no problem or that he uses the bathroom completely independently.

I’m not sorry that he uses crayons and markers and glue or that he plays with trains and musical instruments at school.

I’m not sorry that my husband and I can take him to the beach and watch the wonder and excitement on his little face as the wind blows through his hair, as he digs his toes in the sand, as he walks into the water.


Photo courtesy of Amanda Ashley Photography

I’m not sorry that he hugs his Mickey Mouse or his Rudolph or that he asks me for a specific movie we’ve already watched over and over again, and then climbs up on the couch next to me–or even better, in my lap–to watch it.

I’m not sorry that he has advocates, support, living grandparents who are involved in his daily life, cousins, aunts, uncles.

I’m not sorry that having autism means he has to try harder to achieve goals.  Because the trying harder will make the success that much sweeter.

I get that you’re sorry. I get that you mean well.

But I’m not sorry. So, honestly, you don’t need to be either.

She Sees Possibilities.

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

On April 23, 2011, I became a mother. Even saying that nearly four years later sometimes sounds strange to me, since it seems like only yesterday I was a 17-year-old girl dating my some-day husband and agonizing over declaring a college major. But it’s true. I am a mother.

“And she loved a little boy…”
–The Giving Tree

 I was never ashamed of the fact that I didn’t feel that unspeakable love, that warm gooey feeling for my son while he was in the womb. But when I met him? When I heard his little noises? When I held him and looked into his eyes? That new little life, William Thomas, touched my heart on April 23, 2011, and changed me in the best of ways. I did—and still do—adore everything about his sweet spirit, his tiny features, and his deep love for others.

“Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first.”
–Matthew L. Jacobson

 My husband and I had high hopes for my son before he was born, as I’m sure most parents do. And we still hold high hopes for him. However, in November 2013, we allowed a group of women from an organization called Early Steps to enter our home, evaluate our son, and ultimately determine that he possessed “pervasive developmental delays” in all areas. They picked at flaws in my sweet boy. They filled me with doubt. My husband and I shared tears of anger, fear, and sadness. And thus began our journey.

To sum up a lot that you probably don’t want to hear: William took two trips to All Children’s for audiology evaluations before he was cleared. He started seeing an early interventionist in our home. She visited once a week until his third birthday and provided us with strategies to improve William’s communication and play skills. In January 2014, William’s speech evaluation determined he possessed expressive and receptive language delays. He started attending speech therapy sessions twice a week for 45 minutes. This is something that he is fortunate enough to still participate in, though insurance changes now allot him only 30-minute sessions. Shortly after beginning speech, William received an occupational therapy evaluation in our home, which left me in tears. The therapist noted that William could not jump (yet), alternate his feet when walking upstairs (yet), or dress himself (yet) and implied that he would live a sedentary lifestyle because of hypotonia—low muscle tone. Because of his birthday approaching and because of this woman’s own health issues, we were unable to begin therapy with her. And for that small blessing, I’m thankful. It was just too much all at once. In February 2014, we met with Pasco FDLRS and in March, Longleaf Elementary School accepted William into their lowest and youngest developmental preschool classroom. We attended an IEP meeting with his teachers and support staff, and he started school.

William learned to identify pictures of objects and verbs. He followed routines. He was fully potty trained just about a month before he turned 3. He learned to jump on Good Friday—something I wasn’t sure I would ever see and a moment I will truly never forget.

On May 5, 2014, I called All Children’s Hospital to make an appointment with a developmental pediatrician based on the recommendation of multiple professionals involved in William’s life, including the primary pediatrician we adore. The date they gave me? December 5, 2014. At that time, seven months seemed like an eternity. How could a doctor not have availability for seven months? Why did I even need this appointment anyway? My son is perfect. He drives me crazy for sure. But he’s perfect. And no overbooked pediatrician who doesn’t have time in her busy schedule to meet my sweet little boy for seven months could possibly tell me anything about him. She couldn’t possibly know him. She couldn’t possibly decide what makes him tick. She couldn’t possibly appreciate all of his idiosyncrasies. And even if she did, I wouldn’t believe her.

I rationalized that seven months would give us time to research, time to prepare questions for this specialist, time to cross other items off our to do list, time to allow the speech therapy and special needs preschool to work their magic, and time… well, time to adjust. Time to learn to accept what we knew would be coming. Time to realize that milestones coming so easily, so effortlessly to so many of our friends’ children would require great patience, attention, encouragement, waiting, and eventually, celebratory praise.

“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”
–Andy Stanley

Just before the end of the school year, when William’s teacher told me that he was cognitively able to move into the pre-k VE program, we rejoiced as a family. Throughout the summer, I planned lessons for him and spent each day determined to help him progress. I wasn’t in Mrs. Rodriguez mode anymore. I was just Mommy.

In June, he visited a neurologist for an EEG.

In July, he was evaluated, and thankfully, cleared by a physical therapist who said he simply needed inserts for his flat feet.

In August, he went through yet another occupational therapy evaluation and was recommended for 60-minute sessions twice weekly. He was placed on a waiting list of 70 other kids… Still, we wait. Later in August, I watched him embark on a new school year in a new classroom. It seemed every other day was “great” and every other day was “rough” with some “okay” days sprinkled in.

In September, an orthopedist examined William and put to rest all our concerns about his flat feet and low muscle tone—nothing is physically wrong with him and no shoe inserts necessary.

In October, the kid couldn’t catch a break. He was sick every weekend. After battling a serious stomach illness and just not being “himself,” he began acting out by hitting, kicking, and biting: habits that have yet to fade. He experienced frustrations. We experienced frustrations. On the up side, he perfected requesting things using “I want” phrases. He learned his teacher’s name.

For 7 months, I held on tightly to every word he spoke, every time he engaged me and grabbed my hand, every time his feet left the ground, every time he pedaled his bicycle or kicked a ball.

And for 7 months, while some people knew a little of what we went through and others remained ignorant, I moved through life robotically with an imaginary hourglass trailing behind me everywhere I went, the sand slowly falling, falling, falling. 6 months… 5 months… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Today, we met Dr. Mary Pavan, a developmental pediatrician who officially diagnosed my son with autism spectrum disorder. Before we walked into the building next to USF—a place my husband and I began our journey into education, a place that seemed like home to me—I knew what was coming. I think somehow, I always knew. But I needed to process it. I needed to feel those feelings. Because it’s a lot.

“Mothers of children with autism have stress levels comparable to combat veterans.”
–University of Wisconsin-Madison

The range of emotions, the litany of thoughts… It’s hard to describe. At one point, I wanted to scream and to cry. My husband and I wanted to grieve the “typical” parenthood we had pictured while we sat in offices and combed over piles of paperwork. Ironically, at another moment, we wanted to celebrate.

I wanted to treat my darling little boy to ice cream, buy big primary colored balloons, announce to the world via Facebook and Instagram that he received a diagnosis the way so many users let their friends and family know the gender of a baby or congratulate each other for various life events: engagements, weddings, graduations. I wanted to share it with everyone because it’s something I’ve had nearly a year to wrap my mind around. Because it’s something so very real to me. Because it’s something I really haven’t spoken about. Because this is my son. Because it’s his life, it’s part of who he is and what he does and why. And because although I’ve spent a year asking why and a year learning not to compare him to others and a year strapped unwillingly in a front row seat on the proverbially emotional rollercoaster, I am so incredibly, indescribably, emotionally, and powerfully proud of him. I am proud of him. Damn proud of who he is, who has always been, who he is becoming, and whoever and whatever he can be—chooses to be in the future. I am so very proud.

This diagnosis, though both helpful and confusing, does not define him.

“See the able, not the label.”

It took me a year to get here. A year of walking places I’ve never walked before. I’ve devoted over a year of my son’s three and a half years to determining how his mind works, to figuring out what others think is “wrong” with him, and we still haven’t scratched the surface. But we’re on our way. I’ve spent a year avoiding play dates with other mothers and their children—sorry if you’re reading this and you’re a mom who I’ve canceled on—or going to them and wishing I hadn’t because how come your kid can do that and mine can’t… or won’t. I’ve spent a year answering—or, not knowing how to answer questions like, “Why doesn’t he talk much?” and “What is he doing?” when I look at him and just see what he says and does all the time. He’s not weird to me. He’s just my William.

“My child having autism doesn’t change the way I feel about him… The way you treat him changes the way I feel about you.”

Though it is a private matter and there are some things we want to keep within our family to preserve the trust we’ve built with our son, we also understand that others out there can help us along this autism journey and vice versa. It takes a village. Our son needs more advocates. People don’t understand, and our nation—our world—needs more acceptance for children with special needs. How can you begin to understand my boy if I don’t share him with you? 

“I thought I would have to teach my child about the world. It turns out, I have to teach the world about my child.”

So, since I will be reaching out to other parents like me, and since I believe that the only way to work through things is to talk about them, here are some facts that can help you understand my William:

  1. William does not always answer to his name or make eye contact. He may not acknowledge you when you walk into a room or know exactly how to properly engage with you. His social skills are different. Talk to him. Engage him anyway. And please, ask your kids to do the same. A year ago, he wouldn’t talk on the phone. He wouldn’t say “hi” or “bye.” Now, he does. Try him. He’s worth it.

“A child with autism is not ignoring you. He is waiting for you to enter his world.”

  1. William communicates if you listen and look hard enough. The amount of language he possesses is significantly smaller than those of his counterparts. He asks for “ice please” and “I want cookie” and “I want wally-pop” and “hot dogs” and “pizza” and “water” and “milk” on a regular basis. But sometimes, he doesn’t talk or he can’t come up with the words. One of my friends looked at a picture I posted on Instagram of William standing by the front door holding the dog’s leash, smiling at me with the dog standing next to him. “I think he communicates just fine,” she said. Every night, he grabs my hand, pulls it onto his pillow, says, “sweeeeeep” and pretend snores. He doesn’t have to say, “Mother, will you please lie down next to me and fall asleep here?” I already know that’s what he means.

“Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say.”

  1. William gets frustrated just like everybody else. Only sometimes, he cannot deal with his frustration in a healthy manner and can’t say why he’s frustrated and has to be shown what “gentle hands” do and how to control his little emotions. Some days are great days. Other days are bad days and we just have to hope the good ones outweigh the bad.

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” –Mary Anne Radmacher

  1. William can. I got so tired through this journey of hearing professionals—PROFESSIONALS—tell me what my son cannot do. That he had low muscle tone and would take a sedentary job as an adult. That his lack of language and social skills could prevent him from having friends. That he cannot stand on one foot, that he cannot draw a circle, that he cannot imitate a specific pattern, that he cannot string beads—which by the way damn it, he can, he just doesn’t want to perform like a trained monkey right now in this strange office—that honestly? I’m over it. He can. Maybe not now. And maybe not tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then he certainly can He can try. And maybe one day, whatever that is that he “cannot” do right now, he’ll learn to do.

“She doesn’t see autism; she sees possibilities.”

  1. William is making progress. A lot of the fear surrounding an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis stems from the prevalence of regression. Often times, the biggest red flag that causes a parent to question or raise the topic of autism is the fact that his/her precious little one stopped doing something he/she had done previously, or lost language altogether. William has never experienced regression. He moves much more slowly than other kids, but he is moving. And every time he moves, I’m there, and I want to be there, to congratulate him. Progress is progress. 

“I walk slowly. But I never walk backward.” –Abraham Lincoln

This diagnosis doesn’t change us. It doesn’t change him. He’s still the same crazy-haired boy who loves to be outside in nature, walk his dog, watch Frozen and sing the songs, stack blocks, play in water, jump, run, swing, and slide, sing songs, eat (omg—the kid can eat), and give kisses. This diagnosis doesn’t change my love, my opinions, my hopes for my son. It does cause me to adopt a realistic point of view, to live in the here and now and make small goals for our future. And that’s okay.

“Always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of champagne in the fridge.”
–Hester Browne

This year, I became the co-adviser of my school’s yearbook for the first time. It’s been an interesting new endeavor thus far and I’m so blessed to have two colleagues to learn with and learn from, who have been understanding of my personal life when I’m not entirely myself at work. During the first two weeks of school as the advisers and new yearbook staff intermingled and attempted to bond, we came up with a theme for this year’s book: anchored. We discussed its relevance to our school, how we’re grounded, how the students are temporarily safe and docked in a harbor while they learn before setting off on various journeys elsewhere. We used words like joined, linked, connected. We squashed the negative preconceptions of the term “anchored,” which can call to mind synonyms like “trapped” with no way out. Because the anchor is essentially good. It provides foundation and a way out. It provides a pause, a time to reflect, a time of stillness amid the crashing waves.

So, I think it’s fitting to focus on the phrase “anchored” as my family traverses its own storm.

“Sons are the anchors of a mother’s life.” –Sophocles 

William has grounded my husband and me. He has given us focus. Purpose. I know what I’m going through is something other people fear. I know that what I’m going through, thousands of other families are going through. I also know that there are people who wish they were going through this, because their journeys in life are much more difficult, more tragic.

I believe in honesty. And I believe in tact.

If you’re curious, ask. If you wish to offer encouragement, I welcome it. If you have something critical to say, spare me. If you see my son, smile at him and call him by name, ask him questions, listen. If you want to complain about your chatterbox of a child, please seek another listener. If you want to suggest how I should take care of my child, respectfully, refrain. If you pity us, don’t. If you want to support us, to support William, to provide autism awareness and contribute to research, join us for the 2015 Walk Now for Autism Speaks on April 11, 2015. We’ll be there, celebrating William’s birthday a little early, celebrating the “different” children in our area, and celebrating the fact that the more people connect, the more people join, the more people link and anchor themselves to a common purpose, the more resources these kids will have, the more support their families will have, the more they will be able to contribute and connect to our world.

According to Dr. Pavan, William shows great potential to learn and interact with others. He asked her for “a ride please,” sat on her lap, and blew her kisses goodbye—something she says she doesn’t often experience with children on the spectrum.

He’s going to be okay.

We will continue to nurture our son. We will continue to teach him how to use his words and gentle hands. We will continue to fight insurance companies and attend a slew of medical and therapy appointments. We will continue to research dietary changes and supplements and essential oils and medications that may help our son focus, that may help his health improve. And, now, we will continue to talk about and be an advocate for our child and other children with autism. Hell, I may even finally make my Autism Pinterest board open to the public 😉

We will keep going.

Selfishly, I ask two things of my family and friends: 1) be sensitive with what you say and how you say it, and 2) please forgive me. If I seem “off” at all, give me some time and understanding. It was probably a rough night or a rough morning or a rough afternoon or a rough weekend with William. And by rough, I don’t mean toddler tantrum, stop throwing things across the room rough. I mean emotional rough. I mean, “Will he ever understand Santa and get excited on Christmas morning? Will he ever ask his dad to play catch? Would he even notice if I was gone? I wish he would call me by name” rough.

Prince William, not all days are rough. So many are beautiful. And even the rough ones are worth it. I love you high as the sky, deep as the sea, forever and ever and ever. To the moon and back.


Today changes nothing. Daddy and I will fight for you—and with you—until our last breaths.

“How old is William?” “THREE!”

William Thomas (or “William Tommy,” as you like to say), I cannot believe that another year has gone by, that your hair managed to grow longer and curlier, your smile is even wider, your personality happier, and you are now three years old. When I ask you, “How old are you?” you smile and say “THREEEEE!” You even try to put up three fingers—we’re still working on that.


This last year presented quite a few obstacles. We experienced our ups, our downs, our in betweens. Mostly, this last year presented questions. Questions about your development, about your abilities, about your knowledge and understanding, and, inevitably, about my parenting skills. I’ve watched you struggle and overcome in speech therapy sessions. I’ve listened intently and written down every new word I heard you pronounce perfectly, even when there weren’t many. I’ve read the early adjusting reports and now the daily positive reports from your preschool, Longleaf, where you love to go and you’ve begun to thrive and flourish. I’ve watched you climb and run at Monkey Bizness and Gymboree and in our backyard. I’ve stood beside you while you mastered a new puzzle or stacked boxes and blocks higher than every before. I sat next to you at your first dentist appointment–you did great! I recorded you singing “Jake and the Neverland Pirates–and meeee!” Just this month, I heard you say “Wuv you” for real. For the first real time. Last week, I held your hands in a bounce house while you looked up at me, bent your knees, and yelled “Jump!” You can jump, Will! And I’m so very proud. I’ve been patient and waited until you were ready, and all of a sudden, you are potty trained, even waking me up at 3:30 in the morning because you have to go.

You are SUCH a big boy. And no matter the frustrations we’ve faced, no matter the walls you still have to climb over, no matter the days I get stressed or worried, one thing remains absolutely the same about you since the very day I met you:

You are happy.

Before you even squeeze your tired eyes open in the dim light of your bedroom every morning, you smile. For so many reasons—because I roll the car windows down, or because the dog is running in circles, or because I let you wear my big black and white polka dotted sunglasses, or because Gil says something funny on Bubble Guppies, or because I find you hiding under the table or inside the tunnel or behind the closet doors—you laugh your beautiful laugh and flash your perfect white smile with the pointiest canine teeth. And all is right with the world.

You are happy.

In the last year, your Daddy and I experienced so many great days with you. We took you to see the Rays win at Tropicana Field, and you walked around the stadium and got your first baseball card with your picture on it! I cannot wait to take you again this year, and next year, and the year after that and watch you get taller and taller in each baseball card. We took you to Disney World (again) and had an even better time than the first! You loved the night parade and watched it in your jammies 🙂 We traveled with KK, Uncle TJ, and Mandy on a cruise to the Bahamas! You left the country for the first time! You were the best behaved child who has ever cruised in the history of the world, and you loved the food, the water rides, running around on top of the ship on the mini golf course, and just being with us.


Daddy still calls you Buddy. I still call you Prince. And that’s really what you are to us. Daddy loves teaching you how to throw a basketball into the hoop and hit a golf ball. He takes you grocery shopping every weekend and you two bond like the best of friends.

You are my prince charming. I love taking you to the park and on walks around the neighborhood because you just adore being outside in nature. You started requesting to go on walks and you always want to include your puppy, Esme. This year, you learned to hold her leash and walk her like a big boy.


You point out flowers and look up at the birds and everything you notice is so new and so beautiful. You look into my eyes and push my nose into your eye socket like your weirdo Uncle TJ used to do and you say “wuv you” and everything about you is just so prince-like. You have my whole heart.

Recently, you’ve begun to develop more preferences and you’ve begun to communicate your wants and needs much better than before. You point more, you identify objects more, you ask for “more milk please” and your little phrases “nan-baba” for “banana” and “hank you” and “ya welcome” are absolute music to my ears. However, your growth has also come with a few somersaults and bangs on the bedroom window when you should be sleeping (where do you get this endless energy?!), pouty faces, stomping of the feet, and a couple swats at Mommy’s or Daddy’s or Abuela’s face when you didn’t get your way. Thankfully, these moments are short-lived and overshadowed by your gentle, easygoing spirit.

Your teacher at Longleaf is proud of you. She takes pictures of you playing peekaboo behind the tree at the playground to show me. Your speech therapist is amazed at how many words you can say and how you belly laugh when she pretends her T-rex is going to eat your arm.

You are happy.

You bring joy to my life and to every situation, and that is such a rare quality in such a flawed, violent world. You are sunshine and you are flowers blooming. It is so fitting that your birthday is in the spring because your personality truly is life itself. You are new every day. Your spirit is warm on the coldest day and I cannot say enough about how highly I think of you, how deeply I love you, how powerfully you have changed me, and how strongly I believe that your future will be nothing less than magical.

I leave you with one little piece of advice:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” -Roald Dahl

Here’s to another year of happy, William. Another year of silly, magical, playful smiles and so much happy. Happy 3rd birthday, sweet prince.

I love you,

I Promise: You Won’t Ever Be Lonely

It happened again today, as it does every so often. I held the dog’s
leash in one hand and pulled my son’s wagon with the other, strolling
up and down the streets of our neighborhood in the beautiful
spring-like weather. We do this a lot together.

Will and Puppy

A lizard crossed my path, the dog chased it, and I immediately felt a flashback coming on: there I was, 20 years ago, on my grandmother’s lawn, trying desperately to catch lizards alongside my brother. We had just moved to Florida.

I looked at my son and smiled at the thought that some day soon, he would chase lizards, too. Then I frowned when I couldn’t shake a quick thought that crossed my mind: he’ll do it alone.

Throughout the almost three-year journey of motherhood, I’ve cultivated and lost friendships over parenting differences and judgments. I’ve battled breast feeding or bottle feeding, homemade or jarred baby food, stay at home or work at home or work outside the home with a daycare/nanny/preschool. But I think the time people feel the most entitled to comment on my life is when I tell them that my son may be my one and only. I wrote a post discussing my feelings on having an “only child” which reiterated that it is my and my husband’s decision alone, but today, the topic struck me more deeply.

Because after I frowned, I thought. I closed my eyes and thought deeply about the future. And when I opened my eyes, peace overwhelmed me because I came to a conclusion, something I know without a shadow of a doubt: my son will not chase and catch lizards alone. I will be with him.

Life may not always go your way
And every once in a while you might have a bad day
But I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

Maybe instead of having a younger brother in his memories, as he grows he’ll look back on school days when I picked him up and took him on a special frozen yogurt date to reward his good grades. He’ll envision me crawling on my knees and hiding in closets during hide and seek. He’ll picture his daddy pitching him a baseball, his mommy standing next to his bike as he tries to pedal alone, his partners in crime helping him kill the bad guys with toy swords or squirt guns.

The sky turns dark and everything goes wrong
Run to me and I’ll leave the light on
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

He’ll remember the books we read and the stories we made up just for fun. He’ll think about the birthday parties we planned together and the friends he invited to play. He’ll see the years he spent in the yard climbing on and chasing his favorite dog, and the times as a toddler when he wanted to be a big boy and hold the leash. He’ll remember his toes in the sand, the shells he captured, the squint of his eyes, and jumping in the water holding my hand and my husband’s hand–The Three Musketeers.

For as long as I live 
There will always be a place you belong
Here beside me
Heart and soul baby — you only 
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

He’ll think about how monotonous it must have been for me to sit at a table and decorate and address Valentine’s day crafts for his classes–and I’ll tell him, or maybe I won’t, that those quiet moments were the most precious to me. He’ll remember tea parties with mommy and his stuffed animals. He’ll think about his classes and games at Gymboree and his daddy juggling just to make him laugh.

It’s still gonna snow and it’s still gonna rain
The wind’s gonna blow on a cold winter day
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

I hope he’ll look at home videos of holidays with his large Puerto Rican family, or see pictures of moments with my small family–KK wearing a stethoscope to play doctor, Gramps pushing him in the swing and letting him kick his chest, Uncle Teej trying to distract him from the show he’s watching by dropping socks on his head just because.

You’re safe from the world wrapped in my arms
And I’ll never let go
Here’s a shoulder you can cry on
And a love you can rely on

Whether I ever decide that I am ready and willing to have another child–and that day may never come–my son will never ever be alone or lacking in the deepest kind of love. So thank you, small lizard, for showing me my past. Thank you, Mom, for giving me the gift of an energetic brother to play alongside me. But thank you, William, my one and only, for showing me that true love abounds no matter how many family members there are, where they are, or what they do together. My heart is yours and I hope all of your flashbacks are filled with joy, peace, and play whether you are with me, Daddy, at school, with extended family, or anyone else who may or may never come along.

For as long as I live 
There will always be a place you belong
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely