“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” - Aristotle
It was two years ago that I sat on the back porch feeling emotionally broken and weak, but from that dark place there was a glimmer of light and the Raising Us project was born.
Allow me to explain.
It was a picture-perfect Memorial Day weekend here in North Carolina - 2016. A time of year that is known for marking the official kick-off to summer and local pools opening for the season! Full of excitement and ready for some family fun in the sun, we layered on an excessive amount of sunblock and headed to our neighborhood pool!
Now opening day at the neighborhood pool = busy! As we arrived I immediately felt a little anxious by the sheer crowdedness of the whole scene. You see Ad, this particular pool is consistently busy the whole summer because it has zero entry, is equipped with those mushroom type waterfall splash features and a waterslide! We were still at a point of not feeling 100% comfortable enough to allow you to splash and swim freely, so you were by far the biggest kid at the pool with a life jacket - even in the shallow end. Better safe than sorry we say! Honestly, we never know if at any moment you could give Usain Bolt some friendly competition by running after or away from something! God forbid if you did take off full sprint, slipped and fell into the deep end - scary, very scary. Our easy solution is a life vest and daddy and I taking turns being your very own personal shadow.
A little fun fact: A bird's eye view of any situation is your favorite. On this day you realized rather quickly that you could climb the stairs of that super fun waterslide, and from the platform get a pretty good organized view of your surrounding! This is a very calming experience for you. Insert the next 45 min of us climbing up and down the stairs and you standing at the top surveying the land as if you’re the Queen of England.
Most of the kids happily stepped past you when they realized you weren’t really going to be going down the slide, and the lifeguard at the top was now aware of the situation, so all was good. That was until some teenagers decided they too wanted to enjoy the slide.
As we stood on the stairs, I heard them approach, with them being all of about 16 years old, they were using profanities all the way up. Going against the mom in me not wanting to make a scene, I thought they could use a heavy dose of soap to wash their mouths out, but I stood and bit my tongue. That was until they turned to you who was happily stimming, minding your own business and said, “What are you doing?” then proceeded to mock your stim. I was speechless as my heart sank and my blood boiled. I literally felt like someone had just gut punched me. The only words I could muster out were “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” as I grabbed your hand and we headed down the stairs.
I guess I always knew this day would come but part of me just wanted to think perhaps we’d escape such encounters. I simply wasn’t prepared for it. This journey comes with marquee lights making us an easy target for shallow individuals who enjoy a quick laugh that perhaps in some odd way makes them feel better about themselves.
Feeling every ounce of being uncomfortable and now angry we decided to pack up and leave. I felt like I had failed you.
Some people that know this story have said: “you shouldn’t let them bother you…” or “I would've said XYZ to them…” but the truth of the matter is in the moment I was numb. I didn’t want to really think this immaturity existed, I was naïve. I wished badly that I would’ve unleashed fury on them, but I’m not sure that would’ve resonated with them anyway.
That night Miss Tammy came over and sat with me on the back porch as I was still reeling about the day. All the questions I had, where were their parents? Did they know their kids had such horrible behavior? Was this an example of their parents? Was our society in 2016 really housing people this shallow and uneducated on special needs or the ability to just be a decent human? Feeling sad and angry, Miss Tammy said: “There’s got to be a way to educate the masses - advocate for not only Addie but others like Addie.” While I agreed with what she said and thought this all sounded good in theory, how was I going to do that? That’s when she suggested a photo documentary blog and I kind of laughed it off, like yeah right! After all, I was a stay at home mom, not a writer. She was confident I could do this, I, on the other hand, wasn’t. I told her I’d think about it.
A few days later, with the idea still on the table, and after much discussion, daddy and I decided we had nothing to lose – opening our lives up for all to see. One Team, One Dream. Letting people see and get to know our normal and the real YOU. If we could help just one person learn something new, then we had succeeded. This was the beginning of “Raising Us.”
Fast forward two years to the present day. I have taken you back to the fun waterslide pool only a handful of times and lucky for us our neighborhood now has built a smaller pool with splash pad within walking distance to our house. Whoohoo!
This past weekend I sat on the side of the pool and watched you “kick kick kick” (as you call it) in your life vest back and forth. Happily stimming away in a seemingly empty pool on a rainy Memorial Day. I couldn’t help but think about how much those two boys being so heartless had impacted our lives two years ago. While I wish that had never happened, had it not, I don’t think we’d be here today writing my 105th letter to you.
You may not have been the Queen of England at the fun water slide pool this Memorial Day, but you are making your mark on this world bringing awareness and acceptance for those who live with autism, through your very own journey.
Remember in life, there’s always a light baby girl.