And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, okay. I’m going to write about my daughter again. She’s on my mind a lot right now, and my moments of brightness and sadness are coming simultaneously from her as she starts on her college years.

You know, when you have a beautiful young baby, a child who arrived fairly late in your life (I was forty, and didn’t think I’d be having any more babies), and you adore her, and then you’re told that she might not ever speak and she might not ever see you as anything other than a “block of wood”, it’s so beyond devastating that there aren’t even any words. I will never forget that day, sitting in Olivia’s pediatrician’s office, Olivia’s wonderful pediatrician who loved Olivia too and loves her still and admires everything she’s done. But on that day, he told me we needed to have Olivia screened for being on the autism spectrum. And he spoke those words, “block of wood.”

At exactly that moment, Olivia, who was sitting on the floor, playing, placed her hand squarely on my shoe and looked directly up into my face and she smiled.

She was not smiling at a block of wood. She was comforting her mother and she was letting me know that she was there. She was also reassuring herself that I was there. And I was. I always am.

I’ve said that phrase countless times over the last 18 years. I am always here. I said it again last week, and featured it in last week’s Moment.

After that block of wood day, we just moved ahead. We moved through Olivia’s teaching herself to speak by memorizing lines from television programs and commercials. We lived through that frustrating time of script line after script line being thrown out in growing frustration as each one didn’t get her what she wanted, what she wanted to say. God help me, there were times I had to put her in her room while she cried so I could sit on the couch and cry too. We fought through touch-sensitivity issues (did you know that jeans could hurt?), connecting words with meaning (the reasnatolive was hospital, as we figured out when a commercial for our health care provider came on, accompanied by a song with the words, “I’ve got a reason to live”), irrational fears (loud noises), and so much more. We fought, we celebrated, we fought, we celebrated. She spoke. She grew a phenomenal vocabulary. She began telling stories, which she told us every night, flat on her back, legs, feet, arms, hands, flying in stimming behavior which helped to get the words out.

Now, she works on the second draft of her novel, sitting quietly at her computer.

Through it all, I was not a block of wood.

Are you there, Mama?

I am always here.

So now she’s in college. She’s won scholarships and grants to get there. She’s worked hard at her job, stuffing aside paychecks, to get there. And today, we found out that she’s won yet another grant, this time from the Department of Vocational Resources.

Moment of happiness? You bet. Moment of blow-my-mind pride too.

But not “the” Moment. That moment came from tears, which were hers. And later, mine.

On Olivia’s first day of orientation at school, she texted me at lunch, telling me that things were going well. Then five minutes later, she called me. Wailing. She’d returned to the orientation room, left to go to the bathroom, and then somehow gotten turned around. She was lost. Somehow, she’d ended up in the basement where there is an antfarm of tunnels, leading to all the different buildings on campus. She was lost. She was alone. She knew she was supposed to be in orientation, mandatory orientation, and she didn’t know where she was.

Are you there, Mama?

I am always here.

While I was talking to her on the phone and scrambling to get my car keys, frantically figuring I’d have to drive to the college (about 20 miles away), dive down those tunnels and start searching for my girl, two sophomores showed up and saved the day. They got her where she needed to be, and by the time I hung up the phone, her tears were gone and the shakiness in her voice was dissipating. She was welcomed back into orientation; everyone gets lost at least once.

So then it was my turn to cry. To sit on the couch and cry, much like I used to when I’d have to put her into her room to give us both a chance to calm our frustrations. But I wasn’t crying because of frustration.

I was crying because the first person she called when she was lost was me.

She listened. She knew.

Are you there, Mama?

I am always here.

I am not a block of wood.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia’s selfie of her first day of college.


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