This past weekend I loaded up my car and headed to the wilderness of the Pocono Mountains. Thanks to my cousin, there was going to be a family reunion and though I wanted to be completely at peace, joyful and present, part of me just wasn't there.

Living nearly 600 miles from family allows me to shelter them from our "normal". This "normal" that has sent my world into a chaotic roller coaster that has crazy ups and incredible downs. This year, while I have struggled tremendously I have also learned. I learned that I want my family. I don't want to hide. I want their support and understanding of the life we are facing and that this life isn't less or harder, just different.

As we arrived, children buckled in, I knew the weekend would be good but I didn't realize it would leave me yearning to move back to the Midwest and have the support and love of my cousins (who were my siblings growing up), my aunts, who kept me in check while I drove my parents batty and my uncles who had a great balance of super cool uncle and scare the crap out of you--you better behave.

I watched as my oldest took on the role of oldest female in the generation. Her ability to lead and share her love of all things tween called the little ones in like the Pied Piper and I knew that this young girl whom God chose for me to love truly didn't just help me become a mom but a better person. I watched as my son found a boy--a "brother" whom he had been searching for since I was not able to give him that same sex sibling and find the ability to live in harmony with not only a brother type figure but a child whom he truly loved and wanted to be with. I also watched as my middles loved their baby cousins and insisted on holding them even if it may not have been the safest thing to do. And finally I watched as my family began to understand.

I have always been closest to my cousin Laura, though she's younger she's sometimes the one who stabilizes my emotions and for that I am grateful. This weekend though I was able to see so much more, not from just Laura but my entire family. I fell in love with my cousins girlfriend (hopefully soon to be wife) and knew I wanted to call her family. I also fell in love with my cousin's wife whom I have always loved but truly felt connected with when she realized this "story" I had of autism wasn't something I was making up for show or concern but something I needed support in.

Autism is funny. When people first learn of the testing or diagnosis the words that come from their mouths vary. I have heard it all. I used to be bothered but now I realize we as humans hate suffering, for ourselves but also for anyone we care about.

I have heard it all.

"She seems so normal".

"She seems so smart".

"She's just quirky".

"Don't go overboard, she is just different".

This weekend though I knew my cousin's wife got it.

After two days away, which I will treasure, Serrie started to melt. It was the entire morning and really nothing I could do or tried to do would seem to ease her stress.  As I walked around trying to find what soothed her and finally giving up, she asked. "What can I do?". Those words meant more than I can possibly say. I simply asked for veggie straws. With no more than a seconds notice she jumped, got some and continued to watch in awe as the one thing Serrie begged for calmed her.

Autism is no joke. Its not easy and though I have become stronger, more compassionate and more understanding, I still struggle with the label and diagnosis. I struggle knowing that this is my new life. I struggle with fear. I struggle with guilt and I struggle living so far away.

I wish I could be with my cousins. All THE TIME. I wish I could live by family who though they may not live this life would support my life and be the people I need at my side.

I may not get to see my family often but the gift each of them gave me this weekend in trying to and learning to understand was truly something I cannot forget.

I wish this diagnosis didn't find me. I wish I could turn in my "special needs mom" card. I wish it was different...but I can't wish it away so instead, I wish other families would take the time to understand and love as mine did this weekend.

I am forever grateful.


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