Friendship and Support: An Autism Mom

autism moms laughing

Recently I was asked to appear on a cooking Vlog that was created and hosted by my good friend, Heather Martin. Strange, right? I mean, I do my best to avoid cooking if possible. So, when she first asked me, I was a little hesitant. I am not a great cook by any means. Actually, I guess what I should say is that I don’t ENJOY cooking, but I am able to put together a little something if you hold me at knife point or worse, tell me that we are having special guests coming for dinner. Suddenly, I can make the most amazing casseroles that would make this southern chic’s grandmother proud.

Heather’s cooking Vlog is unlike most others though so I knew I would not be making any chicken casseroles for her show. Her Vlog, Chef Mommy, focuses on Vegan recipes and healthy eating. She also addresses some of issues and obstacles that children on the autism spectrum sometimes have to overcome.

Well, first of all, I am no Vegan. So why in the world would she ask me to be a guest on her Vlog?

You may not know this about me but I have been a CrossFit coach for about nine years. I have never claimed to be a dietitian but as a coach in the fitness industry I have become somewhat knowledgeable on how to create balanced, healthy and quick meals. So, she asked me to join her and share one or two of my recipes with her viewers, although between you and me, I think she really just wanted me to try her tofu.

I am super uncomfortable talking to a video camera and honestly, just incredibly awkward as you will see if you watch the video at the end of this post. Heather did her best to make it easy for me, though. She changed up her format a bit, still keeping it simple. We decided I could show her a short but easy home workout and then we would head to the kitchen for a post workout meal. This helped a little to keep me more in my comfort zone, coaching.

I was expecting the nerves, fumbles and the bloopers that day. Trust me, there were plenty! What I was not expecting though, was the incredible gift she gave to me that afternoon.

First, please allow me backup a bit because I feel it would be helpful to my story if you knew how I met this incredible human.

A few years ago, my friend Michele called one day to ask me if I would like to join her team for the 2016 NYC Marathon. Her organization, KultureCity, is one that I have supported for years and has always been super close to my heart. I will stand behind everything they do but I laughed when she asked me to join her marathon team.  I mean, surely she was joking! When I realized she was very serious, I calmly explained to her that I was a CrossFitter, not a runner. There was no way I could do it.

“No lie,” I told her, “I honestly avoid running in my workouts if at all possible.”

Ah, but Michele was persistent. Flattery helped, too.  “Dawn, you are in such good shape and so strong! You will do great! It will be so much fun!” Then she dropped the hammer on me, “Oh and all the money we raise will go to KultureCity to send LifeBoks (tracking devices) and tablets to kids with autism.”

OH! Well, why didn’t you say so? Where do I sign up??

My husband looked at me like I had lost my mind. He listened to me as I agreed to this crazy endeavor, whispering “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

“Oh God! What did I just do?” I asked in a stunned whisper as I hung up the phone. Seriously, what had just happened? My husband just shook his head and laughed at me. He knew!

Needless to say, I had no idea how to train for this marathon or what it would entail but Michele already had my training covered. One of the most important things she did for me was to find me a running partner.

This is how I came to run my first seven miles ever in my life with this beautiful stranger.  This positive, happy, strong and glowing woman, Heather. She just shined. 

As she walked up and introduced herself, my first thought was, “Holy crap! This was how runners look?”

I knew it then. I was certain. I was going to die. 

As we warmed up, it quickly became apparent that she was as nervous about this run as I was. Well, really I wasn’t nervous at all. I was terrified. SEVEN MILES?! This is what God made cars for, people! 

Since neither of us had been running on a daily basis before this, we decided that we would take this first run nice and easy. This meant a lot of walking and more importantly, talking.

One of the first things I learned about her was that she was a mom to four children and that one of her sons had autism…and just like that we were sisters.

Her children are much younger than mine, so a lot of what she was going through at that time, I had already been through myself with Taylor. We were at two completely different points on our autism timeline but it didn’t seem to matter. We still got each other and could really relate to what the other was going through.

The next Sunday, we met again. and then the next and the next. During each of our “walk-n-talks” we shared stories of our families with each other. I learned about so many new resources and programs that are now available to parents and their children. I mean, Wow! There is so much more available today to assist and aid parents and their kids than there was when Taylor was little. It’s pretty amazing! Talking with her I also realized that having all these new resources and programs didn’t make it any less heartbreaking, scary or intimidating for parents to receive that diagnosis. To hear the word “Autism” applied to their child for the first time.

Over the next four months of training, Heather and I ran our long runs together every Sunday. With each run, I learned even more about her and from her. She was so graceful as a mother and wife. So incredibly patient and such an awesome mom. I began to really look forward to our Sunday runs together.

In November, the time had come and we headed for New York City. We did it! We really ran 26.2 miles through the city of New York and had the experience of a lifetime. To make it even better, our KultureCity team raised over $20,000 that year for families living with autism. It was such a wonderful feeling, such a high, but I also knew when I crossed that finish line that I was one and done with marathon running.

Autism friendship and support

Bucket List, CHECK.

That was two years ago and although we still talk and keep in touch, life keeps us busy and we rarely get to see each other. So when she asked me to come on her Vlog, I was excited to hang out with my friend for the day.

Oh and the fun we had! I gave her a little workout with burpees and I don’t think I have laughed that hard in a long, long time. Once we were done with the workout, we went inside to video the food making. Spending time together again, we immediately went back to where we had left off. I even forgot about the camera after a while.

And ACTION!

When she introduced me, one of the first things she did was mention this blog. I was embarrassed and to admit that I hadn’t blogged in many months. Of course, I had an excuse. You know, life, husband, kids, jobs, yada, yada, yada. 

Being the awesome friend that she is, she didn’t accept my excuses and called me out. Then she mentioned some of the posts I had written in the past. Some I had forgotten about. She told me that my blog had helped her so much.

I had no idea.

Then she really knocked me on my butt. She explained to me (and her viewers) that when we first met, she was coming to terms with the Autism diagnosis of her son. That my stories of Taylor gave her hope on those bad days and she believed that God brought me to her at the exact time that she needed me.

I was honestly speechless. I was about to have to add “salty tears” and “full heart” to my recipe list that day.  All this time I have considered her friendship as MY gift! I even felt guilty some days on HOW MUCH I would talk about Taylor. On my drive home after our runs I would sometime wonder if she was tired of my stories and was just too nice to say different. Some days I would think about a conversation we had and would pray that I hadn’t come across as some know-it-all. Lord knows, I know nothing, Jon Snow. 

All this time I had no clue I had helped her or how much TAYLOR had helped and inspired her.

I wonder if she knows how much she has helped me.

Heather definitely has a full plate. I honestly don’t know how she stays on top of it all, but she does. One particular thing she handles so well is how she has overcome the problem of food allergies in her family. All four of her children have food allergies and all are different. When she told me all the things they couldn’t eat, I was immediately overwhelmed. Oh my gosh! What would I do in that situation? I think we would starve for sure!

What did Heather do? Well, she didn’t panic, for one. Instead, she used her situation as a way be creative and even better, found a way to use it to help others. 

This brings us back to her Vlog.

So Heather created a cooking Vlog called Chef Mommy, as a resource for other parents who may be in similar situations. She shares recipes of some really delicious meals that are allergen-free, vegan and fun for kids to eat. Seriously, you should go check it out. 

This is just one of many, many examples I could give you on how her outlook on everything is so inspiring. Don’t worry, I will not be starting a cooking Vlog any time soon, but she has encouraged me to pick up my paintbrush and start painting again. She is also the reason I picked up this laptop and started writing again. For that reason, I feel I can’t begin my first blog of the year without giving her the credit for reigniting that fire and reminding me the reason I started this so long ago.

This is what true friendship is really about, lifting each other up.

A while back I had another parent ask me if I would be willing to talk to a friend of theirs. Their friend had just been told that her child had autism and was devastated. I told them, absolutely and then told them to give this mom my number. The next day, I saw this parent again and asked about their friend. She just sighed and said, “I gave her your number but she wouldn’t take it. She told me that she didn’t want to talk to anyone about ‘it’. She said she wasn’t about to be in some autism mom supper club.”

My heart broke for this mom. Not because she didn’t want to talk to me, but because she didn’t want to talk to ANYONE who may understand what she is going through. There are so many resources and parent support out there and she wasn’t interested in any of it.

Don’t do that. Don’t isolate yourself. It can get lonely enough as an autism parent and seriously, is our “supper club” really so bad? I think most of us are pretty cool.

Look, life is hard enough in this crazy world. If you have one or more children on the spectrum, that world can be even harder. Don’t be afraid to share your stories. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. There are a lot of us out here that are in it. We get you!

I hope you find a friend like Heather.

What you may not know is that you are already someone else’s Heather. You may be the person that is helping someone else make it through their day. YOU may be the person that is giving someone else hope.

As for Heather, I feel I have found a friend for life. We live completely different lives going in different directions. We are opposite ends of the spectrum for lack of a better term. A mutual friend and a crazy notion that we could run a Marathon brought us into each other’s lives, but it is our support for each other that will ensure we will always be friends. Though it may be another six months before I see her again, I know that when I do, we will just continue our conversation exactly where we left off.

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