My Time Has Come

Ten years ago I completed a journey that I began in 1988.  I finally returned to school to complete my university degree.  It took me longer than the average bear, but I did it.  Fourteen years ago I had all intentions of returning but realized there wasn’t much sense in doing that until I at least knew how to turn on a computer (no joke!).

My adventure as a mature student began at a locally owned and operated career academy which offered the course I needed plus included a 6 week work term component.  Not only would I get the basic computer/office/administration skills I would need to make my break from retail but I would also get a placement for 6 weeks to put my newly acquired skills to the test.

Fortunately, my work term was at another locally owned business that was well established in the area and although I knew nothing about propane or oil I dove right in and learned as much as I could.

I guess I did okay as 14 years later, I’m still there :) Through the encouragement of my employer I enrolled in university in 2004 to complete my degree now that I had the basic skills necessary to keep up with the ever changing world of technology and education.  I needed 3 courses for my degree.  Yep, 3.  I opted to take 3 business courses to better my understanding of my work environment.  I took so much more out of my time in the classroom than I did in 1988.  I was ready.  I did the “real world” thing and I could now understand so much of what those courses really meant to me and where I would use them in real life.  I had a better appreciation than I had the first trip I made to university.  I’ve always loved learning but when I left high school I wasn’t ready to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up and I made decisions that took me places I wasn’t ready to be.  However, that’s all water under the bridge.

Now here I go again.  My employer is so enthusiastic about people (especially his employees) wanting to better their education that I couldn’t wait to share with him my interest in a new course being offered at the same place where I received my BTCA and started working for him 14 years ago.  This time we’re getting a little bit more specific within the scope of learning.  I need 4 courses from the university to receive a Certificate in Management.  Thankfully, the Canadian Institute of Management has partnered with Island Career Academy and I can get my CSM Certification during a timetable that is much more conducive to my needs.

So why is it that my time has come now?  Why didn’t I do this earlier?  Because I’m a Mom and my kids needed me, that’s why.  The road we have traveled with Matthew since he started school had no room on it for me to detour.  I needed to be on my game for him.  All my energy and focus had to be making sure his needs were met.  I can finally say that he is well on his way.  A year from now he will be in his senior year (that’s just too crazy to imagine let alone type).  He has walked a long and at times, very trying path but he continued to move ahead and mature in ways beyond anything I could have ever imagined 10 years ago.  And as far as Marcus, well he’s just the most easy-going, happy-go-lucky kid that I have ever come across in my life.  He’s joined Yoga at school today and all is right in his world…lol.  That’s why my time has come.

It’s going to be a busy winter!  Between working for an oil company (please don’t let this winter be as bad as last winter was!!) and going to school, it’ll be springtime before I know it.

Bring it on.

Until next time…

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Thanks to everyone for reading yesterday’s post.  For those of you who have messaged, this one’s for you ;)

Matthew ended up spending a second night camping.  It was the first thing he asked yesterday when he called me.  “Can I please, please, please, please, please stay again tonight?”   

I really had to think about it, and this is why:  there’s a very fine line between something being a success or a disaster.  The first night went great; he had a fantastic time.  Add on to that another whole day of working, not really getting a chance to chill out, the weather changing to overcast and drizzle, mood changes in general and him getting tired.  I wanted to wait to see what his mood was like later in the day, then I would decide.  If he was getting too tired or not eating right his mood could change in an instant.  I didn’t want him to spend a second night out there only to end up regretting the whole thing.  The first night was awesome and I didn’t want to chance having all the good be undone by pushing it.  It may sound ridiculous.  Unless you have traveled our road or one similar you may not understand and really there is no way for me to adequately explain it.  Suffice it to say that all the deliberation and agony that I struggled with yesterday afternoon was to make sure this all ended positively for him.  Whether he stayed for one night or ten, I really didn’t care.  All that concerned me was that such a big accomplishment ended with him having a smile on his face.  Noting else mattered.  

Before Mike went to work, Matt called again.  After Mike talked with him he felt that he was still in a good space.  He really felt Matt would be fine.  So off I went with a few things he’d need for his second night camping out.

He was so full of enthusiasm when I arrived.  He was excited, happy and thrilled to be staying.  He couldn’t get back to it quick enough.

By early this afternoon, he was ready.  He was home after a very big weekend.  As much as I wanted to bombard him with a million questions, I knew better.  He’s never been one to like being grilled.  He certainly didn’t take after his mother that way ;)  I’d have no problem wanting to share every detail of every little thing I did with anyone who cared to listen.  But I have to respect that he’s not like me in that way.  He did share a couple of stories and I suspect over the course of the next few weeks we’ll hear more as he sees fit.  But you know what, that’s ok.  As much as I’d love to hear everything he did I know as much as I need to.  The fact that he made it through two nights on his own camping with his peers tells me more than any story he could ever share.  What he’s not telling us is saying more.  I don’t need to know.  He is 17 of course, and he did just spend the entire weekend with his friends.  I need to say that again.

Our 17 year old son just spent the entire weekend camping with his friends!!!!!!

As much as he enjoyed it and as many wonderful memories as he made this weekend, we enjoyed it for him just as much.  I couldn’t be more proud of him.  What an incredible way for him to put the wraps on an awesome summer.

This is one of those topics that I never thought I’d be writing about.  While we have seen Matthew conquer many obstacles and enjoy so many successes over the last couple of years, I can honestly say that I never thought we’d get to the point that saw him spend a weekend away with his friends ~ not just yet, anyway.  He continues to prove to us that when the time is right nothing can stand in his way.

And for anyone out there reading who has a child that may take their good ol’ time doing things, take it from a Mom who knows:  never say never.

Until next time…

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…Smile Because it Happened


As sad as it is to see Labour Day weekend upon us I can’t help but smile for what this summer has given us.  Even though it has gone by at warp speed the summer of 2014 has brought memories and accomplishments that will last a lifetime.

As a family, we were able to spend our first full summer enjoying the pleasures The Hideaway has blessed us with.  Endless nights were spent down on the beach with bonfires, music and lots of canoeing as the sun set into the water’s edge.  Just as many days saw hours go by as we tended to our property, weeded gardens, took down some trees and enjoyed spending time with family and friends entertaining on our deck.

Marcus had a great time playing soccer for his first time.  He’s going to definitely be my sports guy, I think.  He counted down to Tuesday nights all summer and looked forward to his trip to the store afterwards for ice cream.  It was probably the easiest time all summer we had getting him out of the water!  I can’t believe he didn’t get water-logged by the end of it.  His swimming skills improved immensely and he grew much more comfortable as the days went by.  The highlight of his summer was a two-night camping trip with his Aunt and Uncle which I suspect may become a yearly tradition.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance of the last few months has been what it has all meant for Matthew.  As he approaches 500 hours of volunteering at The Wildlife Park his full weeks there will be coming to an end this week as school resumes.  To properly explain what this has all meant to him would be impossible using only the written word.  There is just no way to convey the magnitude of how this experience has affected him.

For the first time in his life, Matt was not on the outside looking in.  He did not have to try to fit in.  This new adventure began for him in April and this summer saw him flourish and grow in ways that make me shiver.  Yes, his love for animals and nature was satisfied a hundred times over and he was able to spend time doing what he enjoyed but it’s so much more than that.

Living with asperger’s syndrome means that social situations are difficult.  Someone can appear to be like a fish out of water.  So many of the social ‘norms’ that we take for granted and are accustomed to are regular sources of great anxiety and confusion for someone like Matt.  Making friends, engaging in appropriate group conversation, finding those with similar interests, all those dynamics that we ‘get’ and have happen without even realizing the steps involved, can be hard laborious tasks for someone who doesn’t simply ‘get it’.

Over the summer he spent every moment that we would let him at the park.  The camaraderie that he formed with the staff was almost instant.  He was included in all aspects of park life and gained so much experience in other areas that will now follow him wherever he goes.  Besides learning new skills and being introduced to tasks such as welding, construction, carpentry, machinery, bailing hay, logging and lumbering, driving the horse wagon and countless other jobs, he learned how to work with a group and be a member of a team.  He gained confidence and earned respect by working hard and diving right in.

Besides that I have to go back to the social scene.  He was included.  He took part in activities not ‘work’ related.  He enjoyed spending time with the crew down at the water, during parades in the different communities and even something as simple as driving around the country side collecting hay.  He wanted to be there.  He enjoyed himself and he wasn’t alienated.

This week was a busy one for him.  Even though he took 3 days off there were two pretty big “Firsts” for him.  Much of the staff got together one evening after the park closed for a year-end get-together.  Matt was looking forward to this for days.  They had a BBQ and a bonfire complete with guitars, singing and stories.  Upon picking him up I could feel his joy.  It was electric.  Sitting among his peers as comfortably as if he were with family I was able to witness first hand that my boy was in his element.  Even with the wolves howling in the distance he was relaxed.  He interacted with his friends and added as much to the evening as he took from it.

As I type this entry Matt is still at the park – since 9AM yesterday morning!  The annual County Fair is taking place this weekend and many of the staff camp for the weekend at the campgrounds there.  Once he expressed interest in doing this we didn’t encourage or discourage.  We kind of just waited to see as time got closer how he’d feel.  Nothing doing, he was going camping.  By himself.  Knowing full well that Mike was night shift and wouldn’t be able to run out and pick him up in the middle of the night.  He was ok with that.  He was going to stay.

And stay he did :)  Talking with him this morning was emotional for me.  He had so much happiness and joy in his voice.  Last night was incredible and even though it was a late night (and I imagine a very little sleep night), he had the time of his life.  I couldn’t help but get filled up when I was talking to him, to which he quickly replied “Mom, don’t ruin the moment!”  Hahahaha!!  So on went my game-face and I smiled wider than ever listening to him tell me some of his stories.  As much as I want to ask him a million questions, I know that would only frustrate him, so I have to let him take the lead on this.  He’s spending today there again so I dare say by the time he makes it home later he’ll be beyond pooped and more than ready to crash.

I’ve often said (and will continue to say) that it’s the little things to many that mean the world to us.  In June if you would have told me that Matthew would have camped by himself this summer I would have called you a liar.  And by himself I mean without Mike or I.  On his own with his own group.  Something like that was the furthest thing from my mind.  He’s never slept out anywhere besides at a grandparent’s house.  He was never comfortable enough.

So as much as this all says for Matthew and the amazing accomplishments he’s gained this summer it says as much if not more for those who allowed Matthew to feel this way.  The group of people he has met since he began volunteering at the park – well, there are no words to describe how I feel about them even though I don’t know them that well.  They have all given our boy something that he hasn’t had.  A feeling of belonging.  They are all very good to him, have patience with him, and have told us what a pleasure it is to have him around.  It does my heart good in so many ways and a simple “thanks” could never do the justice I want conveyed to each and every one of them.

Matthew has set goals this summer.  As much as he has loved volunteering this summer, ultimately his dream would be employment.  Maybe, just maybe this could be a stepping stone for him and someday he will be employed there.  That would be the icing on the cake to all this.  Wouldn’t it be something if someday he’d be able to make someone feel the same way he felt all summer being part of such a great team?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

So now it’s time to bring on September!  Grade 1 for Marcus and grade 11 for Matthew.  Here’s to a smooth successful school year for all.

Until next time…

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We Need to Talk About This

robin williams

My social media sites became filled last evening with news about Robin Williams’ death.  Everyone was shocked, saddened, upset and devastated that this vivacious man who made it his job to make others laugh had taken his own life.

An online group I belong to started a thread about it.  As the conversation grew I woke to a post this morning from one of the members:

Maybe this thread can lead into a discussion…if more needs to be done to help those with mental illness, what do you think should be done?

The dialogue that opened had members having the courage to talk about events in their lives that were hard for them to discuss.  It humbled me to read them.

I had some thoughts of my own that I shared in response to this group member’s question.  What do you think should be done?  

We all have to start paying more attention to those close to us – and when I say ‘close’ to us I mean those we see A LOT. Those we work with, our immediate family whom we talk with or see several times a week, best friends, people who we are in organized extra-curricular events with. We have to pay attention. When we see a change, we have to start addressing it more. We have to stop assuming that ‘there is nothing wrong’, ‘it’s not my place’, or ‘she just has to get over herself’. I’m not saying to go around psychoanalyzing everyone. But when someone you have known for a while suddenly starts to display personality traits that are not consistent with who they typically are – pay attention. We all know drama queens, that’s not what I’m talking about either. We have to be willing to be honest whether someone likes/wants to hear what we have to say or not. We have to stop worrying about upsetting people. We have to get our heads of the sand and BE the support that people need because yes, it is our business, and if it’s not, then make it because too many people are dying or hurting others because we are turning our heads too scared to get involved.

There has to be more psychiatrists/psychologists, social workers, therapists brought into the medical system (at least here) and this has to be TOP priority for our schools. 2 and 3 year waiting lists for psych-ed testing for something as ‘simple as’ learning disabilities HAS TO CHANGE. Because guess what? Something ‘as simple as’ learning disabilities could someday lead to other issues and it can open the door (if not handled properly) for mental illnesses to fester (low self esteem, depression, etc etc).

Mental illness is still taboo in our culture and society. People still feel the need to hide away and suffer silently. Does a diabetic have to feel ashamed to ask for help? Why is it someone who has mental issues feels that way? Why are they made to feel ‘less’? Is it because we continue to turn our head the other way? We have to stop making this someone else’s problem and step up to the plate. We have to make this an everyday issue – not just an issue when tragedy strikes at a school or shopping mall and when ‘someone famous’ dies because they felt that’s the only choice they had.

It’s an invisible illness. You can’t see it. There is no wheelchair, there are no outward signs. It means we have to pay attention to people. We have to stop being so wrapped up in our own worlds to take the time to notice those around us. We have to slow down, we have to try to get back to a lifestyle that wasn’t so chaotic and technically motivated.

We have to re-engage and go back to interacting with people face-to-face. We have to be more empathetic and sympathetic and not be afraid of overstepping our bounds.

We’re all quick enough to have an opinion of what someone should have done after the fact; it’s time we put a brave face on and have the courage to share those opinions before hand next time.

In a statement released last night from Mr. William’s wife she stated that she didn’t want his death to be the focus of all this. I get that, I understand her need for saying that. But what is that doing? It is pushing mental illness under the rug yet again, it is saying ‘don’t talk about it’, it is casting a dark shadow of shame over what happened. This man, no matter how successful, rich, funny or well-loved that he was was not happy. He felt that the only way to handle was to not handle. For whatever reason he reached out in July and went back to rehab to seek help. What happened in the last few weeks to take him to the point of no return? Did she, as she stated in her release, not focus on the now? Did she assume that because he was Robin Williams he could just ‘get over it’?

And yes, I think if we stopped and thought about it, we all know someone who has been affected by mental illness, so why does this continue to go on?  Why is the stigma still there?  Why do people continue to feel they need to hide and face this alone?  Because of the way our society has evolved.  Our society can’t/won’t deal with us or accept us if we are less than the best, that’s why.

How did we get to the point that we stopped taking time to appreciate the totally insignificant things in our life, or should I say the things in our life that we have made insignificant? We have to get back in touch with what’s important. A beautiful day, puffy clouds, a hummingbird fluttering overhead, a garden growing. Nature is an incredible miracle. Our world has so many undeniable miracles right at our fingertips that many times we choose to ignore because we are too busy, because we don’t take the time to see them. We need to retrain ourselves to appreciate the things in life that give us absolutely nothing but pleasure. We have to try to step back from getting ahead, and putting too much value on ‘success’.

Our kids have to learn how to be kids again – to play, to pretend, to imagine, to scrape their knees, to hurt, to be disappointed, and to yes, even fail. We have to stop handing everything to our kids just because. We have to stop enabling. We have to stop focusing on being the best, being #1, and settling for nothing less. We need to encourage our kids to be the best THEY CAN BE. There’s a difference there – a big difference. Someone is always going to be better – and that’s ok. Our kids don’t need to be going non-stop every day. We don’t have to have our kids involved in more activities than there are days of the week.  Our kids have to learn to be bored. They have to NOT have something to do all. the. time. They need down time to just be. They need to know that it’s ok to just flop on their bed in their room and look up to the ceiling and daydream or think. We don’t have to be continually doing something with/for them. We all want to give our kids the ‘best’, we all want to see them ‘succeed’, but what is the definition of those two words? My success is different than your success and the best for me may not even hold a candle to your idea of best. We have to redefine these terms and make the term applicable to the person, not try to turn the person into our definition of the term.

We have to get back to caring about people. We have to stop saying what someone ‘wants’ to hear and start saying what they ‘need’ to hear and not be afraid to hurt their feelings. And we have to be willing to listen when someone tells us what we need to hear, whether we want to hear it or not. I’m not saying to go out and tear someone apart just because. We can express opinions using tact not to belittle or chastise.

I’ll say it again because I feel it’s worth repeating…It’s way too easy to have all the answers after-the-fact. If we were all so well versed about it after-the-fact, we have to be willing to express those answers and opinions before the questions have to be asked.

Until next time…

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12 Years ~ Before and After

July 17, 2002.  I am 31 years old.  I have been married for almost 11 years and I have a 5 1/2 year old son.  Today life as I know it changes forever.  Right now, in this moment, I have no idea just how much my life is going to alter or that it will be for the better.  Right now I am too absorbed with grief, horror, shock and hurt to understand that what transpires over the course of this day will have such a profound affect on every breath that I take from here forward.  Right now I just have to get through this.

July 17, 2014.  I am 43 years old.  I have been married for almost 23 years and I have a 17 1/2 year old son and a 6 year old son.  Today’s life as I know it is nothing like what it was 12 years ago.  Right now, in this moment, life is better.  Right now I am filled with faith, determination, confidence and pride as I reflect upon what transpired over the course of this day and the weeks, months and years that followed July 17, 2002.

Sometimes I feel like there was a Tracey Before July 17, 2002 and a Tracey After July 17, 2002.  Two totally different people.  If you were to do a before and after picture, they’d appear similar.  I look pretty much the same except I’ve recently let my hair go au naturel (read: grey) and I now wear glasses all the time; not just at work.  The differences I refer to are not physical characteristics that can be seen.  It’s much more than that.  My whole life’s perception has done a complete role-reversal since that day.  The way I relate, react and respond to everything and everyone around me is much healthier (I think) than pre-2002.

You see, pre-2002 I was very much about “me”.  I was very much about “stuff”.  I was very preoccupied with what other people thought.  I was a people-pleaser whether pleasing the people was good for me or not, it didn’t matter.  I was absorbed with living my life through someone else’s eyes.  And if I wasn’t able to live my life that way I played the “Woe is Me” card and made life unbearable for anyone in earshot.

Mind you, it wasn’t quite as bad after Matthew was born.  I had to learn in a hurry that it wasn’t all about me and that I had to make decisions based on the best interest of my son.  I’m not going to lie, it was a hard pill to swallow.  Motherhood (or at least the beginning of it) was nothing like what I anticipated.  It was only through the love and extreme patience of my husband and my family that I was able to slowly transition into my role as a Mom.

Just as I was getting my feet under me (and yes, it did take almost 5 1/2 years), we decided to expand our family.  We were ready.  Matthew would be starting school and the timing felt right.

Our plans weren’t the plans.

We expanded our family, of course, just not in the typical way.  I gave birth to our daughter whom we welcomed into our lives and sorrowfully handed her back to the stars all in mere moments.  The lessons she would teach would last far beyond her time here on Earth.

There was a purpose to the grief, horror, shock and hurt that absorbed me 12 years ago.  I could not let Emily’s life be in vain.  She had a message, her life had meaning.  It was up to me and to us as a family to understand what that meaning was and to keep her alive in our world the best way we could.  We would not be able to hold her, teach her or watch her grow but we could learn from her, love her and honour her.  That’s where the changes came for me.

I became much more honest with myself.  I redefined what was important in my life.  I determined that many of the issues consuming my world on July 16, 2002 were irrelevant in the big scheme of things.  My husband and I now shared a bond so far beyond our wedding vows that our relationship took on a entirely new meaning.  The stuff from yesterday was gone; it just didn’t matter any more.  Even though there was a birth and a death on that day, there was a rebirth of a family who embraced a horrific tragedy and took the first step towards rebuilding.

Was it easy? No, of course not.  Was it supposed to be easy?  Not a chance.  Nothing worth having is.  So how did it happen?  Why did we choose this change instead of losing ourselves in pity, remorse and sorrow?  Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to wallow and allow the world to smother us in sadness?  Sure, that would have been really easy but it wouldn’t have prepared us for the years filled with joy and sorrow that were yet to be lived.

In the last 12 years there have been quite a few major events that I’m sure I could not have handled the way I did if July 17, 2002 didn’t happen.  If Emily hadn’t been born my daughter, I don’t think I could have coped.

My best friend died in 2003, while I was holding her hand.  Before she closed her eyes for the last time she told me she was going to take care of my girl.  How selfless was that?  Two of the most important female role models in my world were now watching over me.  As with July 17, 2002 the next day of most significant importance to me was September 6, 2003.

Perhaps our girl knew that her big brother was going to need me to be on my game. Perhaps she knew that I had to have strength like I didn’t know I was capable of to stand by Matthew’s side when he needed me most.  Maybe she knew that the best thing she could do for me was hurt me.  The whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” thing?

Anyone who knows our family or who is a follower of my blog knows the road we have walked with Matthew since he started school.  It has been an ongoing journey of persistence, heartache, accomplishment, and the biggest test in tenacity that I have ever faced.  My boy needed me to be strong and my girl made me strong.  What a gift she gave me to be able to pass along to her brother.

My life did a complete 360° and started all over again.  It was about me alright, all about me being the type of mom Matthew needed to support him, to advocate for him and to teach the world that things weren’t always as they seemed.

Over the years there have been many tears and many accomplishments.  Now that Matthew is older he is learning to advocate for himself and he educates along the way whenever he can.  It makes my heart swell when I hear him explain how he talked himself out of a meltdown or managed to remove himself from a situation that he knew contained more triggers than he was prepared to deal with.  Our boy has made it to high school, is volunteering at a job that fulfills him greatly and is growing and maturing in leaps and bounds.

Are we out of the woods?  Well, if the answer to that is based on where we live I’d have to say no.  Hahahaha!  I am so NOT a comedian.  Matthew lives with autism spectrum disorder, a nonverbal learning disorder and ADHD.  We may all walk along nicely for a while but then we come to some rugged terrain and Matt needs a helping hand.  He’s been growing a lot which lets him maneuver the rough spots like the seasoned hiker he is.  He’s making his own pathways but he’s also smart enough to know that hikers shouldn’t go into the woods by themselves.  The best way to get through anything is by using the buddy system for support, for encouragement and for guidance.

We also use the buddy system much the same as Matthew.  Pre 2002 I’d probably think I was invincible but Miss Emily also taught me that I’m not.  Now I’m much more willing to accept that I am only who I am because of those I have around me.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts. ~Aristotle

This quote perfectly sums up what it has taken me more than 1400 words to say.  I am who I am because of those around me joining together.

The Hilliard’s (the ‘whole’) are more than Michael, Tracey, Matthew, Emily and Marcus (the sum of its parts).  While we all have our own positive attributes to contribute, by adding all of our strengths and weaknesses together we are able to culminate to a level so far beyond our individual selves.

I’ve known this.  It’s not a big revelation.  However I didn’t see it.  There’s the difference.  This is all part of my post July 17, 2002 growth and while I could continue to talk for days about what else my girl taught me and what she continues to teach me I’ll close off by wishing my Angel in the Stars a very Happy 12th Birthday.

My Emily Ann Rose will continue to be part of our ‘whole’ contributing in ways we have yet to see.

Until next time…


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100 Hours

This weekend marked a great milestone for Matthew.  He completed his 100th hour volunteering at The Wildlife Park.

He continues to enjoy his time there just as much as he was during my last post.  He’s getting more confident by the day and is learning more than we ever thought possible.  Mixing feed, welding, carpentry, landscaping, and cutting potatoes for french fries in the canteen are among some of the tasks he’s been introduced to over the last month.  So much more than ‘just’ being with the animals.

The management and staff continue to encourage and praise him, teach him and include him in all aspects of Park life.  He’s ‘one of the gang’ and is truly making a spot for himself.  They marvel at his commitment as it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed that there hasn’t been one weekend go by that he hasn’t been there at least one full day.  I don’t know if I’d have had that tenacity at his age.  Yes, granted, I worked but I wasn’t up EVERY day by 7:00.

Now that his academic year is coming to an end he plans to increase the days he’s out there.  Mike and I have no issue with that and are quite thrilled that he’ll have something to occupy his time through the summer.  We have, however, stipulated a maximum of 5 days/week.  He still needs his down time.  He still needs to be able to chill out and sleep in.  He needs to be able to enjoy his time at home with his gardens.

The skills and confidence he is gaining is second-to-none.  With no disrespect meant to teachers (or the school system), the experience Matthew is gaining here so far exceeds anything he could learn in a classroom.  He’s finally comfortable and confident with an activity, he’s learning vital life skills that certainly don’t come easily to those living with Asperger’s, he’s making friends, he’s part of a group of people who share common interests and he sees the difference his time there is making (a cut lawn, a built animal pen, a content animal, a clean barn, etc).

Something that may seem so trivial to many has changed Matthew’s world.  He has found his nitch.   He has found ‘his’ place.  We have always said he would, we just didn’t know where or when it would be and in our wildest dreams we could have never predicted the outcome.

Last summer saw a big change in our family during our move and this year I see just as big a change as Matt continues to surpass even his own expectations.

Until next time…

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Life is Good

“Life is good!”

Those three simple words will echo in my head (and heart) for a very long time.

As Matthew sat in the van yesterday after spending over 8 hours volunteering at Two Rivers Wildlife Park  he had a look of contentment that spoke volumes.  He is into his second month of volunteering at the park which is something he has wanted to do for years.  Now that we are living a little closer and he’s older we decided it would be a good chance for him to spread his wings (pardon the pun).  Even though it is still close to an hour’s drive round trip so far it’s been more than worth it for him, and for us.

Since we moved last July, Matt had his heart set on raising chickens.  We have the room, we do live in the country now, after all and he loves animals.  At first I was adamant that it wasn’t going to happen.  Ever.  Slowly I guess I backed down enough that we went from ‘not a chance’ to putting money aside for a chicken coop.

After his second or third day at the park he seemed somewhat bummed out once he got home.  He didn’t think he was going to be able to handle having the chickens.  One of his jobs that day required him to get right into the chicken coop and feed the birds.  The noise got the better of him.  He really wasn’t sure if he would be able to tolerate it all. the. time.

Matthew had a decision to make.  And like most things that we have our heart set on, when we realize the reality of some of the things we’d like to have, it’s hard having to be practical rather than go with what our heart wants.  Mike and I completely understood where he was coming from.  We told him that this was a decision that he had to make on his own.  Whatever his choice was, we’d support it.  We told him how proud we were of him for realizing that this may not be the best idea right now and reminded him that even if he chose not to go ahead with a chicken coop this year, that’s not to say that he couldn’t revisit the idea next year.  Perhaps the more time he spent at the park the more he would get used to the different noises and the high pitches.  He disappeared to be by himself for a while to think.  Within an hour he was back stating that he made his decision.  He was going to take the money put aside for the coop and use it on other projects in the yard for this year.  The chicken coop will wait.  We reiterated how proud we were of him and talked to him about how great it was that this volunteering position has taught him something very valuable already.  If he wasn’t there to see/hear the ways different animals go on, he could have invested all that time and money into something that he wouldn’t have gotten the enjoyment out of that he hoped.  Everything happens for a reason.  Damn cliches.

Here’s a couple of pics that he’s sent to me while he been working.  The peacock all in his glory and 2 day old baby goats born this week.

Matt peacockIMG-20140517-00170

He’s been paired with a few different people since he began his journey out there; none of whom he knew previously.  He’s been 100% on his own with it, too.  Mike and I told him at the beginning that this was something he was doing on his own if he wanted it.  We’d take him and pick him up but we weren’t staying.  He was ok with that.  The people he’s been working with have been great, he has quickly fit in to the group and is learning (and teaching) a lot.

From feeding alpha male wolves to making a bed for a barn cat to raking leaves around the administration building he’s been getting his hands into a lot of different aspects of life at the park.  He tells me that come summer vacation he is going to be “handling the barns”.

Do you remeber how you first felt when you realized there was something you were ‘good‘ at?  That feeling of belonging and accomplishment and desire to learn everything you can about it?  That’s where Matthew is now.

He’s not a sports guy, he’s not really ‘into’ anything that he could be a part of in the past.  I was sad for him for a long time because it was just him and his love of nature.  Now I see a difference.  He is finally able to have something to call his own and share it with people that are like minded.

He told me yesterday that one of the guys is impressed with him because he doesn’t complain about anything.  (Oh, really???  This is Matthew we’re talking about, right??…oopps, did I say that out loud?) He’ll do anything he’s asked to do and things that he’s not asked to do.  I told him that was a sign of a good worker and the more he was able to do that the more he would show the people there how passionate he is about the hours he spends there.  “I know Mom, ya know, I’d even shovel horse poop with a smile on my face.  I hope I can get a REAL job there someday.”

I hope he can, too.  Yes, he’s only 17 and yes he still has a lot of growing up to do in many ways but one thing I know about my boy is his love of animals and nature is never going to go away.  If anything it will continue and expand to more opportunities, more life lessons and the ability to share his passion with so many more people.

When Mike dropped him off this morning before 9AM Matt told him, “If you don’t hear otherwise have Mom pick me up for 6:00 so I can stay for the final feeding.”  You got it bud, you got it.

Until next time…

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