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"I walked until the night was far behind..."

Oh, my heart.

It's so full, despite the fact that our place is a mess and I really need to make a list and go food shopping.
Despite the fact that I am starting to feel congested and itchy from nearly-fall allergies. Despite the fact that poor PJ had a rare, sleepless night last night. He tossed and turned from midnight until 3:30am, and since he came to snuggle in our bed for comfort, I was as awake as he was.

Yawn.

On our way!
But he finally passed out, and then I finally passed out, and then it was this morning, a gorgeous, cool, cloudless day and after breakfast, PJ and I climbed into the car and headed in to Philly for the Walk for Autism Speaks. I wasn't sure how it would go considering how little sleep we got the night before, but we had raised enough money to meet our modest goal and we had some walking to do. So I made sure I had an emergency paci and lots of snacks packed for PJ, and clutched a coffee in my hand.

It was delicious, of course, but truthfully, I didn't need it. The atmosphere when we pulled into the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park was electric. Cars were pulling in and people spilled out of those cars, wearing sweatshirts and walk shirts; teams gathered wearing matching tees and holding the hands of the autistic child, teen or adult they were walking in honor of. Between the cool breeze and the cloudless sky and the golden morning sun, I had plenty to keep me awake.

We registered and walked the grounds, checking out the tables and information available. I chatted with a mom and volunteer with Autism Votes about sending our babies off to pre-school- she assured me that I would grow to love having an hour or two a day to myself! I admitted that back-to-school commercials make me cry. We joked about coffee addicitons, and she told me that Autisms moms are "warriors" and that coffee is our fuel. Preach, sister.

Jumping!
There were lots of activities set up for the children in attendance- a fire truck, face painting, tons of yummy snacks to choose from and, to PJ's ultimate delight, a bounce house, where he enjoyed some pre-walk jumping. He giggle as he watched other kids bounce by him and laughed out loud when he lost his footing and bounced on this butt! Oh, that boy of mine has a deep, meaningful, passionate love for bounce houses.

We listened to music, and to people onstage sharing stories about a family member with Autism and then, with a cheer and a wave, it was time to start walking. PJ and I got off to a slow start, as there was so much to take in. People streamed in a long train ahead of us, all walking for a common cause. The air brought me back to my high school days of raising money for the AIDS Walk, when it felt truly possible to banish all of the worlds challenges by walking on a beautiful fall day. There was a taste of that same optimism in the air, and we started walking with hope in our hearts and a spring in our step.

So, of course, we were only about ten strides into the walk an all of my emotions to came rushing to the surface. It was a touch of sadness- I wasn't here for someone I knew or just to make a small, positive difference. I was walking with my son, my son who has Autism, and it was a brief reminder of how our dreams had been rewritten. But more then that, I felt like I was taking in the electricity of the day, and it was all. that. hope. All that hope in the form of thousands of people, streaming through the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park. Even more then the hope was the pride, evident in the names emblazoned on tee shirts and pictures held on placards. One team had shirts that said "I asked God for a miracle, and He gave me my Autistic {son, grandson, nephew, brother} Bryan."

And speaking of the people watching- oh, my goodness! We saw fire fighters, cheerleaders, a capella singing groups and some kind of winged bird creature who was a college mascot. We saw the Ghost Busters, Geoffrey the Giraffe from Toys r Us, frat boys and even ran into PJ's new speech therapist at CHOP (who looked even younger in street clothes then she did in professional ones- she's adorable). It took a while to get started on the walk because I kept stopping to take pictures! There was a group being crowded for pictures and when I got closer, I saw why:

Add caption
Storm Troopers! PJ was completely enthralled, he could not take his eyes off of them! He smiled up at the new friend he made, giving his trademark high-fives and saying "Hi, friend!". PJ's Uncle Greg, a fervent Star Wars fan, would have been proud as his nephew shook the hand of a Storm Trooper, who called him awesome in a voice thick with emotion, even from behind his mask. The storm troopers were the popular kids that day, and I got the impression that our new friends had shaken many hands on the spectrum. As for PJ, even though he's a toddler, I think he has a new career aspiration.


"Am I making a weird face in this one?"

The walk itself was fast, just a mile. PJ chatted about the things we saw, asked for snacks and drinks, high-fived cheerleaders, and pulled his canopy down so he could turn around to make faces at me! Before we knew it, we were back where we started. PJ enjoyed some more time in the bounce house and danced with his mama to the music that was playing from the main stage. Finally, it was time to go, and we headed to the car with the early afternoon sun warming our faces and the magic of the day warming my heart.

We made a quick stop to meet the Oldest/Bestest and her littles for some lunch and play place fun at Chick-fil-A. Randi has been in parts of the world far from here for the past few weeks, so a quick catch up was great! After lunch, PJ and I came home, just in time for Pete to wake up from sleeping off his shift last night. The afternoon was reserved for family time that involved a lot of laughing on PJ's part and lots of Leggo's, trains, snuggles and tickles.

Pete headed down the shore for the NJ Firefighters Convention (aka The Convention of Grown-Ass Men Acting Like Little Children) and I bathed, pajamaed, storied and tucked into bed a very tired, very amazing, very special-to-my-heart toddler.



Walk for Autism 2012? We got it in the bag!

A few more pictures from the day:






Comments

krystina said…
Loved it! Your son is adorable!
Breezy said…
Thank you so much!!

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Today is April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day, and it is Autism Awareness Month.

The month begins on the heels of news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Autism is on the rise. 1 in 68 children in the areas followed by the CDC are identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder, up from 1 in 88 just a few years ago. In New Jersey, the numbers are far higher then the national average at 1 in 45. 

You can view a summary of the latest CDC report here, but there are two points of the report that stood out to me:
Less than half (44%) of children identified with ASD were evaluated for developmental concerns by the time they were 3 years old.Most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age 4, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age 2.Content source: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
PJ was diagnosed with Autism shortly after his second birthday. Pete and I had already utilized an e…