Alison Merritt

@alisonmerritt | contributor
I am a mother of three, stepmother of two, wife of one and friend of many. I am always looking for new perspectives and ways to live my life in the most positive and meaningful way possible. I am a teacher, artist, avid reader, and writer. My most important current project is navigating blended family life with two sons with Autism Spectrum DIsorder.
Alison Merritt

My Mother's Cancer Remission Was Not the Celebration I Expected

They all ask me “How is she?” “Is she better?” “Is she healthy?” I tilt my head, look at them, and I smile. She is in remission. At this moment in time, the seriousness and intensity of her disease and pain has diminished. My mother has temporarily recovered from multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is when cancerous plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out the healthy blood cells. This can cause weakening and breaking of bones. My mother was diagnosed after she drove herself to the emergency room with back pain. The cancer had eaten through her spine. After countless rounds of chemotherapy, medications and a stem cell transplant, she is in remission. Her blood work is normal and her chemotherapy has been cut down to twice a month. Although multiple myeloma is treatable, it is not curable. We know that there are cancer cells lurking in her body, but for now they lay dormant. Remission is not exactly the loud, wild and carefree celebration I imagined. My mother has not bounced back; things are not back to normal. She spent her life working, multitasking and managing it all and now she stays home. She would love to travel, but all the medicine she is on does not make it easy nor spontaneous. She wants to scoop up and run after her grandchildren, but she is still too weak. She used to have energy late into the evening, now she barely sees the sunset before she is in bed. She used to lay in the sun, now the heat makes her sick. Her memory is stunted, her concentration causes her to struggle. The music is not blaring and we are not dancing. Remission is a small, intimate gathering. It is a quiet, calm and thoughtful celebration.  She is able to hug her grandchildren without the fear of germs. She is able to enjoy a visit out of the house with friends. She can stand long enough to cook her mother’s beloved recipe and share it with her family. She is able to watch her grandchildren’s sports and cheer them on in real life. She is able to come to birthday parties and enjoy a piece of cake. We all were able to surround her on her 60th birthday as she blew those candles out, symbolic of another year around the sun. Although the party wasn’t raging and we all did not lose ourselves in the celebration, the moment I witnessed as my mother turned another year older was the most profound celebration I can imagine. The celebration of something not promised feels so much sweeter. Remission may not be exactly what we expected, but we would certainly like to stay for a while.

Alison Merritt

What My Mother’s Cancer Has Taught Me

I remember being 7 years old and telling my mother that I hated my teacher. Standing outside the linen closet with my bare feet on our carpeted floor, my mother explained that I did not really “hate” my teacher; I just disliked her. My teacher was a person and she did not deserve my hate. My mother was the most influential and important voice in my short life, so I agreed. My mother had no room in her heart for hate: she taught me love. 30 years later, I have found that I have never been a hateful person. Instead, I strive to remain positive. I learned from the best, and my mother was an example of gratitude and optimism. My mother insisted she was “rich” her whole life, although working class would probably be more accurate. She said she never minded growing old, as many were not afforded the privilege. I cannot count how many times she stopped what she was doing to set an extra spot at the dinner table, to fix the guest bed and to give what she had to anyone who was in need. We had a full life, with room for only love. Then cancer invaded my mother, not only once, but twice, by the time my mother turned 58. The first time my mother went for her routine mammogram and later was diagnosed with breast cancer. The second time, she left work and got herself to the emergency room with back pain. She left the hospital with a broken rib, a broken back and the knowledge that her plasma cells had turned cancerous and had ravaged her body, eating through her bones: it was called multiple myeloma. I have spent my life politely disliking a lot of things, and perhaps I have saved my hate for something that truly deserves it. I hate cancer and hate all that it has taken from my family. I hate the memory I have of my mother’s face crumbling when the doctor told her the news. I hate that I returned to work from my maternity leave with swollen eyes because we received the diagnosis the day before. I hate that I had to stay strong for my children and hold back my tears when we did not know what the diagnosis meant. I hate that my mother missed my daughter’s first home run and her countless softball games in the warm summer sun. I hate that my mother had to be admitted to the hospital on my birthday. I know how much it pained her to tell me because she did not want to ruin my day. I hate that I missed hugging my mother on her 59th birthday because I had a cold and I could not risk giving her any germs. I hate that my mother was not sitting at my table at my cousin’s wedding and that my father stayed home because he could not bear to go to a family wedding without her. I hate that the parking lot at Panera will forever remind me of the time she told me the cancer cells were in her spinal cord. It is where I sat when my tears forced me to pull over the car. I hate that my mother cannot host Thanksgiving again even though it is her favorite holiday and our family’s most loved tradition. I hate the guilt I carry any time I laugh, smile or forget that the woman I love most is in pain. I hate the moment I saw my mother without hair and the memory I have of how small she looked. I hate when I watched my mother, who always had boundless energy, struggle to walk up the stairs. I hate that my 5-year-old son asked how long grandma was going to be sick. I hate the feeling of my heart sinking every time I have to send my mother a picture or a video of my children. I know it is a very poor replacement of her seeing them in real life. I hate how many times I saw my father cry. I hate that the entire year of 2019 seems a little darker, a little more fuzzy and more like a chore than any other year I ever lived through. Hate has reappeared in my life in the most destructive and invasive way possible. It seems like my relationship with my mother’s cancer is lasting much longer than I would ever imagine, and I have accepted that my relationship with cancer is not over. Although my relationship with cancer is dark, unstable and dysfunctional, I vow to take from it anything I can. I will take the moments of hope. I will take the remission. I will take the small victories. I will embrace the joy and be grateful that my mother is still here, as there are countless that are not so lucky. Cancer has given me hate and heartache, and it has stolen more time than it deserves. Cancer may have taught me to hate, but my mother taught me to love. Love wins every time.

Alison Merritt

When My Mother’s Cancer Forced Her to ‘Play the Odds’

My mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma one year ago when she went to the emergency room for back pain, only to find that the cancer had eaten through her bones. After a year of grueling treatment, she was told yesterday that it is highly recommended she go through with a donor stem cell transplant that will take over the next year of her life. She will have to be matched with a donor, she will need a caregiver for at least three months, she will be in isolation for weeks and she will be violently ill for more days than anyone cares to count. The doctor called the procedure “high risk” and “high reward.” His language was plain, and he spoke in absolutes. There is a 10 percent chance she will die during the transplant. There is a 60 percent chance she will be alive three years after the transplant, there is a 40 percent chance she will be alive five years out. If she decides against the transplant, the numbers are grim. The news came like a swift punch to the gut, a quick pull of the rug underneath my feet. This is the first time the statistics were shared in such black and white terms. This was the first time we started to focus on the numbers instead of the words we heard over and over: treatable, but not curable. The numbers taunted me, they made me cry uncontrollably and they made me head pound. Are we supposed to live our life with these numbers dictating how we feel? 67 percent of second marriages end in divorce, yet my husband and I are so grateful we are to have found each other for our second chance. Birth control pills are 99.7 percent effective when taken daily. I never missed a day, yet two of my children came into my life by surprise. There is roughly a 1.5 percent chance of having a child with autism, and a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child diagnosed. We have two handsome, joyful and perfect boys we are raising. They have both been diagnosed with autism. One percent of people on earth have green eyes: I do. I am not a statistic, my children are not a percentage and my mother is certainly much more than a number. Looks like we have no choice but to play these odds; we may not know how the results are going to fall, or if the risk will be worth the reward. I can not obsess over the future and spend my days crying over the “what ifs.” Right now, my mother is here with me. Right now, my mother has a chance of being here a long time. I can’t predict how I will feel in a year or two, but right now I am 100 percent grateful that we have the opportunity to play the odds.

Alison Merritt

What My Mother’s Cancer Has Taught Me

I remember being 7 years old and telling my mother that I hated my teacher. Standing outside the linen closet with my bare feet on our carpeted floor, my mother explained that I did not really “hate” my teacher; I just disliked her. My teacher was a person and she did not deserve my hate. My mother was the most influential and important voice in my short life, so I agreed. My mother had no room in her heart for hate: she taught me love. 30 years later, I have found that I have never been a hateful person. Instead, I strive to remain positive. I learned from the best, and my mother was an example of gratitude and optimism. My mother insisted she was “rich” her whole life, although working class would probably be more accurate. She said she never minded growing old, as many were not afforded the privilege. I cannot count how many times she stopped what she was doing to set an extra spot at the dinner table, to fix the guest bed and to give what she had to anyone who was in need. We had a full life, with room for only love. Then cancer invaded my mother, not only once, but twice, by the time my mother turned 58. The first time my mother went for her routine mammogram and later was diagnosed with breast cancer. The second time, she left work and got herself to the emergency room with back pain. She left the hospital with a broken rib, a broken back and the knowledge that her plasma cells had turned cancerous and had ravaged her body, eating through her bones: it was called multiple myeloma. I have spent my life politely disliking a lot of things, and perhaps I have saved my hate for something that truly deserves it. I hate cancer and hate all that it has taken from my family. I hate the memory I have of my mother’s face crumbling when the doctor told her the news. I hate that I returned to work from my maternity leave with swollen eyes because we received the diagnosis the day before. I hate that I had to stay strong for my children and hold back my tears when we did not know what the diagnosis meant. I hate that my mother missed my daughter’s first home run and her countless softball games in the warm summer sun. I hate that my mother had to be admitted to the hospital on my birthday. I know how much it pained her to tell me because she did not want to ruin my day. I hate that I missed hugging my mother on her 59th birthday because I had a cold and I could not risk giving her any germs. I hate that my mother was not sitting at my table at my cousin’s wedding and that my father stayed home because he could not bear to go to a family wedding without her. I hate that the parking lot at Panera will forever remind me of the time she told me the cancer cells were in her spinal cord. It is where I sat when my tears forced me to pull over the car. I hate that my mother cannot host Thanksgiving again even though it is her favorite holiday and our family’s most loved tradition. I hate the guilt I carry any time I laugh, smile or forget that the woman I love most is in pain. I hate the moment I saw my mother without hair and the memory I have of how small she looked. I hate when I watched my mother, who always had boundless energy, struggle to walk up the stairs. I hate that my 5-year-old son asked how long grandma was going to be sick. I hate the feeling of my heart sinking every time I have to send my mother a picture or a video of my children. I know it is a very poor replacement of her seeing them in real life. I hate how many times I saw my father cry. I hate that the entire year of 2019 seems a little darker, a little more fuzzy and more like a chore than any other year I ever lived through. Hate has reappeared in my life in the most destructive and invasive way possible. It seems like my relationship with my mother’s cancer is lasting much longer than I would ever imagine, and I have accepted that my relationship with cancer is not over. Although my relationship with cancer is dark, unstable and dysfunctional, I vow to take from it anything I can. I will take the moments of hope. I will take the remission. I will take the small victories. I will embrace the joy and be grateful that my mother is still here, as there are countless that are not so lucky. Cancer has given me hate and heartache, and it has stolen more time than it deserves. Cancer may have taught me to hate, but my mother taught me to love. Love wins every time.

Alison Merritt

What My Mother’s Cancer Has Taught Me

I remember being 7 years old and telling my mother that I hated my teacher. Standing outside the linen closet with my bare feet on our carpeted floor, my mother explained that I did not really “hate” my teacher; I just disliked her. My teacher was a person and she did not deserve my hate. My mother was the most influential and important voice in my short life, so I agreed. My mother had no room in her heart for hate: she taught me love. 30 years later, I have found that I have never been a hateful person. Instead, I strive to remain positive. I learned from the best, and my mother was an example of gratitude and optimism. My mother insisted she was “rich” her whole life, although working class would probably be more accurate. She said she never minded growing old, as many were not afforded the privilege. I cannot count how many times she stopped what she was doing to set an extra spot at the dinner table, to fix the guest bed and to give what she had to anyone who was in need. We had a full life, with room for only love. Then cancer invaded my mother, not only once, but twice, by the time my mother turned 58. The first time my mother went for her routine mammogram and later was diagnosed with breast cancer. The second time, she left work and got herself to the emergency room with back pain. She left the hospital with a broken rib, a broken back and the knowledge that her plasma cells had turned cancerous and had ravaged her body, eating through her bones: it was called multiple myeloma. I have spent my life politely disliking a lot of things, and perhaps I have saved my hate for something that truly deserves it. I hate cancer and hate all that it has taken from my family. I hate the memory I have of my mother’s face crumbling when the doctor told her the news. I hate that I returned to work from my maternity leave with swollen eyes because we received the diagnosis the day before. I hate that I had to stay strong for my children and hold back my tears when we did not know what the diagnosis meant. I hate that my mother missed my daughter’s first home run and her countless softball games in the warm summer sun. I hate that my mother had to be admitted to the hospital on my birthday. I know how much it pained her to tell me because she did not want to ruin my day. I hate that I missed hugging my mother on her 59th birthday because I had a cold and I could not risk giving her any germs. I hate that my mother was not sitting at my table at my cousin’s wedding and that my father stayed home because he could not bear to go to a family wedding without her. I hate that the parking lot at Panera will forever remind me of the time she told me the cancer cells were in her spinal cord. It is where I sat when my tears forced me to pull over the car. I hate that my mother cannot host Thanksgiving again even though it is her favorite holiday and our family’s most loved tradition. I hate the guilt I carry any time I laugh, smile or forget that the woman I love most is in pain. I hate the moment I saw my mother without hair and the memory I have of how small she looked. I hate when I watched my mother, who always had boundless energy, struggle to walk up the stairs. I hate that my 5-year-old son asked how long grandma was going to be sick. I hate the feeling of my heart sinking every time I have to send my mother a picture or a video of my children. I know it is a very poor replacement of her seeing them in real life. I hate how many times I saw my father cry. I hate that the entire year of 2019 seems a little darker, a little more fuzzy and more like a chore than any other year I ever lived through. Hate has reappeared in my life in the most destructive and invasive way possible. It seems like my relationship with my mother’s cancer is lasting much longer than I would ever imagine, and I have accepted that my relationship with cancer is not over. Although my relationship with cancer is dark, unstable and dysfunctional, I vow to take from it anything I can. I will take the moments of hope. I will take the remission. I will take the small victories. I will embrace the joy and be grateful that my mother is still here, as there are countless that are not so lucky. Cancer has given me hate and heartache, and it has stolen more time than it deserves. Cancer may have taught me to hate, but my mother taught me to love. Love wins every time.

Alison Merritt

What My Mother’s Cancer Has Taught Me

I remember being 7 years old and telling my mother that I hated my teacher. Standing outside the linen closet with my bare feet on our carpeted floor, my mother explained that I did not really “hate” my teacher; I just disliked her. My teacher was a person and she did not deserve my hate. My mother was the most influential and important voice in my short life, so I agreed. My mother had no room in her heart for hate: she taught me love. 30 years later, I have found that I have never been a hateful person. Instead, I strive to remain positive. I learned from the best, and my mother was an example of gratitude and optimism. My mother insisted she was “rich” her whole life, although working class would probably be more accurate. She said she never minded growing old, as many were not afforded the privilege. I cannot count how many times she stopped what she was doing to set an extra spot at the dinner table, to fix the guest bed and to give what she had to anyone who was in need. We had a full life, with room for only love. Then cancer invaded my mother, not only once, but twice, by the time my mother turned 58. The first time my mother went for her routine mammogram and later was diagnosed with breast cancer. The second time, she left work and got herself to the emergency room with back pain. She left the hospital with a broken rib, a broken back and the knowledge that her plasma cells had turned cancerous and had ravaged her body, eating through her bones: it was called multiple myeloma. I have spent my life politely disliking a lot of things, and perhaps I have saved my hate for something that truly deserves it. I hate cancer and hate all that it has taken from my family. I hate the memory I have of my mother’s face crumbling when the doctor told her the news. I hate that I returned to work from my maternity leave with swollen eyes because we received the diagnosis the day before. I hate that I had to stay strong for my children and hold back my tears when we did not know what the diagnosis meant. I hate that my mother missed my daughter’s first home run and her countless softball games in the warm summer sun. I hate that my mother had to be admitted to the hospital on my birthday. I know how much it pained her to tell me because she did not want to ruin my day. I hate that I missed hugging my mother on her 59th birthday because I had a cold and I could not risk giving her any germs. I hate that my mother was not sitting at my table at my cousin’s wedding and that my father stayed home because he could not bear to go to a family wedding without her. I hate that the parking lot at Panera will forever remind me of the time she told me the cancer cells were in her spinal cord. It is where I sat when my tears forced me to pull over the car. I hate that my mother cannot host Thanksgiving again even though it is her favorite holiday and our family’s most loved tradition. I hate the guilt I carry any time I laugh, smile or forget that the woman I love most is in pain. I hate the moment I saw my mother without hair and the memory I have of how small she looked. I hate when I watched my mother, who always had boundless energy, struggle to walk up the stairs. I hate that my 5-year-old son asked how long grandma was going to be sick. I hate the feeling of my heart sinking every time I have to send my mother a picture or a video of my children. I know it is a very poor replacement of her seeing them in real life. I hate how many times I saw my father cry. I hate that the entire year of 2019 seems a little darker, a little more fuzzy and more like a chore than any other year I ever lived through. Hate has reappeared in my life in the most destructive and invasive way possible. It seems like my relationship with my mother’s cancer is lasting much longer than I would ever imagine, and I have accepted that my relationship with cancer is not over. Although my relationship with cancer is dark, unstable and dysfunctional, I vow to take from it anything I can. I will take the moments of hope. I will take the remission. I will take the small victories. I will embrace the joy and be grateful that my mother is still here, as there are countless that are not so lucky. Cancer has given me hate and heartache, and it has stolen more time than it deserves. Cancer may have taught me to hate, but my mother taught me to love. Love wins every time.

Alison Merritt

What My Mother’s Cancer Has Taught Me

I remember being 7 years old and telling my mother that I hated my teacher. Standing outside the linen closet with my bare feet on our carpeted floor, my mother explained that I did not really “hate” my teacher; I just disliked her. My teacher was a person and she did not deserve my hate. My mother was the most influential and important voice in my short life, so I agreed. My mother had no room in her heart for hate: she taught me love. 30 years later, I have found that I have never been a hateful person. Instead, I strive to remain positive. I learned from the best, and my mother was an example of gratitude and optimism. My mother insisted she was “rich” her whole life, although working class would probably be more accurate. She said she never minded growing old, as many were not afforded the privilege. I cannot count how many times she stopped what she was doing to set an extra spot at the dinner table, to fix the guest bed and to give what she had to anyone who was in need. We had a full life, with room for only love. Then cancer invaded my mother, not only once, but twice, by the time my mother turned 58. The first time my mother went for her routine mammogram and later was diagnosed with breast cancer. The second time, she left work and got herself to the emergency room with back pain. She left the hospital with a broken rib, a broken back and the knowledge that her plasma cells had turned cancerous and had ravaged her body, eating through her bones: it was called multiple myeloma. I have spent my life politely disliking a lot of things, and perhaps I have saved my hate for something that truly deserves it. I hate cancer and hate all that it has taken from my family. I hate the memory I have of my mother’s face crumbling when the doctor told her the news. I hate that I returned to work from my maternity leave with swollen eyes because we received the diagnosis the day before. I hate that I had to stay strong for my children and hold back my tears when we did not know what the diagnosis meant. I hate that my mother missed my daughter’s first home run and her countless softball games in the warm summer sun. I hate that my mother had to be admitted to the hospital on my birthday. I know how much it pained her to tell me because she did not want to ruin my day. I hate that I missed hugging my mother on her 59th birthday because I had a cold and I could not risk giving her any germs. I hate that my mother was not sitting at my table at my cousin’s wedding and that my father stayed home because he could not bear to go to a family wedding without her. I hate that the parking lot at Panera will forever remind me of the time she told me the cancer cells were in her spinal cord. It is where I sat when my tears forced me to pull over the car. I hate that my mother cannot host Thanksgiving again even though it is her favorite holiday and our family’s most loved tradition. I hate the guilt I carry any time I laugh, smile or forget that the woman I love most is in pain. I hate the moment I saw my mother without hair and the memory I have of how small she looked. I hate when I watched my mother, who always had boundless energy, struggle to walk up the stairs. I hate that my 5-year-old son asked how long grandma was going to be sick. I hate the feeling of my heart sinking every time I have to send my mother a picture or a video of my children. I know it is a very poor replacement of her seeing them in real life. I hate how many times I saw my father cry. I hate that the entire year of 2019 seems a little darker, a little more fuzzy and more like a chore than any other year I ever lived through. Hate has reappeared in my life in the most destructive and invasive way possible. It seems like my relationship with my mother’s cancer is lasting much longer than I would ever imagine, and I have accepted that my relationship with cancer is not over. Although my relationship with cancer is dark, unstable and dysfunctional, I vow to take from it anything I can. I will take the moments of hope. I will take the remission. I will take the small victories. I will embrace the joy and be grateful that my mother is still here, as there are countless that are not so lucky. Cancer has given me hate and heartache, and it has stolen more time than it deserves. Cancer may have taught me to hate, but my mother taught me to love. Love wins every time.

Community Voices

What My Son's Thanksgiving Turkey Taught Me

Comparison is the thief of joy. I have heard the saying; I live the saying. Only try to be better than the person you were yesterday. I get it. Comparing is soul crushing, toxic, and at its best, it still is annoying, especially when it comes to our children.

My husband and I head a blended family of five children. They all have different needs, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. We have never pretended that they were all the same or that fair is always equal. Our two sons have both been diagnosed with #Autism and the differences between the two boys alone are quite staggering. I have learned that is why autism is referred to as a spectrum. We celebrate all our children and are careful to not fall into the comparison trap, especially with our sons.

At the end of a long day of work, errands, my daughter’s basketball game, and typical weekday chores, I was standing in the kitchen digging through my son’s backpack. Tommy is five and in kindergarten. He was  diagnosed with #Autism two weeks into the school year. We made the difficult decision to keep him in school full time and pursue ABA therapy in the after school hours. Tommy’s teachers love him and ensure me that he was making huge gains in the school. He was interacting more, participating, and “coming out of his shell”. Although he continued to do his awkward ninja moves before speaking to his peers, it appeared that his peers were accepting of him.

I moved the damp snow pants and pulled out a mangled stack of papers form the backpack. I started to sort through. I found his sight word worksheets, I saw his cut and haphazardly glued letter activities. As I went through the papers, I smiled to myself as I looked at his crudely rendered name, sometimes missing the last letters. I came across his Thanksgiving turkey with simple words on each feather. I was pleased to see that he was using other colors besides just his favorite color, gray. The turkey was colored with huge swirling stokes of blue and black. None of his marks stayed anywhere near the lines and probably escaped right off the paper onto the table. The feathers were glued, albeit crooked and some upside down, but they were all there.

Then I kept looking at papers and found another turkey. This one was a perfect specimen. He was colored brown with each feather glued neatly on the paper. All the feathers were spaced evenly and  colored brightly. In the corner, the name Ella was perfectly written, complete with upper and lower case letters. I looked through the rest of the papers, all belonging to Ella. They were neat, all the letters were legible and the words were all spelled correctly. Somehow Tommy had brought all of Ella’s work home with him. It wasn’t very surprising that a kindergartener could accidentally bring home his classmate’s work, but what did surprise me was my reaction to it.

I laughed bitterly at the comparison of the two turkeys, I showed them to my husband who responded with a nod and a shrug. Then I promptly took all the papers and shoved them down into my garbage can. My husband pointed out that they appropriate thing to do would to send Ella’s work back to her. At the moment, I disagreed. I was certain that Ella could probably produce another perfect turkey anytime she chose.

Maybe it was my long day, maybe it was the stress of work, maybe it was the fact I was hungry or tired or whatever other excuse I can come up with, but seeing Ella’s work compared to Tommy’s made me mad, or maybe hurt, or perhaps even sad. I could not identify exactly what I was feeling. I suddenly had a suspicion that Tommy’s teachers and therapists were all just telling me what I wanted to hear. He was making so much progress, he was growing every day, he was blossoming. It all seemed like just words now. With all the positivity around me, there were times I even forgot that Tommy was a special education student. I forgot that he rode the small bus home, or that he had an IEP, or saw the speech therapist several times a week. But now, seeing his work compared to his classmate, it felt like his shortcomings were being thrown in my face. Tommy was never going to measure up, he was never going to have work that looked like Ella’s.

I am assuming a lot based on Ella’s work. I don’t know if any of this is fact, but I assume that Ella is like my older daughter.  She is a leader and and her grades are perfect. She has met all her milestones and her teachers never had anything to say to me except that she was doing great. My daughter  never struggled in academics or lost items at school. Every year, I always left her parent teacher conference feeling proud and satisfied, but I never felt I was totally responsible for her success. She was born that way. I guided her, I taught her, and I did my best, but my daughter was wired to be responsible and succeed.

All of our children are wired differently. I am still trying to understand the wiring in Tommy’s brain. I don’t totally understand why his brain is able to compute math facts more than social cues. I don’t always know the source of his meltdowns, or why the change in routine makes him so angry. I try to figure out why he has a hard time with pronouns and language even though it is clear he has a lot he would like to say.

After a good night’s sleep and some fresh perspective, I woke up regretting shoving those turkeys in the garbage can. Consider this my apology to Ella for throwing her perfect turkey away. I am sure Ella tried her best and her achievement should not be the source of my anger.  Furthermore, I apologize to the turkey made by Tommy. Tommy and his work did not deserve that reaction. I feel silly that a kindergarten Thanksgiving turkey spurred so many feelings from inside me and served as a reflection for how I really felt about my son and his abilities.

Tommy’s turkey was a reflection of him. I was proud that he did not stick to only his favorite color, gray, and what he was used to; that shows growth. I was happy he used glue even though I know he really hates his hands to be sticky. I am grateful for those crooked edges because it means he was learning to cut on his own. I was able to smile at all marks he made, even if they did not stay in the lines, as it shows his persistence.

The way that Tommy completed that scribbly blue turkey may be messy, a bit confusing, and most of all: unexpected. I feel like life with my son is all those things. It may not have been my initial reaction, but I am learning to embrace my messy, confusing, and unexpected life. Tommy and how his brain works is full of surprises and his unusual approach to life fills our whole family with so much joy. Although I have never been one for surprises, It turns out the best parts of my life are the things that were unexpected.

Alison Merritt

Holiday Celebrations With Children on the Autism Spectrum

My husband and I have five children, including two sons on the autism spectrum. The holiday season is like a carousel ride full of celebrations, presents, laughter and the occasional meltdown. Here’s what I wish people would expect — and not expect — from our family during the holiday season. Don’t expect a conversation My boys are verbal after many, many hours of speech and ABA therapy,  but I would not consider them conversationalists. My 5-year-old will answer simple questions and may even tell you about something that is important to him. He may tell you the ages of all his family members or how many minutes he has until bedtime, but he will not take the time to answer your questions about school. My 2-year-old will say words, but in a way that labels the world around him. He may point to the tree and say “tree,” he will say cookie when he spots a treat across the table, but please don’t ask him what he got for Christmas. If it is not in his eyesight, he is not interested in talking about it. Don’t expect my kids to eat My boys are physically healthy; they eat a variety of food from all the major food groups. They tell me when they are hungry and try a bite of everything that is offered to them. During the holidays, you may see my hand my son a cookie before dinner, or not bother to make a dinner plate for my other son. Making my sons sit down properly and eat a meal in a new setting, with loud noises, and a million sparkly and shiny things to look at is probably not going to happen. I will also let you in a little secret: I probably fed them before I came over. Don’t expect a long goodbye With two boys on the spectrum, things can go from great to catastrophic in a matter of minutes. Transitions are always the hardest parts of our days.  I may see the meltdown coming or it may start when I start my goodbyes. After a long day of loud noises, visual stimulation, physical play and a new setting, my boys may not show it, but they are overwhelmed. The let down of the day will happen, and sometimes a crash will take place. Sometimes, if I am at the top of my game, I’ll say my thank yous and dole out my hugs before I tell the boys we are leaving. Once we do that, my husband and I look at each other and acknowledge that it is “time to pull the Band-Aid,” (yes, we actually call it that) and get out of there. Please do not be offended if we leave in a hurry. I assure you it is nothing to do with you, it’s about meeting the needs of our children. Don’t hand me anything more to carry While we are trying to get out the door with our two boys and our other three children, we will be carrying coats, presents, food trays, mittens and a toy one of my sons is obsessed with at the moment. I guarantee I will forget something at your home; a loose mitten, a sweater, a pacifier will certainly be a parting gift. Please do not try to make me wait while you pack up food for me. Please don’t take one of my children with you to find one last treasure they need for the car ride home.  I am already sweating and trying to fight the superhuman strength my toddler somehow musters up everytime I zip his coat. I still have images of beautifully made Christmas cookies tumbling into the snowy driveway while I tried to wrestle my son into his car seat. Please know I won’t be offended if I leave your home “empty-handed.” Trust me, my hands are full. Don’t compare our children I know you are trying to be nice when you tell me that your son did not talk until he was 3 or how your adorable daughter can really throw quite the tantrum at home. I know you are trying to make me feel less alone and less different. Please don’t tell me that your child may be “a little autistic” too as you explain their typical behavior. Please don’t make your children be extra nice to my children or tolerate behavior that is not appropriate. My boys are sometimes difficult to play with and can be quite rigid in how they interact. Encourage your children to treat my boys with respect and manners, but they don’t need to break their boundaries to be accommodating. Don’t dull the holiday sparkle for me Don’t be afraid to talk to me about your “normal” life and brag about your children. Continue to encourage your child to show off the new song they can sing or the dance moves they just learned. It does not remind me that my children are different, it makes me happy for you. I accept and love my children as they are, just as you do with yours. Accept us as we are There is nothing more important to me than family. My extended family with their loud, crowded, over-the-top celebrations are the source of some of my best memories. My family has also taught me there is always room for one more at the table. We are all-inclusive, come as you are and bring a friend with you, kind of people. I promise to embrace the joy, chaos and warmth of the holidays, including if my child is covering his ears at the table or lining up Christmas cookies across the floor. My boys have taught me how to completely accept and love people for exactly who they are — and when all the celebrations are said and done, that is my holiday wish for all.

Alison Merritt

Holiday Celebrations With Children on the Autism Spectrum

My husband and I have five children, including two sons on the autism spectrum. The holiday season is like a carousel ride full of celebrations, presents, laughter and the occasional meltdown. Here’s what I wish people would expect — and not expect — from our family during the holiday season. Don’t expect a conversation My boys are verbal after many, many hours of speech and ABA therapy,  but I would not consider them conversationalists. My 5-year-old will answer simple questions and may even tell you about something that is important to him. He may tell you the ages of all his family members or how many minutes he has until bedtime, but he will not take the time to answer your questions about school. My 2-year-old will say words, but in a way that labels the world around him. He may point to the tree and say “tree,” he will say cookie when he spots a treat across the table, but please don’t ask him what he got for Christmas. If it is not in his eyesight, he is not interested in talking about it. Don’t expect my kids to eat My boys are physically healthy; they eat a variety of food from all the major food groups. They tell me when they are hungry and try a bite of everything that is offered to them. During the holidays, you may see my hand my son a cookie before dinner, or not bother to make a dinner plate for my other son. Making my sons sit down properly and eat a meal in a new setting, with loud noises, and a million sparkly and shiny things to look at is probably not going to happen. I will also let you in a little secret: I probably fed them before I came over. Don’t expect a long goodbye With two boys on the spectrum, things can go from great to catastrophic in a matter of minutes. Transitions are always the hardest parts of our days.  I may see the meltdown coming or it may start when I start my goodbyes. After a long day of loud noises, visual stimulation, physical play and a new setting, my boys may not show it, but they are overwhelmed. The let down of the day will happen, and sometimes a crash will take place. Sometimes, if I am at the top of my game, I’ll say my thank yous and dole out my hugs before I tell the boys we are leaving. Once we do that, my husband and I look at each other and acknowledge that it is “time to pull the Band-Aid,” (yes, we actually call it that) and get out of there. Please do not be offended if we leave in a hurry. I assure you it is nothing to do with you, it’s about meeting the needs of our children. Don’t hand me anything more to carry While we are trying to get out the door with our two boys and our other three children, we will be carrying coats, presents, food trays, mittens and a toy one of my sons is obsessed with at the moment. I guarantee I will forget something at your home; a loose mitten, a sweater, a pacifier will certainly be a parting gift. Please do not try to make me wait while you pack up food for me. Please don’t take one of my children with you to find one last treasure they need for the car ride home.  I am already sweating and trying to fight the superhuman strength my toddler somehow musters up everytime I zip his coat. I still have images of beautifully made Christmas cookies tumbling into the snowy driveway while I tried to wrestle my son into his car seat. Please know I won’t be offended if I leave your home “empty-handed.” Trust me, my hands are full. Don’t compare our children I know you are trying to be nice when you tell me that your son did not talk until he was 3 or how your adorable daughter can really throw quite the tantrum at home. I know you are trying to make me feel less alone and less different. Please don’t tell me that your child may be “a little autistic” too as you explain their typical behavior. Please don’t make your children be extra nice to my children or tolerate behavior that is not appropriate. My boys are sometimes difficult to play with and can be quite rigid in how they interact. Encourage your children to treat my boys with respect and manners, but they don’t need to break their boundaries to be accommodating. Don’t dull the holiday sparkle for me Don’t be afraid to talk to me about your “normal” life and brag about your children. Continue to encourage your child to show off the new song they can sing or the dance moves they just learned. It does not remind me that my children are different, it makes me happy for you. I accept and love my children as they are, just as you do with yours. Accept us as we are There is nothing more important to me than family. My extended family with their loud, crowded, over-the-top celebrations are the source of some of my best memories. My family has also taught me there is always room for one more at the table. We are all-inclusive, come as you are and bring a friend with you, kind of people. I promise to embrace the joy, chaos and warmth of the holidays, including if my child is covering his ears at the table or lining up Christmas cookies across the floor. My boys have taught me how to completely accept and love people for exactly who they are — and when all the celebrations are said and done, that is my holiday wish for all.