Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Trapped in Church: An Update of Sorts

Three weeks ago, I wrote a blog post documenting our experience visiting a church for the first time and feeling trapped in the middle of a row, wrestling Bo to keep the other attendees safe, with hairstyles intact. 

Since that time, I've written two other posts about special needs and church in general, and started the longest discussion ever on my Facebook wall between those with special needs in the church and those without. 

That conversation was exhausting to me and felt very much like a hamster wheel at times with repetitive questions of program how-tos, complaints of lack of volunteers, and admonishments to have more grace. One thing I tried to emphasize is that it's not about programming. Again, as my friend Ellen Stumbo says, "Ultimately, it's not about the ministry; it is about the willingness and the hearts of acceptance."

The next week, we went back to the new church only this time, I sent Shawn and Ellie to drop off the kids while I raced to the auditorium to secure seats near the back. I had to ask someone to move to the inside but, thankfully, it was someone I knew and they happily complied. We didn't end up needing to take Bo out, but we breathed much easier knowing that we could have. 

This week, Bo and I arrived early and walked up to the back row to find it empty with these signs on the chairs: 



At first, I wondered if maybe they were expecting a special group or something. I took one of the signs to an usher and asked him if just anyone with special needs could sit there. He looked amused as he answered affirmatively. Still not believing it, I asked, "Can we sit here with our son? He has Down syndrome and autism." He looked at Bo, smiled and said, "If you plan to keep him with you during the service, I think he fits the bill." I'm sure I said something inane as I thanked him profusely. 

Still a bit stunned, I moved the sign over and put our stuff down. When Shawn came in I showed him the sign and he was as blown away as I was. I admit to bawling through most of the worship service, tears streaming, mascara running, snot stringing. It was lovely. I felt like Sally Field in her famous Oscar speech, "You like me. You really like me!"

This is what acceptance feels like, I thought.

No programs or volunteers needed. Just some inexpensive laminated signs that let one family know they are welcome here and they matter. 

"Reserved: Special Needs Seating said to me: "No need to climb over people. We'll reserve you a spot for easy access in and out with your child. If caring for your challenging child has you running behind, don't stress! There will always be a place for you." I couldn't help but weep with gratitude.    

I had no idea why the signs seemed to suddenly appear. I didn't know if someone read my post and responded to the need or if it wasn't about us at all. There are two services at that church. I'm sure there are others with special needs among them. 

As we investigated, however, our friends later told us, "Oh, those signs have been there as long as we've been attending, at least a year." 

Wait. 

What? Why had we not noticed them before? How come that row had been filled in the previous weeks, excluding us from sitting there? 

Confusion replaced my elation. 

And then, slowly, reality dawned. We hadn't seen them because the signs had been ignored. People are parking in the handicapped spots. While the church leadership had attempted to welcome families like ours with those signs, church members decided we didn't matter. In fact, I'd watched on Sunday as several couples parked themselves in that row, picked up the signs and turned them over or put them in the pocket of the seat in front of them. At the time, I thought they just didn't understand what the signs were for because it was a new thing. But this information re-framed it for me. 

It wasn't that they didn't understand; it's that they didn't care.  

And, for the second time that day, I cried. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Special Needs And The Church, Revisited

Yesterday, I wrote a post on what the church can do to help those families dealing with special needs. It was a good post. I made some valid points.

Today, I want to disagree with myself. 

I wrote:
We won't always be in crisis. Personally speaking, my family has a lot to offer. We have gifts and passions that we would love to share.
I wish I hadn't included that. The world is constantly telling us that our children are a burden. I attempted to offset that perceived burden for the local church by promising a return on its investment. I made it sound as if we are worthy of love because of what we can bring to the table.  

How pitiful that I felt required to do so. 

The truth is, some families may very well remain in crisis. Their gift to the church could simply be their neediness and ability to receive graciously. We may never be able to give back in the traditional sense. We may never have the time to volunteer for VBS because of the demands of caring for our children. We may never have the resources to add to the missions fund because of outstanding medical bills. We may not be able to be a regular attendee because of unexpected and frequent illnesses. 

We, like our children, are worthy of love and acceptance from the church, not because of what we can do for it, but simply because we are.

I'm reminded of the lyrics of an ancient Margaret Becker song, "It's never for nothing, when you love with no return."

Church, we need to love these people because that's just who we are. It's what we do. We love people. Not just the pretty ones, not just the happy ones, not just the easy ones. We love people. It's the second commandment and we need to do it better.

Special needs parents spend all our time trying to prove our kids worthy in every other setting...worthy of a quality education to the school system, worthy of therapies or procedures to insurance companies, worthy of story time to the local library...to have to do the same in the one place that claims all life has value, is really too much to take. 

One of the saddest realizations for me when it comes to the American Evangelical Church is this:

If I waddled toward an abortion clinic at twenty-two weeks pregnant, fetus prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome, the church would be the loudest in convincing me that this baby is worthy of life, has value, and that I need to continue to term. They would preach that he was created in the image of God, that he's being fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God has a plan for his life, and rightfully so. 

But say five years later, my son was given an additional diagnosis of autism. He now has behaviors which include spitting, hitting, and biting. He throws things. He uses diapers and drinks thickened liquids from a bottle. I am exhausted, worried, and stressed all of the time. I decide I need to get back in church. I need spiritual help. I need support. I want my son to know about God. He needs other people pouring into his life. I can't do this alone, anymore.

Only this time, those same people would tell me, "Oh no, he can't come to class. We're not equipped to deal with special needs.

It's this type of hypocrisy that is causing people to leave the church in droves. 

It makes me incredibly sad. 

Ministering to families with special needs is not about programming. It's about walking out what we say we believe. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What Is The Church To Do?

A blogger friend of mine posted a letter she received from her church informing her of the new policy in the children's ministry department and how it will affect her family. Her daughter with special needs will now be required to attend with a 1:1 parent or other adult caregiver that the family provides. My friend is reeling. 

I felt sick when I read it and my heart was broken for her and her daughter, but also for the church that is so missing the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. 

I, and so many others, shared the post on Facebook and there has been a firestorm of comments from the special needs community sharing my disgust and dismay.

But it was this comment from a friend with neuro-typical children that prompted this post:
Tara, what would you suggest churches do? How should they handle special needs children, especially knowing that volunteers are hard to come by in any form, much less those that are able to handle special needs? I think asking a parent to come to class with their child is acceptable, but clearly others don't. What are the alternatives?
Excellent questions! I want to address all of them.

But first, I want to give a picture of what life can look like when it involves special needs. 

Families who have a child with special needs are often in crisis. Medical issues can be chronic and exhausting, but often they come on suddenly requiring emergency hospitalizations or testing and sending the household into a tailspin. Even without medical fragility, kids with special needs can have different behavioral issues that leave parents chronically stressed and sometimes with little hope. 

I wrote about the ramping up of behaviors of our little guy in a recent post here and the effects on my psyche and our family. I left out a lot of detail and failed to describe adequately the complete drain on my coping skills, our resources, and the overall toll it took on our family. We are on the right track now and seeking better supports which have infused us with new hope, but I would be a fool to think that we will be crisis-free in the future. 

Parents of kids with special needs are also lacking in restful sleep. Some kids have sleep disorders and require very little sleep (ours does), some need middle of the night meds or feedings, and sometimes the intense worry and anxiety of protecting and caring for our children can keep us awake. 

My point is, often times, we parents are shredded. We are at the end of our proverbial ropes and hanging on by a thread. If we make it out the door to church at all, it is a major coup. 

A typical Sunday for me recently included cleaning up my son who had removed his diaper, pooped on my carpet, and then painted himself from head to toe with the resulting mess, which of course, prompted a necessary change of clothes for me, as well. If I knew I then had to care for him when I got to church, why would I even bother leaving the house? The truth is, I don't. 

By writing that letter, this church is not really asking the family to provide an aide for their daughter, they are asking them to stay home.  

Which brings me to my next point, written so much better by my fellow parents in their comments about this on Facebook:
Dear church -- please serve and love your families who have children with special needs. They need you -- and really, you need them. There is so much to be gained and learned from those relationships. If you have a huge budget for missions, etc. yet are basically turning away families in your own community, what kind of message does that send? A mission field in your own back yard...  - Lisa Mai Olsen
It gets very interesting when you think about the church being very vocally pro-life --- then shouldn't they be the first ones to embrace and include everyone? - Lisa Mai Olsen
But really, the disappointment for me comes in the fact that the Church is supposed to be the hands feet and heart of Jesus. I have adjusted to the disappointment that comes with the public school system....but God's people are supposed to be different. - Yvette Kelder Bilello
Soo... parents coming to church must be prepared to watch their own child? Why not just send out a note "kindly" requesting families to just stay home and hide their child(ren) from view lest they get in the way. What happened to "Suffer the little children... forbid them not"? Hmmm... - Krista Dunn LaRocque 
This is why I am so passionate about the church embracing disability. This is why it is so important that we teach that all of us, every single one of us, is an important part of the body of Christ. Wonder why special needs families don't attend church? ALL kids are worth investing in, everyone has something to contribute. This breaks my heart! - Ellen Stumbo
Valid points, all of them. We can do better. We should do better. 

What has worked in many churches is the "Buddy Program" in which children with special needs are assigned a person to accompany them to class. That person is specially trained on that child's needs and gets to know them. They can support that child however they need to get the most out of the class. Some churches even have an "individualized spiritual plan" for each child to ensure their spiritual needs are met. 

Some churches have sensory rooms in which children who are experiencing sensory overload can be calmed. Ellen Stumbo has a great post about how her little church is building one, and whyhere

Sometimes just having a room where a parent can take a child and still hear or view the sermon can be huge

Now, as for the question of volunteers. I get it. I am a pastor's daughter. I know that finding church workers is so difficult, especially in small to mid-size churches. 

But I also know that when the heart of a church is worship, there is usually no shortage of willing musicians. When it is missions, the missions budget can surpass that of a much larger church. When a church emphasizes meeting the needs of the poor, the food pantry flourishes. 

We have got to start making these families a priority. 

As my friend, Ellen, so eloquently puts it, "Ultimately, it's not about the ministry; it is about the willingness and the hearts of acceptance." We know when a church is trying. We don't need perfection. We just want to be welcomed and for you to be willing to help us find a way to belong. 

We won't always be in crisis. Personally speaking, my family has a lot to offer. We have gifts and passions that we would love to share. Bo has a lot to offer in his unique package. We have grown so much from knowing and loving this little boy. We just want a church to see beyond the behavior to the gift. We want him to be wanted and welcomed. 

A friend of a friend shared this story in response to the letter. I cried when I read it. I would be undone with gratitude if someone responded to and accepted my Bo this way: 

This is heartbreaking. Our new piano teacher is part of a church with a passion for providing ministry to families with kids with special needs. We started going there and when I said I felt bad that Peter had spit on and slapped his assigned helper in kid's church, she responded that Jesus was spit on and far worse, so they guessed it would be just fine. THAT is what Jesus is looking for in His church body. NOT what is represented in this letter. - Jennifer Loque 
Indeed. 

(I wrote a follow-up post to this one, in which I disagreed with something I said here and further expounded on some other ideas. Check it out.)



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Trapped in Church

It's rarely easy to try something new. Dragging seven kids with you is usually less of a treat, so my expectations in trying out a new church this morning were blissfully low. 

No matter how prepared I think I am, something invariably surprises me every time we leave the house as a family. (Did I ever tell you about the time we drove forty-five minutes to the state fair only to discover the eight-year-old wasn't wearing any shoes? How do you forget to wear shoes?!? Sigh.) 

I had done my homework on this church. I'd called ahead and found that there isn't any special needs programming or anything for Bo, but Shawn and I had decided we could take turns walking the lobby with him, if needed. I'd sent Shawn to scout it out with the older girls one Sunday to see if it was worth a return visit and, more importantly, to get our family in the computer system for easier drop off/pick up from kids' classes without actually having all the kids with us for that tedium. 

Other than a few snafus like realizing the third time I brushed it, just as we were leaving, that KJ's hair wasn't damp; it was greasy. Ew! When was she bathed last? Oh, wait, that's why she was telling me hair mousse and lotion were almost the same. Perfect. 

After we made it inside, an old friend found me looking lost and mercifully helped me check the kids in and get them to their classes. 

And then we entered the auditorium. The very full auditorium. We needed four seats. I couldn't even find two. I was starting to panic thinking we would need to go back and get the kids out of the classes and go home. We stood there in the back for several minutes while everyone sat down after the first song. 

Finally, half way up on the left, I spotted four seats. We just had to climb over a few people to get to them. Once we got there, we saw the walker and realized that the elderly lady on the inside could barely stand to let us through. She and the people with her graciously motioned us in, however. Shawn and the kids admitted later that they'd knocked her back into her seat behind me trying to squeeze in. Oh dear. 

Bo did pretty well during the music. He likes music and flirted with the ladies behind us with big smiles and high fives. 

It wasn't until the sermon did we realize how trapped we were. 

Looking around, it was obvious that ours was the narrowest aisle in the whole church, which is probably why it still had available seats. Shawn was sitting closest to the elderly lady and clearly could not climb over her again. There was an entire row of people my way and no room to climb over them. I also know from experience that when I walk by seated people while carrying Bo, their heads are the perfect height for kicking. 

In my initial panic, I worried that I didn't bring any toys. Then I smiled to myself and realized I'm so much more competent than I give myself credit for. I don't bring toys to church for Bo because they quickly turn into projectile missiles. My little guy has an excellent throwing arm. 

He sat on Shawn's lap for awhile before becoming noticeably "restless". I offered my lap and he happily complied. We played a game of mimed patty cake, catching his nose, biting his pumpkin, and tickling his belly which turned into a game of keep away...as in keep the long flowing hair of the lady in front of us out of the hands of Bo. I won, by the way, but it was a close game. 

She had no idea she was even a participant. Unlike the poor guy in front of Shawn who we think became annoyed at being touched on the arm a time or two. Sorry, buddy, but you took one for the team. You are the hero that kept a fellow church member in your row from being snatched bald! Now, don't you feel silly for throwing us that dirty look?

In the end, we made it through no worse for the wear (just an extra bruise or two) and we're pretty proud of him. It was a long time to be in such close proximity with all those people. He didn't make any noise, he kept his shoes on, and he still smiled at a few pretty girls when it was over. 

I'm proud of us, too. We actually managed to listen to some of the sermon, I didn't have a complete panic attack, and I didn't fall all over myself apologizing for him to everyone around us at the end. 

Next time, one of the teens will go ahead to reserve us seats on the end in the back row. 

And I'll put the mousse in KJ's hair after her bath.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

At the Edge of the Parenting Abyss

"Standing at the edge of a cliff, dodging objects sailing through the air that would knock me into the abyss," would be the honest answer when asked how I am. Instead, I smile brightly and give a cheery, "Just fine, and you?"

No one really wants to hear the truth and frankly, who has the time? We're all so busy running to and fro just trying to keep up. If someone did stop and really ask, I'd just burst into tears anyway. 

Things are not okay, actually. 

This sweet, wonderful, chosen child of mine is really a bit of a terror. 

We are out of our parenting depths. Behaviors are increasing. Throwing, pinching, hitting, spitting, biting are becoming the norm, not the exception. The randomness of the attacks are disconcerting and alarming to say the least, leaving us all on edge, but the assaults are constant. This is the text from Shawn this morning when we were checking in with each other:



I cringe to see my youngest cower when she sees her brother holding a solid object, rightly suspecting she's the likely target. I hear my older children mirror my own frustration after getting pinched for the hundredth time. 

I'm saddened to see this bright little boy retreat somewhere into himself in attempt to cope with the overwhelming world around him. I hate to see the confusion that crosses his face when someone reacts in anger after he hurts them. 
Worse, I hate to see his huge grin and hear his laughter when someone cries as a result of the pain he's inflicted. I'm at a loss as to how to respond to that. How do you explain to a five-year-old that his little brother didn't mean to hurt him and is not really laughing at him...when it sure looks like he did and is? 

Due to his wandering tendencies, we are constantly on alert, fearing that someone will forget and leave a door ajar or a gate open. Because of the kids playing outside all the time in the warm summer months, we are already becoming immune to the sound of the door alarms. 

I would like to say that it's just a matter of time before he takes advantage of an open door and wanders away but, unfortunately, it's already occurred. That is a terror no parent wants to experience. While he was returned to us safe, the nightmares of a much different outcome have continued almost nightly and peaceful sleep eludes me.

The constant anxiety with an occasional burst of adrenaline due to a flying object is taking a toll. 

We love this little guy. Some of these behaviors are actually developmentally appropriate. He came home at three-and-a-half-years-old acting very much the infant. Now, at almost five, he more closely resembles a defiant toddler, which shows he is making progress. Which is wonderful (if exhausting for us)! We are so proud of him! 


But there is a definite neurological component which has always been present, but is becoming unmanageable with our current bag of tricks. We decided initially, while we suspected autism, that we would not pursue a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) because he was already getting therapies and developmental preschool and it really wouldn't change anything. 

However, as behaviors have increased and it is clear we are out of our league, we have scheduled an autism evaluation for him the end of this month. We have discovered that there are more services available to him if he actually has the ASD diagnosis, as well as more support for us. We want to help him as much as possible and we want as many tools in our belt as we can get. 

We also ordered this gps tracking device which allows us to establish a perimeter and, if he breaches it, will send alerts to our phones. If he should ever become lost, we can find him via gps, as well. Given there is a special tool needed to remove the device from his wrist, we're hopeful our little houdini boy can't escape it, but we'll see. 

In all honesty, it's tempting to feel like a big fat parenting failure. Pride has a way of making you feel like you should be able to figure it out and accuses...

  • If you researched hard enough, you would be able to find the answers on your own.
  • If you were patient enough, you wouldn't get frustrated.
  • If you were paying close enough attention, you wouldn't have lost your own child.
  • If you were enough, none of this would be happening.
The truth is none of us is enough. Sometimes this special needs road is hard and we need help. I'm so thankful for the fellow parents on this journey who have been willing to share the ugly. Without them, I would be much less willing to have grace for myself and would be tempted to wallow in guilt and sink into the abyss in which I'm dangerously close to falling (Not that there hasn't been some guilt-wallowing, mind you.)

We feel hopeful that we are moving in the right direction to make positive changes that will benefit all of us to decrease stress, bring more peace, and help us take the best care of our precious Serb. 

Time will tell. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Bit of History

You're probably wondering why I gathered you all here. 

My dad says this anytime he enters a crowded elevator or waiting room in attempt to bring some humor and break the ice, as if everyone were just waiting for his arrival. 

It's all I could think of when I wondered how in the world I would follow my last post which went a little viral. So many people have been dropping by this blog of mine, I didn't quite know what to make of it. 

But then I thought about what I'm looking for when I visit the blog after reading something from a new-to-me author. I want to know more about them, what makes them tick, what started the story, etc. 

Blogger's not real great at helping you search and find all that stuff, (and I've been too lazy and intimidated to make the switch to Wordpress) so let me help you out. 

Here is Eon's birthstory and let me give you a little background. When I was pregnant with him, I was sent to the perinatologist after the ultrasound tech detected echogenic cardiac foci (bright spots on his heart). Once there, my age (38) and his echogenic (bright) bowel gave us 1:20 odds that he'd have Down syndrome. His short, but still on the bottom of the "normal" range, femurs did not factor in. Given that our other kids are all very tall for their ages, this was a personal marker for us and I spent a good month or two of my pregnancy convinced that I was having a baby with Down syndrome. 

And then, I suppose because I was busy with the five kids we already had, I completely forgot about the risks and the odds and by the time I was in labor, Down syndrome was not even a thought. Please forgive my lack of people-first language in the post. I cringe when I read it now, but I was a complete newbie at the time and didn't know better. 

God is Good and Doubt are some posts about the faith journey early on the road with our boy. 

And then there's this Surprise post in which I grapple with the discovery our family is not growing the way I think it should. It's obvious in that post that God had already planted the seed in our hearts for adoption. Enough Kids? grows that idea a bit and explains our hearts more thoroughly. 

Adoption tells that our circumstances changed and we decided to take the leap. In going back to read that post I want to tell my former self that waiting for the littles to be potty trained is probably more wisdom than excuse, but too late now. 

We chose to adopt from Serbia because of it's semi-closed policy, meaning that we wouldn't get information on a child until our dossier was approved. In other words, we wouldn't have to pour over pictures and choose a child, something I was agonizing over before learning of Serbia. It's Official tells of the initial information we were given of Bogdan and when I read it I laugh and laugh that it says "good sleeper" because he was anything but one of those! 

From that post you can read the trail forward of his adoption story from when we were in country and his homecoming, including my health woes while there and subsequent hospitalization at home. 

He's been home fifteen months and our lives have been turned upside down, but we wouldn't trade him for the world. It has been hard, exhausting, outrageous, and beyond amazing. 

I also blog, occasionally, about my faith journey at Remnant of Grace.

That, in a blogger nutshell, is a bit of history for you new to the story. I hope you decide to stick around and enjoy the journey with us. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

To The Mother of The Adult Son With Down Syndrome in The Grocery Store Today:

Dear Mother,

I saw you as we were all on our way to check out. I noticed your son instantly. Big cowboy hat, American flag vest, short stature, almond-shaped eyes. Down syndrome. I almost followed you into your line, but that seemed like stalking, so I spied the lengths of the other lines first, only joining yours when it was the shortest. 

I was alone, stopping for a few necessities on my way home from work. I thought about saying something to you. But I stopped myself. Your son is so much older. You've been on this road a long time. Maybe you're tired of it all. Maybe you don't want to engage with a fresh-faced newbie like me. 

Worse, maybe you're resentful of this life you are forced to lead. You are of retirement age. Your friends are probably snowbirds who get to travel at will while you stay behind caring for a child who, in other circumstances, would have left the nest years ago. Maybe you wish you had more freedom at this stage of your life. Maybe if I talked to you, I'd come away discouraged. I'm feeling a little raw right now. I've heard too many naysayers tell me how cute they are now, but just wait...

So I stayed quiet. And watched. 

I saw your son point to the gum and say something to your husband, who seemed genuinely interested and continued the conversation before putting a protective arm around his shoulders. I watched as he smiled when he listened to him. I saw you laugh as you added your two cents to the conversation.

I decided then that maybe you were safe to approach, but I didn't know how. 

You smiled at me as I unloaded my cart, but still I didn't know what to say.

When a woman talked to your son about his hat, I pounced.

"Is he a magnet for attention?" I asked you.

You smiled and responded that he is and that he fancies himself Tim McGraw. I grinned and mentioned that I, too, noticed his awesome hat. 

Then I plunged ahead. 

"I have two boys with Down syndrome, too. Five and four. They're attention magnets, as well." 

You looked surprised and murmured, "How wonderful," but then looked away like you were trying to decide if you'd really heard me. Looking up again you clarified, "You have two boys...?"

"With Down syndrome, yes," I finished for you. "One homegrown and one adopted from Serbia."

Then you smiled broadly, and said conspiratorially, "They're really a lot of fun aren't they?" Before I had a chance to respond, you turned to fill your husband and son in on all you'd learned about me. 

We exchanged some other pleasantries as you finished your transaction and bid each other a good day. 

I bumped into you again outside at the cart corral and I felt then, as I did inside, that our brief interlude was filled with pregnant pauses as we were each searching for what we really wanted to communicate in the confines of social pleasantries with a stranger. 

I drove away thinking that I'd blown it. 

Because if I could do it again, dear mother, I would not hesitate to thank you. 

I would thank you for paving the road for my boys. 

I am not the best judge of ages, but I imagine it's safe to assume that when your son was born, at least one professional told you he'd be better off in an institution. It was a suggestion you clearly did not choose to follow. Thank you for that. Because of mothers like you, I didn't have to fight that battle from my own hospital bed. 

Thank you for being a warrior mom who learned to ignore the stares and whispers and who proudly shares her boy with the world. You are changing hearts and minds in your clear love and acceptance of him. He is changing hearts and minds just by being. Because of both of you, acceptance of my boys comes just a bit easier for others. 

Thank you for letting him have his own style, for encouraging his passion, for letting him shine in his cowboy hat and rocking vest. He's making people smile. And in so doing, without realizing it, he's being an advocate for my boys, too.  

Thank you for any part you played, no matter how small, in the enactment of, or amendments to, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While we continue to fight for a quality education for our children at every IEP meeting, we don't have to fight for them to be educated at all or to attend school in the first place because of parents like you. 

Thank you for walking this road when you probably felt unbelievably alone, before the support of social media, before Google, before WebMD. Thank you for standing up for the rights of your child, for challenging the status quo, for following your mother's heart. 

In short, it sounds ridiculous to say, which is probably why I didn't, but thank you for loving your son. In accepting, raising, being proud of, and loving him, you not only paved the way for him, you paved the way for me. 

I am grateful.

And yes, they really are a lot of fun!