The afternoon of March 18, 2015, we were driving home from the Marcus Autism Center. My brain was pulsating with a stress migraine so severe I could hear the pounding in my temples and at the same time my thoughts were racing as it dawned on me that the future hinged heavily on what decisions we made immediately for our son. I wasn't even sure what those decisions were. I was plagued with doubts. Could I do this? Could I be THAT mom? To advocate. To educate myself. To intervene. "I am not your girl, God," I kept thinking. "Why would you entrust such a responsibility to me. Wesley deserves someone more Type A. It's not me."
Andy and I were silent, but I knew we were thinking the same thoughts. In our entire marriage, we have never had a more silent or more deafening car ride.
I will give you some relief and say, I haven't felt anywhere near that devastated since that day. In fact, I refuse to look at any part of our journey with Wesley as devastating. Just so you know…we're great. He's great. He’s our precious Aspie. And he's smarter than all of you reading this…combined. So there.
But back in March….In the midst of all I was trying to recollect from the advice we were given that morning, words like "socialization" and "involvement" kept popping back into my brain. I was handed pamphlets and told to sign up for classes that I would never be able to afford or get to since I had a job and I just didn't know what to think, feel or who to call. I was trying to recall all the details I was told with no written report in my hands since it wouldn't arrive for a few weeks. What had they just said to me? I already felt like I was failing my child.
But I did recall one thing from that day…it was a big one. I knew I had to create opportunities for socialization. So during that car ride, I began to make a mental list of all the things I could do to make our world more social. For Wesley.
And that's when the weirdest, most off-track, this-will-never-pass-through-the-Andy-level-of-approval, I-think-I-have-been-drinking, thought came into my mind.
We need a dog.
I was convinced of this. As ill-timed as my ludicrous plan was, I imagined all the social scenarios a dog would create for us.
Looking back on that day, I am highly amused that of the 25 hours of therapy, speech intervention, preschool classes and play therapy…my one take away was the full conviction that the Turners needed a dog. Not once did anyone at the Marcus Institute tell us to leave there and go straight to the pound. But that was indeed what I was thinking.
By the time we got to our exit, I'd gotten up the nerve to mention it to Andy. So the very first thing I say to my husband after the day we had had was my firm belief that what this situation really needed was a puppy. A chewing, barking, pooping puppy. That's what I said. To a man who is highly allergic. Well played.
I'm surprised he didn't drop me off somewhere along the road. I knew my husband wanted no part of a dog.
Here's a little background on me and the animal kingdom. I hadn't owned a dog in 25 years. I liked dogs but I didn't love them. I like petting dogs. I like looking at cute pictures of puppies. But in our entire marriage, I had never even indicated that I wanted a dog to my husband. The thought never crossed my mind. Mainly for three reasons. John Paul, J.J. and Sandy. I had had three dogs in my lifetime. 1.) John Paul - my mother's poodle who was brilliant and devoted to her. The dog didn't care anything about me. 2.) J.J. - the psychotic poodle we got after John Paul died who looked like John Paul but was actually quite crazy. Also - chased cars. 3.) Sandy. Whenever I would open the door to let Sandy out, I would run to the left and Sandy would run 47 miles to the right. I would spend the rest of my life trying to get that dog to come back home. Also - chased cars AND stole food.
So…I didn't have much of a Lassie childhood. Besides, my sister had three dogs. We could always visit.
In fact, I was so blah about dogs that if you had told me that your dog had advanced medical issues and was going to need to be put to sleep, my first thought would have been that THAT decision was going to save you so much money in the long run.
I know. I'm not proud of myself.
Besides, I'm in the midst of being reformed and I owe the entire dog-owning world a gigantic, humble, eyes-to-the-floor apology. I am ashamed. So so ashamed.
Needless to say, Andy thought dog therapy was a bit of a crazy first response to our day. I so didn't blame him. The idea was 50 shades of crazy.
I put the thought aside. It was not a good idea.
But in secret, I couldn't shake it. I wasn't sure if there was a reason for this or if I might be one of those people cracking under the pressure of recent stress and my only symptom was hair-brained ideas like complicating our already complicated life with a dog.
Sometime in the next three weeks, I was outside playing with the boys when a woman walked by with a medium-sized black curly dog. I am not in the habit of noticing dogs, but I am in the habit of talking to absolutely every person I see. Always. No exceptions. Amen. So as I was meeting this new neighbor, I noticed the dog, Oliver, watching my kids. Oliver's person told me that he was interested in playing with the kids, would that be okay? I said that it would and I watched as this rather large dog was released to play. I was amazed as I watched him dance around my kids wagging his tail and being so gentle I couldn't take my eyes away. Dogs are supposed to jump on people. Oliver didn't jump. He was so agile and careful, but completely enamored with the boys as they played. I was completely taken by this large dog's demeanor. Oliver was amazing.
I hella NEEDED an Oliver. STAT
I found myself asking about the breed and the breeder. THAT, my friends was when I was told that Oliver was an Aussiedoodle and was bred by a woman in Blairsville who has three autistic sons and found this breed to be amazing as service and therapy dogs.
What? Stop talking to me. Are you serious? What-you-talking-'bout-Willis?
I didn't say any of these thoughts to her because…well, crazy shrieking neighbor lady. But see...I do believe in divine situations and I couldn't see how that wasn't God setting something amazing up for us Turners (just wait until I tell Andy what God is doing to try to get us a dog).
The next day, I called the breeder and we spoke for an hour. An HOUR. We were new besties. Actually she was letting me in on the abilities of these dogs to help in stressful situations. I had no idea that autistics could benefit from service dogs. I had just been hoping for a source of conversation in our home and a reason to be running around and interacting…but this…do I even need this? I wasn't sure, but I was so excited.
Surely the path was going to be made clear in the next few days…we'd come this far.
Three weeks after our visit to Marcus, my son broke his femur. Let me correct myself…I broke his femur. It was a freak fall. It was, of course, not intentional, but the mommy guilt train is not interested in details…it only sees the cause and effect of the injury.
My son was in a body cast for seven weeks because of me. He didn't deserve this. What more can we heap on this precious two year old? I was devastated and I spent many nights reliving the fall in my mind.
Kid with broken femur, guilt-ridden mom trying to keep it together. Dog forgotten.
We spent 7 weeks caring for a child that couldn't move. Couldn't go to therapy. Couldn't socialize. Couldn't go to school. Isolation. Isolation. Isolation. This was NOT what he needed to thrive.
Cast eventually came off and we spent three more weeks getting him to walk again. Then it was time for IEP meetings and new schedules. Through all of this my son was amazing. My husband and I grew a lot closer through our recent trials of Marcus Center and femurgate and we moved ahead.
I began to read up on Neuro-diversity and how my son's gifts should be celebrated. He had an uneven skill set and while we worked with him to answer simple yes or no questions, I would do a double-take every time I walked into a room where he had spelled words like "lopsided" and "pumpkin" in scrabble tiles.
I struggled a lot internally as a mom over this last year. Who to tell about Wesley. Who not to tell. How to handle responses I didn't like from people who didn't understand or just meant well. How to be proud of my son without attaching a disclaimer or limitations to him. How to make peace with something that I was also actively fighting. Where to place any of this neatly on a shelf in my mind...He's going to be a code breaker for a special government organization one day…who cares if he gets his pronouns confused.
Life went on.
Then, as I feel God does sometimes, he brought my crazy idea…my insane first thought in a crisis, back into my life in the last few weeks. I was anticipating that we could swing a dog by summer...
When God is ready though…move over.
I'm here to tell you that within a matter of 4 days…we had our Aussiedoodle. Every obstacle fell away. Every. single. obstacle. All of them.
The breeder had one puppy left from a litter that was perfect for us. She was a little older so she was cheaper. We worked out a time to drive to Blairsville to get her. My sister (could NOT have made this happen without my amazing sister) helped outfit us non-dog people to bring home a puppy. We were even able to make her an early gift from Santa.
And Andy. My wonderful husband. The man that along every step of this journey with Wesley was 100% onboard. The man who trusted my judgement. The man who was not tempted by his own ego to push away the nagging thoughts in the back of his mind. The man who goes to work early and stays late. The man whose life was a lot calmer without a dog. This man…told me to go for it.
The plans I have for this sweet girl are big. Maybe they are unrealistic. But I prayed for this dog for nine months. There were nights I would say to God, "I know this is crazy. I don't see how this can happen. I have a terrible track record with training dogs…but I want this. I want this for Wesley. For all of us."
And He made a way.
And so now we have Josie…and we are reformed.
We are dog people.