I went to Target in Harmarville in June to get a gift for Conner's teacher.
I also needed some new cheap shoes for the kids. Their crocs and such from last year were looking a bit on the ragged side. So I found myself in the shoe aisle and I heard:
"Shoes. ... Shoes."
I didn't even have to look up to know that this young person had autism.
I was pushing my cart while looking at shoes and another voice, directed at me this time, said, "I see your shirt. Are you doing the walk this weekend?"
I looked up and saw a beautiful lady. Hair pulled back, sunglasses on top of her head, wearing a T-shirt and comfy pants, much like myself.
"Yes I am!" I beamed.
I was wearing my T-shirt from last year's Autism Walk, which must've tipped her off!
We began to talk. She hadn't done the walk in about six years. She is a busy woman. She has three children, ages 21, 19 and 6.
Her 21-year-old is in his third year of college. He has Asperger's, the high-functioning form of autism.
Her 19-year-old is still in high school. He has autism as well. He is much more compromised.
Her 6-year-old is not on the spectrum.
We talked and talked. About hopes, dreams, fears, being pregnant and all the fears that went along with having another child. About interventions, therapies, sleep, life, God. Everything.
It was like we had known each other forever.
She said she likes to talk to parents with younger kids on the spectrum so she can tell them what things might look like in 10 years.
She wanted to allay my fears about what the future will hold for my son. She told me about her eldest child's accomplishments -- how successful he has been in college and how she was sure my child would do just as well.
I often fret over Conner's future. How will middle school be? Will high school be hard because the kids will be able to tell Conner is a bit different? Will he go to college? Will he have a girlfriend?
She wanted to assure me he would be just fine.
This woman was my gift that June evening at Target. Her middle child was in the aisle with us, stimming away, chatting to himself. At one point he came over to her, grabbed her face with his hands and kissed her on each cheek.
He may not be able to communicate everything that is in his head, but he could communicate his love for his mom.
Her "gentle giant," she called him.
With everything this woman has been through in the last 21 years, she still walks in faith -- trusts in the Lord and his plan for her and her family.
She and her husband have been married almost 25 years. They have defied all the odds.
So not only did I walk for Conner on the Saturday after I met her, I walked for her and her beautiful sons. For her whole family.
After all, she gave me a gift one evening I will long remember.
Jennifer Eddings-Morrill of Verona, who is entering nursing school this fall, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.