Guest Post by Kristen Abel, (The ladies’ nanny (because there is not a word to actually describe all she did for our family) when we lived in San Antonio)
This post is almost two years in the making. Before my brood of Buzzards flew off to Ohio, Kacie asked me to start thinking about doing a guest spot on her blog. I sat down at the computer every day for what felt like forever. I’d type a few lines then delete them, type a few lines, delete them. I probably have twenty drafts saved on my computer. No matter how many times inspiration struck once I sat down, the words wouldn’t come out. There’s just too much to say, too many memories and moments and lessons to put into words. But I have this nagging feeling to share what it was like to be Caroline’s Howie – to share the overwhelming, but amazing, amount of things Caroline and I learned with and from one another in just a short span of ten months. So, I suppose starting at the beginning is the only way to go about it…
(As a preface, please know I love Caroline and Vivian dearly and equally. This post is in no way a means to discredit or demean my time spent with my wily Miss Vivian. I simply had two very different experiences with the ladies in the time that I had them and no one has years to read a forever long post on all the ways I loved my girls. I plan to also write a post about my time with Viv, but as my dad has always said, “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.”)
My first introduction to Caroline was the day I interviewed with John and Kacie for the nanny position I’d learned about from Caroline’s OT, and my good friend, Adrienne. We were upstairs in the girls’ playroom discussing the ins and outs of the job when in stumbles a mop of curls dragging around a book (The Monsters on the Bus book – just fyi). Without any hesitation, Caroline walked over to me, pushed her curls out of her face with a huff, signed “book” to me and dropped it in my lap with an expectant look – and that was all it took. My bond with Caroline was instant; I babysat the ladies on a trial run a few days later and, while Viv still had her reservations (until she conned me into watching Madagascar for what, I’m sure, was the first of 8 million times), Caroline accepted me with open arms and as we watched Viv’s movie of choice, Caroline assumed what would become her most common position – back across my legs and head hanging one way or the other in order to see the television, giggling her little face off.
There was no gradual phase of becoming the girls’ nanny. Kacie and I jumped in without hesisitation – learning to coordinate with and trust each other with the ease of people that had been working together for years. I was soon shuttling the ladies to every school day, piano/swim/gymnastics lesson, doctors appointment – it was non-stop. While Vivian was at school, and before Caroline was put in PPCD, I spent 5, sometimes, uninterrupted hours with Caroline. If we weren’t running all over the greater San Antonio area for one appointment or another, we strolling through target or working on her signs – we built her verbal approximations by tenfold thanks to the massively motivating reinforcer that is Garrett’s Caramel Popcorn.
Every time Caroline would eat a full plate of food, or verbally mand for something, or learn a new sign faster than I could teach it – every milestone I had the pleasure of watching Caroline reach was cause for celebration. The day she said “mama” for the first time brought both Kacie and I to tears. All of Caroline’s accomplishments and setbacks felt like my accomplishments and setbacks. Every time someone underestimated her or judged her or tried to pigeon-hole her as “just like every other kid with autism” I felt a rage I cannot put into words. There wasn’t a day I spent in that ten months that Caroline didn’t surprise or inspire me. People|Teachers|Doctors|
Before working with the Buzzards, I worked as an assistant PPCD teacher. I loved my kids – all 23 of them and I have always said, no matter how hard it was some days to get up and go to work, those 23 little babes made it worth every minute I spent there. When I resigned, and had to tell my preschoolers goodbye, I never thought anything could be harder or more heartbreaking – until the ladies moved and I had to say goodbye to the two girls who taught me more about everything than any book, teacher, class or coworker could. The day I drove away from their house for the final time, dents in my backseat from where car seats had sat for so long, I felt like I was leaving my kids. There was an unbridled heartbreak and panic of not knowing what I was going to do the next morning if I didn’t need to pack Viv’s lunch or take Caroline to one of her many appointments. Though I’d known for more than a month that the time was coming, there was truly no way to prepare for what that moment was like when I hugged my girls and told them goodbye.
I still speak with Kacie frequently. She and John send me pictures of the ladies and keep me updated on all of their going-ons. On the rare occasion that we can get our once in sync schedules to line up, I’ll FaceTime with the girls – listening to Vivian gush about all of the fun and amazing six year old things she’s doing and wishing I could reach through the phone and squeeze Caroline as she signs “Kristen” and says, “I want you” on her communication device. It’s so easy to lose touch, to get too busy to keep in contact – I’m thankful for all the ways Kacie and John still consider me family and still keep me in the loop with the ladies.
Kacie once referred to me in one of her blogs as Caroline’s Howie (in reference to Carly Fleischmann’s therapist who assisted her day-to-day with everything from behaviors to communication) and it’s a nickname of sorts that I carry with the highest honor. I hope, in some way, no matter how small, I played a role in Caroline’s ever blossoming success. I hope I helped in teaching her to be herself, to be silly, to not let anyone tell her what she can do, to find magic in everything. But as much as I hope I had some affect on the gorgeous, wily, smart, sweet girl that Caroline is, I know for certain that she taught me more about everything than I could ever hope to give her in return.