I almost lost my stuffing in the Hot Wheels suite talking about Howie. – a post to some friends on Friday afternoon.

It came up casually in conversation with a new friend I met at the BlogHer conference this week.  Jennifer told me that she was looking forward to checking out the Hot Wheels suite since her boys liked cars.

“Um…Hot Wheels Suite?” I asked, and turned wide-eyed to my friend (and most awesome roommate ever Kristin).

Hot Wheels, or more specifically Mattel, was a big sponsor of the conference.  And they had a full suite on the 42nd floor of the hotel to show off their new products.  There was no way I was missing that.

Friday after lunch, Kristin and I made our way up to the suite.

The marketing people showed off their products, including their new app game.  Dan, the marketing guy for Mattel, demonstrated how a special Hot Wheels car drives on top of the iPad and “races”.  You control the car through the race or you can have a leisurely drive through the city.

I could feel my eyes tear up a little.

I started to tell the marketing guy a little bit about Howie and his four year long obsession with Hot Wheels.  How those cars were our connection to him.  And how it was also our autism “red flag”. And then with the iPad – the device that helps him focus and learn and play without frustration…well, the thought of combining the two was just a little much for me.

We thanked him for his demonstration and turned to leave the suite.  That’s when I saw this and had to take a picture:

Yes. Yes we do.

**********

This afternoon, we were getting ready to go to Target to buy school supplies.  Lewis was holding my phone for me while I packed up some snacks.

“What does this say?”, he asked, pointing to my phone.

I had the “Real Moms Play Cars” sign as the background picture on the phone.  I told him what it said.

An hour later, we found ourselves in the Hot Wheels aisle of Target because…well, we always do.  Lewis was trying to convince me that he needed yet another car because…well, he always does.

I said no.  We had enough.

“It’s for you, Mom.” he said.

“But I don’t need a car.” I replied.

“Yes, you do.  ‘Real moms play cars.’ You need your car.”

How does one say no to that?  To a kid who just one year ago couldn’t speak more than two words at a time?

You don’t.  We came home with a new car for me and one for everyone else.

**********

Before I left the conference, I sent Dan the Mattel marketing guy this e-mail:

Dear Dan,

I think you are the person I met at the Hot Wheels suite at BlogHer12. You showed my friend and me the new iPad game and gave us the demonstration on the remote control car. I told you my two youngest sons were autistic. And you remembered my son liked green.

I have to tell you how Hot Wheels changed our lives. It became the vehicle, if you will, for communicating with my sons. It’s how their dad connected with them, how their older brother plays with them. And I had to learn how to play with them too.

So your “real moms play cars” sign meant so much. It has become my motto. If there’s any way I could get one of those signs , I would appreciate it forever.

**********

“Real Moms Play Cars.”

I get down on the floor. 

That may not mean much to other moms.

Howie chooses a car for me. 

But playing cars is the one way in to communicating with my boys.

Lewis drives his car over to me.

It’s how we connect.

He says “Hi, Mom’s car.”

It’s how we interact.

Howie says “Wanna race?” and whispers to me that he’ll let Lewis win.

It’s how we healed as a family.

Ready…set…go!

Hot Wheels.  Beat that!

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you” – Drive My Car by The Beatles

*this is one out of probably two or maybe three BlogHer posts*

**********

If you could, please check out my new project.  We’re opening a sensory gym for special needs children.  To open our doors, we need your help.  Please check out our website at SenseAbility Gym and donate safely through PayPal HERE

So I am stepping WAY WAY WAY out of my comfort zone.

Next week, I’m heading to New York City for the annual BlogHer conference.

It’s a three day conference celebrating all things blogging.  I’m heading down a day early for the pre-conference HealthMinder day, which will have specific special needs panels.

If you don’t know me, you may not know why this is feeling so out of my league.  I’m the one much happier behind a computer screen than in a crowd.  At a party, I’m hanging by the food and drink table or leaning up against a wall in the corner.  I prefer to stay quiet, unnoticed.  I get anxious and nervous at Costco, so giant conferences make me edgy.

But I just had to go to this one.  And I have four reasons why.

Reason #1: In addition to writing here I’m also the managing editor at two other blogging sites.  For over a year now, I’ve been a part of the amazing team at the SPD Blogger Network, a group blog for parents of children with sensory processing disorder.  The site has a special place in my heart.  SPD was Howie’s first diagnosis.  Two years ago, when I started to write my own personal blog here, I connected with Hartley Steiner at her blog.  She encouraged my writing and put my blog on her site.  When she founded the SPDBN, she asked me to be there to help.  And there I’ve stayed.  We’ve created a loving, supportive and understanding community there on the blog site and on our Facebook page.  It’s the place I come to when I’m feeling particularly low or incredibly proud.  Every story is shared with honesty and love.  I understand my son better because of the incredible people who write for us every day.

The SPDBN relies on posts from parents.  Each day we post a new story.  I’m going to BlogHer to meet other parents who share a similar journey and I hope I can convince them to come write for us.

(side note: I’ll be the one with the cute Otto the Octopus.  See photo below.  Made especially for me to take to BlogHer by the incredibly talented SPDBN team Karla from The Itsy Bitsy Spider.  Find Otto, find me.)

She made those other cute guys for my boys. I may snag one of them to take with me as well…

The other site I help manage is The Oxygen Mask Project.  It was started with my friend Shannon as a way for us to reclaim ourselves, reminding us that we need to take care of ourselves if we’re going to take care of our kids.  It started small.  We started tweeting with the #yearoftheoxygenmask, sharing what we had done for ourselves that day.  For me, it was drinking my coffee when it was hot.  And showering.  While to many that sounds stupid, for me just doing that was a challenge.  I was so busy getting people out the door to school/therapy/baseball/piano/therapy that there was never anytime for me.  I hit bottom.  And now we have 880+ Facebook friends and 52 posts from writers from all over the world.  And every day we’re talking about how we’re important too.

There will be a special panel at HealthMinder day called Overcoming Burnout: Replenishing Your Reserves.  I’m going to BlogHer because this is exactly what we’ve been talking about for six months.

Reason #2: Two of my favorite people are being honored at the special Voice of the Year.  I can’t wait to hear my friend Varda as a reader for the “Heart” nominated posts.  I expect there to be very few dry eyes in the house.

And I’m so thrilled that my friend Stimey was nominated as a Voice of the Year for her incredible post Not Even Wrong.  This post changed my life.  That’s not hyperbole.  I read it at a time when we were having tremendous struggles with Howie and school.  Her post about her son Jack changed EVERYTHING about how I viewed Howie’s school life, and made me step back and look at how we needed to teach him.  Because my perspective changed, I was better able to communicate with his team at school and we all turned things around.  I am forever grateful to Stimey for what she wrote.  I’m going to BlogHer to tell her in person.  Again.

Reason #3 goes with Reason #2: I’m going to be with friends.  Including friends I’ve never met.

And, yes, I know that probably only makes sense to the blogging/social media world.

The best example of this is how I met my BlogHer roommate, Kristin.

Last summer, my kids’ school opening was delayed a week due to Hurricane Irene. I was completely stuck for ideas on how to entertain them when they were supposed to be in their classrooms.  I whined about this on my blog’s Facebook page, and this angel named Kristin asked if I wanted to join her and her boys at their swim club.  We had never met, but had a mutual Facebook friend and had become friends that way.  I sent her a message saying simply YES!  We chatted via email and text, and there we were at her swim club for the whole day.  Our boys played and swam – sometimes together, sometimes doing their own thing.  And because we were both autism moms…well the rest is history.

We’ve only seen each other once since that day at the pool.  But when I decided to go to BlogHer, I asked Kristin if she’d go too.  In addition to her amazing blog, she’s also written for the SPDBN and The Oxygen Mask Project.  So now we’re taking the bus together down to the big city, and I’m hoping she’ll help me get out of the corner.

But this is what blogging has done for me.  In addition to the incredible “in real life” friends I had, I’ve connected with a whole group of insanely smart, funny, snarky special needs parents who have taught me so much just through their words.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of them before and now count them as my closest friends.

I can’t wait to meet this friend, and this friend, and this friend, and this friend, and this friend.  I’ve been reading their work for so long and now I get to put a face with the words.

And I’m hoping a few other friends will come join me for a drink or two.  Or three..

I’m going to BlogHer to connect with the people who have taught me so much.

Reason #4: I need to get away.

I’m not going to lie.  This has been a long long summer.  I need a little break. In addition to the usual summer things, I’ve started a new project and it’s been a lot of work to get off the ground.  I’m stressed.  And I’m taking it out on the kids.

I need a break to sleep.  And shower.  And pee alone.

I have to get some time to regroup.  To feel better.  To breathe.  I’m going to BlogHer to find myself again.

I’m terrified of the three days away from my family.  I’ve never been gone this long.  But I know Tim and the boys will be fine.  We have an incredible support system around us here who will help if (when?) things get sticky.  I will have a social story ready for the boys so they are prepared too.

And when I come back I will be ready to take it all on again.

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and going to BlogHer’12.  See you there.

Start spreading the news,
I’m leaving today.
I want to be a part of it –
New York, New York.” – New York, New York by Frank Sinatra

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