It's Not Any Easier

I can't count how many hours Nikki sat next to me in IEP meetings, helping Mark and me fight for Broden and knowing that she was always on our side. There are no words to say how grateful I am for the comfort she provided.

No matter how many times we do it, it still doesn't get any easier. I'm talking about moving. You'd think it would be old hat after doing it seven times as a family. In some aspects we are more prepared. Our to do-lists seem more detailed due to minor corrections from lessons learned in the past. We purged liked never before because we are sick of moving boxes that have never been opened and I think we are doing a better job of getting rid of furniture that we know will not fit into the house we are moving into at our next installation. These things are the easy part.

What our family is having a hard time with is saying goodbye to the people that have been in our lives these past four years. I've noticed that some of these goodbyes are harder than I thought they would be this time around. I get teary-eyed every time I remember that this afternoon, this will be the last time that Jina will cut my boys' hair. Some may think I'm being too sentimental, but I can't explain how good it feels to be able to walk into a salon, sit down and relax, while my son with autism receives a haircut. Some days are better than others, but what I can say that never changes, is how she treats my son. It doesn't matter if he's had a rough day with behavior or not, she still looks at him the same. To her, he was always a child that has worth. I will miss that feeling every few weeks.

I was in a local boutique last week wandering the aisles aimlessly trying to find gifts for Broden's tutors and the clinic director who have had such an impact on not only my son's life, but mine. The gal working there at the time came over to me and asked if I needed any help. I responded, "I'm looking for a gift for someone that will never be good enough. It seems almost useless, but I have to try because I can't leave with just saying thank you." She smiled and said, "I get it. I had cancer when I was younger. There were people who helped me and I never could quite find a way to show them my gratefulness." As she followed me around for a while, she looked at me and said, "Find something that makes your heart warm and puts a smile on your face. That may be the best way to make a decision." I finally found a necklace for my son's clinic director, Nikki. I found the one piece of jewelry that I was drawn to and something I came back to time and time again. That must be the one.

Saying goodbye "Will I find someone that to Nikki is going to be tough. The weaker side of me wants to leave the gift on her desk with a sticky note that says "thank you" and then run out the door. The weaker side of me realizes that whatever I say or do, it will not be enough. If she had a dollar for every tear I shed in her office while feeling defeated, she would be a rich woman. I can't count how many hours Nikki sat next to me in IEP meetings, helping Mark and me fight for Broden and knowing that she was always on our side. There are no words to say how grateful I am for the comfort she provided.

Moving and knowing Nikki will not be there for support is quite scary, to be honest. I remind myself that she will be a phone call or text away. Will I find someone that truly understands my fears and worries for Broden? I don't know if I will, but my hope is that I will leave here somewhat wiser because of the guidance and undeserving grace she has given Broden and me.

As our family embarks on a new adventure, I hope to "be strong enough to stand alone and fight for what is right when others may not, smart enough to know when I need help, and brave enough to ask for it." I don't think Nikki would expect any less from me. •



Shelly Huhtanen is an Army wife stationed at Fort Benning, GA who has a child with autism. She enjoys sharing her experiences of day-to-day life caring for her son with autism while serving as an Army spouse. She authored "Giving a Voice to the Silent Many" that encompasses many stories of raising a child with autism in the military. Shelly is passionate about autism advocacy for our military and works to bring awareness to our local legislators and command about providing better support for our military autism community, such as better health care and education.