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My Honest Holiday Letter

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Season’s greetings, friends and family!

I am happy to report our family had an amazing 2019! Joe and I are doing well, and all five kids are healthy and happy.

They sure are growing up fast!

When they were toddlers, it seemed like their fingers were everywhere—my bagel, in my cup of coffee, in my hair.

Not much has changed, if I’m being honest.

I mean, they aren’t interested in my coffee anymore, and if they want a bagel they can make one for themselves, but their fingerprints are still all over the place.

In my make-up, and my wallet, and on my sunglasses.

They eat my leftovers, they borrow my ear buds and don’t return them, and they leave their huge shoes in the middle of the hallway.

You know what? I just love it. I love the mess and the noise and the delightful chaos of a family.

I do not always love it.

In fact, I may have been known to stomp through the house shrieking because I can’t find my ear buds and tripping over the shoes and shrieking some more.

Sometimes, I am not my best self. This is what I am trying to tell you.

My oldest son, Joseph, is a junior in high school.

When he was four years old, he held my hand, and we walked to the end of our long driveway and got the mail. He loved when I let him carry a few envelopes back by himself.

Now, he drives a car down that same driveway.

In my minds eye, I picture the little boy he used to be. I feel his palm against mine. I can smell his curly hair, still damp from a bath.

As you know, our second son Jack has autism. He is fifteen.

Autism is a diagnosis.

It is clinical.

It is something he will have forever and always.

He is doing well.

He is making conversation and reading The Hunger Games at school and he has a job.

Every Wednesday at 4:30 he goes to a restaurant in town and he crushes cardboard and loads the dishwasher and stocks the soda cooler.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can breathe.

I am breathing.

It is good. He is good.

Yet I also know what every autism parent knows—the window for gulping deep blue breaths of air is but a minute long.

I am proud of him.

I never tell him this. I don’t know why.

I guess I am always focused on progress, progress, more progress, that I forget to simply appreciate how far he’s come.

He has, you know. He’s come so far from the days when he lined up all the toy trains in a row and ran away from me in the store and slept maybe an hour or two at night. But I never talk about the gains we’ve made. I can’t tell you why.

I forget to tell him how brave he is—how much courage it takes face anxiety’s long, yellow teeth and fierce snarl every single day.

I forget to say so many things.

Our youngest son Henry is ten.

How can I describe him to you? Picture emptying a big box of crayons onto the floor, and choosing only the brightest, boldest colors.

Choose another color once in a while, I tell him. Maybe a soft yellow, or pale green.

We don’t always have to splash the world with red and orange and cobalt blue.

I can’t, he says. I don’t know how.

I don’t know how to be any other way.

I spend a lot of time waiting in parking lots.

I sit there and I think about all the things I need to do once I get home and I feel frustrated because I do not have time to wait.

Dinner, dishes, check homework, ask Henry if he stole his brother’s watch.

But once she’s in the car, the demands dissolve. I head home, and I look over to the passenger seat. I see her profile in the winter darkness and I think, there she is. There is my daughter.


In our moment, I only have time for this.

This girl of mine. She is nearly as tall as me and her feet are bigger than mine and most days, I have no idea what she’s thinking.

But for a few short minutes, she talks, and I listen, and it was worth the wait.

Then there’s Charlie. He is my middle son. He is fourteen. I always say Charlie is like a kite. If I don’t hold on tightly to the string, he’d probably fly out the door.

Basketball, jazz band, Student Council.

Baseball trophies, parts in the school play, volunteering to pack lunches for kids in need.

At a glance, he seems like the perfect kid. He is doing it all right. Yet still, I worry. I worry his drive to be social, and athletic, and right is somehow connected to having a brother with autism who does it all differently.

What is the measure of a good mother?

Is it the hours logged in a slushy parking lot?

Is it academic awards and trophies on display?

Or a cooler stocked full with soda?

Maybe it is knowing when to push, and when to sit quietly and simply watch.

I don’t know. I may never know.

I think about the shrieking and the big shoes and I hope one day they look back and realize I did the best I could—that I gave this thing called motherhood all I had, and more.

Time is slipping through my fingers.

Time is standing still.

In my minds eye, I see all the earlier versions of myself.

A cool hand to a warm forehead.

A shadow removing candles from a cake.

A silhouette waiting in the car.

Who am I?

Who will I be?

Who will they be?

Wishing you a magical holiday, and a new year filled with extra phone chargers,


The Cariello Family


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