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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)

TITLE: Daily Judgments
By Betty Castleberry


I tiptoe into Riley’s room and watch him sleep. His lashes are long and dark against his smooth cheek. Sandy hair spills in disarray onto his pillow. He needs a haircut, but it would be such a battle. Better to focus on more important things for now.

James passes me in the hall. “I’m running late, Leanne.”

I receive the cheek kiss he offers. “Have a good day, babe.”

“You too, honey.”

I listen as the front door closes, tensing just a bit knowing the day is mine alone now.

Riley stirs and rubs his eyes. He is awake.

I squeeze his toes through the covers. “Good morning, sunshine.”

He doesn’t speak. In fact, he rarely speaks. Instead, he reaches for the red truck at his bedside.

“Time for breakfast.”

My son gets up and follows me into the kitchen. Before he sits down, he opens the pantry door, and then shuts it. As he passes each cabinet door he opens and shuts them, too.

I put a box of cereal on the table. Its familiar red packaging oddly comforts me, like an old friend. The box feels light. I will have to buy more.

James has already put Riley’s red bowl and cup on the table. I pour cereal into the bowl and juice into the glass. He clings to the toy truck.

“Hey Riley, do you want to go feed the ducks after breakfast?”

He stares past me as I spoon cereal into his mouth. The milk dribbles down his chin.
I try again. “Let’s go feed the ducks, and then we’ll stop at the grocery store on the way home.”

My little boy begins to sway. This is my signal not to push him at the moment.

He finishes breakfast and I clean up the kitchen. Gathering our coats, I find Riley on the kitchen floor, his truck turned over in his hands. He is spinning the wheels.

“Get up, young man. You’ve got to put your coat on.”

He obeys without protest, but never lets go of the truck. A little boy in red coat, hat and gloves stands before me. My heart aches with love for him. It does not matter to me that the world might see him as imperfect. He is the child God gave me.

I take his hand. He does not flinch this time.

It is a short trip to the park. We walk down to the pond. The ducks see us coming with our bread sack. They waddle toward us, quacking loudly. I am always amazed at how fast hungry ducks can waddle. Riley doesn’t feed them. He never does. Instead, he watches as I toss bread to them. They scramble for each piece. Something about this makes Riley smile.

Soon the bread sack is empty. “Okay Riley, they ate it all. Let’s go.”

I reach for his hand. This time he pulls away. I respect his wishes and we walk back to the car.

Buckling him in the back seat, I tell him, “Now we’re going grocery shopping.” He spins the wheels on his truck.

Wednesday is double coupon day and the store is crowded. I watch Riley carefully for any signs of stress. He seems okay. Lifting him up, I put him in the basket and fasten the belt around his waist.

He looks straight ahead. People smile and speak to him. He says nothing. I read labels before I purchase anything I haven’t bought before. Avoiding as many additives and dyes as possible has become routine.

I maneuver the cart down the cereal aisle. Spotting cereal I have a coupon for, I toss it in the cart. Riley freezes, and then begins to flap his hands. He doesn’t understand. The cereal is for James and me. I will still buy his cereal.

Riley makes a loud, piercing sound. I look frantically for the red cereal box.

Two ladies who have stopped to visit look up from their conversation. Riley is now flapping his hands wildly. He barks out one word, “Red.”

I find his cereal and hand it to him. He begins to calm down.

One of the ladies scowls. “That kid is spoiled.”

The other lady nods. “If he were mine, I’d heat up his bottom.”

Instead of pushing past them silently, something makes me speak up. “He only likes one kind of cereal” I say.

They cluck and shake their heads as I walk away. I let them.

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This article has been read 683 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Steve Uppendahl10/08/09
This story is too real. Profound strength like your MC has is so rarely appreciated, even noticed. It'd be nice if ignorance was as polite. Beautifully written with strong and honest emotion throughout.
Charla Diehl 10/09/09
I think God gives "special" kids to Special parents. Your MC would certainly be one of those. Thanks for sharing this slice of life and allowing the reader to walk in your MC's shoes if only for a couple of minutes. Enlightening.
Jan Ackerson 10/12/09
Okay, this one just flew to the top of my list. I loved it all the way through, and the clincher was the mother's last bit of dialogue. Wow!
Emily Gibson10/13/09
This is a brilliant illustration of a day in the life of a parent living with an autistic child. Such patience and grace shown here!
Colin Swann10/13/09
An interesting story which is an everyday trying experience for some mothers. My daughter has a young son who is slightly autistic and her whole life is taking up just with damage limitation.
Thank you sharing. Colin
Lynda Schultz 10/13/09
Great story. This is one of those places in life where some people think before they speak.
Joshua Janoski10/14/09
I am not an expert on autism, but this piece definitely seemed to give an accurate account of what it is like for a parent who must take care of an autistic child. My heart went out to her and to Riley.

I agree that the end bit of dialogue is what really hits the reader. I have to ask myself, "Have I ever been one of those people who has passed judgement on someone like that without knowing their situation?"

Your writing made me want to be a better person, and that makes it excellent in my book. :)
Laury Hubrich 10/14/09
This is a good reminder to not pass judgments on things we know nothing about.
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/14/09
This story shines with beauty and pathos--such a difficult thing to do together.
Loren T. Lowery10/14/09
This is one of two stories that I've read here this week that has touched and carried me to a place so deep that I rarely am able to visit. But when I do I am richly blessed - that is what this work has done, blessed me. Thank-you!
Brenda Shipman 10/14/09
Wow, this is one of my favorites!! Every word of this entry shouts realism, difficulty, courage, tenacity, perseverance and commitment! Thank you so much for inspiring me today. This story needs to be shared with all parents of exceptional children. Wonderful job!
Pamela Kliewer10/14/09
A masterpiece for sure! I worked with autistic children over twenty years ago. This is spot on. I loved that your MC expressed such love for Riley - because "He is the child God gave me." Yes!
Shilo Goodson10/14/09
This was a great story that reminds us all how important it is not to pass judgment upon someone else (especially when we don't know the whole situation). I have worked with children with autism through the school system, and it can be hard on these children. They communicate in the only ways they know how, and they act the only way they know how. I am just glad that this child has caring parents. All too often, I have seen kids who have autism or other learning disorders whose parents want to throw the parental responsibility upon the schools or upon other learning programs.
LaNaye Perkins10/16/09
I love the sensitivity in this piece, and how you addressed the issue of special needs children. I also loved how the mother was so understanding, and full of love. Well done my friend. This is now, another one of my favorites of your work. :)