Friday, February 27th was one of my worst days. We were already walking one of the hardest seasons of our life, but we had been doing our best to keep our heads up and choose joy regardless. It was then that a trip to the grocery store turned into one of the most difficult experiences of my life so far, and threatened to shake not only myself by my 5 year old son to the core. Shaken and reeling, I took to the one place I could openly speak my mind in a way I simply couldn’t when the incident occurred – my blog, my little corner of internet real estate where I could openly share anything and feel like I had a tiny platform to be heard, maybe even understood. So a sat down for 30 minutes, watching my boys playing out the window behind my screen, and put my feelings into words. It was off the cuff and right from the heart, words going directly from my brain to the page, and I simply pressed “post” and returned to my day, feeling a little relief at letting my go of that burden of words unspoken. Little could I have predicted what would happen next.
In the next 48 hours the post went absolutely viral. In fact, 90% of the TOTAL page hits to my blog in its first month? All of them came from this one post. But it didn’t stop there. A reporter from our state newspaper spoke to me over the phone and penned an article about our experience. Other blogs and websites that run guest content offered to run the piece for us on their own pages. I started “Project Aidan” and the responses only grew. People posted comments, sent private emails, and posted to the #youremyheroaidan hashtag on various social media outlets. Kids mailed us drawings for Aidan’s. People sent letters. A microscope company contacted us to applaud Aidan’s unique love of science and sent us a gift pack to cheer him up. A middle school in another state spent class time making cards and a video to tell Aidan how special he was. Aidan even had a Skype date recently with a producer from the Ellen show about possibly appearing on the program, and now Aidan will be featured on The World Needs More Love Letters where he will receive even more outpourings of love, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve made connections in the Autism and Hyperlexia communities I never could have dreamed of. I’ve received countless emails from parents saying they cried tears of their own because they’ve been in our shoes, and the post gave them the words they couldn’t find on their own. The response continues to grow and messages keep coming in.
Aidan is still working through a lot in response to the issue. In fact I just this past Monday afternoon had a meeting with his support team at our school, and its clear he’s still grappling with so many issues related to self esteem and how he perceives himself. For Aidan, its difficult to see the difference between different from other kids, and being somehow lesser than other kids. It’s something we work every day to try to address, and Lord knows this situation made it exponentially harder right now. But Aidan is an incredible kid, with so much strength and resilience underneath it all, and every time he reads a message telling him how incredible he is or gets a card in the mail to tape up in his reading fort? I can SEE the response. It’s very real and its incredibly apparent. Every message of acceptance helps outweigh the messages that convince him he’s not good enough, and every note of encouragement helps show him that not everyone shares the opinions he was burdened with that horrible day.
The reality of a post going viral though, is not every response will be positive. There have been emails and comments that for a brief moment make me question it all – mothers of other children on the spectrum chastising me for what they view as exploitation by sharing our story publicly, people telling me I’m oversensitive and should have simply ignored it and moved on, people lamenting bloggers in general and how ridiculous they perceive the entire idea of sharing life online, even people who said the incident seemed too exaggerated to be true and suggested I made the whole thing up for our 15 minutes of internet fame. Any time you have a post that gets as much exposure as this one has, you’re bound to find voices that aren’t encouraging or supportive. It’s been an important set of lessons for me to learn as a new blogger: when and how to let those comments slide, to always ask where I get my value from and who I allow to define me, and how to keep the opinions of other keep me from changing my online voice and the message I use this platform to share. Ultimately I had to decide that if you’ve never experienced people disagreeing with something you’ve written, you might not being saying a whole lot. Criticism comes with the territory, and it’s just a speedbump, not a roadblock.
Im excited to see where this journey leads as this story continues to unfold, but for now I encouraged that God has me exactly where he meant me to be: writing, sharing our stories, and living our life as an open book to be used in ministry to others – nothing to hide, nothing to fear. I appreciate each and every message to the #youremyheroaidan hashtag, every card or drawing or gift we receive, but mostly I appreciate knowing we aren’t alone, and that there are still so many good people in this world ready to encourage the brokenhearted and speak love where its most desperately needed. Day by day its helping us erase the memory of what happened that day, and we’re confident God is using even our worst day for good. And ultimately, thats what it’s all really about.