11/21/2006 12:51 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Grateful Voice of the Autism Mom

Recently the Neiman Marcus Christmas book showed up in my mailbox. This year I'm supposed to be impressed with a huge, $40,000 skyscraper made entirely from pencils and a $100K water park for my backyard. Well, not my backyard.

But I digress. The Christmas Book arriving in my mailbox really does mean something to me, in that the excess inside the book means nothing to me. You see, a few years ago, as Christmas approached, my sweet husband was out of work. He ran the US division of German company and got let go by email one Friday morning during Octoberfest. You've got mail! The email said "auf weidersehen!" and then no one at the company ever called him again. But don't get me started on the Germans, because I really do like Beck's Dark and Rutger Hauer.

Autism sucks out every last penny you've ever made. Having three girls with autism? Fuggedaboudit. So that holiday season we were in a tight financial spot. Someone, I don't know who, told our church that we were having a rough time of it. We were still eating, drinking and trying to be merry, but we were struggling. I got a call from the head of the holiday giving tree telling me I was to show up at church on a designated Saturday to pick up my giving tree goodies. Wha-Hut? Yes, the Staglianos had been assigned a number on a paper mitten and were officially a "family in need" at our church.

At first, second and third I was completely mortified and horrified. So the Saturday arrived, and I did not go to the church. My phone rang and it was Kelly S., the woman in charge of the giving tree program.

"WHERE ARE YOU KIM?" she barked at me.

"I'm not coming, Kelly. You can give the stuff to another family."

"I'll drive straight to your house, Kim. Get over here."

(Note to self, send Kelly to N. Korea to chat with folks about nukes.) I got into my $36,000 minivan and drove to my church to pick up the charity. With a leaden heart and a pit in my stomach, I trudged into the foyer where just the previous year, I'd dropped off several wrapped boxes to put under the tree. I GIVE to the charity tree, I don't GET from it, right?

I thanked everyone quietly, smiled and loaded my minivan to the brim. As I left the parking lot, I started to cry. But not out of humiliation. I looked in my rear view mirror and was overwhelmed with gratitude. There was a wreath for our door (we had one) food, household supplies, wrapped gifts for the girls, envelopes with gift certificates for movies and dinner and the one thing that made Mark and me laugh like hell. 36 bars of Zest soap. Do well-off people think not-so-well off people don't bathe? We're still using the soap, many months later. A fresh, foamy reminder of how far we've come and how fast anyone can fall.

At home that night, I thought about everything we had been given. I focused on my beautiful girls. Who, while laden with issues related to their autism, are a true gift. My frayed nerves relaxed a little when I looked at my handsome husband who was working so hard to find a good job and take care of his family. (He did, we're fine.)

I began to feel less like Max the dog being swallowed up by snow under the Grinch's sleigh and a bit more like the Grinch himself. When his heart grows too big for his chest. I learned to accept that Christmas. Accept help. Accept adversity. Accept kindness. I even dared to come out of my "I can do it myself so just leave me alone" mode for a moment or two. And it felt kind of good. Far better than receiving any item in the Neiman Marcus Christmas book for sure.

Read more from Kim on her personal blog.