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Guests and Ghosts

Guest bloggers ... ghostwriters ... It's like Forest's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get!
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Blogs YOU loved in 2015!

One of our bloggers came to me, well, emailed me, the other day with an interesting idea:

How about if Fred Parent did a blog post showcasing the TOP 10 FREDERICKSBURG PARENT & FAMILY BLOG POSTS of 2015?

I was like, Huh? (Sometimes I’m a little slow).

Then I was all anxious and concerned like, “I love all my kids (bloggers) equally! They are all wonderful and talented and work hard and they ALL deserve a gold star! I don’t want to single some out and leave the others feeling less-than! I don’t think I can do this!”

best blogs 2015In case you didn’t know, we have about 20 people who blog for FredParent. Yes, really! They all live in the area; in fact, you might be reading this on your phone, in line at Wegman’s and the woman in front of you could, possibly, be a real-live FredParent blogger! (You can tap her on the shoulder and ask her, but honestly? I don’t recommend this).

These individuals write about...well what don’t they write about? Homeschooling…adoption…weight loss…divorce…education…loss of loved ones….milestones in their kids’ lives… exercise… tantrums… stepfamilies…IVF…Costco adventures…sex…(yes, we have a little of that in our blogs, too, occasionally!) We are so fortunate to have so many voices sharing their parenting journeys with us and, newsflash: if you have a flair for writing and want to blog for us just email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

But back to the Top 10 idea. I mulled it over a little more, slept on it, worried a little more. Needless to say, since you are reading this, I came around. I decided that yes, while I love all the bloggers and all of them are fantastic people who write amazing things and put themselves out there for our community, there is no doubt: some of their posts have hit gold, and they deserve to be acknowledged! Also? You readers deserve to revisit some of your faves!

With no further ado, let me present for you the



  1. The Plus Side of Plus-Sized Pregnancy (Tori's Stories: A Doulamentary)
  2. The Best Advice I Can Give Women Who Choose Divorce (Mouthy Mama: The Journey of Raising O)
  3. Can Fat Be Sexy? (Fat Girl, Skinny Genes)
  4. An Adoptee's Point of View (My Stomping Grounds)
  5. Love FXBG (Pink Ribbon Journey)
  6. Please Don't Teach My Child That Word (The Sweet Life)
  7. To All Mothers of Stillborn Babies: We Remember (Mouthy Mama: The Journey of Raising O)
  8. You're a Doo What? (Tori's Stories: A Doulamentary)
  9. Well, Hello, Aunt Flo! (Pink Ribbon Journey)
  10. Scooter Town and Sidewalk Chalk (Dier Mama)

But there’s more! We also compiled the

These are posts that you all continue to click on and read, even years after they were first published. They are truly classics…if you haven’t seen them yet, this is your chance!

  1. Top Ten C-Section Tips No One Tells You (Must Love Babies and Kids)
  2. Battle of the Diaper Pails: Diaper Dekor Plus vs. Diaper Genie II Elite (Baby Talk Moms)
  3. Faceplant (Dad, Party of One)
  4. What Happened? (Finding Happily Ever After)
  5. Our Family Bedroom (Not So Average Momma)

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Awareness and Acceptance

Today was hard. There is no other way to put it into words. I can't tell you the frustration and disappointment that I felt when we were told Gavin would not be able to get his haircut today. The stylist did try and sugarcoat his refusal with an attempt to convince us that it was for Gavin's own good; his behavior places him at risk for being harmed. This same stylist has cut Gavin's hair three other times and every time we were in the salon he told us the next one would be better.

I truly believe today actually had the potential to be Gavin's best haircut too, but the stylist would never get to see that success. Gavin actually calmly walked into the salon. He sat in the chair frustrated and said no haircut, no haircut, but he wasn't screaming.

We built trust and rapport with this man. We told him on our first visit with him that Gavin had Autism and he reassured us not to worry. He encouraged us every time it wasn't that bad. So I can't figure out why today he turned us away.

We have attempted to go to this stylist three other times this summer, but he was off or on vacation all of the times we stopped by; it's a Supercuts and you can't make appointments. We thought about going somewhere else, but ultimately waited (and grew out Gavin's hair) because we knew he would do a good job with Gavin. Not only that, but we didn't want to start the process of a looking for a new stylist again. I didn't want to have to explain Gavin's dislike for haircuts to another salon and hope the new stylist would be patient with us when cutting his hair. I wish the stylist at Supercuts had told us at the last appointment that he didn't want to do it again. At least then we would have known that we had to look for a new salon. We still would have been disappointed, but we would have moved on sooner.

One month ago marked the two year anniversary of Gavin's diagnosis. August 13, 2013, will be a date that stays with us for the rest of our lives. Every time we feel like we have made progress something pushes us back and reminds us that these struggles are not going away anytime soon. The feelings/emotions that I felt that morning at his pediatrician's office are still so fresh in my mind.

There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do. - Temple Grandin

gavin poconosThat's not to say that progress hasn't happened in the last two years. It was only nine months ago that I was writing about my desire to hear Gavin speak. I was so scared that he could be locked inside his own head forever with our family's own secret language, but now we talk everyday. Some days he's yelling as any toddler would do, other days he's telling me he loves me and screaming that he will miss me when I drop him off at school/daycare. There are no words to express my happiness when I hear his sweet adorable voice.

It's amazing though that finding Gavin's voice has made people act like he is cured. As if the only thing that was placing him on the spectrum was his speech. It's very frustrating and difficult to explain to people that yes we are beyond excited that Gavin is finally talking, but we are not going to minimize the other daily struggles that are still with us.

There are still an abundance of obstacles that we have ahead of us. The challenges we continue to face some days makes it feels like we are reliving August 13, 2013 over and over again. For instance, I still can't get him to change his shoes, the brands of foods he eats, the type of diapers he wears, or taking it even one step further to use the bathroom. Haircuts were something we thought we were slowing starting to figure out with him, but now we are back at square one.

Earlier this year we were interviewed for a training video for teachers working with special needs children. One of the questions the interviewer asked me was what I hoped for Gavin when he's older. I struggled with that question and still do as I honestly don't know the answer. Obviously I want him to be able to assimilate into society, to be strong, independent, and not need therapy the rest of his life. However, right now that's too far away to imagine what the world will be like for Gavin and how he will function in it. We have to focus on the day to day right now and not get lost in the big picture. Incidents like today also show me it is so much more than preparing Gavin for this world, but it's also about teaching this world about Gavin.

These are the thoughts that I have to wrestle with every day. These are the thoughts that still keep me up at night, make me tear up, and sometimes actually break down and cry. I have learned so much in the last two years about autism, about myself, and about the importance of family. It is so important for us to be one unit that understands that we are stronger fighting the fight together than apart.

walk autismIn a little over a month we will participate in the Autism Speaks Walk for a second year in a row. Today I was reminded why we walk. We walk to raise awareness about Autism. We walk to create an understanding that will hopefully one day lead to acceptance. We walk in hopes of seeing a world where individuals can learn to embrace and appreciate differences.


For more posts from Shawna visit

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Facebook: Does It Make You Crazy, Too?

Is it just me, or is does Facebook sometimes bring out the worst in you? (ditto for Twitter, Instagram etc...fill in the social media platform where you have the strongest love/hate relationship; I'm going to use Facebook for this post).

Before I get started, let me admit that Facebook can bring out the best too. Helpful tips, birthday greetings, advice and nice comments on photos are a regular part of my Facebook experience, and of yours too, I hope.

But. There is the dark side. And no, I'm not talking about the political/religious arguments you can find yourself drawn into or witness your friends participating in. That is too obvious. What gets me is, first: the people with 1,439 friends. WHERE DID THEY FIND SO MANY "FRIENDS?" WHO EVEN KNOWS THAT MANY PEOPLE? And if it is possible to know that many people, why don't I know even a quarter of that number? Do I live under a rock? I'll answer that for you: Apparently, yes.

So there are those uber-popular folks on Facebook. They are the first problem. It is possible to feel inferior and resentful just looking at the number of friends they have. But it gets worse. By worse, I mean that random person, you know the one, who posts a photo of a pile of folded beige towels and gets 37 Likes. What gives? WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE A PHOTO OF BEIGE TOWELS? If I tried that, ha! I would be lucky to get one Like and it would probably come from my mother.

To some extent, I know, the number of Likes a given person gets is a numbers game. If Miss Beige Towel Photo has 1,000+ "friends" then 37 really isn't such a huge percentage. But sometimes this remarkably popular person has an average number of friends (whatever that is; I figure average is within 50, give or take, of what I have. You probably figure it the same way. Which means it is an entirely subjective and ridiculous figure, right?!).

I find myself staring at the photo, wondering what is so magical about this person or this photo. Is it the witty caption? I review it. It says something basic like "Finally folded the towels!" That can't be it. I am mystified. If they get comments, I am beside myself. COMMENTS? ON BEIGE TOWELS? WTF, PEOPLE, WTF? I put up a MUCH BETTER, not to mention WITTIER update just a few hours ago and despite my frenetic checking (and prayers), the number of Likes has not risen past 4.

4 vs 37, c'mon! What is going on here?!

I never feel more middle school-ish than when I am sucked into this vortex of low self-esteem and comparison thanks to social media. You'd think I'd have some sense and take a break from Facebook at this point, right? That's what you would do, I bet. Well, you are obviously a much smarter and more mature person and have much better self-control than I do, because I just keep on scrolling down my newsfeed, looking for more punishment.

As I scroll, I start to get even pettier. I see a cool photo posted by my Facebook Friend Danielle and get ready to Like it but then I realize "She hasn't Liked anything of mine in like, forever. In fact, I don't think she has ever, ever Liked anything at all on my page, let alone commented. Screw her! I'm not going to Like her stuff either, no matter how cool it is!" I'm some friend, huh? Yes, it's at moments like this that I feel like a real jerk. But yet I keep on scrolling, watching a video here, Liking a status update there, maybe even commenting to a couple of posts (if the poster has met my definition of Facebook reciprocity, that is).
A few moments later it occurs to me that I haven't seen anything on my feed from my buddy Felix in a long time. What gives? Is Felix OK? Is he still on Facebook? Or has the worst occurred? No, I don't mean his demise. I search for his name and his page, or rather a bare outline of it, pops up. I am informed that "To see what he shares with friends, send him a friend request."

FELIX HAS UNFRIENDED ME. This is it: THE WORST. I have been dissed and dismissed and to add to the insult, he originally sought out and friended me!! Again I am all WTF?? Did I accidentally offend him? Do I post too many cat videos? Too many photos of my kids? Why did he Friend me, only to Unfriend me a year later?

I try to rationalize: it took me a good three months or maybe more to notice Felix's disappearance from my online life, so it's not as if he was a huge part of it. But still my inner voice whines, but still, it's not FAIR! Why did he Unfriend me? Why does anyone Unfriend me? Am I not a fun, popular, cool kid, I mean adult? Again, I will spare you the need to answer this: Apparently not. Or at least not in Felix's view. Or maybe he was just doing some Facebook housecleaning and tidying up his Friend list. I get that; I've done it a few times myself. Nothing personal, but I have Unfriended a few people over the years. In fact, I tell myself, I'm long overdue for a little purging myself and so I hit my Friends list. Ten minutes later, I have culled a few names: people whom I barely remember, a few who merely lurk, the usual suspects.

Sitting back, feeling satisfied, I glance at my Friends number. DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, now my number is farther away than ever from a being a high number, a cool person number, a number that indicates that I am even a little bit popular! What was I thinking? Can I get those Friends back? Can I Friend some random strangers so that I don't look like an even bigger loser than I did before my impetuous and ill-advised purging session?

Speaking of random strangers, you don't mind if I Friend you, do you? I mean, you've read this post now, and so we are practically BFFs, right? And I really need to get my numbers back up!

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My Kids' Superhero

Happy Father's Day!

This year, like many of you, I woke up and celebrated Father's Day with my family. My kids and I showered their father/my husband, Doug, with homemade gifts from coffee filter art to cards!! I sprinkled in some other gifts just to show him how much we appreciate him and then we headed out for a crazy family brunch at a local restaurant.

Shawna family

Father's Day is important for many reasons to all families, but for Doug I feel it's a remarkable day to celebrate the selflessness he shows every day for his kids. Being a parent is no easy job and being a special needs parent makes the task at hand ten times harder some days. It's not relaxing to wear all of the hats he needs to wear for our family. Based on sheer strength alone, Doug often ends up being the muscle when we need Gavin to do a less preferred activity. For instance when Gavin needs a haircut or has to change into clothes for a more formal event, Doug is the one who has to physically hold him down. The last time we did this, about a month ago, Gavin wouldn't go near Doug for an entire day. He would walk up to me and say "no love, daddy". I could visibly see the pain in his face and the heartbreak he felt from these words. Even so, he knew he did what he had to do to get Gavin a haircut.


Many people assume the responsibility falls to the mom to take care of the child for doctor's appointments, school visits, etc. However, that is not the case with me and Doug; we have a team approach to everything. We attend doctor's appointments together and share all of Gavin's pick-up responsibilities. Before Gavin was in school Doug used to take Mondays off to spend 8 hours of therapy appointments with him. He was one of the only dads attending the play groups, but he went with question or resistance. He always puts our children first.

Doug KendallThe other important piece to Doug's role as a father is for our amazing and beautiful daughter, Kendall. I used to joke that the two of them were like oil and water. You couldn't put the two of them together without some disagreement developing, even when she was only two years old! Nevertheless, over the last year I have watched an amazing transformation; I have observed Kendall realize she is daddy's little girl and that he will do anything for her. The last four years Doug has established a tradition of taking Kendall out every Valentine's Day as his date. It has become so special to both of them. This year she told me that her favorite month is February not only because it is her birthday month, but also because it is her date month with daddy!

Doug and I have equally stepped up our game with Kendall over the last two years. We never want her to feel left out because so much attention is given to Gavin. We ensure that she is consistently receiving extra time and rewards with both of us. She has the biggest heart and we would never want to change that about her. If we didn't devote the time and energy to making sure she was included she could very easily become resentful to all of us. Finding a balance is not easy, but with amazing kids like ours you make the time even if it means sacrificing something you wanted to do. Their nightly routine now is to read Elephant and Piggie, books by Mo Willems, before bed every night. They fight over who will read which parts and I see remnants of their old arguments

When Doug proposed to me in 2003, even though I thought he was breaking up with me (the proposal definitely deserves its own blog post one day), I knew this was a man that would make me laugh for many years to come. I could have never envisioned what our life would be or the struggles we would have together, but I was right about laughing together. Sure there are days that we fight; what couple doesn't?! There are moments we feel like no matter how hard we push to be strong, make a difference, be an advocate, the end result is the same, one new fight after another, and sometimes you just don't want to battle anymore. However, we strive to pick each other up; we find the strength when the other can't. I never realized what our partnership would develop into during our early twenties, but now I can't imagine this journey with anyone else.

Doug and I sacrifice a lot to make everything work for our kids; date nights, vacations, etc. are just non-existent for us. However, when I look around, I am never alone. I have the man who promised to be by my side there for me; fighting this battle called parenting together. I knew he would be a great husband, but I had no idea what an amazing father he would become. Watching his love for our children is the best gift I could be given. He is their hero and he will do everything in his power not to fail them. If that's not love then I don't know what is!

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What a Difference a Year Makes

liub logoA year ago, on April 1, 2014, I let my guard down and allowed everyone in my social network to have a glimpse into our life with autism. I had been uneasy about putting anything on social media. There were already people who knew he was diagnosed, because they were family, friends, or co-workers, who would consistently tell me Gavin didn't have autism. I kept thinking I couldn't handle it if I revealed his diagnosis and then was hit with endless comments about how he was fine. I have to say though, reaching out to everyone last year was one of the best decisions I ever made; in many ways it made me stronger. In the last year I have found so much support and love from friends near and far. I have found our Altenburger cheerleaders; I found Gavin's fan club!


Certainly there are still people out there who provide their two cents on his diagnosis and there are people who judge us for talking openly about him through my blog. I continue to have people tell me he doesn't look like he has autism, that we are over-exaggerating his delays, or that he's just behind because he is a boy. Nevertheless, I am stronger now than I was a year ago and I have been able to ignore their toxic comments. The list of people that are not accepting of his diagnosis is a short one. Conversely, the number of people that continue to cheer Gavin on and our family is extremely large and those are the individuals I choose to focus on and listen to daily. I am an advocate for Gavin and our long lists of cheerleaders/supporters are mine and Doug's advocates!

shawna fam

To know Gavin is to fall instantly in love with an amazing little boy. Sure the blonde spiky hair and sparkling blue eyes pull you in first, but it's his amazing heart, compassion, and thirst for knowledge that make people instantly adore him. I know this to be true from the tears his therapists shed when they said good-bye to him in November. Likewise the e-mail we received from his preschool teachers on his first day of school which said, "We wanted you to know we have already fallen in love with your little guy!"

love youA year ago I was hopeful that one day I would hear my son's voice. He had a limited vocabulary at this point and was still considered non-verbal. People would tell me to be careful what I wished for, because once he starts talking he'll never stop! That wasn't funny to me though. Didn't they understand that's what I wanted? Sitting with my 2.5 year old son, I would watch other kids tell their parents they loved them. I yearned for that same affectionate phrase to be said to me, never knowing when that day would come. It's a privilege to say now that I am lucky enough to hear Gavin tell me every day, "I love you, mama!"

This year started another chapter for Doug and me in the world of autism, one that we did not experience in our first year. When Gavin started preschool he was placed in an autism-exclusive classroom. This was our first experience seeing other children who were on the spectrum. In one of my earlier blogs I wrote a post about how I was told each child with autism is different. I couldn't believe how true this statement actually was until we met Gavin's classmates.

There are general similarities, which I am sure is how each of them received the diagnosis, but there are such varying degrees of personalities in his classroom. I remember arriving to pick him up the first week and seeing one of his classmates argue with his father about why he didn't bring the stroller. His speech was so clear, so perfect; I spent a moment wishing that was Gavin.

Then in that same encounter, I met another classmate. I saw a young boy who was almost completely non-verbal. He does not say much and has been in the classroom for two and a half years. He makes sounds, gestures, and can read, but has very limited words. My wish above for Gavin to be more like the first child made me realize how grateful I should be for where he was. It left me feeling guilty for comparing him to another child rather than being proud of all that he had accomplished thus far. I thought to myself that the second child's parents probably wished their child had Gavin's level of speech.

Parenting in the autism world is hard. You want to be happy for your child's achievements because they take a lot of work and effort to achieve. However, I personally often feel sad, when I see other parents working just as hard and they aren't receiving the same results with their son or daughter. I have to try and not get lost in that sadness though and remain excited for all of the great things Gavin is doing. Special needs parenting is a lifestyle. It's certainly not a lifestyle we chose for ourselves, but it's one we have adapted to and will continue to adapt to for the rest of our lives
Our Journey with Autism. Shawna Altenburger (

gavin sister

About Shawna:

I am an Ohio transplant who moved, with my husband Doug, in 2007 to Boston, Massachusetts. We are parents to two beautiful, talented, amazing little kids, Kendall (6) and Gavin (3). In August 2013 our lives forever changed when our son was diagnosed with autism. Later that same year we found out our daughter was also exhibiting traits that fell within the spectrum, although she did not qualify for an official diagnosis. My blog highlights our ups and downs as special needs parents. It functions as a memory bank for us and hopefully as a resource for other families and friends.

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Trains, Planes and Automobiles Kids' Race Series


From a small beginning, Cathy Weise of the Ron Rosner YMCA has developed an ambitious three-race series for kids for this summer, with the help of The Great Train Race, Shannon Airport, Dominion Raceway & Entertainment, the Fredericksburg Area Service League and Race Timing Unlimited.

Great Train Race Director Jennifer Taylor was one of the first on board.