When my daughter Emma was born, I pretty much kissed my list of dream vacations goodbye.

Traveling with kids at all, even kids without special needs, is usually pretty different from a non-kid vacation.

Ah, good times. GIF via "The Hangover."


But Emma, who is now 6, has autism spectrum disorder. So traveling to even local places like the grocery store can be tough for her.

Let me be Blunt Mom for a moment: There was a long stretch of time when I would easily burst into tears from the sheer frustration of not being able to go anywhere because of the inevitable resulting sensory-induced tantrums (hers) and tsk-tsk-judging-you stares (everyone's, it felt like). They were an emotional traveling travel tax that was just too high to pay.

A trip to a store for Emma sometimes means "I claw your face and scream until we. GO. HOME." All photos courtesy of Tana Totsch-Kimsey.

But I have another daughter, one who is not autistic and is already earmarking her own "must-see" places.

So when 11-year-old adventurer Julia suggested that we explore the national landmarks and U.S. historical sites of Washington, D.C., as a family (mostly so we can imagine that we are Nic Cage about to crack centuries-old codes and uncover fabulous treasures right under everyone's noses), I didn't want to say no. Plus, this seemed like a slightly more doable plan than her desperate insistence for us to visit the Taj Mahal.

But I was still left with this thought: How can I even do this?

Traveling places with a child with autism or other conditions is daunting.

I've pushed our family to do it before because — honestly — you just can't stay home all the time. A few adventures have gone unexpectedly well. But there were also times I crawled home, wanting to hide from the world for the rest of forever.

The highs and lows are seriously real. GIF via "Tangled."

In this case, I said yes. Why not? And it wasn't easy, but it was worth it.

So I have some not-so-sage advice to all the parents out there: Just do it. You might be surprised with your own capabilities and the amazing human nature of other people.

Here are six things this most recent trip with a daughter with autism in tow revealed to me:

1. Go ahead and panic.

I would say don't panic, but that would feel pat to me. I have anxiety, and I know it doesn't just turn off. And on Emma's worst days, planning a trip across town can fluster me enough to not go.

But there are always going to be reasons to not go, so I panicked. Then I said yes to this trip. What if she gags herself the entire 12-hour car ride? What if she gets away and dashes like a wildcat into the White House China Room and breaks the Wilsons' dining set (obviously the prettiest) and the Secret Service swoops in and...

Well, this is what Emma really thought of the presidential plates:

Maybe all those things you fear will happen. Maybe they won't. Emma actually did break down the first night at the hotel, insisting at top volume, "We go? Car?" while throwing all the things in the room. That night, I found I had more patience than I thought. And all the subsequent nights? The bedtime tantrums tapered, and I learned Emma has a secret power to adapt despite all evidence to the contrary. Surprising!

Whatever happens, you and your kid will figure it out. At least that's what I repeat to myself to get us out the door.

2. Some people leave the judgy-ness and worry at home, and they look happy.

Moment of honesty: I used to be one of those people who judged those other people using child leashes.

The fancy term for what some kids with autism and other developmental issues do is "elopement," and Emma "elopes" with the mystical powers of Houdini. I no longer begrudge anyone using any type of invention that gets you and your child out in the world.

GIF via "Modern Family."

I don't use a leash, but I do have a stroller designed for older kids. It deters Emma in her sport of running off, and more importantly, the hugging-type security of it keeps her calm when I'm breaking her routines. I totally indulge in using it when we go to overstimulation-filled places for her sanity and mine.

And yet — I'm still usually pretty embarrassed about it. More than one parent-type person has baldly said to me, "She's a bit big for that, hm?"

Some days, this gets to me. On this trip in particular, I was holding in a snappy comeback to one such comment when I noticed things: A family was helping a preteen girl in a back brace move around the museum we were at; an older man on a scooter had a foldable wagon attached toting a seemingly unwell but happy toddler; there was even a boy in a setup kind of like Emma's.

Lots of parents are out there helping their kids find a way to do things even if it's unusual, and that is a delightful thing to see — delightful enough to quiet the doubts and the haters. For me, anyway.  

3. I'm actually a little bit glad my kid pulled off that person's headscarf.

Emma is not a "typical" kid when it comes to sensory issues — if there is such a thing as typical. In a crowd, she doesn't shy away from people or objects; instead, she wants to engage with everything and everyone.

This leads to so many super-awkward moments, and I spend a fair amount of time when I'm places with Emma apologizing for all kinds of inappropriate invasions of space. Despite many years of doing this, I still feel a pit of fear and brace myself, expecting a reprimand for not being able to control my kid.

But you know what? (Lean in close: This is a life-changing secret.)

Most people are kind. Actually, really, and truly kind. And understanding.

Obviously I try to keep Emma from grabbing strangers. But when the need to reach out to people overcomes her, the typical response is a smile, a chuckle, a "That's OK!" or — the best — the beginning of a conversation.

On this trip, Emma spotted a woman with a Tiffany blue-and-gold-trimmed head covering and head-to-toe outfit. Apparently, she instantly felt the urge to not only see what the material felt like but also to give it a good yank — nearly pulling the woman down backward — and I was deeply mortified, certain this entire family was going to see the gesture as a personal attack.

I grasped the woman's arm, apologizing profusely, but she was laughing. She addressed Emma with a "Well, hello there!" and assured me she also had curious kids who'd done equally awkward things before. We bonded over common parenting ground. We had a lovely chat — during which I blurted that I had been admiring her outfit and was actually glad for the chance to tell her so — and we exchanged knowing-parent chuckles whenever we crossed paths the rest of the day.

4. Very, very few people say no to a hug.

Emma sometimes gets so enamored when people interact with her that she asks for hugs and gives them with a lot of enthusiasm. It's stressful parenting a child who has zero sense of stranger danger, but it's also a delightful surprise that so many people go in for the hug.

One Smithsonian staffer even calmed my over-apologizing by saying, "Why wouldn't you want to hug a happy little thing like that?" and gave her squeezes until the elevator buzzed for the doors being open too long. A lot of people even told me that the random hug made their day so much better.

5. Sometimes you have to retrieve a toy from a dinosaur exhibit.

With a museum docent standing right there. And a sign that says "do not lean over railing" — much less hoist your mom body over it. While your kid is mourning said toy at the top of her lungs.

But you just do it (and maybe go sit alone on a bench with your frustration and tears for a bit after).

There it goes again.

I'd love to say this trip was all successes — but that's not reality.

Amid the joyful parts, there were plenty of "this just sucks" moments. Emma may or may not have broken (er, lightly damaged) a cataloged artifact at the Natural History Museum. She disliked touring the Senate chambers so much that she gagged and spewed on the floor, and the guide was actually not all that nice or understanding about it. Anytime things were going too smoothly, she would take off her shoes and throw them hard and far.  

But I also didn't die of embarrassment or give up and go home. I did find myself wondering if pushing Emma to her limits just so our family could visit some places and see some things was really even worth it. Was any of it making an impression with her at all? It surprised me to think that way — but then, no person can be expected to always see the sunny side.

6. But sometimes, like Emma, we can all soar among the stars.

I agonized over our trip to the National Air and Space Museum. It was expensive, but my inner space geek really wanted to see the IMAX film about dark matter (Neil deGrasse Tyson? Yes, please!). My oldest daughter wanted to go. My husband was indifferent. And then: Emma. Expecting her to sit quietly through 40 minutes of some pretty hefty and abstract concepts seemed crazy.

But ultimately, I just went for it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson dropping some inspiration, like he does.

The sensory experience of a domed-screen, surround-sound theater was a bit overwhelming for Emma at first. I retrieved thrown items and insisted on "quiet voice" for several moments, wondering if I should bail before people started complaining.

But after a few minutes, I was absorbed in the film — and then I noticed that Emma was, too. She reached up to try to touch the dark speckled screen and asked me, "Star?"

Kids can be excellent tour guides through life.

When you have a kid whose needs demand big pieces of your attention, it can be easy to let that start to structure — and limit — your own life and the lives of people closest to you. I mean, being a sibling to a kid with autism or other disorders? It's gotta be a tough gig, too.

But Julia and her imaginative, ambitious nature remind me daily to do things because you want to do them. She — like Emma — is less concerned with how it will all turn out or what other people will think. There's an adventure in just doing the thing, whatever happens.

And all the other people out there? They're part of the adventure too. The kindness, inventiveness, and empathy of human nature were perhaps the most beautiful things I discovered on this trip.

I hope Julia and Emma both keep that "Why not?" spirit for many years. I hope they can trust that human nature is not nearly as cynical as it first appears. And I hope, most importantly, that their (or my) stockpiled must-see lists don't get dusty again.  

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

This article originally appeared on 07.22.15



"So just recently I went out on a Match.com date, and it was fantastic," begins Dr. Danielle Sheypuk in her TEDx Talk.

If you've ever been on a bunch of Match.com dates, that opening line might make you do a double take. How does one get so lucky?!

Not Dr. Sheypuck's actual date.

Not Dr. Sheypuck's actual date. Photo by Thinkstock.


But don't get too jealous. Things quickly went downhill two dates later, as most Match.com dates ultimately do. This time, however, the reason may not be something that you've ever experienced. Intrigued? I was too. So here's the story.Gorgeous!

Gorgeous! Photo from Dr. Sheypuk's Instagram account, used with permission.

She's a licensed clinical psychologist, an advocate, and a model — among other things. She's also been confined to a wheelchair since childhood. And that last fact is what did her recent date in.

On their third date over a romantic Italian dinner, Sheypuk noticed that he was sitting farther away from her than usual. And then, out of nowhere, he began to ask the following questions:

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

@elenisabracos on TikTok

Look, it’s a sad situation for anyone to hear that Adele will not be gracing the stage any time soon. The beloved singer woefully announced on Instagram last Friday (Jan 21) that her planned residency in Las Vegas “wasn’t ready” due to coronavirus. Half of her crew had been infected, making it “impossible to finish the show.”

But for one fan in particular, who has tried—and failed miserably—to catch Adele live on three separate occasions, the news hit particularly hard. Luckily, her sense of humor proves that any tragedy can turn into comedy gold.

This story, with all its hilarious twists and turns, is quite the delightful saga. And though it doesn’t erase all the gutting disappointments left from pandemic cancellations, it does serve as wholesome entertainment.

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This article originally appeared on August 14, 2016


Time travel back to 1905.

Back in 1905, a book called "The Apples of New York" was published by the New York State Department of Agriculture. It featured hundreds of apple varieties of all shapes, colors, and sizes, including Thomas Jefferson's personal favorite, the Esopus Spitzenburg.






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