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Paths Diverge A son's quest for independence enables his mother to Pursue her passion.

Life never goes exactly how we anticipate. It's full of ups, downs, wrong turns, and running out of gas. Karey Riddell and her son, Wesley Smith, have been right beside each other, on an unexpected ride, for Wesleys entire life. Riddell started noticing small differences in Wesley within his first two years of life, but they did not receive a proper diagnosis for his acute autism until he was five years old. The time between was filled with stress, misdiagnosis's, and guilt brought upon by what was perceived to be poor parenting.

"It was therapist after therapist, doctor after doctor. I listened to one doctor at a very renowned hospital tell me I was just the bad parent," said Riddell.

The problems only intensified when Riddell's husband at the time began experiencing manic episodes, which added tension to their home life. These instances concluded in a domestic violence incident which left Riddell no choice, but to achieve custody of her son and take care of him primarily on her own.

The next few years were full of change. Their home life, family dynamic, and schooling methods were all being adjusted as they tried to make sense of their new reality. One of the biggest changes for Riddell was that all of her time was now being focused on Wesley. Her days used to be filled to the brim with work, PTA meetings, household chores, and other miscellaneous activities. Now, her center of attention, at all times, was Wesleys growth and development. This was particularly difficult for Riddell, because maintaining a sense of control over some aspects of her life helped her self esteem.

"I couldn't control the issues in my marriage really, because it wasn't just me. I couldn't control a diagnosis or what I didn't know with my child. I couldn't control the dynamics of my household when there were so many variables, but I could control, and perfect, what I was doing on the professional side," said Riddell. That safety net was gone and she was forced to adjust without any room for compromise.

As Wesley's gotten older, he is beginning to pursue his own interests, take on more responsibilities, and need less assistance in the process. "It's because of the time spent, and all of the therapy that we did, and all of the time that I spent with Wesley, that he is able to be the Wesley he is right now and do the things he's able to do," said Riddell. With a newfound level of confidence, Wesley aims to tackle one of his biggest goals: getting through an entire school year. This has consistently troubled Wesley because of the typical noisy school environment and the occasional bullying he deals with.

Wesley has loved playing brass instruments since he first began four years ago. Pursuing his musical inclinations have been a driving force for him to attend public school for a full school year because he plans on making a career in the music industry when he finishes school.
"The fact that he's in band amazes me every single time I see him perform. Band is loud, I mean, this is the kid who used to have his hands over his ears when an airplane would be in the sky," said Wesleys mother, Karey Riddell.
When Wesley's not doing schoolwork, or practicing his instruments, he spends a lot of time using his Oculus Rift, a three dimensional video game system. His ability to play the game consistently perplexes his mother because he usually gets overwhelmed when in situations with excessive stimulus.
As Wesley's get older, he has began to take on more responsibilities for himself and his family. "Just like any other teenager trying be independent, it's a big deal for him to do that, and I didn't think we would get here," said his mother, Karey Riddell.
Although Wesley is doing much better at handling his responsibilities, he occasionally still needs help from his mother. Luckily, she has been able to setup an at home office so she can tend to her business and still be there for Wesley.
In a typical school year, Wesley would have an aid with him to help keep him focused on work and on track with school assignments. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this role is now being filled by his mother. "We're trying to figure out what school should be like for Wesley and trying to get services in place. That's a hard journey for any parent whose kid needs special education services, especially when you don't know the exact needs," said his mother, Karey Riddell.
“Our education system is cookie cutter, and he is not. It's a square peg, round hole, kind of thing,” said Riddell
Fortunately, Wesley is still able to attend tutoring sessions at his school, Harrison County High School once a week for two hours, or twice a week for one hour. “Hopefully we'll see what this comes to look like here in a few weeks when they can do two days a week and the rest online," said his mother, Karey Riddell.
"I'm frustrated that it's taken a pandemic to give Wesley the kind of schedule that I think he could thrive in,” said Riddell.

Wesleys continuous growth towards independence is opening up plenty of new doors for him, and also, his mother. Riddell has been able to own and manage her own small business, The Burley Market and Cafe for the last year and a half. "The Burley" sits in the heart of downtown Cynthiana, KY and is part of a larger scale movement to revitalize downtown Cynthiana and stimulate the local economy.

"That was still in me...all of those committees, all of that volunteer work, and all of the things that I was a part of to help Cynthiana," said Riddell.
Owning her own business also benefits her family, because Riddell is able to adjust her work schedule to fit her home life. "At the end of the day, a successful business person can have freedoms of scheduling. I could never have a set job when I have all of these other obligations and responsibilities," said Riddell.
Even though it has been her dream to own her own business and contribute to the growth of her town, Riddell faced unexpected grief when she realized so many of the families who frequent her business have a different reality than her. "I actually had a really hard time when I opened the Burley...seeing families sit down together, having meals together, kids eating what their parents were eating, and I didn't have that," said Riddell.
At times, she also must juggle both of her jobs at once, causing her to not perform to the level which she desires. This can also have a negative effect on Wesley, as sometimes he feels he's not able to get the help from his mother that he wants. "I'm feeling distracted because not only am I having Wesley coming to me with questions or needing help with something, I've got my staff calling me, or vendors calling me, or issues coming up that need my attention right then and there. So it's just very noisy and cluttered for both of us right now," said Riddell.
While it's challenging enough for her to manage all of her everyday tasks, Riddell still finds time to focus on the wellbeing and betterment of others. A large part of the business model for The Burley Market & Cafe is using locally grown ingredients in the majority of their food items. This sentiment has been a large part of Riddell's life since her teenage years and she wants to help bring awareness to its importance within her community.
Evans Orchard is one of the four local businesses Riddell frequents to supply produce for her business. She firmly believes in supporting her local economy and that there are health advantages to eating sustainably raised goods.
On top of all of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder for Riddell to handle everything on her plate. "Wesley's ever-changing, the business is new, it's just really difficult. You throw a pandemic in the middle of it all, and it makes an already very difficult situation, even more stressful," said Riddell.

The effects of quarantine and social distancing mandates can take a toll on her business, but Riddell does her best to stay optimistic about the current times and acknowledges that even though times are hard, they could be a whole lot worse and she still has a lot to be grateful for.

"That's kind of where I am right now. We don't have COVID. We have food on the table. The dogs are happy. There's still more coffee. We're going to be okay."
Riddell has had to utilize whatever time she has to focus on her responsibilities. Though it can be trying and test her patience, the reason behind her embarking on this path is filled with good intentions. She keeps this at the forefront of her thoughts and it is a driving force for her to keep going. "I hope that the hard work pays off…allowing us to have some of life's pleasures and to give back to the world," said Riddell.
"I want to be able to do all the things that I've set out to do, while having my family know that I'm there for them and that I love them… That my staff and my business know I'm there. That I show up and that I'm able to follow through to achieve that balance," said Riddell
The long hours and hectic schedule can be challenging, but seeing her son grow into himself makes it all worthwhile. "I want him to be happy, but, find happiness within his own skin," said Riddell.
"I just want him to be able to navigate the waters of life and always feel that he is loved and supported and have peace about it," said Riddell
Created By
Zane Meyer-Thornton
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Zane Meyer-Thornton