[When I Lived With My Son] I Wish I Knew…

  • 9:55 p.m. I wonder if I have time to soak my feet in Tony Moly foot peeling shoes before Leading Man #2 gets home from his bi-weekly nerdfest.
  • Bailey’s Irish Cream: I’m human. I enjoy a drink on rare occasion.
  • Lori McKenna: The Time I’ve Wasted

Time just flies… and you don’t move on you just cry…

Leading Man #1 was only 4 years old when his dad and I divorced, and I relinquished, with both agony and complete disillusionment about what living apart from him would actually be like, residential custody.

You think that after 14 years not being with kiddo every day would get easier.  That goes double since Leading Man #1 is now a fully-grown young man just two short years – and they will be short – from no longer being a surly teenager. When I appeared in New Jersey a day earlier than anticipated two weeks ago, my son dismissed me for the evening. He would absolutely spend time with me over the weekend, he said, but that Thursday he was going to chill out in his room.

Because Autism I was simultaneously ecstatic at the clarity of the communication even as I was dismayed that my son didn’t want to hang out with me.

Despite Autism, my son is old enough to both make and bear the effects of his own choices. I momentarily weighed making kiddo go to dinner with me and then decided against it. I got the hint back in March, when I tried to tell LM#1 how proud I was of him the day before his 18th birthday, when he played “Let it Go” on his iPhone WHILE I was speaking to him on it.

Since making the transition from “joint legal custodian” to “legal co-guardian of a disabled adult” I am feeling a bit more comfortable with not living with my son. Still, there are certain things I wish I knew when I was still married to LM#1’s father, TheEx, and lived with him. If I could travel back in time, I would write it all down in a note, sneak into my hospital room on kiddo’s actual birth day, while I was still in recovery and kiddo was being given his APGAR test, and leave it on my hospital night stand. It would read as follows…

Mother holds the hand of her small son.

Dear 32 Year Old, Newly Minted Mom, Cris,

Today is the best, and most important day of your life. Today you have been given a tremendous gift – the best gift you will ever get: our son. Cherish today. Throw everyone out of your hospital room when they bring our son to you and just revel in being with him.

Don’t stress about what everyone else thinks you should do, or the mother you think other people want you to be. You only have to be good enough for one person: that tiny being you just gave birth to. You already are. You always will be.

Make time for our son. Draw the hard line with your career and every other aspect of your life that he comes first. Jobs come and go. Children grow up fast. Kiddo won’t remember the stuff. He won’t remember the times you punish them. He will always remember the times you were – and weren’t – there.

You already know yourself. Accept that person as she is. Ignore anyone who suggests you should be a different mom than the one you are. Don’t be offended when someone says you should discipline our child more. Roll your eyes at the Mommy-Mafia with their strollers at Paramus Park Mall. That’s our kiddo. He needs the mom you are. You were, literally, made for each other.

Wait an extra year to file for divorce. Try to work it out first. It will give you more time to come home every night, make dinner, do homework, and tuck LM#1 into bed. Make a conscious effort to set aside all that is going on in your life that will bring about that divorce and, again, revel in being in the presence of the human you created.

Negotiate a better visitation schedule with longer and more frequent visits when you do give up residential custody. Fight for it. Refuse to sign that settlement agreement until you have something as close to split custody as Autism will allow. You will voluntarily give up residential custody. Because Autism LM#1 needs the home he was born in, and the school district he is in. Because Motherhood you always do what’s best for our son, even when it breaks our heart.

Go back to court when you move out of state (You’re going to love New England, and the man you follow up there) and refuse to leave the courtroom until you have a revised visitation schedule and an agreement that your future ex-husband will meet you 1/2 way in Connecticut when you visit. Don’t be too mad if you don’t get the last part. The Merritt Parkway will have a direct, positive impact on your driving record. You will see so much  driving stupidity going to and from New Jersey you will finally stop tearing up highways.

Spend every second you can with our son. Do it now before you realize you and his Dad are better off with different people. All that time you spend now will not make a difference when that happens. You will still leave Leading Man #1’s toys strewn around your apartment in between weekend visits. You will still refuse to make his bed after he goes back to his father. You will simply have all of those extra seconds to cherish when you step on a Lego or curl up in his unmade bed.

Don’t waste one second worrying that our son will grow up hating you because of what other people say.  I promise you he won’t. A month after Leading Man #1’s 18th birthday, you will be driving to up to Boston together, and you will suddenly realize that your son judges you by what he sees and has always seen: a parent that loves him and is always there for him.

One last thing…Skip the Camry and replace that Saturn you’re currently driving with a Lexus when it dies. You can always clean up the projectile toddler “I ate too much” vomit, and he eventually outgrows that stage.  On second thought…don’t just yet. Wait until you’ve traveled through Connecticut a few times…

Signed,

The Mother Rogue, aka Your Future 50 year Old Self

 

 

 

 

Dear In-State Parent/Residential Custodian…Signed Your Non-Residential/ Long Distance Counterpart…

silhouette of boy running in body of water during sunset
Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

It’s been a week since my son, Leading Man #1, came to visit me in Massachusetts. For four glorious days, I was, as I call it, “Live and In Person” Mom.

I made pancakes. I did laundry. I administered discipline and punishments. I gave chores. My ears bled at bad teenage angst music. I have never seen my spare bedroom, now my son’s room, door locked. I did for four days.

I treasured every moment.

I still haven’t made my son’s bed yet, or packed up his X-Box. I haven’t folded blankets. I haven’t put his winter boots, which he only needs in New England, in the closet. To me, these are all confirmations that I am Mom. My son lives, at least some of the time, with me.

I did do my son’s laundry and put the clothes I probably didn’t have to buy, that his father would have sent up here with him from New Jersey anyway, away in the drawers of the dresser I keep for him up here.

It will be six weeks before I can see my son in person again. I am counting, as the Zach Brown song says, “the days and the miles.”

I did not lose custody of my son because I was a “bad mother.” I voluntarily gave up residential custody so he could stay in the home, and the school district, with the support system, he already had when I got divorced. I moved to Boston when no jobs that would pay child support appeared in New Jersey.

I speak to my son twice a day. I see him every night on videochat. I travel to New Jersey once a month to see him. I get weekly letters from his teachers and I participate in every IEP and parent teacher conference (ah! the joys of Autism!)

Somehow, it is never enough for me.

I would give my right arm to be the daily parent. I would love to fight the homework fights. I would give anything to have loud teenage angst music blaring 24/7 from an allegedly (my bedroom doors don’t actually have locks, and if they did, I would have dismantled them) locked door. I would take the arguments about wardrobe, and, if necessary, makeup, curfews, and bad grades. I would clean my son’s room. I would do his laundry.

I would take all of the most trying parts of parenting on, just to have the best parts of my son living with me. He is the best and most important part of my life. I miss him every day.

My advice to custodial parents is this: treasure every moment, even the most trying ones. You are there every day. There are hundreds of non-custodial parents who would take your place in a heartbeat..

My advice to non-custodial parents who live near their children is almost the same. Take advantage of, and fight for, every second you get with your child. Luxuriate in being able to attend parent-teacher conferences in person, not just over the phone. Celebrate having your child with you every other weekend. Attend every school concert, art show, and theater production. Again, there are hundreds of non-custodial, long distance parents who would take your place in a heartbeat.

Above all, stay connected to your kids. Never let them think for one second you are not there for them.

Still married parents, custodial parents, and local non-custodial parents you have been given a tremendous, awesome gift every non-custodial parent in your place would give the better part of their lives to have: the opportunity to be a daily part of their child’s lives.

Don’t waste a second of that.
Treasure every moment of being a parent.

–A Mom Who Would Gladly, If She Could, Take Your Place

Welcome To Your Life…There’s No Turning Back

Coming To Terms With The Word “Disabled”

  • 8:01 a.m. Engage “Late for Work Trying to Get Stuff Done Before Jersey” panic.
  • Banana Berry Almond Yogurt Smoothie. I’m attempting to listen to my nutritionist and drink a source of long-term sustainable energy in the mornings. Also, the Nutribullet people lied: the Nutribullet does not easily break apart almonds. 
  • The Mixtape on iTunes Music: 80’s and 90’s music today.

Acton Toyota, Littleton, MA

Sitting in the dealership’s waiting room, which is just behind the showroom, waiting for the mechanics to finish Baby Blue’s standard, pre-NJ and, coincidentally, 105K mile oil change and tire rotation. I always get my car checked out before I go to the Garden State. Just because I’m 50 doesn’t mean my father doesn’t worry about me when I’m on the road. I like to think knowing my car is automotively sound means he worries a little less.

This is probably not the best time to go on Mom Duty. A family member is going in for some heavy duty surgery. There’s a bear of an airport project on my desk at the office. There are freelance writing assignments on my desk and I’ve got until May to start and finish a baby quilt.

…and my fearless Camry needs new front brake pads…!

Tears For Fears definitely got it right…

5134869124_181a4ec9c3_o

I head on over the service desk, sign off on the work order for new brake pads, gasp internally at the bill, and thank the service manager. There’s a reason I run my car into Acton Toyota for a general checkup before I travel. This is it.

One of The Omen’s frequent sayings (whether he knows it or not) is: “There is never going to be a good time…”

Okay, it is always an excellent time to go on Mom Duty. It doesn’t matter what else is happening. I love Mom Duty, the time I get with my son live and in person. I started tracking the weather and counting down the “days and the miles” over a week ago.

This month’s trip is a multitasker. TheEx and I are signing off on kiddo’s guardianship paperwork and special needs trust next week. This needs to be done by the time kiddo turns 18, in just over a month.

The guardianship paperwork establishes that Leading Man #1 is disabled.

Disabled. I hate that word. It simply does not describe the child I have (helped) raise. Disabled is a label. Disabled is how my son presents in comparison to his peers in on educational and psychological evaluations. Disabled is how my son communicates and functions.

Disabled is not who my son is.

Intellectually, I know my son is disabled. However, that disability, Autism, and all it entails are my normal. I don’t think, I just do. Since Leading Man #1 entered high school 4 years ago, TheEx and I have worked through special needs attorneys and advocates (the superlative Karen Edler and Michelle Krone at Price Meese, Schulman & D’Arminio, PC), family law attorneys, the local school system, neurologists, the county special needs team, psychiatrists (welcome to the wonderful world of Autism!) and kiddo’s school (the equally superlative ECLC of NJ) to get kiddo what he needs to thrive. We’ve fought, and talked, threatened, and pushed.

I’ve been so busy advocating for my son, I didn’t stop to think about how I felt about signing the guardianship paperwork. As documentation of my son’s disability, it’s grim stuff. Parents do not see their children the way the law or a child study team does. We see our kids. We do not see scores and percentiles. We see love.

I came close last year, when we signed off on 1 of 2 special needs trusts that need to be established for Leading Man #1. That same day TheEx and I marched into a verbal showdown with Leading Man #1’s psychiatrist and enrolled him in a county special needs program before I took kiddo to my folks’ place to celebrate his 17th birthday. There wasn’t time to think. I just did.

You would think that all of those hours on the road between Boston and Bergen County would have given me time to process this. It didn’t. The drive through, mostly, Connecticut, is my transition from New England Workaholic to New Jersey Mom and back. Time with my son is hard to get. I slowly mentally leave work behind as I travel southwest and the traffic gets denser. On the way back up to Boston I reconcile myself to leaving my son 210 miles away.

In truth, I wouldn’t even be thinking about any of this if I hadn’t just, thanks to the sheer unpredictability of New England winters, been forced off the road for a full two months. I swore I would actually get to know Littleton this year (we’ve only lived here for 9 years now), but still, time is not my Mombrain’s friend.

I also have it easy. I don’t give myself excuses from full-time parenting because I live out-of-state, but given that we haven’t found a portal between Boston and Bergen County, and I’ve yet to encounter The Doctor and/or a blue police box, I miss quite a bit. I can’t be there for the day-to-day. TheEx is the front line warrior. I’m the administrator, advocate, and “don’t make me bring his Mom down from Boston” IEP meeting secret weapon.

That doesn’t make that paperwork any easier.

I wouldn’t have any other kid than the one I have. Leading Man #1 truly is perfect just as he is. I just wish that the legalese wasn’t so stark. It should really say something like this:

“Yes, J. has impairments and will need government services and his parents for the rest of his life. No, he may never get to college. J. is still a vibrant, creative, hardworking individual and a vital part of our community.”

Maybe the lawyers will let me scrawl that as a footnote…

–CMR
Littleton, MA

“And You Ask Me What I Want This Year”

Facebook FundraiserMy birthday is this month, and Facebook keeps asking me if I want to raise funds on the day. Rebel that I am, I don’t plan to raise money for a charity on Social Media for my birthday. Yes, I do support charitable giving. I’m just more of a grassroots kind of girl. I believe a better world starts with ordinary people in local communities. So, if you want to celebrate the day I graced the world with my presence, instead of a donation, please consider:

  • Spending time with the Vets at your local VA Hospital. I’m the proud granddaughter (and high school sweetheart) of career military.
  • Donating those books you’ll never read again to your local library. Libraries are the foundation of our communities. Over the years, books have opened whole new worlds to me, and proved an invaluable resource in teaching me to write.
  • Becoming an organ donor. Just check that box on your license or license renewal. An organ donor saved the life of the friend who introduced me to Leading Man #2.
  • Supporting your local EMT and Volunteer Fire Departments. These people put themselves on the line for you at a moment’s notice. I have friends in two NJ towns who serve in both. volunteer-1326758_1280
  • Volunteering in your Community. Local organizations thrive on local volunteers. Choose a community group in your town. Offer to assist at events. This can be as simple as baking cookies for a bake sale or staffing a table at a bazaar. Become an EMT or volunteer firefighter.
  • Attending a town meeting. Learn what your town is about. Get out and vote for your local leaders. Don’t sit back and let laws be made for you. Be a part of making them. I’m a firm believer in a quote from The American President: America is advanced citizenship. Be an advanced citizen.
  • Supporting Your Local School District. Contribute a couple dollars to that kid collecting for his graduation ball. Thank your kid’s teachers. Yes, we demand a lot from our schools, and our children’s teachers. Ask them what you can do to support them in return. I owe a whole lot to my son’s school and his teachers, past and present.
  • STOP Being Offended. Folks, it’s a big world, and it’s filled with approximately 7.7 billion unique individuals in 195 countries.  We can’t all be the same. Times do change. Baby It’s Cold Outside was written when the late George HW was just 20. We can only thrive by exchanging ideas and traditions. Celebrate humanity’s melting pot and enjoy your holiday music. Learn from the past, but choose carefully which parts of it to address in the present. A trite holiday tune is just that.
  • Practicing Acceptance Without Batting an Eye. In thschool-3720905_1920e end, regardless of the color of our skin, our religion, our faith, how we speak, our profession, sexual orientation, neurochemistry, brain functioning, or physiology, we are all essentially water and carbon. No one should have to raise awareness for acceptance. By now it should be a no-brainer.
  • Being Kind To Each Other. It’s just that simple.

CMR
12/8/2018

23 and Me

  • 12:53 a.m. Oh God! I have to be up in less than four hours for work!
  • Wellesley Farms House Blend Coffee. Yeah, Caffeine is really going to help that insomnia, Cris.
  • Lori McKenna: ‘And May God Forgive the Things I Do, That Puts Even One Mile Between Me And You.’

Staring at this “Personal Genetic Service” test. I’m vaguely curious of the results. I would actually have to open the box and do whatever is required to get them first. I haven’t.

I don’t know that I will. The test seemed like a good idea when both my wrists were screaming as I waited for the medicine that would shut them up at CVS earlier. Now…not so sure.

I know who I am: Mom. Now, forever, always.

I love you Leading Man #1. You are the best, and most important part of my life and I love you.

No DNA test required…IMG_0661

Once Upon a Precious Time

  • 1:55 a.m. I told myself I couldn’t go to yoga tomorrow unless I actually wrote something tonight… and got it up on the ‘Net.
  • Generic Grocery Store Flavored Seltzer Water. Yoga is at 7:30 a.m. No way am I risking coffee now, bummer!
  • Chicago: ‘You are the love of my life…You are my inspiration…’

For nearly 13 years now, I’ve been a non-residential custodian, but there was a time, a precious time I can never get back, when I was residential custodian. I was young, married just over a year and a new mom to be.

My son was conceived on his father’s birthday. I was aware of his conception one missed period, two weeks, three consecutive bouts of nausea, and no less than 5 EPTs later. It took that many to convince myself I was actually pregnant.pregnancy pregnant boy expecting

The ensuing 39 weeks were a gift. I was alone, truly alone, for the first and only time, with my son. Granted this gift was filled with every trimester, all-day morning sickness. It featured swollen feet, swollen hands, and, even worse, restricted caffeine intake.

Pregnancy was also an anxiety-filled gift. I lived in fear of my body’s autonomous systems and the complete, involuntary control they had over the fate of this tiny human growing under my heart.

I cherished every second of those weeks. I didn’t care about the wave of nausea that came over me in the butcher aisle of the grocery store, or the Outback Restaurant, where it once cost me a very good steak. I still don’t mind that I cannot, to this day, drink plain water because I promptly threw up the eight, 32 oz. glasses I drank, in rapid succession, in preparation for my first ultrasound.

For 39 weeks my son and I were, literally, inseparable. It was just me, Mattie, and my caffeine-deprived brain.  I spoke to Mattie while he grew under my heart. I caressed his shoulders and feet pressing up against the stretched-tight skin of my belly. I sang to him. I played the Moody Blues, the Beatles, and Mary Chapin Carpenter on my car’s stereo cassette player for him. I talked to him about the books I was reading.

Even as an embryo, Kiddo inspired me to do things I had always wanted to, or was afraid to. I learned to sew, so I could make Mattie baby clothes. We watched all five seasons of Babylon 5 “together”. I finally read Frank Herbert’s Dune. I finished Dune Messiah, the second book in the series, the night I went into labor.

When my contractions started, they were, for a woman who had had two impacted wisdom teeth pulled by a dentist in his office with minimal Novocain, not very painful.

Call it pregnancy brain: I ignored them. They were coming 25 minutes apart. I reckoned I had plenty of time the next morning to hit the public library and drive back, especially since they weren’t too painful. I would spend the rest of the afternoon reading and waiting for my then not-ex-husband to get home from work before going to the hospital.

children of duneAt 8:00 a.m. I bustled my husband off to work, reassuring him my contractions were only Braxton Hicks…if they were real it would be hours…I would call him if they grew closer together…

That didn’t prove to be a mistake exactly. I did have plenty of time to get to the public library and check out my book, and get home in between contractions. It just turned out the library was a mile and a half – five minutes – from the house my ex and I shared.

I had just finished getting dressed when the first bolt hit. This was painful. This contraction made me want to have my remaining wisdom teeth pulled with no Novocain. When it stopped, I headed to the public library.

When I arrived at the public library, a mile and a half from our house too, another shock wave hit me. I checked out my book, smiled at the librarian, waddled out to my car, and waited a few minutes a third contraction hit. I decided my then not-ex-husband would probably need to eat something before we left for the hospital, and while I was in it after I had Leading Man #1, so I drove to the Stop and Shop half a mile away from the library. In the grocery store, another contraction hit. I paid for my groceries, waddled out to my car a second time, and, as soon as the final bolt hit, drove home.

When I pulled into the driveway, I barely had time to turn the car off.

I called my future ex-husband home.

The rest of the remaining 30 hours are a blur to me until 3:49 p.m. the following afternoon when the child who had been growing under my heart and in my mind for 41 weeks was placed, naked, on my chest.

“Meet your son, Mrs. Miller,” someone – I don’t remember who – said.

I looked down into the most beautiful grey eyes I had ever seen. The rest of the delivery room faded away. I was only aware of the warmth of my son on my chest, and those eyes, staring into mine.

Intellectually, I knew he couldn’t see me. I was well aware of that newborn’s eyes are out of focus. Still, it didn’t feel that way.baby holding human finger

That day, I felt something in me change, almost like my DNA was recoding itself. I was no longer just Maria. I was no longer merely human. I became Mara Jade Skywalker (my “Supergirl” or “Wonder Woman”) that day. I became a fighter, a nurturer, my son’s greatest fan, a survivor, and a protector of my own, no matter the personal cost.

I became Leading Man #1’s Mom.

Since then, I’ve never been anything but.

A Mother Never Rests… Even a Distance Mom…

  • 8:06 p.m. Seeing Leading Man #1 in 2 days… Hate CT, but secretly excited to spend time with my son, even just a few hours.
  • BJ’s Breakfast Blend K-Cup Coffee. I love coffee.
  • Lori McKenna: ‘…Even when she’s laughin’ … Part of her is worryin’ ’bout somethin’ she didn’t do…’

The Duck House, Littleton, MA

I wish my son could hear this lyric:

Here’s what I know
Even when I’m sleepin’
I’m still dreamin’ all about you

Sadly, as it’s not Disturbed, I don’t know that my son would listen. Leading Man #1 grants me a listen of Sweet Child o’ Mine before switching to NYC’s 95.5PLJ when he’s in Baby Blue. I suppose that’s the best I get.

Countdown to New Jersey. Day trip this time. Wasn’t I just there for 2 weeks? My body is begging me to come off the road for at least a month. The Mom in me won’t allow it. If I’m called, I go.

Even when I’m not called, I go. I love exactly two things about NJ in order:

Sorry Mom & Dad.

1200px-New_tzb_before_opening_landscape.jpegTry as I might, I can’t actually stay off the road for more than six weeks. My heart gets itchy. I stop being satisfied with FaceTime chats. I am compelled, almost involuntarily, down the Merritt Parkway.

There’s just no other way to describe it.

I’m not entirely without impulse control. I do have the ability to stop myself from hitting the ‘Mother Road’ as I call it: the interconnecting interstate highways that take me from Boston Metro to NYC Metro.

I very often don’t because the moment I’m across the Tappan Zee – ahem, Mario Cuomo – Bridge, a part of myself I always forget is missing falls into place. I love my husband, my job, and Massachusetts. Still, as soon as I hit the exit for the Palisades Mall, a part of my life I always forget is missing falls into place like the last piece of a puzzle.

That’s the “mom” in me. Despite the fact that I often look at my Facebook posts when I’m in New Jersey and this Meme comes to mind:

Parenting Facebook.png

I know better about myself. I am Mom. I could no more deny that aspect of myself than I could deny that my lungs near air.

I view a 250 mile distance and non-residential custody as ‘minor obstacles’ in full-time motherhood. If someone says “It’s such a long distance!” my instantaneous response is, “I signed up for this. It’s not a big deal.”

It truly isn’t.

I refuse be anything less than a proactive, involved parent (non-residential custodians that do stymie me completely, but that’s a story for another blog). I’m not there for the day to day, but I am there. I never stop trying to find ways to be involved in my kid’s life.  I’m told it would be okay if I did, but I never let myself forget that nearly 18 years ago, I agreed to put another being first, no matter the cost or inconvenience to me.

ap,550x550,12x16,1,transparent,t.u4To me, parenting is a commitment you make when you decide to allow a child to enter this world. At that moment, you agree to do what’s best for that little human, for their entire life. Sometimes that means adoption. Sometimes that means other things. If you decide to raise that child yourself, that means you commit to:

  • Put that child first until they can put themselves first.
  • Take the best care of yourself you can so you can be at your best for them.
  • Always take the higher ground, no matter how old that child gets, or you do.
  • Protect that child to the best of your ability when they cannot protect themselves.
  • Fight for that child to reach their full potential.
  • Never get in the way of and give that child all the tools they need to achieve their dreams.
  • Support those dreams, even if those dreams aren’t the dreams you had for them.
  • Love that child unconditionally, even when they are being the worst possible child they can be (and like parents, children are human and are sometimes hard to deal with)
  • Listen to that child and consider what they say, even when their views are diametrically opposed to your own.
  • Recognize that children grow up, and apart, and build lives and ideas separate from you.
  • Accept and love that child for what they become, even if it isn’t what you would have wanted for them, or what you believe they should be.
  • Never, ever, stop fighting for them until – if – they finally say: “Mom, I got this. I can fight for myself.”

Just over 18 years ago I flushed my birth control pills down the drain. From that moment, it was no longer just me.

I’m human. I’ve made my mistakes. I’ll make tons more before LM#1 hits my age to be sure. Still, that is my kid, and I love him more than anything else in the world. Forever and always, he comes first. Divorce, custody, miles… those are not excuses. I will not let them stand in my way.

So off I go to New Jersey, even though my bones are weary and my Camry could stand a few extra miles.

See you soon, albeit briefly this time, kiddo.

Can’t wait. I love you…

9:07 p.m.

–CMR