[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