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

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

 

Dear ‘Same-Abled’ Mom from the ‘Autism’ Mom You Met at the Gym Yesterday

  • 11:11 p.m. This is what I get for having coffee at 8:30 p.m.
  • No Coffee. What’s wrong with this picture?! 
  • Dave Matthews Band. “Let’s not forget these early days…”

Waldwick, NJ

Dear Same-Abled, Typical, Normal, etc. Mom,

mother-3312105_1920While I was blow drying my hair in the women’s locker room mirror at the local family gym yesterday,  you and your 2 girls came in from the outdoor pool. You opened a locker behind me and tried to get your daughters into dry clothes. Your kids resisted.

I tried NOT to smile, but I couldn’t help myself. The exchange – right down to your firm, somewhat exasperated tone – brought back memories. I turned around, smiled, and commented that my son was just has hard to wrangle into dry clothes at that age. You chuckled. I asked what the girls were doing for July 4th and you jokingly said, “a nap”. I replied that my son was 17 now and my upcoming afternoon entailed cleaning his room.

Then, without quite knowing why and completely unable to stop myself, I risked offending you by blurting out my first-ever piece of unsolicited parenting advice:

“Treasure even the exasperating moments. Someday you’ll want them back.”

I wished your girls a happy July 4th. You wished me the same. I could tell by your tone you weren’t offended, but you did think my comment was odd.

I didn’t mention “autism” during our 30 second conversation, and even if I had, it is not incumbent on others to instantly understand how Autism feels. If I want someone to know what being an Autism mom is like, I have to explain. I didn’t. If I had explained, you might have understood where my comment came from.

You might have realized I treasure every moment I have to pull out my firm, bordering on discipline, restrained voice with my son because those are the typical arguments that have nothing to do with Autism. In my case, they usually revolve around forcing my kid out of his room and off a video game console.

35w_autism_mom_quotes_aYou might have figured out I was secretly jealous of and simultaneously berating myself for being jealous of the clear, intelligible, expressive voices of your girls, because my son isn’t able to speak that way.

You might have understood that to me, a child taking up a whole locker room bench isn’t even a thing. I’m worried about public meltdowns over the wrong type of pizza.

You might have recognized my haste as I shut down the hair dryer and wrapped my too-long bangs around a curling iron for what it was: fear of not arriving at my son’s house at the exact time – to the second – he expected me and destroying an entire day as a result.

You would have known that the dark circles overcoming my hastily applied concealer were the result of late nights searching the Internet and wracking my brain for a way to give my son some relief from anxiety he’ll feel the next time his red shirt isn’t clean on a Monday.

You might have realized that in the three minutes it took me to blow dry my hair and spray my stubborn, uncurling bangs into something ruly, I saw the possibilities in your girls’ futures that do not exist in my son’s present. If so, you would have known instinctively how badly I wish I could change his present – and future.

None of this is your fault.

You probably would have, had I mentioned autism, looked at me with some level of sympathy. You wouldn’t have understood I don’t view autism as something to be sad about. Despite all of the things I just mentioned, I only want the child I have, exactly the way he is.

I don’t want my son to be typical. I just don’t want him to feel hurt that he isn’t.

20160401_aam_590x290_postIf you must do something, teach your girls to not bat an eye at the kid in school who doesn’t make eye contact, mumbles, or maybe yells when pizza is served the day the school cafeteria menu says grilled cheese. Abolish the words “Special Ed”, “Sped”, and “Short Bus” from a high schooler’s vocabulary.  Teach your girls to say hello to the socially awkward kid in the self-contained class like they are saying hi to one of her friends.

Above all, treasure every parenting challenge your typical girls send your way. Rejoice in the times they try your patience. Cherish the almost daily fights about curfews, too much makeup, and the occasional bad grades that will be part of their teenage years.

I wish I could be so lucky.

–CMR

1:18 a.m.

Chasing Mary

  • 5:17 p.m.: T2Mary: 2 hours, 23 minutes
  • Red House Iced Coffee: I’m at a coffee shop in Keene, NH. “Local brew” takes on a whole new meaning to javaholics such as myself.
  • Ambient College Town and Instrumental Coffee House Music: I’m in the center of town, parked in front of Brewbaker’s Cafe’s front window. Traffic is noisy outside.

img_2286.jpgI need to eat. A cup of skim milk and two protein shakes do not comprise any sort of nutrition, even when combined with coffee and daily multivitamins. I also need to update my “character sheet” for my Dungeons and Dragon’s run tomorrow. Oh yes, and there’s the townwide garage sale, which I’m participating in.

Unfortunately for my stomach, and my Level 2 Barbarian, I’m a writer. The urge to write overrides the need for food. Eclectic New England college town, classic main street, coffee shop, kiddo at home, chilling in his room and sounding cheerful… these are the things the writer in me craves.

I’m also hoping Mary Chapin Carpenter, who is performing next door in just 2.5 hours, might amble in for a cup of coffee. Highly improbable, but a folk fangirl can dream.

I’ve been “running away from home” a bit lately. In mid-April I spent a day in Somerville, MA, getting new ink on my left shoulder and chilling out at a coffee and board game cafe. Two weeks ago I drove up to Lubec, Maine, the easternmost part of the United States for a weekend. Here I am again, in an almost remote part of New England.

It’s not that I don’t love my husband, or spending time with him, because I most certainly do. I’m just chasing Mary, or, more accurately, Maria.

Me.

The Maria in “Maria Cristina” or “Cris” has become integral to my quest to find, or rather accept, myself before I turn 50. I know who I turned out to be. I understand what the first five decades of my life have shaped me into. The first two lines of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s I Take My Chances sum up my entire life perfectly:

“I took a walk in the rain one day
On the wrong side of the tracks..”

They definitely define the mother I turned out to be. Walking on the “right side” of the tracks would have me in New Jersey, living with my kid, or, if I couldn’t do that, at least not helicopter mom-ing from 200 miles away.

I never set out to “tempt fate” or to tell it “fate, don’t tempt me“, that’s just how it worked out. No matter the potential consequences, I take my chances. I’ve crossed lines with words and wire, and yes, both have cut me deep.

The challenge has been not to cling to remorse or regret. I’ve never quite learned that part. It’s not the mistakes you make that define you. It’s how you set about fixing the genuine mistakes you make. It’s also about knowing the difference between real, live mistakes, and the regrets you have over choices you made that seemed right at the time.

Chasing Mary – learning to live with the person I’ve become, the mistakes I’ve made, the choices I made, fixing what I can, accepting what I can’t, and NOT looking back over my shoulder.

As the song goes, forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt, not even to yourself…

Fine fine stomach! Enough already. I’ll feed you! No fair dragging the blood sugar into it!

–CMR

Keene, NH
6:05 p.m.

 

Back on the Highway…as a Brunette

  • 11:53 p.m. What am I doing up this late? I have to be at the office in 7 hours!
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Coffee. Fully-leaded java…so much for sleep.
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter: The Middle Ages. Soothing folk music might help.

The Mother Rogue, formerly (Various Shades of) Blonde Nonsense, is back. I took the site down last August as part of a comprehensive, job search-related, social media scrub. I didn’t want Google telling prospective employers I am a long-distance Mom who makes Saturday morning sojourns to New Jersey every 4 to 6 weeks. I didn’t want a Vice President or HR Manager reading about my Autistic son or learning that I attend IEP meetings via teleconference. I was afraid having a special needs teenager might imply I am not 100% focused and dedicated to my job.

mother-1619054_960_720

I actually sat in interviews and debated mentioning I am a Mom. When asked, I’d try to gloss over the question. When I was hired at my current job, I put my son’s baby picture on my desk and tried to ignore the topic of children with my co-workers.

After exactly 8 months, 6 months into my current gig, The Omen pointed out that my glossing over anything was ridiculous and my attempts to ignore the fact that I had a son were outright hysterical. I think Taller Half  actually laughed out loud.

Both my husbands – TheEx and The Omen – are evil geniuses. Since 1993, I have sent a spouse out the door to the office with the admonishment, “Play nice in the sandbox. Not everyone else can do what you do.” I’m doing humanity a disservice when I concede one of them is right about anything. What will happen if they’re wrong one day?

Where IT and Tax Law are concerned, I think I’m fairly safe.

Sooo yes, The Omen is right. My son is my heart and soul. Good luck not talking about him for two minutes, much less an entire job interview or a full workday.

Being a long-distance mom to a child on the Autistic spectrum is also what drives me to be successful. Years of research into Autism and programs to help my son have made me resourceful. The strong voice I have developed through years of advocating for my son has made me a solid team leader.  Making time to travel to New Jersey and scheduling those teleconferenced IEPs around proposal deadlines has honed my time management skills. Finally, because I do not have to take off early for after school events or partake in morning carpools, I have more time to dedicate to my career.

Motherhood is what makes me good at my job, and I like to think I am.

I changed the blog’s title because 5 months ago I finally gave in to my natural hair color, which has not been blonde since I was my son’s age.

Welcome back to the Mother Rogue. The latest in a series of trusty Toyota’s is hitting the road. Fasten your seatbelts…

–CMR                                                                                                                                                         1:15 a.m.