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.