There is always upheaval in life; there is no such thing as stasis. At least not in my life. When I moved to my current home, I had a lot of change going on. I’d moved somewhere where I knew essentially no one. I’d just quit my job and was trying to figure out the stay at home mom gig. I had a two and a half year old and an almost one year old, both of whom were walking/running, and neither of whom could a) leave the other alone or b) utilize any measure of common sense. Add in the further acknowledgement that Mister Man needed to attend the special needs preschool because the park district preschool just wasn’t cutting it, and I was almost ready to tear my hair out.
I look back at those times now and think about how different things are now. I feel like I have things so much more together – whether I do or not is debatable – and life is so much easier now. Mister Man is fully immersed in his elementary school and has a diagnosis of Asperger’s (which, ha, won’t exist in another couple months, thank you DSM-V) but has progressed and changed and matured in so many ways since then. I’m heavily involved in any number of local organizations and am the one people frequently turn to when wanting to know what’s going on. That’s all good, right?
I’ve adjusted. I’ve adapted. And I’ve regained some of the sanity that I quite honestly lost at some point. Interestingly, as many special needs therapists and organizations and such that exist around me, there isn’t a single support group for parents of autistic children, something that I could potentially have benefited from – and no, I don’t have the bandwidth mentally or physically to start one. I say potentially because I have met some parents who are so lost and drowning in their children’s issues that this defines them. They wallow in it, frequently unwittingly. And I’m not that kind of person. Yes, I need to let off some steam sometimes about issues I’m facing, but for the most part, I just need a shoulder or an ear that won’t judge. Someone who will keep me moving forward and remembering that I am a person in my own right who exists outside my child, selfish as that sounds. That’s what keeps me whole and sane, and that is what allows me to be a better mother.
That is what allows me to spend an hour on a Saturday morning working with Mister Man on his homework, patiently pointing out where the errors are that he’s made – not because he has to be perfect or because I enjoy it but because I know (and he knows) that he made the errors because he was rushing through to be done and not reading directions. If we don’t break this habit when my bright child is nine years old and in third grade, his path when he’s in middle school and high school and college is going to be a lot more rocky.
When I explain that he needs to write out the math sentences for the word problems before he starts working on the problem, he wants to know why I have to complain about every single problem. He doesn’t understand – in that moment – that writing down “Elaine needs __ bags to hold her 48 marbles,” will help ensure that he divides 48 by 6 instead of multiplying it as he has done on the sheet. When we finish his homework and I’ve given him a high five when he remembered to spell “exercise” with a “cise” instead of “sise” in his math homework after we’d talked about and corrected it on his English homework and when he’s gotten high fives for remembering to write the sentences for his word problems on the last page and corrected those errors by himself, that’s when he gets it. That’s when the smile breaks out over his face and you can feel the pride radiating from him. That’s when the habits I want to instill in both wee ones start to take hold and he truly gets it and gains confidence in himself and his abilities.
And he got there only because I kept my tone modulated and patient. Only because once again I held my temper in check as he whined at me about how mean I am and how he didn’t know he’d skipped answering the problem and how was he supposed to figure out that the teacher wanted him to show his work even though it said that in the directions he didn’t read because he thought he knew what he was supposed to do. This is just one morning we got through with flying colors, not that we do so every morning – or afternoon or evening, for that matter.
That patience comes from the moms who I know have been there before me and the ones who I know have it so much worse than I do. Long before Mister Man’s official diagnosis, I was lucky enough to be included in a group of moms locally who all have special needs children. The group would get together once a month or so, just to hang. It was a time when we were with others who we knew wouldn’t be comparing our kids to theirs or bragging about how Johnny just accomplished something we knew our children never would. These were moms who could offer guidance with issues that we were encountering and moms who got it when we talked about what we were struggling with. They didn’t offer pity or sympathy or edge away emotionally.
We had Christmas parties with white elephant exchanges that were a hoot – and where children often weren’t mentioned. We would have dinners out at various local restaurants or girls nights where drinks were more the focus. As the months and years unfolded, we slowly split off from the group. We didn’t need the support group mentality in quite the same way that we had once upon a time. I was lucky to find a solid cadre of like-minded parents who today are my rock. The big group doesn’t gather so much anymore, and that Christmas party hasn’t happened for three years now. Bits and pieces and pockets of us still hang out, ready to bolster each other as needed.
I don’t know what I would have done had I not found my birds of a feather. We never had a fancy name, but we didn’t need one. We just needed each other. Our common thread was special needs children, but in other cases it could just as easily have been daughters who are ballet fanatics or sons who play travel baseball or any number of other challenges or aptitudes. It’s the communities we forge as mothers – and people – that help us develop and keep the grace we need to survive the meltdowns over why we have to make our children correct homework that they multiply instead of divide because they assumed everything was multiplication and just looked at the numbers instead of reading the problems.
And I count my blessings every day. Who is your rock?
In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by the book Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman as part of the From Left to Write book club where we write posts inspired by the book rather than traditional reviews. I have, however, posted a traditional review on 5 Minutes for Books if you want more information on this memoir. I received a copy of the book for review purposes, but I was not otherwise compensated. All opinions remain my own.