There is a large manila envelope still sealed sitting on my desk. No matter how much I stare at it, it doesn’t:
1. Spontaneously burst into flames
3. Take care of itself.
It does not contain a subpoena, a warrant for my arrest or an eminent domain letter. It was not delivered certified mail or by official messenger. It was hand delivered by my 6th grader because the teacher very graciously contacted me ahead of time to ask me how I would like the prior written notice papers from the last IEP meeting delivered so I could sign and return them in a timely manner to the school. It has been sitting and judging me silently for over three months now as it sits untouched. I am reduced to a Pavlovian dog, except my bell is an envelope and my saliva is anxiety. A crippling-can’t-get-any-thing-else-done anxiety. And I rationally know there is likely nothing in that envelope that should really cause this kind of response. But that’s the thing with phobias or irrational fears and trauma response.
Yes…I said trauma response.
Often times prior experience attaches itself to something innocuous and we then pair our previous response with a neutral stimuli and generalize it over time. Caller ID with the school prefix, email and now apparently manila envelopes have become the manifestation of years of battles, blockades and having my already fledgling parental competency called to the carpet.
For me….my defining moment were words uttered in a meeting 7 years in….but 3 years ago: “Its not fair for one (A2) to get more just because of your parental advocacy” (which was agreeable…but in a whole different way given we were discussing data collection that was reportedly correct, not collected by me…and concerning).
It is silly I suppose if you are the one who stuffed the envelope and have no knowledge of my defining moment or my other, more academically impaired child. She certainly must be wondering about the warning likely issued by the elementary school about my hypervigilance, because the experience she is having is the opposite. A parent who is late to answer emails yet bizarrely will parse apart data collection in an IEP meeting….and be spot on why it was taken incorrectly must mess with her own schema of special needs parents. I have learned to become a very hands-off parent in hopes of preserving my own life in the last year. I have a double-decker weekly pill case that houses my capsules of life extending medications that would impress most of the AARP crowd. Yet I am not yet even 50. Years of sleep deprivation and external stress can only wear so long in a genetic cesspool.
So there it sits….but not without words. It screams to me every day over the din of my responsibilities. But I am strong and I can withstand long term, unfocused wailing.
So I leave you with 3 truths….
A. I am human.
B. I love my child more than anything I could have ever imagined.
C. I am preparing for an uncertain future in a time that I will no longer be here to advocate in a world that does not see my child as perfect as I do.
…and there are things that get in the way of of the co-existence of Notions A, B and C.
**Originally posted New Year’s Day 2016. The last 2 years have been harbingers of change, both good and not so good both as special needs families and also as citizens of the US. Every few months, I come up for air to advocate, teach and discuss some uncomfortable truths only to slip quietly under the water again to peacefully watch my children’s lives pass before my eyes. The future looks a bit bleak for those of us who can see retirement years on the horizon at the exact same time our disabled children “age out” of the system and also our parents are elderly enough to run out whatever savings they might have. It is too hard to dance freely on the rails without worrying about the oncoming future barreling down like a freight train. Perspective is always an odd thing, especially in retrospect. I wish all of you the freedom of worry and the ability for mindfulness in the coming year.
A few weeks ago I was stuck in traffic. Albeit Midwest traffic, but a standstill is a standstill. A1 was incensed in the same way any curmudgeonly old man dealing with road lock might with a loud “C’Mon!!!” and a quivering fist in the air. Except he is a 6th grader who was going to be late for religious school. And he has never personally navigated traffic of any kind. I calmly explained to him that sometimes life is quirky. Had we left 15 minutes earlier we might be part of the accident slowing everything down. Or maybe by showing up 15 minutes late he might miss the most boring part of class. For all we know inconvenience is a blessing in disguise.
For all we know.
Netflix is showing the movie Sliding Doors this month (and serendipitously also showing Serendipity, a way more palatable existential rom-com). Gwenneth Paltrow’s life splits off into parallel simultaneous existences based on minor differences in circumstance that alter the outcome of her immediate future.
Ultimately, three things are revealed:
#1The event that changed everything was out of her control, seemingly extraneous and unnoticed by her
#2. Everything that happens happens in parallels whether she is part of it or not
#3. The outcome somehow is going to be the same regardless of the path.
I showed this movie to A1 to drive a concrete point home in the spirit of control and lack there of. I have this funny thing with the idea of omnipotence and omniscience at the same time–a notion that seems cruel to those of us whose minds cannot conform in that manner no matter how much salvation sounds like a cozy deity-down comforter everyone else can snuggle in. It means people like A1 and me are damned from the start because we just CAN’T …and it was planned it that way. Like being forced as a child to hug and kiss a relative even when that relative knows it makes you uncomfortable to do so. All in the name of making that relative feel warm and special. Except what kind of weirdo feels all the good feels by making a child squish their body against theirs against their will? That is why I show Netflix movies to my kid instead of reading parables. I’d rather he believe that people just think he has bad taste in movies than that his life and choices are meaningless and filled with anxiety because his synapses don’t fire in a way that will ultimately please an all knowing being who made him that way. We cannot help thinking about how our moments might be affecting an unknown future.
A2 operates differently. These things do not need to be explained to him because he is only in the present. I am happy because Daddy is here NOW. I am not happy because I want Daddy here NOW. NOW I am happy and screw Daddy because we are on our way to Chuck E. Cheeses. If all is no worse than status quo, then optimism and hope are not necessary if you are only worried about right now. It really isn’t until someone introduces you to unrealized expectations or well conditioned responses that you develop a sense of disappointment, dashed hopes and anxiety of an unknown future.
In recent years A2 has also taken to obsessively asking “what is the time?” and watching any clock either as if it is a piece of art to be analyzed and admired or else as if at any time it might fly off the wall and attack him like the starlings from The Birds. His authenticity and ability for stopping and acknowledging the moment in the the moment, realizing there will be a new moment soon is a gift.
As we stand on these tracks together I think about how Autism has robbed A2 of a regular childhood but probably not because he views it that way but because I do. There is a lot of track already behind him but there is much more ahead and I strain to see the horizon in case a train comes barreling down the tracks…because at some point there will be a train. And there is nothing I can do to stop that. However, A2 only looks at the rails beneath his feet being careful not to trip and he only looks back to look at me. If he were to hear the distant whistle, I am sure he would simply step off the track in that moment so he could watch the train go by. Because my focus is on the horizons while stumbling down the rails, I run the risk of getting my foot stuck between the slats and then panicking thinking about the possibility of the oncoming engine. I am hoping that in 2016 I can continue learning from A2 as I struggle with the concept of mindfulness, especially when the moment seems bleak. I hope for the ability to recognize each moment as unique and not as good or bad and that I can cherish the people and things that are important to me regardless of how time seems to be treating us in the moment.
I just need to remember to point to my wrist and ask “what is the time?” and know that it will be different soon.
I wrote this one year ago today. As all of our social media accounts have thinned the herd so to speak to show posts from people who are more like minded or we have all done so on our own, there are days I still feel the same. But as people reconsider the last year and perhaps have changed perspective, the divide has grown deeper with those who hang on to their belief systems as history and policy begins to unfold. Many of us have been spawned out into political action to protect ourselves and our interests….on “every side” and may have entered territory and conversations we never thought we could have. As I sit here contemplating my words from 365 days ago, there are days I feel the same about shutting everything down but I glad I did not. I spent a good deal of the summer researching , advocating and educating others on the dangers of removing healthcare policy and instituting new policy that would ultimately devastate the lives of the disabled and ultimately devastate the lives of everyone else too. I was able to talk about how Medicaid actually benefits everyone, even the individuals who never need to access it. My tiny social media reach may not ultimately be influential, but when considering the big picture and ensuring all voices are heard, it is hard to know what the ripple effect could be.
Does social media continue to be a huge time suck and anxiety generator in my world? Yes. But the advantage of influence, the scope of message and finding , connecting and forging new relationships took precedence. But let’s face it….we have all been there since adding a blue and white bird or letter F to the screens on our phones and I suppose we at least all have that in common…
My heart is sitting in a basket on my desk next to my computer. I stare at it wondering if I should leave it where it is or if I should shove it back in my throat where apparently it now belongs. I am faced with a dilemma I have fleetingly looked in the eye before but this time I pause much longer as if memorizing the outline of the face of a loved one I may not see again.
I love Facebook. I am like a Pavlovian dog when I hear that DING! and will switch over from work to see whats going on my feed. Facebook is the most existentially layered version of the real world I can imagine. Everyone from my closest friends to those folks who have crossed paths with me for a brief yet meaningful time are there. It’s the place where my elementary school…
Anyone have a ________who works well with special needs kids?
—every special needs parent on every local special needs Facebook page
Last year was the first time in A2’s entire life he got through a dentist appointment relatively unscathed. Sure, at first he flapped and screamed and excreted that sweat stench he does as if he is a sea slug attempting to keep predators away, but ultimately Dr. Nate (not his real name)prevailed with him in the most awesome way. A2 received the first x-rays of his entire life, full dental exam featuring the scrap-y, spinn-y and spitt-y things and actually left the office smiling.
That is the thing with ALL kids on the spectrum. Once you crack the code on how to navigate around or through the anxiety, things tend to go a bit better.
Conversely, the same is true. Once you REAAALLLY approach something wrong, the damage is done and it is going to take a hell of a lot to bounce back from armageddon levels of panic.
Apparently, Dr. Nate and his swoon-worthy dental practices on my autistic kid made more of an impression on me than we did on him because he didn’t remember his approach from a year ago. At our visit today, A2 was visibly panicking/attempting to act cool and Dr. Nate was taking a more gentle and cautious approach. In a red carpet level performance, I loudly proclaimed I was going to the bathroom (office visits tend to go better when I am out of eye shot). Without skipping a beat, Dr. Nate said “Sounds good. I’m going to take a look here at A2’s teeth, but you’ll be right back…So…everything is OK.”
Of course, I was standing right outside of the exam room door and I could hear him firmly reassuring my kiddo. I peeked in to see A2 standing in the corner with a toothbrush and the toothpaste from home and the dentist mopping up his face with gauze. When all was said and done, Dr. Nate said to me, “Can you come back in three months? I think one lesson we learned is it’s best for mom to wait outside. I think next time, I will use a firmer, more direct approach, It seems to work best with A2.”
I thanked him profusely for his insight and patience. He replied “Every kid responds to something different and sometimes even from visit to visit.”
Every kid responds to something different. Even from visit to visit.
Yes, Dr. Nate. You just summarized precisely how to to work with autistic patients. They are all individuals with individual needs and you must be aware of this at every visit. And then you meet them where the are.
Pretty much just like everyone else.
While we are at it….a shout out to all the other doctors in our lives who got it too:
To the orthotist who met us in the back of our van for years in order to cast A2’s feet for braces
To the physical medicine doctor who immediately started using sign language while she talked to A2 when she realized he might not understand her words
To the hospital nurse who spoke directly to A2 to ask him his name, age and where he went to school instead of asking me right in front of him.
Medical anxiety is a serious issue for many autistic individuals. The sensory assault, the inability to clearly communicate and the fear of not understanding what comes next can be overwhelming to both the patient and caregiver. We recently had a specialist appointment where A2 was tearful and fearful. It was suggested we could move forward with the visit in one of two ways. 1. I could hold my 12 year old down by myself in my lap or 2. the doctor and two office staff could bum rush him and they could hold him down on the floor.
I wondered out loud what it would be like if while we were standing there talking and out of nowhere two men twice my size came around the corner and held me down while a third approached me and I wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Boy oh boy….if I wasn’t worried about talking in the hall before, I sure would be from here on out!!
It may seem odd to many of us that a doctor’s office would not be equipped to handle their growing clientele of autistic patients, but really, physicians have a limited amount of time to spend with their patients and many of them have absolutely no specific training in disability. As parents, we take it upon ourselves to make certain we take all the precautions with all the details and do all the educating so an office visit goes as smoothly as possible.
Doctors. Take your lead from Dr. Nate. His approach holds the key to your best success with every one of your patients. Remember they are human, figure out what they need on any given day and then do THAT. Us moms will take care of the rest…..
About a week or so before I turned 32 I realized exactly how selfish I was and just how little impact I had but at the time I kept that to myself. For many years I thought it possible I could one day be a leader. However, my cherubic cheeks, diminutive size, my damaged ego strength and my faulty frontal lobe betrayed me every single time. I was a cartoon character. An adult who looked and seemed like a child in every way. Even while playing grown up in my power suits and single karat ring, the truth was I worked in state funded nursing facilities selling hopes of a dignified death to desperate families. And they believed me because there was a level I understood vulnerability and how to soothe it as only a broken lady-child can.
On this particular September morning I whipped into the parking lot just like I did every morning at about 8:45am. It gave me just enough time to put my mascara on in my rear view mirror and dash across the street to the nursing home to get to my daily 9:00am. As I dabbed the black goo onto my lower lashes, the goofy morning team people were on that local station and broke in to Foo Fighters to let everyone know that some bone head flew their plane too low to clear one of the Twin Towers in Manahattan and crashed right into it. I shook my head and sighed as I twisted the brush back into its cocoon of gel and wondered if ANY adults knew what they were doing. It was a beautiful day in the Midwest, though I am biased to any September day regardless of the conditions. There is something about the promise of autumn as the slow and beautiful evolution into winter that is tangible visually, by smell, by temperature–such a visceral descent on all the senses toward the bleak and desolate blanket of cold and slush. Or perhaps I just appreciate when all good things must come to an end. As the radio duo blathered on, my assumption was that the plane was a small, single engine private jet that clipped the side of the building because the pilot couldn’t find a Starbucks before takeoff. It was worth being late to my meeting to see how this one was going to turn out, so I pulled out my makeup bag to put on the rest of my face.
At just after 9:00am, as I was thinking about cutting the engine, one of the DJs interrupted the other and there was an awkward silence for just a moment…just long enough that it caught my attention and I did not turn off my engine.
“Another plane just hit the 2nd tower. I don’t understand what’s happening.” And neither did I. And neither did the rest of America.
I sat in my car and for the next 20 minutes listened intently to verbal chaos.
I walked through the day room where there were two TVs on different stations but both were playing the same footage over and over. There was no single engine private plane losing the edge of a wing. There was a commercial jet filled with regular people, that tore into the middle of the North Tower and immediately turned to smoke. People on a Tuesday morning, many of which who were also on their way to their next morning meeting. Though there was still no explanation, if you stood long enough to watch all 17 minutes of footage there were certain things you knew you could probably rule out.
“Becky….Becky…can you turn this crap off and put on my shows?” Poor Pearl. She said my name with such certainty and yet my name is not Becky and there were no shows to put on this morning. My heart leaped and sank at the same time as Pearl’s spindly fingers wrapped around my hand. Her wedding bands spun lopsided on her thin ring finger and the diamond dug into my palm. She would never contemplate what just happened and likely 10 minutes from now would not even remember sitting and watching the thousands of sacrificed souls who would forever change history in our country. I wondered if this is what dementia must be like. I stood there watching this tragedy unfold in footage so telling, so horrifying that even after it was over, it wasn’t over as the smoke poured out of each building as if they were chimneys. Papers and ashes fluttered and floated to the ground like the first snow while bodies surreal while airborne sank as if tied to anchors at the bottom of the sea. Footage of chaotic and confused armies of identical living dead covered in head to toe gray soot were wandering trying to find a foxhole that did not exist. Camera crews live filmed authoritative sounding officers standing in the lobby and strategizing their plan. Community servants looking for leadership while nodding heads with axes raised and probably breathing the same sigh of hope I was that there were people who knew what they were doing and there would be an end of the day soon. But then came the first BANG. loud enough that it was audible on the crappy 20 inch TV. The workers stopped talking and looked around.
And then there it was again BANG. And again. I remember none of them moved or spoke a word but they looked to each other silently, uncomfortably. It was that pause that made me know exactly what was falling to the ground over and over outside of those lobby windows.
They went back to talking about how to safely evacuate the higher floors with less authority and I was overcome with that same stillness. And just when I had reconciled the first image of the planes crashing and exploding as the least shocking, it was shown again. Those of us who were not afflicted with dementia or a failing memory felt like we were seeing it again for the first time because now it couldn’t be confused with a bad action film that needed to be changed over to the Price is Right. Now we had an idea of what came after as those recordings from ground zero became reality and unfurled into the collapse of the towers rather than a cut to the harried phone dispatcher who is also try to keep concerned citizens out of the red faced fire chief’s office.
And then life went on.
I had a meeting the very next day with a former employer who wanted to me to come back to them and pay my tuition for graduate school which started the following week. I spoke nothing of 9/11 again. An old colleague was sitting at her desk and I waved to her smiling. She and her husband were important political figures in my city and I can only imagine what went through her mind as I bounced away seemingly oblivious to our hearts in our throats. I didn’t even ask about her son who lived right across the Hudson River. But see…that was the thing. I thought no one knew how to act because I didn’t. It still was far enough away that we could all go on like normalish. I was aware enough to know other parts of the world were much more quietly dealing with genocides and bombings and terror every single day. To assume that American lives are so much more valuable as compared to the rest of the world made me feel conflicted and I wasn’t sure what to do with that even though no one was comparing. I was newly married, had a new job on the horizon and was two years out from a new future and I didn’t want to think about what it meant to have an invisible enemy who could turn my vacation flight into an act of war.
And that is what I told myself.
And then life went on. And eventually it did for everyone else too.
Life wondering exactly how a loved one died or if maybe they would show up some day. Life fearful of invisible people who ‘hate freedom’ and creating terrorists out of neighbors and seatmates in our minds. Life of conspiracy theories about government far beyond just the tinfoil hat people. Life of knowing just how good people can be to one another. Life of knowing just how horrible people can be to one another. And life went on.
How in the world has it been 6 months since I have taken the kids to the dentist? After a rousing success this fall, I thought I’d share this again in hopes we can recreate using my own advice! Any tips or tricks for your kiddo at the dentist?
**DISCLAIMER**. The first half of this is the How Did We Get Here part. The second is How Can You Maybe Get Here part. Feel free to scroll to the second part…I promise you won’t hurt my feelings.
“How’d it go?” I hacked out with the phone resting between my ear and the bed.
“Well,” my husband hesitated, “After he bit through the little mirror thingy and puked all over the dentist she told me that you should bring him from now on since you have more control”.
I usually took A2 to all medical appointments but had succumbed to a virus that resembled the plague and the only thing worse than me having the plague is A2 having the plague. Normally, Mr ATeam and I are a pretty good team when it comes to him but one area I quietly held resentment was having to be the heavy when…
After seeing a thread from another writer today about the topic of trauma response in reference to the state of hypervigilence as special needs parents and all of the universal agreement, I thought I would share this again as winter break winds to a close…..
There is a large manila envelope still sealed sitting on my desk. No matter how much I stare at it it doesn’t:
1. Spontaneously burst into flames
3. Take care of itself.
It does not contain a subpoena, a warrant for my arrest or an eminent domain letter. It was not delivered certified mail or by official messenger. It was hand delivered by my 6th grader because the teacher very graciously contacted me ahead of time to ask me how I would like the prior written notice papers from the last IEP meeting delivered so I could sign and return them in a timely manner to the school. It has been sitting and judging me silently for over three months now as it sits untouched. I am reduced to a Pavlovian dog except my bell is an envelope and my saliva is anxiety. A crippling-can’t-get-any-thing-else-done anxiety. And I…
How we got to December already is beyond me. I feel like I just put up my Halloween decorations on the house and made my contributions to the Harvest party at school, yet the red and green bins from the basement are now out and I am filling out Evite forms and combing Pinterest to figure out what I will ruin three times before bringing it to the holiday party at school.
I am a working mom with a 5th grader and a 7th grader. In the last 7 years, I have:
been a room parent 7 times (including the year I was room parent in BOTH my kids classrooms)
planned 9 Halloween classroom parties and 10 winter holiday class parties.
baked an estimated 1000 gluten free friendly treats for classroom and school wide events.
been a chaperone at EVERY Walk-a-thon, school celebration and field trip (one year at the Valentine’s fair in school I lost a kindergartner….and in all fairness and disclosure, no one told me he didn’t speak English….and I found him…)
volunteered weekly in 4 different classrooms, shelved books in the library for 3 years and worked the cafeteria snack table
sold crappy novelty items no kid NEEDS at the school store weekly for 4 years
stapled, folded, stuffed flyers, envelopes, book fair propaganda, changed out bulletin boards, helped clean the building before summer break, cut out thousands of shapes for projects, hole punched writing projects, graded math papers, labeled book shelves, organized folders, passed out ice pops, redirected children, gave out hugs to kids I didn’t know, tied shoes, located ice packs, made meals for teacher appreciation days
I think you get the picture. An estimated 2000-2200 hours of my time since 2009. Basically….a 40 hour a week job for one full year. I rarely see my child during any of these hours spent at school. And before anyone thinks I am judging the non-volunteer moms, I am NOT a sanctimommy. And no, I do not want a cookie, a prize or personal recognition from anyone. Other than to say this….
I have had to land my helicopter on the roof of the school for two simple reasons. I have a child who doesn’t have the capacity to tell me about his friends and a school that only recently took steps to discussing making that meaningfully different.
This is not an unusual phenomenon. I had a conversation with a special ed coordinator in another school district about this once. She also “lives in the field” like I do having a couple of kids on IEPs. I mentioned this struggle to her at which point she stated “I understand, but at some point, this isn’t the school’s responsibility (to help special needs parents get to know each other). Since I was visiting her district professionally, I didn’t say much mostly because I had a feeling that her IEP-ers at home are verbal.
I didn’t start off this way. I was your regular, run-of-the-mill, elementary school, product of divorced parents volunteer mom. While the 1970s were not known for tales of excellence in parenting, as a child, I was aware of the presence of the other moms who volunteered or were there for events during school. I promised myself I would one day figure out how to be one of the moms who ran the mimeograph machine on Thursdays.
Then Autism came along and and early on I realized volunteerism wasn’t going to be a once-a-week-show-my-kids-I-care kind of activity. My youngest was turning 8 and for the first time expressed excitement over his own birthday. “CHUCHEE CHEEE!”, he exclaimed after I asked him where he would like to have his party. Since he had not been invited to any birthday parties since starting school, I wrote several school staff asking if they could help with names.
The only response I got was from the regular ed teacher with a polite reminder that due to confidentiality, she could not tell us the names of his friends. She also reminded me that she would not be able to pass out any invitations if we weren’t inviting the whole class. And that was it.
I was perplexed. She did know my child had a severe communication disorder, right? I politely acknowledged the ramifications of what she was saying and pondered in the follow up email if there were anything she could do to help us figure out a solution.
No response. So after a week, I wrote again but with a much more explicit message.
My message was: “As far as I know, it’s not a confidentiality issue when one child approaches another for their name and phone number. That’s how typical children do that. We have programed the following into his talker (speech generating device):
“My phone number is ***-***-****. Can you have your mom call my mom?”
“Can I have your phone number? My mom wants to talk to your mom”
Given its on his IEP –the need to prompt him to initiate social interactions as well as guiding him use prompts on the talker, I am sure someone will find the right opportunity to help him with this interaction. Its amazing to see how far he has come. As any parent would be, we are so proud and excited for him.”
Fortunately, the principal at the time appreciated the value of enlightened self awareness and stepped in to make this happen. He had the most glorious time with his friends at his own party. While he was blowing out the candles on his cake, I took the instructions handed to me by the school on “intro to helicopters” and filed it away for later.
I am privileged to be self-employed and have a job that affords me the flexibility to work around my kids’ schedule and needs. When you have a child with a disability, weekly mid-day therapy appointments, meetings and emergencies are part of the deal and already require us to be like Navy Seals. We are flexible on a moments notice to switch gears and take care of whatever arises unexpectedly. But those 9-5 parents or single family households with special needs kids are truly super-parents….Space monkeys exploring uncharted territory different than typical families with similar scheduling issues. They do not have a finite number of years in which they have to sweat it out every day, and they certainly don’t have an ounce more flexibility to find time to sit glassy-eyed in an empty classroom pulling staples out of a cork board. Volunteering for the purpose of learning every nook and cranny and connecting with the people in my child’s world just to have a frame of reference would likely happen anyway for me but definitely not with the volume or tenacity. I am lucky to have this as an option, but many…if not most working parents of special needs kids do not. The onus is on the parent to try to figure out how to connect the dots to create a fulfilling world outside of school for their kid and many times they aren’t even given a pencil to do that.
So when you get that email or phone call that it is time to start collecting money for your teacher’s end-of-the-year-gift and its from the two moms of kids you never heard of (because each spend a total of 1 hour a day in the classroom), now you know why you don’t know who they are. Reach out to them….because they don’t really have time to be collecting your money…but they will make all the time in the world to find out more about your child.
**The inspiration from this piece came about a month ago after yet another disheartening situation. A few weeks ago we had a meeting where I had to be very firm and direct to make sure this message was heard. I believe it was heard by most in the spirit it was delivered. Most of the team who work with my child have worked with him since the beginning. Those direct workers are caring people for certain and they are working on a plan to rectify some of this type of issue. Stay tuned…if you are in this dilemma for your child!
My heart is sitting in a basket on my desk next to my computer. I stare at it wondering if I should leave it where it is or if I should shove it back in my throat where apparently it now belongs. I am faced with a dilemma I have fleetingly looked in the eye before but this time I pause much longer as if memorizing the outline of the face of a loved one I may not see again.
I love Facebook. I am like a Pavlovian dog when I hear that DING! and will switch over from work to see whats going on my feed. Facebook is the most existentially layered version of the real world I can imagine. Everyone from my closest friends to those folks who have crossed paths with me for a brief yet meaningful time are there. It’s the place where my elementary school besties and bullies post about their versions of how they turned out. People from a former life who hold keys to doors which ushered me to my current self are there too. There are writers and authors and even a real-life famous person here and there (sorry…I won’t out anyone) in the cache of my 560 nearest and dearest. And I have access to all of them at the same time all of the time.
I take real 1-2 minute life diversions on Facebook multiple times a day. It’s a weird and somewhat pathetic paradise. Being a working mother is complicated enough, but I have a few extras thrown on top including a husband that travels and kids with varying special needs which means extra meetings for school, schlepping to therapies, staying current on research, hiring, supervising and managing a home team…and that’s all before actually dealing with the territory of settling in at the end of the day with kids who just need extra. Just when I might be taking myself a little too seriously or am feeling a little too isolated…boom….a cat video or Joe Biden meme reels me back. Connecting in cyberspace is so much more my style and because of that connection I know I am not alone in this. When I deal with work situations that matter to me, I am a rock star. I have a purpose and can completely focus externally on the needs at hand. But socially…yikes. Eye contact, staying focused, not accidentally making a connection out loud as to how the topic focuses back on something I can relate to better….none of those things are my forte. When posting on Facebook–I can be funny and smart in sound bytes. I can get hoards of people invested in an ongoing saga about my fear of spiders. I can walk away from a conversation mid-sentence without consequence. I don’t have to think about where to look or how I am coming across because unlike in real life, by the time my human brain catches up to my monkey brain I have not yet hit “enter” and can edit what I REALLY wanted to say. Sometimes those two things don’t catch up and that is what the “delete” button is all about.
Facebook levels the social playing field for quirky people like myself. It gives me a social outlet when I don’t actually have time for a real one. It keeps me invested in people, events and causes that are important to the real world all around. It provides an escape into brief, clever and timely humor. It helps me find like-minded people. It expands the repertoire of discussions and ideas of which I might not otherwise be exposed. And I can have all that in tiny spurts all day as needed. It really is miraculous if you think about it. Communities of individuals who never stood a societal chance before are finding their communities right here on Facebook.
We know to take the good and the bad here. On good days, Facebook is my outlet. Internet trolls and maddeningly misinformed opinion presented as fact are the yin to the yang of my Facebook fascination. I can roll past things or people who ultimately shouldn’t matter to me. Something that I fail to do all that well in real life. But this is changing too quickly for me to cope with in a way I find acceptable by an election that divided the country before I had any idea we were THAT divided. I am overwhelmed by Facebook friends and their words of hate or indifference being presented on a platter and served up as just another white meat with no other options for dinner. I am breathless because I don’t feel like I can scroll past any article that has anything to do with leadership appointment, policy or ideology that may affect my family or anyone else I love. Suddenly, realities of Facebook friends as minorities, the poor or disenfranchised are inundating my news feed faster than I can read, process and consider and as a seasoned social worker I feel like I am back to my overwhelming roots of weeding which causes need to get the majority of my energies and time. I have a list of issues and phone calls to congressmen that will trump my everyday life tomorrow. I am sad and fearful and agitated and distracted and rightfully so. While I have felt this way before on social media, I shut my computer down for the evening, be completely present and come back to a virtual life renewed. I can go back to meaningless status posts that make at least me chuckle at myself. However, in this political climate, I would be this way without Facebook and am having trouble finding meaning in those meaningless status updates. And with it? Well, I feel much like I often do about real life. Like I need to take a break from it.
My beautiful boy wandered into my room tonight. His curly hair tousled around his cherub cheeks, pajama bottoms twisted in a spiral around his hips from tossing and turning…he marches in quickly as if he had somewhere important to be and then suddenly stops at the foot of my bed with purpose. He rubs his dazed eyes all the while smiling that big Cheshire Cat grin of his. “Hug”, he says as he makes that long trip to the other side of my California king. I can’t say I hate it when that happens. He is warm and cuddly and doesn’t thrash and kick like he used to when he was little. To the best of my knowledge, A2 has never slept a full night in his life and no one can tell me why. As he gets older, he seems no worse for the wear for it either. The stretches between night time explorations have become longer and my husband and I have become a tag team settling into separate sleeping arrangements at night over the years to ensure at least one of us wakes to the new day refreshed. He tells me “scootch magooch” as he encroaches on the sliver of bed where I sleep and drifts off as swiftly as he made his declaration of his sleep intentions.
The thing is, my husband and I never wake up fully refreshed. There are Things That Keep Me Up at Night. Who will hug him when we are gone? Who else will find his sweet smile so endearing even at 3:00am? We try to be optimistic about his future. A2 will likely never be able to live independently, but dammit, we bought him a house and we rent it out to people today so in 15 years he will have a place to live….maybe even with 24 hour support staff and 2 or 3 other guys who are sweet spirited sports and music fans like he is. We live in an expensive school district despite struggling to afford it to make sure he has the best education and connections for his future. Though we are socially isolated as a family because such is the nature of autism, I remain involved with my religious congregation so he is never alone. SOMEONE will always know and recognize him. I advocate and I write and I stay present in the disability community so he will always have that community too when it comes time for some else to step in as a guardian when I can no longer do it. A touchpoint for that kind stranger to get guidance or direction. We save the best we can. We plan for the best possible services and outcomes to give him a meaningful life worth living. We are uncertain what services will help house him, feed him, care for him. We can’t be sure that there will be vocational training or health insurance or social security disability payments. All of which is unnerving when you know there will be no one to love him or snuggle with him or wipe away tears. So we plan as best we can knowing surely, there will be some kind of services for him.
But tonight there is no sleep because now I am not so sure. I know in the morning light I will look at everyone with a suspicious eye and wonder who around me willingly voted for another reason to keep me up at night. Half the population wanted political change and they got it and whether the overt intentions were there or not, they were willing to make children like my child the sacrificial lamb. My child will always be dependent on others to be his voice, to protect him….his rights, his body, his dignity . My child and others like him often have no option but to live in poverty and have no political influence as adults. I am terrified for him because no matter how much we plan, no matter how much we go without today, if it is acceptable for the leader of our country to marginalize him, make fun of him, call him the R word what does that say for the people around us who brush that off and traded my baby in for not voting for the vague “yeah, but she’s worse”? What happens when it is a decided that my “standard retard” is a drain on the system making everyone elses’ life more difficult? There will be a supreme court in place likely for the rest of his life who will err on the side of believing that as a universal truth.
The only politics I ever talk about in my writing is my belief that most people are good but misinformed. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but certainly in his, I believed that it was possible to change the world around him enough that true inclusion and a dignified life were possible and through that, the need for the work of disability advocacy would dwindle. Perhaps I truly believed all that because I see the innocence in his eyes. He is a pure soul who has helped me see good first and maybe I can spread that message for him.
So, forgive me if you were one of the people who so desperately wanted political change if I seem a little distant from you. While I am hopeful that my fears are akin to “they’re taking all our guns from us!” it’s a bit harder for me not to be devisive when we are talking about my baby. But don’t worry….A2 won’t judge you. He is forgiving and will love you anyway.