I’ll be sharing personal essays on my journey with autism with my daughters, mom life, grief and mental health. I hope they make you smile, I hope they make you cry, I hope to spread an understanding of high functioning autism and mostly I hope they allow other moms to not feel alone. I’d love your feedback! Names have been changed for privacy.
My cheeks feel on fire, burning my face off, not allowing me to hide my embarrassment. Ruby and Laurel stand there, staring at us, as though they are zoned into an engrossing tv show, silent and still as they watch their mom and older sister play out a mesmerizing scene in front of them. Many other parents are staring at me too, probably because of the beet red cheeks, but I’m sure because of the lunatic child that was obviously mine. All eyes are on me to see what I will do next; how will she handle this situation? This is only middle school locker orientation for christ’s sake, how did everything go crazy? My oldest daughter, Olive, could be heard echoing down the long, old middle school hallway. She was unable to open her locker after the first attempt. Disastrous. Preteen meltdown ensues with loud yelling and wailing hands and I decide to take long deep breathes, silently count to ten and speak to her as though I have all the patience in the world even though I want to scream back at my daughter and punch the locker with my fist.
“They are old lockers Olive; everyone seems to be having trouble. Put some elbow into it and try again.” That daughter of mine gave me a look and I could tell a demon took over her brain.
“I can’t! Don’t you see me here trying, it won’t open!”
I could feel my armpit sweat and briefly thought about attempting to reason with the demon. No, I know better than to try, that never works out in my favor. Olive went from sweetness and excitement to ballistic anger in about 2.5 seconds and was unable to break away from the villain in her brain. I know there is no attempting coherency with her in a moment of darkness, she needs to work it out without my verbal assistance. Olive needed everyone to know how mad she was, did not care she was making a scene with her yelling, all the world over needed to know she failed at locker combinations.
“Do we need some help here?”
Dear God, yes. Bless the man’s heart, a staff member walked over, he must have heard Olive and seen the gruesome blooming happening on my cheeks.
“Yes, we do, my daughter can’t seem to get her locker open.”
“It won’t open! I bet you can’t do it either.” Olive rudely utters to this patience of a saint man. I feel all mom pride leave my body, replaced with worry I will be handcuffed and taken away to The Worst Mom Prison. How can she be rude to a helpful stranger? I stood there with a stunned face, not sure how to respond. I have not raised my kids to be mean, we live by the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated. The superhuman man ignored Olive’s snide remark and showed her a few locker opening tricks and hallelujah the locker opened. He introduced himself, the school counselor. I made no mention of how I’m sure we will get to know each other very well this school year. His look at me told me he already knew.
Olive decorated her locker with the handful of locker garb we brought with us, informed me ever so rudely of all the accessories we didn’t purchase that she needed. This as she watched girls attach mini chandeliers to the top of their lockers and put down fuzzy carpets at the bottom. Oh my God, they make locker chandeliers? As soon as Olive slammed her locker closed, I grabbed Ruby and Laurel’s hands and walked them all swiftly down the hallway with my head looking down at my feet. I made it out the doors before tears slid down my cheeks.
I’m committing suicide, a slow dragged out one. A marathon suicide if you will. I’m a people pleasing perfectionist on an airplane that’s going down and I’m running up and down the aisle helping everyone else with their oxygen mask while I ignore my own. I’m slowly dying inside. Is this the life I’m meant to live? As a little girl I dreamed of a life that looks similar to this one. It included being married to a handsome husband, several children, a home with a wraparound porch and a cute little dog running around outside as we all played a game of tag and laughed and looked so happy. My head had that running commercial of happiness. Those moments do come, yes, but that feeling of happiness has been elusive for a while now.
What the commercial doesn’t tell you about are the real-life moments all the other times. Times of slamming doors, sleepless nights, daughter tantrums that seem like an exorcism is warranted. Plus, no mention of what it’s really like living a life while running the PTO at the elementary school, while being Mom and pursuing a career as a Preschool Director while also holding down the fort as the wife of a busy doctor. Christ man, who has time to be happy? Do I let my three little girls have those dreams? Let them have dreams of the picket fence and a husband and playing tag? Or do I tell them life is way more complicated and make them understand happiness doesn’t surround you all the time, how those things in life won’t make you happy forever and always? How there’s no time for tag because the laundry is backed up and someone needs to go get groceries? Maybe they won’t partake in marathon suicide if I tell them the truth. If I keep it realistic though they may never dream big and I can’t live with that either. There has to be some balance somewhere in there. I can’t find it.
“Mommy, where are you?!”
“Ruby, I’m in my room.” Can’t get a moment of peace around this house. I just want to write in my journal for a few minutes. Someone is always either crying or needing me and I am ready for these girls to go back to school already. We have two more weeks of summer vacation, dear God. “What are you crying about babe?”
“Olive yelled at me for singing and kicked me. It hurts.”
“Show me where.” Mom rubs and hugs make everything better. Ruby basically cannot even breathe in front of Olive anymore; she goes into full on five alarm catastrophe mode when six-year-old Ruby enters the room. I have a preteen princess on my hands, wanting us all to be quiet or sit still and not disturb whatever it is she is doing. Frankly I’m surprised Olive didn’t start yelling at Ruby at locker orientation this morning since she was basically staring her down. I’m happy each of my three girls have their own bedroom at least, I can separate them as needed. Otherwise I might have to make a padded room in the basement for me to go into to scream and kick all my anxiety out. Maybe that’s not a bad idea actually. I can add a punching bag and speakers for loud music. I might be brilliant.
I don’t even know what to do with Olive when she does this crap. I usually scold her because hurting anyone is not allowed. It’s not working. She’s too big for time-outs, my past go-to. Maybe they need to make a resurgence. Taking away her favorite stuff doesn’t work because she loves reading and Legos and listening to music. What am I going to take away? Her books? Doesn’t seem like the right natural consequence of her actions.
“Let’s go start dinner before Daddy gets home, you can help me because I need to call Aunt Audrey.”
“Can we have pasta?” Ruby is my little Italian girl and the only child willing to help cook right now, even though it only involves pouring and stirring. Laurel is starting fourth grade and thus beginning the time of joining Olive in not wanting to hang out with Mom.
“Sounds perfect.” Comfort food is on my mind.
My little cooking helper lasted all of five minutes, which was fine because I needed to talk to my sister. “My one day off of work this week consisted of locker orientation and basically accomplishing nothing else. Audrey, you should have heard Olive, I left crying.”
“Sarah, I want you to do something for me. I went to a teacher training today, all about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and it reminded me so much of Olive. This isn’t typical eleven-year-old behavior and something else is going on in that brain of hers. Promise me you will look into this?” My sister was using her calm but stern teacher’s voice.
I stirred the pasta, deeply breathing in the steam and smell, letting it relax me, “Yes, thanks, I will. I need to figure out what to do for my baby. We can’t keep living like this and she isn’t even a teenager yet!”
“Will you go see Gram soon? Mom said she needs help getting Gram’s groceries next week. It sucks she can’t get them for herself anymore. Will you be able to go Sarah?”
“I can go early next week. I want to take the girls to visit her one more time before they go back to school. Did Mom say Gram’s back was feeling better? Can’t believe she waited days to tell us she fell.”
“Yeah she’s feeling better thankfully. Gotta run, have fun at the baseball game tomorrow.”
“Thanks, love ya!”
Oh yeah, we are driving two hours to the Yankee game tomorrow. We need some fun but there goes another day of getting nothing else done. I shouldn’t complain. My worrying over Gram keeps getting pushed to the back of my mind because of work and my children. I love sitting at Gram’s kitchen table, with her tablecloth and placemats at each sitting, always matching along with whatever season or holiday it is. Drinking her amazing coffee and hearing her stories are all I need to reset my mood. Visiting Gram is a Soul Fuel for me, it helps my empty spirit fill with awakened life and recharges my mental batteries. I wonder if Gram feels as though she’s always lived the life she was meant to. I’ll have to ask her. Did she partake in marathon suicide? She’s 93 so if she did for a time it went away. I’ll pray for that for myself, for the marathon suicide to slow down and end all together. Goals.
I do not blame anyone else for making my life as it is, it’s all me, I know. It’s my own self-inflicted stress, why I call it a suicide. I took on a job running the preschool, I volunteered to be PTO president this school year, I said yes to being Ella’s, my sister-in-law, matron of honor in her wedding next summer and even long ago I knew what I was getting into when I married Michael right before he started medical school. Hell, I even wanted more than three kids. I always thought if I kept a positive attitude it would be sufficient to get through whatever life tossed at me. Well that positive attitude flew out the window sometime this past spring. My goal this upcoming school year is to learn to say no more, take my therapist’s advice to start a gratitude journal and make sure I’m taking care of myself. Put the oxygen mask on you first Sarah.
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