Essay #5: Big Girl Pants

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. To read previous essay click on the Essays category tab above under the title.

Ducks at the zoo

The few crying preschoolers who show up every year right on cue the first couple of days were met with their director crying alongside them this year. I asked if they needed a hug, my go-to question, and then hid my tears on their shoulders. No one can cry alone in my presence. Pass this chick the waterproof mascara please.

            Work as a preschool director the last two weeks is leading the charge on my stress hair loss. I already had to yell at a lady and her sweet church group who wanted to use a room in my preschool building while we had school in session. I’m feeling totally bad about it now, but they needed to be put in their place and understand the importance of building security. We live in a post-Sandy Hook world and all the preschool parents are counting on me to keep their children safe; it’s the number one question parents ask when touring my school. I have to make sure my building is secure and know who is coming and going at all times. Policies have to be maintained and supported by everyone, even sweet older ladies studying the bible. The group needed a yelling preschool director to get the point across. It worked. Keep putting on your big girl pants Sarah.

            I also feel abrupt in my approach to the new moms this school year, thinking they need to get over the fact that their child is starting preschool, give me a break with their sobs, this is nothing, believe me. I can’t be consumed with coddling the new parents at my preschool when my thoughts are solely on my own children.  I am selfish 100%.

           My newfound my-daughter-has-Asperger’s a-ha moment has given me a new vision in terms of Olive and her sensory needs and tantrums. Maybe the store is too loud for her, maybe she has a tag scratching her back, maybe she’s bored and doesn’t understand why the rest of us aren’t, or maybe she just doesn’t want to go to the fucking grocery store so why would anyone else? She cannot put herself in your shoes and see your point of view. At least now right now, it’s something she’ll have to be taught, something I would have thought would come naturally and others role modeling the behavior would be sufficient. Ruby shows empathy and of putting herself in other’s shoes and she’s six. She’s one of the reasons I think I had the a-ha moment, realizing I can parent the shit out of Olive and she isn’t showing signs of maturing and changing.

            On Labor Day, while Michael was working in the hospital and on-call, I felt optimistic, put on my big girl pants and decided to take my three daughters to the local zoo. I dug down deep and felt brave and guess what happened? We had an amazing time. I’ve always been an outdoorsy person and I need to make sure I’m keeping that need alive inside. The small zoo only requires a couple of hours, not an all-day trek, and we set out early, it was a warm day out. I find the mornings work better for all of us, we aren’t tired of each other yet. There were no tantrums, no complaining and I had amazing patience. Those times can indeed happen. We loved all the animals, but the girls mostly wanted to hang out by the ducks and swans, naming them all and making up stories about their lives. I laughed and told them we can go to ponds for free. Let’s hang out by the red panda more. No.

           In the past I found no enjoyment from new adventures with my girl gang, those times became fewer and further between. Olive would always start acting up, whining and getting loud at the smallest thing bothering her, even if I ignored her and brushed it off, or listened and showed her I understood, nothing would work to settle her.  Then my beet red cheeks would flourish and the profuse sweating would start and I’d decide to go home. I never knew when to push it or pull back and always felt like Crappy Mom. I was embarrassed how I let my child behave. Realizing it’s not just me and my bad parenting will take a mental shift I’m not entirely allowing to happen.

           Right now, my time home alone before I have to get Olive should have consisted of me finalizing my speech for the PTO parent open house night tonight, but I’m again wasting time dwelling on the past and the what-ifs and should-have-beens. I have a co-PTO-president who offered to do the speeches tonight and tomorrow night, but I insisted. I want to share my research from the sociology class I took this spring, about parent volunteering and its effect on our kids. Let’s hope it gets through to somebody. Why I care about other people and their kids right now is beyond me.

            “Mike, I wish you could have been at my speech; I almost made a run for it right in the middle!”

            “What, I don’t believe that. I’m sure you did just fine. At least the principal does most of the talking.”

            “I wrote a speech for a ten-minute slot and when he told me I only had six minutes I panicked and wasn’t sure what to omit. Well those six minutes felt an hour long. Public speaking for me is like giving birth, I think it’s a great idea and then when I’m stuck in the middle of it, I have a full-on body sweat, feel like throwing up and beg for a change of heart. Figured if I just stopped and made a run for it out the back door of the cafeteria no one would really notice or care. Not sure anyone was listening, and we can all relate to being quitters.”

            “But you didn’t.”

            “Of course not. I went with the parts that got some laughs, about paperwork hell and the abyss of the kitchen counters, told the parents about my research and how getting involved in even small ways has significant impacts on their child’s grades and well-being, and talked about a few ways to help out. I did have one mom and dad come up to me after my speech and thank me for sharing. If it makes one more parent participate then I’ve done my job.”

            “Well done my lady. Can we go to sleep now?”

            I used to be able to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, the way Michael does. He’s asleep in minutes. I have too much on my brain. I did my job for tonight, but I don’t feel like doing the rest of the job for the PTO the entire school year. This is only a couple weeks in, what am I doing? All the emails and text messages, putting together a massive budget, planning all the events and finding volunteers plus supporting the teachers, it’s all an extra weight I can’t carry at this moment in time. We have at least three meetings a month, one with the principal, one with the PTO Board and one with the general school population. Who did I think I was? Fuck you Super Sarah.

            I have to replay my speech tomorrow night and at least the next night I can go to the middle school open house night just as Mom. I only want to be Mom right now. As I stood at the front of the cafeteria at the podium, looking at the sea of parents, I noticed there were a lot of mom/dad combos. Michael has never been to any parent open house night. In fact, I think he’s only set foot in our elementary school once, for Olive’s fifth grade graduation in June. Feeling bad for myself isn’t something I do often but in this season I’m allowing all the feelings to exist. Let them take up space in my brain, go ahead. Might as well. There’s no room for squashing and hiding it all, underneath the exterior of looking put together, smiling, getting by while crying inside all day long. Who am I trying to look perfect for? Who Super Sarah?

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