Essay #8: Ready Mom?

I have been sharing personal essays on my journey with autism with my daughters, on mom life, grief and mental health. Most essays are from life in fall of 2017. WARNING: my essays contain cursing. 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. Names have been changed for privacy. To read previous essays click on the Essays category tab at the end of the blog post.

The green leaves are maturing to orange and red, the mornings are crisper and the air smells of autumn. Being outdoors in the fall is one of my Soul Fuels. It’s joyful when I can walk outside my back door and sit outside for five minutes, sip my hot coffee, take in a deep breathe of cool air and feel refreshed. Living in the middle of the woods allows me to step outside and just see trees, nothing else. I could be naked and no one would know. We easily take our living arrangement for granted.

I need to find more five minute Soul Fuels. While Ruby was at a birthday party over the weekend I took Olive and Laurel to the little lake in town so we could see all the changing leaves. I took pictures and pointed out certain trees to the girls but they moaned and groaned. I want them to enjoy nature, appreciate it and be thankful for it. Can I force them to make nature one of their Soul Fuels like it is for me? My mind slows down out there. I want my girls to feel that and learn to make time for it as they grow up. Maybe it’ll help them slow down the marathon suicide. Reality though, they are kids, I can’t shove it down their throats and make them feel wrong for not feeling the way I feel. I’ll just keep bringing up the beauty and pray it sinks in.

I had to take a day off of work last week because I was sick to my stomach. My body was yelling at me to take a break and I parked myself on the couch all day and watched some movies I’ve been wanting to see. I had to shut myself off. I call it a Brain Dead Day and think we all need it every now and then. Maybe I’m just getting older, I will be 40 in three months, but I’m feeling the need to slow down, take a few steps back from life and take a good look at it. What would I see? Would I see happiness, hiding in there somewhere? Would I see my children, as in really see them, who they are in the world? Matter of fact, how do they see me? What is their vision of their mom? Is it what I think it is or vastly different?

Would I see Michael differently? Maybe see him in a different context than the man I sometimes see before he leaves the house in the morning and for a small window at the end of the day. Day in and day out I run at a fast pace, getting it all done, but I don’t think I’m looking at any of it, as though it doesn’t matter for right now and I’ll save that for the future. I’ll spend time looking when I’m older or retired or in my 90’s like Gram.

I should have known I was in need of a Brain Dead Day because of all the stress I’ve been under, I use to see the need coming. That premonition started back in college, a way to deal with my anxiety then. I guess I’ve always had the tools I needed to avoid a panic attack but somehow forgot how to use them. When my parents were getting divorced my junior year of collage I had major stomach issues, so much to the point that I saw a gastroenterologist who ran a bunch of tests on me and my colon. Everything came back normal and he told me it was stress. I couldn’t believe it at first, how could stress do that to me? He assured me my parents divorce and my school work was enough. That doctor, can’t even remember his name now, was the first person to tell me to take care of myself first. Self care wasn’t a common term back then. How do I keep forgetting about it?

We aren’t that far into the school year yet and our patience level in our house is running low. I’m trying hard to focus on showing my family love and lifting them up in support but when they all come home grumpy and complaining and hungry I’m the one who bears the brunt of everyone’s madness. I’m Mom. That’s what moms do right? We take it all and love anyway. We just have to be ready for it. I have a hard time separating their feelings from my own. I let myself join in on their moods and bring myself to that level, as though my motto is “misery loves company,” but I need to fight that off. I don’t want my girls to have that motto as they grow up. It should be “happiness breads happiness.” They need to feel their feelings without me feeling them too, I have to listen and understand and love. Be ready to just love.

This week I met with the Student Assistance Team (SAT) to discuss my revelation that Olive has Asperger’s Syndrome. The psychologist was amazing and agreed we need to test her for Asperger’s, but they said they can’t test for that, just autism, and they wanted to check her for depression as well. The rest of the team wanted more time to get to know her but the psychologist was all, um, no, if she has autism she has autism, doesn’t matter if we get to know her more, let’s agree to start the evaluations. I was all, right on lady! I’ve been researching more and to me Olive is a text book Asperger’s Syndrome child. She is a super smart high functioning autistic person who doesn’t give a shit about other people, what she looks like or how you feel about her. Hello, that’s my goal life! To not care what other people think or how I look. She’s living the best life already, at 12! We should all be so lucky.

Olive doesn’t see it that way though, of course. She’s too hard on herself and she is going though puberty, is anyone happy then? I think perfectionism is in our genes. How do I work on that? I don’t want my kids to feel as though they have to do everything right all of the time, they are just kids. When I tuck each of them into bed at night I tell them I am happy they are my daughters and I love them no matter what. I hope they are listening. Olive’s negative self talk is not pleasant. She talks about it a lot though, almost like she wants my sympathy over and over again, she needs constant attention. I could suffocate this kid with positive reinforcement and it still would not be enough. It’s never enough. When she grows up she won’t have people always praising her every step of the way so I don’t want her self-esteem to hang solely on that, it has to come from within. That’s so hard to teach that self worth to a child, never mind one that has Asperger’s. My babies.

I’ve been squeezing in time after work to see Gram at the rehabilitation center. She doesn’t want to be there and keeps having tough days, throwing fits and frankly acting like a child. I don’t blame her though, she’s lived alone for over 30 years, since Grandpa died when I was in kindergarten. She is now squeezed in one small room instead of a two bedroom apartment. The room has tread marks on her floor so she doesn’t slip and she keeps calling them jail bars. She’s kind of right. Gram knows how to make me laugh, all her jail jokes are hilarious. I bought her a plant to keep on the window sill, my mom helped decorate the room a bit, we are attempting to make it feel cozy instead of institutional. I’m not sure she’ll ever leave the place and it is heartbreaking. Gram can’t put on a pot of coffee for me when I visit and I wish I remembered the last time I visited her at home and had some of her coffee, I would have cherished it if I knew it could possibly be the last. Sometimes I guess we aren’t meant to know those things.


Essay #7: On A Hope and A Prayer

I’ll be sharing personal essays on my journey with autism with my daughters, on mom life, grief and mental health. Most of the essays are from fall 2017. WARNING: my essays contain cursing. 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. Names have been changed for privacy. To read previous essays click on the Essays category tab at the end of this blog post.

I think I am in mourning realizing my daughter doesn’t have a typically developing brain. That sounds shitty to say and I would never say it out loud but I have to be honest with how I feel. I know she’ll be an amazing adult and I have to help her the best I can. There are times I find myself day dreaming about a normal life, craving what I think an average life should be. What is normal anyway? That commercial of happiness I use to dream of? What I imagine other families to be like even though I don’t know what goes on behind their closed doors? Happiness is a choice. I have to remind my brain that I choose to feel happy. Is it OK that I have to do that every single day or multiple times a day? I can’t pretend anxiety isn’t there, it has to be dealt with, but I can choose to process it and choose to do something that brings me joy. Who finds that kind of time?

Olive is now 12 years old. My autistic daughter is becoming a lady. We had her party over the weekend. I usually tell the girls we’ll invite one or two friends to our family parties and Olive said she doesn’t have any friends and didn’t want to invite anyone. My momma bear heart was breaking for her and I convinced her to invite a girl she talks to who we have had over in the past. Glad I did because they had a great time. Olive is so convinced she has no friends, I think she isn’t giving anyone a try at being her friend. She won’t carry on a conversation if it’s about something that doesn’t interest her. I don’t see how she behaves at school in social situations and I hope the director and counselor there are paying attention. She needs some help facilitating. I can only role play so much and then send her off into the world on a hope and a prayer.

We were missing a few folks for Olive’s party because Gram needed to go to the hospital. My mom opened the door to Gram’s apartment and found her on the living room floor, confused, not sure how she got there and she wasn’t able to get up. She wasn’t wearing her Life Alert button, of course Gram. They needed several EMTs and a stretcher to get her up. The doctors found she had a UTI and a blood infection in both legs. They think Gram must have hit her head when she fell and no one is sure how long she sat on her living room rug.

I’ve been visiting her at the hospital when I get out of work and she will be moved her to a rehab place soon. For being 93 she is fairly healthy though. Her heart, brain and blood pressure are all good. UTIs make Gram confused and they have been happening to her more and more the last six months. Gram and I were chatting yesterday afternoon in her hospital room and the conversation stopped as we watched a few minutes of TV, her favorite soap opera. She looked at me and asked “So, what are we doing here?” She seriously couldn’t remember why she was in the hospital. I giggled and thought she was joking but she certainly was not. I told her what had happened and she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t going back home. I changed the subject and we didn’t revisit the conversation.

God, I need my Gram! Please, I pray, heal her and let her get back home. She is my person, the one I can call and visit in an instant, listen and talk with for hours. Now is not her time. I know everything is in your time but can we compromise here? I have enough emotional turmoil in my life, Gram needs to remain my stabilizer.

I do it to myself, I’m fast forwarding my marathon suicide. I volunteered to be PTO president. That role isn’t hard, it’s just time consuming and I get text messages and emails twenty-four hours a day. On top of everything else in my life it’s just a spinning spiral of doom. At first I thought my turnaround response time should be short, show people I care about their concerns and ideas and what my thoughts were. Now I wait until business hours, that which I have set for myself, and feel no need to explain to anyone why I did not respond immediately. They’re parents, they get it.

I’ve been thinking deeply about why, why I agreed to run the PTO. I think I wanted to feel more equal with Michael. He’s a busy thriving doctor and I wanted to be busy and doing important work too, felt as though I wasn’t living up to my full potential. I felt as though being home with my girls wasn’t significant enough so I got a job and then I felt as though working part-time wasn’t worthy enough either. I needed to be occupying my time with serious work and producing substantial outcomes for the world at large, making a mark on society and playing my part. Now, as my therapist says, God love her, I just want to protect the house. I have realized raising these children is the most important work. Discovering I have a special needs child makes it feel ten fold. Now I want to back out of my volunteer work and my job and I feel as though that is impossible to ask of both those powers that be because it is only October and I’m signed on at least until June. June! Nine fucking months away. Now I’m hyperventilating. I don’t know if leaving my job after this school year is necessary, there’s just too much other baloney right now and I have to peal away some layers. Between my house, the preschool and the PTO, I’m managing too many people at once. No wonder my hair is falling off my head like autumn leaves.