I know how you look at me when I’m wth my children. I see you watching. I’m aware. I know what it looks like. I’m a fragile mom, yes, but a mom who is battle-tested and will no longer shy away from meeting your eyes. I will not be shamed. I will not let you tell me with your look and your eye roll and your mutterings under your breath that are just loud enough for me to hear that I am a bad mother.
I still feel the sting of your gaze.
Do I wish it was different? Sure. Do I wish life was easier for him to navigate? Without question. Would I change him if I could? Nope.
I used to think the Autism diagnosis would somehow be the worst possible thing ever about being a parent. I remember speaking with another expectant mom friend at the time, “Can you imagine? What if the baby has autism?” As if it is the worst possible fate.
It’s exhausting and challenging and rewarding – times that it sucks, and times that it takes your breath away with the amount of determination and persistence it takes to overcome challenges – that pride in the littlest of successes will be like nothing ever experienced before. But it’s not the worst possible thing to happen to a child.
I may have a fragile heart, but we are far from breaking.
Authenticity, radical honesty, and simply put in the author’s own word: brutiful – Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior is sitting with a bookmark half way through it’s pages, begging me to finish it.
It is SO raw and honest. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. Reading this feels like when you stare directly into the sun. It’s piercing honesty will force you to set it down, simply to digest it before picking back up again. Her response of “how was your day” with 3 children left me open-mouthed, marveling at how brave she is to bare it all. It’s against the rules to say this stuff out loud. We are supposed to “cherish every moment” while raising our kids. Aren’t we?
Not every moment is Instagrammable. Some of them down right suck.
“It was the best of times and the worst of times. I was both lonely and never alone. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed. I was saturated with touch – desperate to get the baby off of me and the second I put her down I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. This day required more than I’m physically and emotionally capable of, while requiring nothing from my brain. I had thoughts today, ideas, important things to say and no one to hear them.
I felt manic all day, alternating between love and fury. at least once an hour I looked at their faces and thought I might not survive the tenderness of my love for them. The next moment I was furious. I felt like a dormant volcano, steady on the outside but ready to explode and spew hot lava at any moment. And then I noticed that Amma’s foot doesn’t fit into her Onsie anymore, and I started to panic at the reminder that this will be over soon, that it’s fleeting-that this hardest time of my life is supposed to be the best time of my life. That this brutal time is also the most beautiful time. Am I enjoying it enough? Am I missing the best time of my life? Am I too tired to be properly in love? That fear and shame felt like adding a heavy, itchy blanket on top of all the hard.
But I’m not complaining, so please don’t try to fix it. I wouldn’t have my day or my life any other way. I’m just saying – it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain – an entire day with lots of babies. If’s far too much and not even close to enough.
But I’m too tired to say any of this. I’m a windup doll that’s run out. So I just say, ‘Our day was fine.'”
-Glennon Doyle Melton, from Love Warrior
How often do we respond with, “I’m fine”? And how often are we not fine at all?
While not all the specific parts of her life are necessarily universal, most are symptoms masking the truths which are; shame, vulnerability, worthiness, etc.
I am a huge fan of Brene Brown. What she discusses in terms of shame and vulnerability in an academic way from the viewpoint of a researcher, Glennon “does her research in the field”. If you have read Brown’s work or seen her TedTalk, you need to know Glennon Doyle Melton.
When I was pregnant with him, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. I read all the books, studied up on exactly how he was developing and growing. We dreamed about what this little baby would be like when we were able to finally meet him, like all parents-to-be surely do. When I held him for the first time I was on so many drugs from the c-section, but I distinctly remember the overwhelming and crushing tidal wave of love I had for this boy.
Watching your child grow and learn to crawl, and walk, and do all the miraculous everyday things they do is – in a word; incredible. Going through the sleepless nights, the endless days of diapers and feedings that feel like every day is groundhog day – all of it in hindsight seems to pale in comparison as we move into new phases of hard.
We’ve always known, really.
From the time he was two and half and cowering under a chair in the doctor’s office, when he still didn’t have any words at three, and stuck to the sign language and the mother/son way of communicating that we had developed, the way he speaks without consideration of volume and personal space, the rigidity of thought, and the extreme meltdowns when plans were not executed in the way they were supposed to be; we knew deep down. We’ve met with professionals, each reluctant to give us the official word for various reasons.
He’s not like other kids. He’s different.
He will eat the same 4 things every single day. For 5 years. Change to routine is hard. As a military family, moving is very challenging under the best of circumstances, it becomes chaos at times for us. Florescent lights in retail stores and the constant over-stimulation while shopping overwhelms him to the point of meltdown. Outsiders only see a bratty kid having a tantrum, because well, ‘he looks normal’. For the record, a meltdown is not a tantrum. While my heart is breaking trying to deal with his inability to deal with life, a stranger will mutter cruel and unwanted “advice” as they walk on by. This has happened more times than I can count.
It’s hard to watch your kid realize that he is different.
It’s hard to see him recognize that he doesn’t have many friends.
It’s hard to explain to him that to have friends, there has to be a give and take. He simply doesn’t have the social tools.
I cringe when people meet him for the first time and the wave of realization that he is different crosses their face.
I fluctuate between denial and harsh reality.
I’ve been living in the denial land of “he’s just a little different” and “maybe he will outgrow it”. We didn’t need a label before, but things are changing. Last night we met with his teacher at his new school. The first two weeks have been bumpy. He’s cried in class multiple times. He’s having a hard time adjusting. He is a quick learner and can do the work, but lacks the social skills for his age. He needs tools that a diagnosis will provide.
My heart breaks for his struggling little self.
It’s time now.
He’s different. He’s a kid who falls on the autism spectrum. And it’s okay.
Walking to the corner I keep an eye on the other end of our road for the bus. Eventually it comes, lumbering down the street to drop off our kiddos from another day at school just a quick 3 suburban blocks from our front door.
The pavement wet from last night’s rain, I clutch the handle of my shabby umbrella and wait. A neighbor’s silver car pulls up, much like he did the other day, window down to speak with me. Last week he did the same, to assure me my kids got off the bus and are coming. I’m not sure if he thinks I don’t own a watch, I’m blind and cannot see their bobbing heads coming toward me, or I’m just too lazy to go all the way down to the bus stop. I prepare to wave him off again, but he stops and says, “I told them to get in the car – that I would take them home, but they said you were on your way.”
A thousand thoughts flew through my mind.
I only know this man from the bus stop. I am certain he is fine, that there is no actual danger with this person, he was only trying to be kind since it was raining out. He has a child in the same school.
“YES! That is correct,” I say pointedly, more firm than polite at this point, as he continues on his way.
What if they had gotten in the car? What if the guy was a creep? What if they thought because we had had a couple of morning bus stop chats with this man and his son that it would be okay to go with them? Last night on the news a student at a nearby school was flashed at the bus stop. When was the last time we chatted about tricky people and stranger danger? OH MY GOD. This could happen so damn quickly.
I march quickly up to meet the kids and drop the umbrella to squeeze them both so tight as my throat constricts. “I am SO DARN proud of the two of you!”
Hannah, fumbling with her backpack straps looks up and questions why. I look at Jacob and smile. “The neighbor guy just told me he asked you guys to get in the car and you said no. That was the EXACT RIGHT THING to do!” Jacob grinned and related his version of events – all of which Hannah claims she didn’t hear, evidently ignoring her brother and his conversation as they were walking off the bus. We reviewed our family safety plan, that if we set a time and place to meet – that’s what we stick to. We don’t get in cars with neighbors, even if we’ve had a conversation or two, even if they are friendly. We talked more about the tricky people concept. It was a great opportunity to water those seeds I planted months ago, while praying I would never need them.
I am relieved this was not an actual situation, but being prepared and having the tools in their little tool belts will continue to keep them doing the exact right thing should a real situation present itself.
I breathe. We walk home. We do homework.
They move on.
I watch them and play with them and find I really don’t mind the 453rd game of monopoly quite so much today.
Having a few races under my belt including a marathon, as well as a few deployments – I couldn’t help to note some striking similarities.
During shore duty, the duty stations where deployments are not a factor, my mind goes to what I call the “shore duty mental bubble”. These are the tours where deployments do not exist. This is where we emulate as close as possible to civilian life. Spouse goes to work, comes home. Rinse, Recycle, Repeat, much like a 9-5 job most of the time.
Then the PCS season rolls around and, like little pin pricks in a balloon, reality starts to pop my shore duty bubble. We have the “where to next?” conversations and things are up in the air for a while. It’s the moment when you realize that like life, none of this is really in your control. You have to just go with it.
What the heck does this have to do with running marathons?
When running distances, it is imperative to have your mental game on point. You cannot run a marathon and at some point not ever have deal with your brain. Thoughts you haven’t ever dreamed you’d be thinking – you’ll have them while running. Like gearing up for a PCS move and/or deployments, you take it day by day, or mile by mile, as they come. To be at peace with being uncomfortable, being in transition, or being smack dab in the trenches of a long run, it comes with going with the flow instead of resisting what is.
Marathons and deployments both require preparation. You wouldn’t go out and run 26.2 miles without training for it in some fashion. (If you do, you’ll likely pay for it.) Likewise, deployments require preparation and planning. As the cliche goes, fail to plan – plan to fail.
On the heels of planning and preparation, there is only so much you can prepare for. Then you have to just let go. Running a marathon forces you to let go of what if. What if you get injured at mile 18? What if I’m dehydrated and there isn’t an aid station? What if my knees give me trouble? What if I need a bathroom? (If you are runner, you know strategy is everything in this department!) Anyone having gone through a deployment knows that the deployment gremlins always appear within the first month! It’s military murphy’s law. The washer will break down or the car will have trouble. The garage door will not open. The gremlins never seem to jack with your life with as much enthusiasm as the beginning of the deployment. Like running, we have to accept that this crap may happen. You may get injured at mile 18. That washer may break down. But what good is it going to do worrying about either before it has even happened? Worrying is like the front porch rocking chair: gives you something to do, but gets you no where.
There will be good deployment days and bad. Some of them are so awesome that the only thing that is not perfect is that your spouse isn’t there to share it with you. The kids had a great day, you had a great day. You got done what you wanted to do, or you just played all day. Some miles are like that. Free and easy, those miles remind us runners why we love to run. The distance ticks by and you barely notice it. It’s those miles that we chase, running all the other ho-hum miles, just to experience a few of the really incredible ones. Savoring the good days and good miles carries you through the not-so good ones.
Deployments force you to be independent whether you think you are ready or not. Standing on the start line feels the same way. Ready or not, it’s go time! 3 months into a deployment or 8 miles into a marathon – it’s you. You put one foot in front of the other and go. There is support along the way, but ultimately it’s you, being independent. Day after day, mile after mile.
Deployments and marathons will grow you in places you didn’t know existed. You’ll do things you never thought capable. It goes without saying that pride is a big factor in both. There is no experience like laying out a plan, setting goals, and achieving. Pride in your ability to endure and cope will astound you.
Deployments and marathons have many things in common. It’s too bad they can’t both be over in one day!
I like it because it pretty accurately depicts how most of us felt and or now feel.
Standing at the bus stop the first morning this year, I got the familiar catch in my throat. It was nothing like that first day, the first year, the oldest kid – I remember feeling pretty nervous, sad, and anxious for him to get home. I just wanted to know that he was okay, thatit was a good day. I called to them both, “Have a great day!” with camera positioned and ready to snap a quick ‘getting-on-the-bus’ picture. This is what I got:
There were no tearful last-minute run back and hug mom moments, not even a goodbye! They didn’t even turn back around! And you know what? I was actually pretty glad. I’m glad because I’m so happy they are confidently heading into school and excited for their days. This phase is pretty awesome. Because really, isn’t that what mothering is all about? We work each day to slowly work ourselves out of a job – so they are independent, functional adult human beings who are capable of going after life.
Day 2 of school and we miss the bus.
So much for having my “mom shit” together.
We flip a u-turn and head to the other bus stop and wait. The bus arrives and another dad comes running down the street, flush-faced daughter in tow, backpack swinging wildly as she races to keep up with her dad. I ask the driver to wait for one more. The kids all get on and the dad and I share a knowing smile.
“Nothing like starting your day with an adrenaline rush!”
I agree and laugh. “Almost better than coffee! Here’s to another great school year!” I raise my coffee cup to him and head off back home. I walk the dogs, I pick up the house. I do some doggie school homework. I do some writing. I look at my watch and realize I have about 10 minutes until I need to head down to the bus stop and pick up the kids. I get into what I’m doing. I look back at the clock and realize I’m 5 minutes late.
In the space of 30 seconds, I panic slightly and ask myself rapid-fire: “Do they know how to get home? Will they look for traffic? What if someone grabs them? Will the bus driver not let them off if I’m not standing there? Where will I go to pick them up? Didn’t someone say there are convicted felons registered here? What if they fell asleep on the bus again and the driver forgets it’s their stop and what ifwhatifwhatifwhatif…….”
Breathe. I hastily dash out the door and make it to the end of our block. I see their little heads bobbing as they walk proudly in a single file line on the narrow part of our road that has no side walks. They make it to the corner. They both stop, they look for traffic. The cars wave them across and they make their way to me on the sidewalk. I grin and Hannah swaggers up, chest puffed out, “MOM! WE WALKED HOME BY OURSELVES! I’m SUCH a BIG first grader!”
“Mom, I had us walk single file like you do when there is no sidewalk,” Jake reports, in his usual just-the-facts-ma’am style.
Then they both beg me to stay home the next day so they could walk ALL the way home by themselves. I exhale. I make no mention of the fact that I was late, or having a slight heart attack; that this was all part of my master-mom-plan to give them a little more independence. I take another deep breath.
‘NO!’ I wanted to scream. ‘You were JUST MY BABIES IN DIAPERS yesterday! What are you thinking? Are you crazy? NO you cannot walk 2 blocks by yourself! Someone will call CPS because I’m a neglectful mother!’
But I say none of that. I shut up my helicopter-mom alter ego and simply say, “Perhaps I can just meet you on our corner for now. Then see how it goes.” They think that’s a brilliant plan. While we are eager for growth and responsibility, perhaps just for a bit they can move into independence with baby steps. At least for their mom’s sake.
With the conclusion of the school year, the reduction of my gym hours, the kids and I are experiencing the sudden loss of structure. I’m actually enjoying it, and for the most part, they are, too. There is a common theme that has arisen as of late, however – a whole 14 days into the break – boredom.
The dreaded summer “b” word.
Last week, my sweet son whined to me, “I’m bored. I have nothing to do. And I’ve used up my iPad time.” (Yes, that’s limited!) Somewhere along the way, I was dubbed the activities director. Sadly, this is a job I do not want, nor did I apply for.
“Why don’t you use that big beautiful brain of yours to figure out how not to be bored,” I replied.
Eye-rolling (brain searching) commenced and a few mutterings. I choked on the suggestions of 500 things he could do that were sitting on the tip of my tongue ready to spew all over. I waited. About 2 minutes later (felt like 30) he drug out the sidewalk chalk. Little sister joined him.
And 45 minutes later, they were still super involved in their hopscotch project. No whining. No bickering. Just 45 minutes of bliss.
Later, I was sent this article (thanks Angie!) that confirmed what I’m figuring out: Boredom is the birthplace of creativity. (Yay research for backing me up!) I also keep seeing articles about “How to give your kids a 1980s/1970s type of summer” complete with exploration, being bored, taking the days as they come. I LOVE this! I sure as heck don’t want to be the family chauffeur. I don’t think spending my summer in the car sounds like fun. I cannot be the activities director. I will not (nor can we afford) week after week of camps all summer long. (We are doing 1!) We are taking this one summer day at a time.
It WILL be full of swimming, bike riding, yummy lunches they help make (hello, cooking camp in our own kitchen!), but none of the hyper-organized structure. More of the “What are you up for today?” and less ticking off a must-do list that leaves us all harried and cranky. I am so looking forward to this!
But, in the event the dreaded B-word rears it’s ugly head, I’m now prepared!
What about you? How are you spending the summer months?