In the second of this week's series of guest blogs by autism moms, a mother new to autism reflects on the meaning of Mother's Day. Jessica Severson blogs about autism, parenting, budgeting, working and juggling the insanity of it all in her blog Don't Mind the Mess.
Last year was my first Mother's Day. I don't remember much of it. Our house was buzzing with activity. It was the weekend of my husband's graduation. My in-laws and my parents were in town. There was fawning over the baby. There was the successful graduate. There were 3 mothers present for Mother's Day: me, my mother and my mother-in-law.
It was a little crazy but I'm not sure I would have wanted a small, intimate Mother's Day last year. Because I wasn't feeling that great about myself as a mother. Other people cuddled and played with their babies. Mine always seemed to be screaming about something. We never had those idyllic mornings snuggling with the baby in bed. He was intense and loud and rare
ly pleased. I could not relax during a drive to the store or a walk down the street. I was exhausted and jealous that everyone around me seemed to have it so easy.
More than that, I was depressed. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I felt like something was wrong with my baby. I felt like this thing I'd always wanted was not at all what I expected.
When you sign up to be a parent, you sign up for work, any parent will tell you it's a full-time job. But I felt like I was constantly getting killed with overtime.
It was only a few months ago that I found out that it wasn't me. My son, Graham, is autistic.
Good things have come out of that diagnosis. But it seems like every good thing has a bad thing tagging along.
Good: I am not doing anything wrong. Bad: Something actually is wrong with my baby. Good: For me, the diagnosis is a vindication and a sense of relief. Bad: It also means that none of this is a stage, that he may never "grow out of it" like I always hoped.
For a while I got some time to relax and be glad that I wasn't deluded about having a tougher time than most mothers. Now, though, Graham's treatment has started. There are goals to reach. There is work to do. There are behaviors to reward and others to ignore.
On the weekends we have to walk a fine line. Do we stick to the rules and spend our days off dealing with the inevitable meltdowns that follow? Do we give him a break only to make it harder when things start again on Monday? Lately I fold more often than I stand my ground. Until April, Graham didn't have any words, so when he says "Train" and points at the television, it's hard to say no. He is communicating. It's amazing. It's so much progress. But we still want more.
I want to help. I want to encourage him. It takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of patience. All of these are in short supply on a weekend, especially if I'm at home by myself. Graham is figuring out how to work the system. He's already trying to get away with things when I'm around that his therapists won't tolerate.
It's a different kind of frustration. I still wish he would just calm down and be happy. But now there are things I can do to make it better so the pressure falls back on me again. Am I trying hard enough? Am I doing well enough? Just like before, I feel like the answers to these questions is usually "No." At least, that's how it feels to me.
A year later there will be nothing much going on at our house on Mother's Day. My husband will probably have to work. Graham will still be difficult. Maybe I will get a gift or a card or a night out, maybe not. The truth is, I don't know what I want this year either. I don't know if I'm comfortable being celebrated or appreciated when I still feel so bad at this motherhood thing.
As soon as you become a Special Needs parent, other people talk to you differently. They say you are amazing. They say you are the best parent for your child. I never feel like I deserve these compliments. I guess it's their way of acknowledging that I got dealt a tough hand and I should take it in the spirit that it's offered. I should be able to stand up and say that I'm trying hard and I deserve some recognition. Still, it's possible that I'll never get comfortable. I may never feel the way I thought I would.
I hate it when people sing to me on my birthday. I don't know how I'm supposed to act. I find the song rather silly. It means I have to stand there awkwardly, looking happy and modest and pleased when I'd rather just eat cake. So it's not such a surprise that I wouldn't mind if Mother's Day went by unnoticed. Well, maybe 70% of me wouldn't mind.
There is 30% that wants so desperately to get breakfast in bed and then get whisked off for a day of pampering or taken out to a candlelit dinner. But that might never happen. I don't know if I'll ever get the kind of day you see on television where the earnest child comes in with a tray of semi-edible food made just for you. I don't want the 30% to take over, to start giving me expectations that will never be met.
It is too early to tell how our son will end up. Maybe he will be indistinguishable from his peers. Maybe he will never ever fit in. In the meantime, the least I can do is sit back and not care about Mother's Day. Instead I'll just keep working on being his mother and finding my own rewards.