Sometimes it totally catches me off guard that E has autism. I look at him asleep in his room and I see the pictures of him on the wall as an infant and it just hits me. The reality of it all. That my baby E has autism. It’s like a punch to the gut and I feel like I have had the wind knocked out of me. Especially days like today where he is really hard and the autism is more obvious. I look at that those old photos and with them are my expectations of what I thought he would be like and what I thought my life would be like. I expected him to be a typical little boy. He would go through the same stages and milestones as A. I see those pictures and it’s like they were another lifetime. It’s almost as if that boy still exists out there, and that mom still exists out there. And then I am here. People try to be optimistic with me. They say, he will be fine, he will do great. I hope for those things too, but what they don’t understand is that I am still dealing with the loss of what I thought he would be. I am still grieving my old life. To me in this moment, Autism is everything. I am grateful for what I have. I am grateful for the resources I have, but sometimes I am still just sad. And defeated. Sometimes it takes every ounce of energy to run after him again. Or to ignore the intense embarrassment I feel when he is shrieking and I am taking him out of the restaurant while everyone watches. Or feeling anxious as some stranger at a store comes over and tries to play with him and tries to be interactive. I pray that he just looks at them once so the moment will be over. Sometimes it feels like I have been dealt more than I can handle. For those days, there is writing and David Sedaris.
If you’re not sick of hearing about us yet, here is our year in review.
Janmohamed Family Highlights
January: Eric accepts new job working for Mars, the Mars responsible for making M and M’s, in Toledo, Ohio. Mars recently acquired Iams Pet Food, and Eric is working at one of the Iams Plants. I fly out to Ohio to find us a home accompanied by my sister because Eric was busy tying up loose ends at Young Living. Found a home in 48 hours. Harassed the landlord incessantly, telling him I was an amazing tenant over and over again. I amassed 26 back and forth emails before he called me to tell me that I got the house.
February: Mars packed us up and moved us, very stress-free. Flew to Ohio. Thought it would be fine not putting A in a preschool for the rest of the year. Majorly mistaken. After 7 days of pure chaos, I found a preschool for A before we even had our internet set up. After touring the preschool and liking it, I asked them if they could take her the next day. They did and I was able to finally start unpacking in peace.
March: Trips back and forth to Lexington, Kentucky to visit the sister. These continued until July when she moved. I do not know if this is correlated to us visiting her every possible chance and setting up our big air mattress in the center of her living room each time. I tell myself it isn’t.
April: Trip to the Windy City. The kids traded off throwing up in every restaurant we went to. We amassed an entire new wardrobe, because amazingly after the second and even third time we never thought to bring a change of clothes. Target for the win. And the Chicago Outlets.
May: My birthday. The most important time of year. Oh and E’s I guess is in May too. We had his birthday party in Lexington. Surprise Surprise. Aforementioned sister also graduated with her Masters from University of Kentucky that weekend so most of the Bourgerie Family was in town.
June: Beach visits. Went to Detroit. A visit from the Uncle and Aunt in Minneapolis. They were on a niece tour visiting all their nieces East of the Mississippi. We were honored to be on the tour. Humidity in Toledo starts to get thick.
July: Fourth of July in Kentucky. Trip to Utah. Stranded in Houston. We finally made it to Utah in the exact time it would have taken us to drive. Lots of Bourgerie and Janmohamed family time. Takes a bit of adjustment for the kids to get used to time change and new place.
August: Home from Utah for the last half of August. A few more beach days. Lots of park days. Approved for Respite Care and my life changed. At the start, I usually just sat in a parking lot and ate Burger King and thought, this is what life is really about.
September: I go to New Orleans for an Autism Conference. Temple Grandin and me become pretty much BFF’s. My mom and I walk around the French Quarter. We find out the difference between Jambalaya and Gumbo. I eat Beignets and tell my mom all about New Orleans based off of what I learned in Princess and the Frog.
October: Visit from Older Sister. We visit Motown Museum and I buy the most comfortable sweater of my life. Everyday, sister would say, Oh that looks amazing, I really want it too. I think I am going to go back and buy it. When we go back, she changes her mind. Instead she buys a bunch of who knows what from The Henry Ford gift shop.
November: Visits from both Grandmas and a Grandpa. A’s birthday. Grandma Janmohamed is here for it. We host a party in our humble abode and surprisingly it goes well with 13 kids and half of their parents. Kids get their faces painted and have balloon animals. We go to the Art Museum twice so we can play in the kids family center, and both times it is closed. We become very cultured in the actual art since no choice but to visit and I am shocked at how well the kids do. Thanksgiving brings the Bourgerie grandparents. Amazing food made mostly by my mom. I do make some green beans and a quick bread. We see Coco, but on our way there I spill gasoline all over myself, because apparently I can’t pump gas. My mom tells me she will be sick if she has to sit by me, so I buy myself a Christmas present at the mall in the form of a new outfit. You think by now, I would bring alternate outfits for the whole family.
December: Christmas tree, Hallmark movies, and Frankenmuth- the Christmas town.
Most insane year of our lives, but also filled with a lot of fun times. Merry Christmas
The kids and I were in the play place of a fast food restaurant the other day. I was sitting down while A and E played. There was another adult sitting in the play place as well and she was watching E. “How old is he?” she finally asked me. This is the seemingly non-complicated question that I get stumped on. The reason being, they are usually asking how old he is because they are confused by his behavior and his size. They usually think he is big for his age because he is acting younger than he looks. “Two and a half,” is what I replied. This is the point where I wonder if I should insert, “He has autism.” It’s not anybody’s business and I am under no pressure to share this information with strangers. But… they are usually asking because they notice something is different about his behavior. I don’t want pity so in the past I have often hesitated to bring it up. Lately though, I have been trying to bring it up more regularly. The reason for this is, I want to bring normalcy to autism. I don’t want it to be a taboo subject. I want the person to be aware. He is doing those things because he has autism and that’s okay. “He has autism” I finally tell the lady. “Oh really?” she replies. “That’s interesting because he looks so happy.” With this response I am immediately grateful that I chose to bring it up with her. I explain to her a little more about autism. I explain that children with autism are happy and are able to convey it. Maybe not in the traditional way that we expect, but they still are.
When I tell people that E has autism, I usually get several follow-up questions. I welcome these. I have a tough skin and there is not much you can say, short of directly insulting my son, on the subject of autism that will offend me. I welcome being able to educate people and help people learn more on the subject. When my husband told his boss about E’s situation, his boss replied that he had never met someone with autism and to be honest he didn’t really know what it was. I was shocked by this. I just figured everyone knew what autism was.
I have gathered a list of the answers to my five most frequently asked questions. My answers are not everyones answers. There is a famous saying people like to quote in the autism world. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” I am sharing the answers gained through my experiences with my son with autism.
Without further hesitation…
1. How did you know E had autism?
I get asked this all the time. I get asked this the most when the asker has concerns about their own child’s development. I think the hidden question is, should I have concerns about my child?
I was lucky enough to be around autism quite a bit with a prior job. I knew the warning signs. I also went to school for Early Childhood Education. I realized that E wasn’t as interactive as A was at his age. I realized that he could go days without acknowledging me. I noticed he wanted to communicate so bad but he didn’t seem to be able to do it. There are a lot of these symptoms that on their own are nothing to worry about. E had them all. Poor eye contact, speech regression, behavioral issues. My advice on this is, you have your mother or father sixth sense. If you feel there is something off, what’s the harm in getting your child tested or an opinion from a medical professional? We had to go through three screening processes which were quite time-consuming. Each one over an hour before we were even referred to the developmental pediatrician. They don’t diagnose autism easily. They are very thorough. Whatever the problem might be, through testing, they can identify your child’s delay and come up with a individualized plan to address it.
2. Have you tried [insert latest fad, diet, or behavior]?
When E was first diagnosed, I didn’t sleep. I spent every possible moment researching therapies and reading book after book. I wanted to do everything possible to help my son. There comes a time when you realize what you can realistically do out of all the information and services out there and what will work for your child. You can’t do every single thing and it’s not good for the child to be in therapy every waking moment either. It’s also not good for the parent to be only eating and breathing autism. I have tried certain things and will continue to try new things, but one step at a time. I guess, what I am trying to get at is, every single fad, diet, or behavior, I am very aware of. I probably have earned a PhD with all of the research I have done on autism. I know that people want to help. It’s human nature to want to fix things. Trust that we know what we are doing and we have one hundred percent heard of what you are suggesting. Even if you know somebody who had success with such behavior or therapy, every child is so different and what worked for them may not work for my child. Replacement questions that I personally love are, “How are you handling all of this? How are you doing? What’s keeping you awake at night worrying?” Autism moms want to sound off. I am not offended when people mention the previously mentioned things. I know they are being kind and it’s coming from a good place. It does however get tiresome explaining what I am doing with my child and if I have tried it and if I haven’t, why not.
3. Was it the vaccinations?
I don’t believe that vaccines cause autism. This is a hot topic so I will not elaborate much more. Two things. E did not have good eye contact or interaction at all as an infant. It did happen, but it was few and far between. He always seemed to just tolerate me. I thought I wasn’t being a good enough parent or that I was not bonding with him properly. These signs were noticeable from a young age, I just didn’t know they were connected to autism yet. Second thing. https://www.amazon.com/Autistic-Brain-Helping-Different-Succeed/dp/0544227735/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me= This book talks in depth about what the autistic brain looks like. It’s a very interesting read and I highly recommend it. The information in the book has strengthened my belief even more that autism is something you are born with.
4. This is not a question, but an observation I get often. “He doesn’t look like he has autism” or “It doesn’t look that bad”. This one really gets to me sometimes. Autism is not obvious at all times. If E is just playing at a park, you probably are not going to notice. Come to my house when I try to transition him from play time to another activity and the autism alarms will be going off at full decibel. A child with autism is not always hand flapping/stimming. To say it doesn’t look that bad minimizes things. Until you have walked in my shoes, you can’t say it’s not that bad. This goes for everyone. We don’t know what other people are going through. Supportive words are always the best whether or not you see the difficulty in that moment.
5. I thought kids with autism didn’t smile or like to be touched. Why is he so loving and touchy with you?
E is sensory seeking. Other children with autism may be sensory avoiding or some are like E and are seeking sensory stimulation. E does not seem to feel things as much as a typical child. He falls down and bleeds but doesn’t cry. I don’t realize he has an ear infection often for almost a month because he does not show that he is in pain. If I put a block down his shirt, he can’t feel it most of the time. He craves sensory input. Most often times from me or A. Children who are sensory avoiding may be overwhelmed by loud noises. They tend to hear and feel things even more than the typical child. They easily get overwhelmed by touch because they are feeling it so much more that it can hurt. E does not feel it enough. He likes to crash into things. He loves to swing. He loves to squish into me as hard as he can. He likes to flip upside down. This feels good. When he is having a meltdown, I put him in a tight hold and this calms him down quickly about fifty percent of the time.
E didn’t always smile. It used to be very hard to get a smile out of him. He is able to show his emotion a lot better than he used to. We are grateful for this. E may not react to the same kind of stimuli as W will with a smile. If I smile at E, he will return it maybe one out of four times. There are certain things that make E smile almost without a doubt. These are motion games. A will take E’s hand and they spin around and around and around and that makes him smile. E feels the most relaxed and happy when his sensory needs are being met. We get the most speech and smiles out of him when he is in his swing. His sensory needs being met make him feel safe and relaxed and because of this he is able to relax a bit and smile.
5. What is the hardest part?
The hardest part right now is feeling like I have an eternal one-year-old. E cannot walk on his own or he will run away. When I hold his hand in a parking lot he drops all his weight to the ground and refuses to walk. When I hold him he is constantly trying to get free. Pulling my hair, throwing my sunglasses, pulling at my face, whatever he can do to get me to let him down. He still puts things in his mouth, he runs straight to the street or the pond when we go outside to play. He resists getting into the car seat. Every time I put him in I have to man handle him. He still gets up in the middle of the night several times. I feel like when you have a baby, you think this is so hard, but it’s okay because you know they will get older and outgrow it. You mentally are prepared to handle it for x amount of time. With E, I don’t know how long this will last. It’s exhausting. I live in fear of him getting lost or hurt. He flails in tantrums and hurts himself. Self-harm is a problem with him and him harming me when he is angry. I feel tired all the time. I reassess my situation every few months and decide what help I need to add on. I am lucky to live in a state that has such amazing services that we can afford to add on help in the home. As hard as all that is, the smiles and the love and his sweet personality make it all worth it.
Challenges are not unique to me or to autism. Before I had E, I often felt at my breaking point with whatever life was handing me. A having tantrums, hard pregnancy, husband working late. Life is hard no matter what you are handed, and you adjust accordingly. Viktor E. Frankl describes this better than I can in his book “Man’s Search For Meaning”
“To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
And with that I end. Please comment any questions you may have about autism or about your current challenges in your lives.
A is the boss of the house. Or so she thinks. Sometimes A is feeling very impressed with something she has done and might remark, “Wasn’t that a very six-years-old way that I got the cheese out of the fridge?” If I agree and say, yes it was in fact a very six-years-old way to get the cheese, she is instilled with just enough confidence to keep going. She then informs me about all the things that four-years-olds, five-years-olds and six-years-olds like to do with their spare time. “Sometimes four-years-olds really like to get cheese out of the fridge because they are feeling grown up, but four-years-olds also really like to get the mail. AND they like to unlock the door when the babysitter comes. They get very upset when their moms do it for them.” When she says this she tries to align her gaze with mine. Almost as if her general assessment of four-years-olds is directed towards me.
When we were moving last winter and people were coming to look at our house, A would try to take direction of the tour. She had seen enough Fixer Uppers that she felt like she knew her way around tour-guiding houses. “And this…” she would say, “is the room where Mom puts all the things she doesn’t want to put away.” She would then quickly transition to the Master and and all it’s dazzling features. Including the accompanying “ensuite”. Let me tell you this. There was nothing ensuite about that bathroom. The house was 1400 sq. ft, built in the fifty’s, and probably updated once in the seventy’s. It worked for our needs, but it definitely did not have an ensuite.
A likes to talk a lot and fortunately for her, unfortunately for me since I am the topic of it, she has plenty of opportunities to exercise her skill. At E’s Early Intervention Playgroup she told his teachers, “My mom doesn’t have time to play with me ever so she hired a babysitter to do it instead.” This is accompanied by A putting her positive spin on the situation. “Isn’t that so nice of her?” I told them that I recently hired a babysitter to help out and when we got home I went over with A all the times that day that I had played with her.
My mother-in-law has been visiting this week, which has been wonderful to have the help. She has been getting the kids for me in the morning so that I can sleep in. On the first morning that she got up with them, I overheard A giving her the rundown of our household. “Every morning I wake up first, then I go into E’s room and I play with him. Then I have to take care of him. I feed him breakfast and make sure he is safe. I help out with my brother A LOT. Mommy really likes to sleep. Sometimes she sleeps so late that we miss lunch.” She probably would have kept incriminating me, but I ran out of my bedroom faster than I have ever gotten up in the morning and interjected. I let my mother-in-law know that A sometimes goes in first to get E while I get dressed and plays with him in his room. The breakfast that she gets him consists of old Easter, Halloween, or Christmas Candy that she hides throughout the house. Lastly, A mixes up her meals and often mistakes breakfast for lunch. I am grateful for a mother-in-law who knows me well and knows that I am quite involved with my children and would never leave my “four-years-old” to care for my highly active two-year-old with autism.
I realize how easily my praise for A goes to her head. My telling her that she does such a good job helping with her brother and that I appreciate her help, translates in her mind to pretty much her running the house and being a super awesome four-year-old who takes care of her brother all the time. My sleep deprived pleas to her at four am to go back to bed and that I really like my sleep translates to me liking my sleep so much that I sleep through not one, but two important meals.
A is very precocious and it’s cute, but it more often borders on her thinking she is actually in charge. What is it with kids? You give them a compliment and they internalize it forever. I remember as a kid, someone said I had a good voice and I started practicing everyday in my room dreaming of the day that I would be discovered and turned into a famous pop star. After all, someone did say I had a good voice. Why wouldn’t that happen?
We hate to discourage A from being confident, but sometimes we do need to put a dent in her massive ego. We remind her that we are the parents and she is the child. She responds with, “Okay Mom”, or “Okay Dad”, and runs off. We know that deep down she still thinks that she runs the place. The next person who comes over she will be telling all about how Daddy loves video games so much he should have a video game themed birthday party and Mommy feeds us Diet Coke allllll the time.
When we first told A about E’s autism diagnosis and what that all entailed, we tried to focus on the good. What made him special. What his strengths and weaknesses vs. her strengths and weaknesses are. So it was kind of cute when she started referring to it as “optism or optimism”. E would be melting down somewhere and she would say, “That’s my brother, he’s just two. He has optimism.”
I went to an Autism Conference last month and one of the speakers there, Autism Daddy*, did a presentation on Autism Perks. It got me thinking to what my Autism Perks are. It’s so easy and completely understandable to get caught up in the negative. Sometimes focusing on the perks give you a little boost. Seeing the good in a hard situation.
1. Behavioral Experts on speed dial. When I had A, I was at a loss of what to do most of the time. I wanted a handbook on her. How do I change her awake times from night to day? What behaviors should I let go and what behaviors should I worry about? How do I get her to eat this food? There were so many questions, and people would tell me, kids don’t come with a handbook. You have to figure them out through trial and error. Hundreds of dollars of Amazon Books later, I have her about halfway figured out. With E though, I do have a handbook. Well, not an actual handbook, but something even better. A whole team of experts at my disposal. Yesterday I had an appointment with his Developmental Specialist, and we trouble shot his sleep issues. By the end of the appointment, we had some good ideas worked out and we tackled some of his self-harm issues. I’ll put them into play to see if they work, and if they don’t I’ll text her or see her again next week. I literally have five people with masters degrees helping me figure out E. It’s awesome. Also, equally awesome that they get just as excited about his milestones as I do. When I’m in tears over something amazing he has done, they are too. It really does take a village, and I’m so happy to have them at my fingertips at all times.
2. You know the Cheers theme song? “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name” Well, that’s another perk. Everywhere I go, people remember and know my name. We stick out thanks to E’s fun outbursts. They’re not always him screaming, just things that draw attention. Today he grabbed my wallet out of my hand and threw it to the back of the line when I was paying for food at a restaurant. People are nice though. They all know me and E and A. I live in a city, but I get to enjoy a small town feel. Costco, Once Upon A Child, Kroger. They all know my name. It sounds cheesy, but it gives me the sense of community. It can get lonely going through the monotony of the day over and over again. When people remember you and know you, it makes life that much friendlier. So thank you E. Thank you for throwing my wallet to the back of the line. We made some new friends when they helped me pick up my change, and credit cards.
3. Guys, I have mad muscles. Like I am insanely strong. I pick up my over 50 lb. suitcase when I am traveling and place it by myself into the overhead compartment with one hand. This may not sound amazingly strong to you, but I didn’t used to be able to do this. You know those people who ask the cashier to scan underneath their cart because they don’t want to lift up the heavy items? Yeah. That’s not me. Not with my strength. I pick up all the stuff from the bottom and put it on the conveyer belt like it’s no big deal. Because really, it’s not. For me. Lifting E all the time when he won’t walk, or when it’s not safe for him to walk, or when he is having a tantrum, it builds up my strength. It also can throw out my back, so I have to be careful, which brings me to the next one.
4. Handicap sticker. Man, this is a lifesaver. And honestly, it probably would not be that big of a deal if I didn’t have E. Which I guess is the point of it. After severe back pains from holding him all the time in the parking lot while he tried to get down and run into a car or having to turn around by the time I got into the store, because he was already worked up from the walk, I am so glad to be able to park close. At first I felt guilty using it because I thought well, he’s not in a wheelchair and I can physically carry him. However after many sleepless nights filled with back pain, I warmed to the idea.
5. Before I had E, I would always bring headphones with me on my flights. I hated being stuck without them if there was a crying baby. Now, I am immune to it. My sister and I were on a flight but not sitting together. After the flight, we were getting off the plane, and she told me she had not really been able to sleep because of the crying baby. I was shocked. I had not heard anything. When I do hear a crying baby, I am so happy. It means it’s not mine. Hearing someone else deal with it just makes me feel like I am not the only one who has a baby or toddler that screams bloody murder at the grocery store. Also, after 2.5 years of it, there is almost comfort in the sound. Well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but almost.
6. Last but not least. Free babysitting. This is the best. Time to just do whatever I want. When I had A, I remember my friends who had kids who were in school and just imagining the day that I too could go to the grocery store by myself. Or maybe just read by myself in my room for a few hours. I just longed to do something by myself that was just for me. I felt so lost in motherhood and wanted some escape sometimes. I thought of hiring a part time babysitter, but financially it was not really an option. With E, it’s definitely more intense, the time that I spend with him, but those respite care hours that I spend by myself, I just feel really lucky that I have the luxury of time off during my week from being a mom. I feel recharged after, and just a more effective mom because of it.
There are many more perks that I could list. But I wouldn’t want to brag too much. 🙂 All in all, I’m pretty grateful for the good and the bad in my life. I feel pretty lucky to have the family that I do.
So many of the things I’ve done in my life, and continue to do, are dictated by how to stay safe. In college, I wanted to join a biweekly evening study group on campus, but couldn’t initially because it wasn’t safe to walk alone at night. My male friend offered to start walking me up there and staying at the library while I went to my group. I could never go on a date without telling a friend my itinerary and having them check up on me. I learned in my early teen years to have a certain kind of facial expression when I was out alone so as not to encourage unwanted attention. I would often use a fake wedding ring to ward off unwanted attention. (Still only worked 50% of the time) These things I named are just the tip of the iceberg what women deal with daily. I’ve never really thought twice about them, I just do them. Even with all the safeholds we women put into place, sexual abuse and harassment are still overwhelmingly commonplace. I logged onto Facebook and Instagram and was overwhelmed by the brave women standing up and saying “me too”. With this, I’ll join them. Me too.
Why are we so afraid to speak up if it’s so commonplace? I don’t know everyone else’s reasons, but these are mine.
1. Fear of not being believed. Sometimes even by yourself. Doubt comes into our minds, niggling. Was it true assault/abuse? Could I have done more? Once we come to terms with the true nature of the circumstance, it’s even more terrifying to tell someone else. More times than not, we aren’t believed.
2. Fear of being regarded as weak and/or a victim. I regard myself as a strong woman. Coming to terms with being in a situation where I was taken advantage of in some capacity is hard to admit to myself, let alone others. Being regarded as a victim is just as bad for me. I don’t want to be looked at differently and treated differently. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me either. Sexual abuse/harassment IS a heavy subject and one that isn’t always easy to broach.
3. Feeling alone. I felt that what happened to me had only happened to me. I’d venture to guess that I’m not the only one who felt that way. Talking to others and seeing this recent social media response has definitely proved me wrong.
It’s powerful and uplifting to see people coming together. Let’s keep at it. To those other #metoo’s. I see you.
*i apologize for typos and grammar errors. This was written on my phone in the waiting room while my son was at OT.
It’s been almost six months since E was diagnosed. I look back at my life a year ago, and it is completely different. The most noticeable difference? I use a Kindle Paperwhite now vs. the regular Kindle obviously. I will never go back. The less noticeable differences? I live in Ohio, and my baby E was diagnosed with Autism. I didn’t sleep the first few months after the diagnosis and I absorbed every book written on the subject of Autism. I learned a lot, but there are a few things that they didn’t mention in any of my books and I’m talking about them here.
It is impossible to be shy when you have a child with a disability. If you were shy before the diagnosis, it’s put aside immediately. Firstly, dealing with doctor after doctor, therapist after therapist, insurance rep after insurance rep, you have to learn people skills. Secondly, you draw attention everywhere you go. All eyes on you.
When I go to the grocery store with my kids, I go to the grocery store. Everyone knows we are there. E doesn’t stay buckled into the cart anymore. He has mastered the unbuckle himself. While I am proud of his skill and dexterity, it presents quite a few challenges. He also screams like a banshee, happy or sad. Once again, I am happy that he is being vocal, but it’s rough on the ears, and it draws quite a bit of attention. When I bring him to the store, I have two options. 1. Bring the stroller. He can’t get out of the five-point harness, and he will stay buckled in the whole time happy. Usually. But then, I also have to push a cart. So the spectacle I make draws quite a few comments. Mostly sweet, but we make ourselves known. Option number 2. I wear him in the Ergo. He likes this for about five minutes. Then he starts to scream, and claw my face and hit me. I power through, and just put things randomly in the cart as I power walk the aisles and hope that I can make a dinner out of something that I’ve grabbed. Cabbage and Baked Beans. You’d be surprised. This with A at my side, “ Can I have this Mom?” “Can I have that?” “This just has just an eenie meenie minie mo bit of sugar in it” “Mom, watch me do this trick” Like I said spectacle. No way to be shy. I have my manufactured jokes and small talk to respond to every quip thrown at me.
With all these people skills you are forced to learn, you think you’d be the life of the party. But not so much. Hanging out and/or talking with friends kind of feels like you are bringing the water balloon to the party. There is an episode of Friends, where they are playing rock, paper, scissors. Joey tries to trump it with fire, and Phoebe trumps it with water balloon. The water balloon is the trump of trumps. This is me when I talk to my friends or go on playdates. Your problems are always such a downer. 100 times worse. I want to join in the conversation, but it’s the equivalent of someone saying, “Oh I tripped on a rock and stubbed my toe” and you say, “My mom died tripping on a rock” and then its just silent and the conversation is over. They talk about their kids throwing a tantrum, and you say, excited to join in, “Oh yeah, E had one last night and he cut open his head again. All his pajamas are getting blood stained and I am just getting so tired of trying to get it out of clothing. Do you know of any good stain removers for blood?” To me this is so casual, and I think I am adding to the conversation, but to them, they are horrified, and it ends all conversation there. Or worse, people are afraid to vent to you because they don’t feel like they can. They feel like their problems pale by comparison. They apologize before they talk, “I know E is ten times worse, but…”
Keeping friends when you have a kid with a disability is hard. You rarely have any extra time for friends, and also you’re going through the five stages of grief all the time. It really interferes with the carefree positivity you used to have. The stages bounce all over the place too. One day you’re in Acceptance, and you feel great and you text all your friends because you feel so happy and back to yourself again, and then the next day you are whiplashed back into Depression. Then Denial. Then Anger.
However, the friends that stick with you though all this are the keepers. They’re lifers. And if they’re lucky, you can share with them your newly acquired social skills.