I used to avoid fostering friendships with other moms of kiddos with special needs. Support groups were depressing. I didn't really want to fixate on what she couldn't do or wouldn't have. I wanted to be a glass half-full kind of girl-- to only see the good, the giftedness and embrace it. Now that she is 14, I find myself treasuring the friendships that allow me to voice to hard stuff. Because quite frankly, the teen years are difficult for most everyone, but autism has ramped up the parenting game to a level I wasn't prepared for. Most recently, it was the onset of Homecoming in the Facebook world.
The window was cracked open, allowing me to hear the steady squeak of her swing as I sat down at the computer. My breath caught as I scrolled through photos of girls the same age as my own, dressed in sequined dresses, a handsome young man standing next to them, a corsage on the wrist. I took a deep breath and exhaled. "This isn't mine and that's okay."
These girls are not mine. The slumber parties, beginnings of crushes, late night texts and Homecoming dances are not in my world. And if I look at the pictures too many times, allow myself to wonder why, and begin to focus in on that small point of longing it will go somewhere ugly.
It is critical that I embrace what is mine. What is it? Continued excitement to visit the pumpkin patch, afternoons spent on a swing, belly laughs and witty comebacks-- these are all mine. If I don't value this, if I choose to look past it to the larger group of what appears to be normal, I am missing it all. I am missing who she truly is.
Lately there has been renewed interest in Rosemary Kennedy and the failed lobotomy. At the heart of it all, I think her father couldn't embrace what was truly his. Deep down, I believe that his longing was so intense, so acute that he couldn't ignore it, had to pursue it. Because what if a surgery could restore what he felt was rightfully his? His normal child? A normal life? An eventual empty nest? In his quest to fix what he thought was broken, he missed who his daughter truly was.
It's too easy and casual to write his decision for Rosemary off as cruel and uneducated, though the adjectives are fitting. But I've tried to force my child into normal activities, especially in the early years, when I thought it might help her, gain her friendships, hone social skills, help us to branch out. I've driven my child to tears by hosting a birthday party she did not want, singing to her despite tears and then finally moving the party outside so that we could watch her eat Cheetos on the slide in the backyard. Nine months pregnant and burdened with guilt, of course throwing a big party seemed like the obvious good mom move. In truth? It was an attempt at lobotomy--- grasping for the appearance of normal for my sake and not her own. Another picture for a voyeuristic scrapbook with pictures and captions that I could control. The things in life that keep me from the doomed lobotomy-like parenting behaviors and choices are the quiet whispers of God's voice and the faithful friends he provides.
While Homecoming isn't mine this year, an appreciation for these deepening friendships has developed. To be understood and heard is to snuggle under a faithful quilt and pull it tight. The seams won't rip from the stress and the distinctive pattern isn't out of place or looked at with pity or confusion.