LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

Billy_Swing

When I first heard the “A-word,” I was devastated because I thought my child was going to turn into some kind of robot. That he would refuse to hug me, become incapable of laughter, never have friends, never know love. That's what I thought autism meant. Because at the time, I had no idea what life on the spectrum would really be like ...

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INT. BEDTIME – LAST NIGHT

Billy is tucked into bed. My hand is on the light switch when he starts whimpering.

Me: Billy, why are you crying?

Billy: I’m crying because, because… because Mama is leaving.

Me: I’m just going to my room. I’m not going very far.

Billy: Can you hug me?

Me: Of course I can hug you.

And I jump up on his bed next to him and give him a big bear hug.

Billy: (muffled, into my shoulder) Can you hug me for a hundred minutes?

------------

We didn’t hug for a hundred minutes, but we hugged for a long time, long enough for me to remember how afraid I’d been that he would lose this, long enough for a tiny little spark of fear to tickle at the back of my mind: Would a day come when he wouldn’t want to hug for a hundred minutes?

Of course it will. And most mothers fear that day.

If anything, Billy's autism is more about a surplus of emotion, and how to deal with it, rather than a lack of emotion. Most of the autistic kids I know seem to be that way. Billy's emotional maturity is closer to that of his 2 1/2 year old sister than his kindergarten peers. He can go from zero to sixty -- happy to to miserable -- in about three seconds flat. But he usually gets over it just as quickly.

And he’s becoming more independent every day. This new wave of separation anxiety is caused in part, I think, by the fact I’ve been working more. I'm a working mom now, and there are a couple of afternoons each week that I’m not the one to pick him up at school. I put in a full work day each Friday now, and a wonderful grad student in the speech pathology program at FSU walks him home and plays with him for a couple of hours.

I worry about being away from him. I stress that he stresses. I debate about the cost-benefit of having more money to put into therapy and extracurricular activities vs. being home with him full-time.

I’ll be honest: Working is good for my sanity. When I stayed at home full-time with both kids – which I did until fairly recently – I was a crazy person. I am not cut out for that job, because I got steadily crazier with each passing day. I never felt like I was doing a good job, never felt like I finished anything … before it got covered in something sticky and I had to wash it or glue it back together or throw it away when no one was looking. Anybody who thinks stay-at-home parents have an easy job needs a punch in the face ... and a week spent as a stay-at-home parent.

Unlike parenting, at the office, each project has a beginning, middle and end. Even the hardest job just seems so ... easy. Occasionally, I get told, “That’s really good work!” instead of having a small, running, naked person scream, “I don’t want to poo-poo!!” at me. To date, no one at my office has screamed at me because they didn’t want to poo-poo.

Of course, none of them want to hug me for a hundred minutes either.

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I just found your blog (thank you Twitter! Thank you FSU Film!). This is a very heartening recount of your "hug" time and it made me feel like I was right there experiencing that wonderful moment with you. Will send supportive thoughts as you continue on your "working mom" journey. I still struggle with it every. single. day. (And my kids are 12 and 15). We all just have to help each other out!!

Total 14 comments

I'm guest-blogging today at one of my favorite sites, Southern MOMentum. They picked up one of my posts about "Getting Back to Work," something I've been trying to figure out for the past year.

Why do I love this site and the hilarious girls who write it? Oh, let me count the ways ... first of all, they have a clever name. They are committed to "inspiring moms to hit their stride," which is as worthy a blog aspiration as I can imagine. The writers are all funny, smart and as sweet as a glass of iced tea (made the way iced tea SHOULD be made, with sugar). But most importantly, I love them because this is the way they see me:

Barbie_Amanda

It's like looking into a mirror!

The "S" is for "special needs." Please stop by and visit me and my Super Friends at Southern MOMentum.

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You ARE a Supermom

Thanks so much for your sweet words! We LOVE having you as part of the SoMo team. Wondertwins... ACTIVATE!

Total 1 comments

Are you tired of me yet? Probably. I'm in danger of becoming as over-exposed as Miley Cyrus this week.

monkeytyping

But seriously, I am super-excited to be guest-blogging in two different places this week, because both places are among my favorite online reads:

SouthernMOMentum.com
This great site is written by several Southern moms for Southern moms. Their witty take on all things motherhood will have you laughing, occasionally sniffling, and always apprised of unique shopping opportunities. I've written a piece for them, "Can we really have it all?", because the choreography involved in juggling full-time motherhood and (theoretically) part-time working has been on the challenging side this month.

36x37
Maura Bowen is an excellent writer who has given herself 365 days to do 36 things she's never done. I love the concept and I adore her honesty and beautiful writing style. She blogs about her journeys and occasionally features writers she likes. I was honored that she chose one of my posts about Billy, "Dream a Little Dream," to use on her site.

If you get a chance, check out these awesome sites this week. I guarantee you'll be reading them long after my posts have disappeared :-)

Reader Comments

Thanks!

Thanks so much for the shout-out! I'm so glad we've connected, and am grateful you were willing to post on my site. :)

Total 1 comments

This is a question that's been on my mind a lot lately: Can we really have it all?

supermama

A couple of generations ago, most women were stay-at-home moms. If the men they married respected them as partners, then they were lucky. With their girlfriends, they drank iced tea and discussed men. (I get all my information about this from episodes of Mad Men and all those Rebecca Wells novels about ya-yas, so I'm not swearing to its accuracy.)

And then all the bra-burning happened and women could go to work and leave their kids in daycare. I spent time in daycare, as did most of my friends. Of course, my mom was from the South; she wore a bra .. and a slip ... and hose. But she went to work.

Ours is the first generation of moms to try to truly do everything. Some of us have decided we're gonna be full-time moms with our own home businesses. We're mommy bloggers and Pampered Chef hosts and consultants and public speakers. I know a candle maker, a personal shopper, several journalists and a physical trainer who are also full-time moms.

We also insist on being married to our best friend while maintaining fierce Sex-in-the-City-type girlfriendships so that we can go out, glammed up and sip martinis at least once a week. And thanks to friggin' technology and Kate Hudson movies, we're led to believe it's all going to be one hilarious romantic comedy from beginning to end.

Our mothers raise their eyebrows (and our grandmothers, if they're around, are just confused), while we try not to look as exhausted as we feel.

I was discussing this with friends both online and in the “real” world recently, because I've been doing a lot of soul-searching lately. I heard Ayelet Waldman, the author of the memoir Bad Mother, interviewed on this very subject on National Public Radio.

Waldman had a mom who was apparently a devout feminist. And the author said that after she had her children and realized how hard it was to juggle everything, she felt like her mom – and the entire generation – had lied to her. To all their daughters.

Not on purpose. She suggested that they were, perhaps, naïve, believing that if women just had the same opportunities as men, everything else would just work itself out.

I don't feel like my mom lied to me or pushed me towards trying to juggle multiple writing jobs and full-time motherhood, including all the ins and outs of parenting an autistic preschooler. I feel like most of the time, my mom thinks I'm slightly crazy for trying to do all the crap I do.

And I think she's kinda right. After being a mother for almost four years now, I'm still trying to define myself. I passionately love being a wife and mother. And I passionately love writing ... though not as much as being a wife and mom.

This summer has been harder in some ways than I expected. There have been speedbumps that I hadn't prepared for: Hand-Foot-Mouth virus followed by family-wide pink-eye. Keeping Willow happy while I try to give Billy a handwriting lesson has been harder than expected. And by the end of the day, when I'm supposed to turn the kids over to Dave and start my work, all I want to do is collapse on my bed, play online Boggle or catch up on The Good Wife.

I may have to scale the writing back – at least through the summer. I'll still be here, just less often. And probably slightly less coherently. The most important right now is that I save what few brain cells I have left for the kids.

So I find myself somewhere between Mad Men and Sex and the City – with none of the fashion sense and less of the sex (it's hard to feel sexy with pink eye). I wear pajamas until the afternoon way too often, and if I manage to brush both my hair and my teeth on the same day, I consider myself a success. The kids are another story.

I rarely get it all done – or even get close. I'm constantly “spinning plates” and desperately trying not to drop anything. Can we have it all? I don't know. But I'm gonna try.

(Look for this post on Southern MOMentum on July 14 when I'll be guest blogger!)

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Spinning Plates

Where did the title "Spinning Plates" come from. Love the article.

Total 1 comments

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had a career. I know that to be totally PC, I should add the phrase “outside the home” but I don't look at my family as an alternative career choice. My kids are a higher calling.

teach-typing-kids-200X200

But I used to work full-time, all day, every day, outside the home. I was a magazine editor for years and a journalist and a screenwriter. I once interviewed Rick Springfield -- admittedly, it was on the set of a truly poor Sci-Fi Channel film, but I was so excited I was shaking. (FYI, he's not all that keen on answering questions about "Jessie's Girl" or "General Hospital.") I once did the can-can with Sulu and Chekov from the original Star Trek. I even interviewed the guy who wore the R2D2 suit in Star Wars.

I don't write this to name-drop – because come on, this would be the lamest attempt at name-dropping in the history of journalism. But I loved my job.

When we moved back to Florida, I was thrilled to get a job as editor of Emerald Coast Magazine and eventually, Bay Life. My job was to get to know people and go to events in Northwest Florida. I wrote about everything: real estate, jewelry, crime, health, entertainment – you name it.

If you had asked me back then – as baffling as this thought is to me now – I would probably have told you that I didn't care if I had kids or not. Motherhood wasn't something I thought about that much.

Billy changed everything. When he came along, I had had every intention of going back to work at the end of maternity leave. But then that three months whizzed by and I couldn't let go of him. I couldn't let go of his tiny feet or shake his firm little grasp. I couldn't imagine missing a single smile or not being there to pick him up when he cried.

At first, I tried working from home with him. People had told me, "It's easy at this age. They just sleep all the time." Maybe they were talking about cats, because neither of my children could ever have been described this way.

I freelanced for a while, but as Billy's developmental delays became more apparent and the demands of treating them increased, I let go of the final shreds of my career. A couple of little jobs came up here and there but it was hard for me to commit to even the simplest assignment, because I never knew when our life was going into a minor tailspin, and to be honest, I was super-stressed and finding it difficult to think about anything except Billy's autism.

I'm a control freak. I'm a planner. I like to organize things and make to-do lists and feel like I've accomplished something at the end of the day. I think that made me a good magazine editor. But parenting an autistic child is not something you can do from a Day Planner -- believe me, I tried.

That doesn't mean there wasn't plenty to fill up my Day Planner. Quite the contrary. We had doctor visits, tests, therapy appointments almost every day. From a practical standpoint, it just made sense for one of us to commit to chaffeur duty.

Slowly things started to change. Billy started preschool, Willow arrived and turned out to be world's easiest baby, and opportunities for me to write started to pop up.

This blog, started earlier this year, was my first attempt to dip my toe back into those waters. I was worried, at first, that I would have nothing to say. But when the floodgates opened, I found it difficult to shut up – which is probably one of the reasons I write some of the longest and most rambling blog posts on the Internet.

Then I got hired to be “Tallahassee Motherhood Examiner” for Examiner.com. That makes it sound like I go around examining people's motherhood credentials, but it actually just means that I write about parenting stuff at www.examiner.com/x-43368-Tallahassee-Motherhood-Examiner. I love doing that: I can now turn any afternoon with my kids into a tax write-off. Also, I get paid based on traffic, so if you check out my page, you're actually helping pay for Billy's expensive summer camp. Thanks! That kind of support entitles you to one macaroni craft or finger painting of your choice ... while supplies last.

My kids will never be impressed by my career. I can only imagine the baffling stares I'll get when I one day try to explain who Rick Springfield is. Or that there used to be a different Spock than the one played by the bad guy on “Heroes.” Maybe if had ever interviewed Lightning McQueen or Abby Cadabby it would be different.

But I make a mean batch of Rice Krispie treats, and if my life can serve as any kind of example to my children, I hope it shows them that sometimes the greatest miracles in your life are the biggest surprises; that you're capable of more than you think you are, so keep evolving; and the most exciting conversations you'll ever have will take place, not on movie sets, but in some of the quietest corners of your life with the people you love most.

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