The Short Bus Diaries » Confessions About Life With an Autistic Son

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For a Good Time, Call Us. Our Standards are Pretty Low.

Lately, it has occurred to me to that we don’t give a shit about much, and that is a good thing.

Of course, we shower, keep the house clean, and pay our bills. We feed our children and tell them that we love them. We schedule the right doctors’ appointments and react appropriately to serious problems when they arise. We are good citizens and neighbors. We know what is going on in the world, pay attention to the news, and are even up-to-date on the latest memes being shared all over social media.

But, as illustrated when a friend came over and apologized when her kids spilled something in our kitchen, our standard is generally as follows: “If no one poops on the floor or breaks an arm, it’s been a good day.” Because it would require either that level of mess or medical emergency to cause us to react dramatically to just about anything that happens in our lives.

And there is a surprising amount of satisfaction in this sort of existence.

I recently attended a voluntary leadership training class at work. I didn’t have to go. My boss certainly isn’t the type to encourage anyone to “drink the Kool-Aid”. But I felt like I should care. I felt like it might be helpful to pay more attention to “these things” while at work, and potentially in our new farm venture at home. And while I dutifully went through all of the in-class exercises, and listened attentively in my “Action Learning Group”, the fact was that I did not fit in. I do not have anxiety about the quality of my leadership, or the way people perceive me at work. My modus operandi is to get the job done with courtesy and attention to detail. Other than that, thank-you very much for the paycheck and I will be getting back home to my “real life”, while you build your career at various after-work events and wring your hands about inspiring your team.

My job is a necessary spoke in the wheel that forms my life, but it is a spindly spoke, at that. My out-of-the-office concerns (the doctors appointments, the negotiating over schedules between my husband and my son’s teacher, our never-ending to-do list for our farm and non-profit, whether my son has pooped today, getting the financial aid applications in on time for my daughter’s we-could-never-normally-afford-this school, and whether the water filter in our house is doing its job) simply feel so much more real than my actual job, most of the time. Of course, if I were to lose my job, this would totally screw up our lives. But in terms of how I prioritize my anxiety and my level of “give-a-shit”, let’s just say that my internal monologue did not match my outward appearance during leadership circle-time. I will never be able to lead my way anywhere in the corporate world, but I can lead the hell out of my personal life, People. And the rest of it is simply noise.

Someone recently reminded me to “have a good weekend–given our situation”. It was said with good intention and a lot of reluctance–an almost eyes-squeezed-shut wish that no more disasters befall us during the coming weekend, after a week in which we learned that my daughter has some fairly serious allergies that we need to deal with. I had spent the previous night vacuuming out her entire room, rolling up her carpet, and sealing up all of her bedding in about $300 worth of gear from Bed Bath & Beyond, before washing her entire set of pajamas and stuffed animals, and after feeding all of the animals in the house, including my beloved children. In fact, I was feeling pretty darn victorious after putting another day to bed and getting up to face a new one. I honestly didn’t see why it was necessary for someone to cringe at my life. Things were going pretty well. No blizzards. No hospitals. No poop.

The snow FINALLY melted in our forest, and my son was thrilled to be able to take his daily walk again.

The snow FINALLY melted in our forest, and my son was thrilled to be able to take his daily walk again.

In fact, during that same week, I got to enjoy a beautiful cup of chai in a hipster coffee shop in the city, meet with a potential new board member for our non-profit at a foodie sandwich shop in the suburbs, and take a beautiful and rare 30 minute stroll through downtown Warrenton, VA after another farming class. That 30 minute walk, during which I got the chance to compliment another mother of a child with special needs on her son’s good behavior, and talk to a shop owner about the artwork she was selling (which was created by her neighbor’s autistic son), was pretty much all of the reintroduction into the outside world and its civility that I needed to recharge my cells to get through another week. It really doesn’t take much. I don’t know when I’ll get another 30 minutes of alone-time in the real world, which made that half hour that much sweeter. And I am saying this a born cynic who cannot stand all of the #blessed and Life is Good paraphernalia scattered throughout the Internet and on people’s car bumpers.

In fact, the highlight of my weekend was a successful last-minute dinner at Denny’s on Sunday night. We didn’t get any invitations to Superbowl get-togethers (I think people know what an undertaking it is to find weekend child-care for us so that we can schlep to the city. Or perhaps they sense that we don’t give a shit about football…). So after spending the afternoon starting a bunch of broccoli seeds in my basement while streaming Netflix (a rare, end-of-the-data-month extravaganza where broadband Internet does not exist), my husband and I bravely took the kids out to the height of American gastronomy, and things went SO WELL. The place was dead because the rest of America was watching the Superbowl. And we managed to get a circular booth in the back, where we could prevent my son from bolting or disturbing the other remaining customers. The kids were well behaved, we didn’t trash the table. My son didn’t have any toileting issues. No one had to take him for a walk while we waited for the food to arrive. And we didn’t have to apologize for any mishaps.

My daughter felt that our trip to Denny

My daughter felt that our trip to Denny’s called for a special outfit.

It was a GOOD NIGHT.

The point of all of this is to state unabashedly that I am pretty #blessed to have pretty low standards about what constitutes a successful day.

I realize that I am starting to look like a “Special Needs Mom”. I went to the bathroom during that leadership class and realized that I was several months overdue for a gray-covering trip to the hair salon, and that I was the only woman in that class who was wearing flats and a sweater. And that did bum me out a little–I still have one toe dipped into the hypersuccessful waters of Washington DC and know what my peers look like. But at the same time, I’m wasn’t standing in front of that bathroom mirror, putting my hairs back in place and reapplying my make-up before heading back out to cubicle-land. I washed my hands and simply got on with it. And in my daily lack of giving a shit, there is a freedom that I wouldn’t trade for better looks and a more fabulous life. I save my worries, attention, and energy for the things that actually matter. After moving out of the rat race into a fixer-upper kind of life in the country, I think I finally understand that I don’t need much more than an uneventful trip to Denny’s to feel satisfaction about my life. I’m classy like that, I guess.


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