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

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On Not Being a Very Good Mother

So I feel like [insert bad word] today about my parenting skills.  I’m questioning the wisdom of posting this plainly on the Interwebs, where strangers can judge me.  But I’m committing more fully to writing these days, as I’m finding it effective in helping me figure out just who I am these days.

Yesterday, my son dunked his head in the toilet.  For at least the fourth time.

We had just come back in from a Sunday afternoon visit to a playground with lots of sensory-friendly equipment (for the purposes of helping him get the crazies out and settle into a nice easy evening), and had just about wrapped up the hand-washing routine.  I was feeling pretty satisfied with my ability to hold it together towards the end of the weekend (the two days straight with my son at the end/beginning of each week are very challenging for me), when I watched him happily Stick. His. Head. In. The. Toilet.

I’m sure that – for him – it’s just another “Sensory Experience”, something wet and cold that feels different than the other hours of the day that most he spends without his head enveloped by cold, fecal-matter-infested water.  He probably makes absolutely zero logical connection between the poop that leaves his body, the hands that we wash after said pooping event, and very different types of liquids and solids that we actually bring into contact with our faces.  The concept of a “taboo” – much less the idea of bacteria and germs – means absolutely nothing to him.  I can post-event quarterback the hell out of this unfortunate scene, of course.

But in the moment, I totally lost it.  I yelled at him and shoved him quickly into the shower and screamed – for the next five minutes – “NO HEAD IN THE POTTY!  NO HEAD IN THE POTTY!  NO HEAD IN THE POTTY!”.  I tried to get him to repeat it, but he obviously couldn’t get the words out when he was feeling anxious and overwhelmed (nothing like a screeching, hysterical mother in your face to freak you out).  While drying him off and continuing my mantra, I turned around to see my two year old daughter crying and scared.  And that’s when I realized what a terrible mother I had become.

I am ashamed.

When I read these tweets, blog posts and books about how autism has allowed parents to become better people, I just can’t relate.  Part of me wonders if these people are just kidding themselves and the world, rationalizing for the sake of giving greater meaning to their lives and minimizing the arbitrary and cruel randomness of an autism life sentence for their children and their families. Maybe they’re even flat-out lying.

And then part of me wonders whether I am simply not self-actualized enough to accept my son as he is, to make peace with autism, and to step back and observe the hidden facets of life that autism has helped reveal.  Ecch.  Just typing that sentence feels icky to me, like I’m buying into the idea that autism could somehow be this pair of glasses that will bring the world into focus, if only I would just relent and put them on.

Either I’m not “there” yet, or I never will be.  Come back to me in 15-20 years.  Right now, I just feel like a terrible mother.  My poor son didn’t choose this life.  He didn’t choose to be born, choose me for a mom, or choose to be saddled with autism.  And yet, I often fail to see my little boy for what he is: a human being, rather than a problem that must be solved.  I honestly wish I could become a better mother, one who is open to receiving all those lessons in patience, selflessness and lemonade-making that I feel as if so many other autism moms out there have mastered.

However, what if the saintly autism mommies are not in the majority?  What if the vast majority of us clumsily battle our way through another day, grateful for the nights when we can be individuals again and not just chaos managers and butt wipers?  What if there are more parents out there that have wondered if another life could have been possible?

I sure wish they would speak up.  Because I’m feeling like kind of a loser over here.  More importantly, I’m feeling like my son might benefit from having a different mom.

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