Thursday, June 2, 2016

To The Dads For Whom It's Not Too Late

My parents were married in 1963. Fifty three years ago, they said "I do", and they are still doing. For me, I never had to worry about whether or not my dad was coming home every night. I never had to worry about whether or not he loved me enough to always "be there". My dad has always loved my mom, and showed me what a good husband and father should be. He may not have done everything right in his life, but all my life he has been, and still is a constant, loving presence on whom I could always depend.

My mom mom. When they say "There is nothing in the world like a mother's love", they are talking about my mother's love. The love she taught me by example. I know there are some screwed up mothers in this world, who don't know how to love their children, and who are NOT an example of a "mother's love", but today, I want to talk about dads.

Kelly Clarkson's latest song, Piece By Piece is the story of a father who walked away. By all accounts, it is the story of HER father. It is a song my daughter can't listen to. When it comes on the radio, she will make a comment like, "I HATE this song!", before slapping at the dial to change the station. (Be quiet! Yes...I listen to the radio. I'm a fossil.) But for my girl, her dad didn't walk out of her life. He just divorced her mother.

I have no intention of talking about what led to the divorce. I'm sure you're all as sick to death of hearing about it as I am of living the reality of it, so for the purpose of supporting this story, let's just say, it has been a hostile divorce. While the last few years of the marriage were hateful and ugly, it wasn't always that way.

When our kids were small, the ex was an awesome daddy. He took his turns feeding them, dressing them, playing with them, and he really loved them. The beginning of our experience with autism was difficult for him, and it took him a while to realize our son was not "broken", but that our boy was different than the child we...expected. I realize that none of us has a right to "expect" anything from our children, but it took the ex a while to come to...acceptance. His relationship with our girl was more like worship, right from the very beginning. The sun rose and set on that child. He spoiled her, carried her everywhere, played games with her, bought her anything she wanted, and spent all his waking, non working hours with her. When she was 4, High School Musical was a big deal on The Disney Channel, and we all watched it 86 THOUSAND times. Daddy bought the girl a karaoke machine and sang all the HSM songs with her. He sat with her watching every episode of Hannah Montana and later, Wizards of Waverly Place. They watched The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Good Luck Charlie. They sang (so badly) together. They danced. They laughed. They were best friends.

While all this fun was going on, I was the hardass parent. I was the one who said "no". I taught manners and encouraged consideration for others, and even though daddy was bowing down before the girl, I made sure she never believed the world revolved around her. I encouraged her to be thoughtful of others and to always be kind. Those were all easy lessons for her, as she was a naturally kind hearted child from the start, and was always looking for ways to help everyone around her.

By the time the girl started kindergarten, the boy had already been in school from the age of 2. Between school and therapies, I was constantly in the car, and it was quite a juggling act to be where each child needed me to be. We were extremely fortunate that MAC's business was doing well, and he was able to work his hours around the kids. Most days, I would be running with the boy, and daddy would pick up the girl, take her home and help her with homework, get her changed and run her over to dancing school. He was the dance dad. By the time we all got home, I would either cook dinner and we would eat late, or we ordered in. We had made some friends on our block, and we often had company. Even if we weren't all eating together, there was usually a big crowd on our stoop until it was time to get the kids to bed. (Or, PRETEND we could get them to sleep!) During all this time, daddy usually had the girl, and because I was the more patient of us, I was with the boy. Of course, there were plenty of times we were all together, or we switched it up, but daddy and the girl were close. There was no doubt. And then we moved.

Moving to the suburbs was hard on MAC. He was used to the constant motion, and commotion of a busy neighborhood. There was none of that here. People drive up, click the garage opened, drive in and close the door. We hardly saw anyone. Well, except for one person. The combination of a suddenly TOO quiet life, and that one person was the beginning of the end of the marriage. By the time I found him where he shouldn't have been, we were finished, but it took 2 years for MAC to finally walk out and end it for good. During that 2 years he locked himself in the guest room. At first, he tried to bring the girl up there with him. He wanted her to do homework in his room. He wanted her to watch TV up there. He wanted her to play cards with him up there. She would even fall asleep in his room some nights. PLEASE don't let any creepy thoughts lead you to believe there was anything grossly sexual about any of it. It was NEVER like that. It was more his way of staying connected to her, while punishing me with isolation for not being the wife he wanted in his head. But I wasn't having it. I told him, in no uncertain terms, it was NOT ok for him to draw our daughter into his chamber of solitude. If he wanted to spend time with her, he would have to spend it in a common, family area. He tried, but ultimately, his hatred of me took precedence over his need to interact with his children. He locked himself away until the day we found his room empty.

I have spoken about my daughter's initial heartbreak upon his exit. He had made some suggestions of a plan to leave, but he really blindsided us in the end. She was devastated. It took us some time to get used to the changes, but eventually, she warmed up to the idea of visiting dad's house. Daddy will tell the whole free world that I badmouthed him and filled my girl's head with hateful thoughts of her father, but I didn't. The truth is, that day I found him where he shouldn't have been, she was with me in the car. She saw for herself. When she started going to his house, she saw clear and present signs of that "one person", and even though MAC swears he never had a bad word to say about me, the girl has very different memories. Whenever he spoke of me AT ALL, it was with such hatred, there was no mistaking his negativity toward her mother. And then, her grades started to slide. The ex likes to believe it is because I am such a terrible mother, I wasn't paying attention to her schoolwork. But she was self-sabotaging. I knew it. Her teachers knew it. But suddenly, daddy dearest was becoming combative with the girl for whom he would once have wrapped up the moon. Instead of complying, she rebelled. He went from being "Good Time Charlie", to attempting to be the man in charge. And she was not interested.

In the almost 2 years he's been gone, puberty has hit my girl hard. Naturally, the loss of our family unit, and the daddy who transformed into someone else have hit her even harder. Adolescence is an already difficult and confusing time for every kid. This transition has been brutal on her. And the more daddy tries to take control, the more she pushes him away. There have been some tumultuous situations, and the girl is still making some bad choices, (nothing major, but enough to cause me some concern), all in the name of "Fuck you, dad!" I have given her every opportunity to work through this safely on her own, (as she has previously refused to attend counselling), but we'll be heading into some family therapy soon. I am doing all I can to encourage her to connect with her dad, and to let him know how she feels, but it all seems to be coming out in angry outbursts. To me, she has mentioned the pain of his exit. She doesn't understand why it hurts so much. She won't let him back in her life because she doesn't want to give him another chance to leave her. During some of their combat, she has told him she hates him, has drawn hateful pictures, and locked herself away from him. He has called her terrible names, said awful things about her mother, and after an especially volatile exchange, told me he "only wants (the boy) this weekend". To my girl, it doesn't matter that they are fighting. All she hears is, "He doesn't want me."


And THIS is where my message begins for the dads who are thinking of walking away.

Divorce happens. As much as we all enter into what we believe is "happily ever after" with the greatest faith in our love, divorce happens. And to all the folks out there who tell themselves, "I'm divorcing my spouse...NOT my kids", wrong. When the marriage ends, and someone moves out, the kids FEEL divorced. You may have every intention to maintain a strong bond with your child (children), but I'm not sure you realize how much time and effort that will require. You're going to have to go on living your life, but you're going to have to make EVERY EFFORT to make the kid(s) believe you are STILL THERE FOR THEM, NO MATTER WHAT. Maybe you've moved on and there is someone else who is depending on your attention. I hate to break it to you, cupcake, (or beefcake...whatever floats your boat), the kids should come first. I surely don't mean that after divorce there will be no time for a NEXT romance, but getting the kids through the divorce process is the top priority.

How the "post divorce" relationship with kids is established will set the tone for every relationship those kids will ever have. Romance, friendships, much trust these newly "divorced" kids will be able to extend will depend TOTALLY on how much they can depend on a newly absent parent. If you're supposed to be there, be there. It doesn't matter how much you hate your ex. It doesn't matter how much you'd like to be spending all your free time with your new paramour. YOU brought your kid(s) into this world. It is YOUR job to NOT screw them up! It is your job to give them a sense of security. It is your job to stick around, even when it's really hard to stick around.

It is your job to make sure your kid(s) feel loved.

Now, I am no trained professional. I have no degree. But I know people who have been destroyed by an absent parent. I am watching my child be torn apart by the pain of losing her daddy. No matter how much he thinks he is present for her, he isn't. And I can see where it is all going. I'll help her the best I can, but I can't undo another person's behavior. I may not have any personal experience in how it feels to be a child of divorce, but as the child of parents who are still together, 53 years later, I can say I have a sense of self respect, and self confidence that was built on childhood security. I went through the most typical of adolescent drama, and drove my parents sufficiently crazy, but I came out of it all believing in myself. I have chosen all the wrong men in my life. I have been disappointed every time. But instead of wondering "what's so wrong with me?", I feel bad for the fool who lost me.  Even though I have had my heart broken, I still believe in me.

If you are recently divorced, or are contemplating a split, I BEG YOU, please don't ever miss an opportunity to make your kid(s) feel worthy of your love. And please keep in mind, they really are.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Rollercoaster of Emotions When the Divorce is Final

Sadness, anger, frustration, relief, pain, guilt, regret, fear, anxiety, happiness, elation...all these emotions and more are what one might expect to feel upon hearing a judge proclaim, "You are officially divorced". For me, in that moment, I only felt peace.

For me, the rollercoaster occurred every day leading up to that moment of final release. I just didn't know it.

I have mentioned many times before, our union was a tumultuous one. Upon his exit, and having spoken to so many others who were in similar circumstances, I realized I had been married to a Narcissist. He could never be wrong. Everything that ever went wrong was someone else's fault...usually mine. Our biggest battles always took place after I had dared to disagree with him. I was never good enough for him, and he took every opportunity to remind me of it. If he couldn't find something, it was always because I had lost it. He was completely without fault. As trying as many of our challenges had been over the years, I never realized how bad it was until he was gone and I was able to breathe comfortably, for the first time IN YEARS!!

There have been lots of changes in my life since the day I came home from work to find all his things gone. Financially, the kids and I struggle. A lot. But it is a small price to pay for freedom from oppression. Every other challenge we face is a blessing in comparison to the toxic environment in which we were previously living. After being married almost 15 years, and together for more than 22 years, it took 19 months for me to get my shit together and finally be free.

This whole process has been daunting. I proceeded through it all without an attorney, (but with some advice from some friends in the field😘😘😘), and I was scared. I was scared I would be screwed over by a lack of understanding of some of the language in the legal documents. I was scared of what would come next. I was scared the law might not protect me. But I WAS NOT scared of being unable to survive it.

I have spoken endlessly over the past few years of the events that led to our inevitable split. I have no intention of revisiting that nastiness. Now that it's all over, I want to talk about the exhiliration of this new rollercoaster of freedom.

Coincidentally, my oldest son was visiting on the day my divorce became final. This was a rather fitting circumstance because there is no one on this earth who was happier to see that marriage end than my son. He was the textbook stepchild. My ex, while he made some early attempts to connect with my boy, ultimately decided after some early childhood difficulties, that my son was not worthy of continued engagement. He wasn't outwardly MEAN to him...instead, he treated him like he was invisible. Like he was an irritation. And by the time we were married, and having our children together, I only wanted to keep peace in the house, so I shushed my son. He WAS a difficult child. But he was living in difficult circumstances. I just didn't realize it. Once my Spartacus was diagnosed with autism, the ex developed a seething hatred for my oldest because, in his mind, "Why did it have to be HIS child?" I did everything I could to keep the oldest from confrontations with the ex, while trying desperately to give him enough love to help him through it. Ultimately, many of my choices did more to hurt my son than to help him, and the constant battles and overall hateful environment led to my son's early exit from our home. We have had our discussions about all of it, and I have done all I could to make amends. Today, we are exceptionally close. And the day the divorce was finished, we celebrated. Big time. But carefully...

While my heart was celebrating the end of a painful situation, I had to be careful not to be TOO outwardly elated because my daughter was watching. I had to keep in mind, this man who had been the source of so much pain for me, is still her dad. It's amazing how we don't realize the level of self control that's required to keep certain emotions from bursting through any efforts to restrain them until we are forced to watch the reactions of our children. So while my son and I were doing mental cartwheels, I was outwardly cautious of showing too much joy upon the final end of the union that gifted me with my two youngest children. My Spartacus has no way of telling me how he feels about it all. I only know, since the ex has been gone, this boy has been calmer, happier, and laughs all the time. It could be that his adolescent hormones are leveling off, and he is naturally calming down, but our calmer living environment has had a positive impact on him, so it's just all good. The girl, however, is struggling.

She tries to be strong. She tries to hide her pain. Very much like her mother, she chooses anger over sadness. Anger is easier to manage. But sooner or later, the pain has to be addressed. She is making some bad choices, (none that are currently life altering, but enough to have commanded my full attention), and I am completely focused on helping her to face the source of her emotions so she can perhaps mend the relationship with her dad. I don't know if it will be possible, because in order to forgive someone for the pain they caused you, it is usually easier when they have actually admitted to causing that pain. In this case, instead of saying, "I'm sorry I had to leave you. The marriage was no good, and it was better for all of us that I leave.", he chooses to tell her, "Your mother did this, and she didn't do that, and guess what else she was all her fault. She's a filthy slut."

Yes. The filthy slut who hasn't been with ANY man in 5 years. And that INCLUDES the last three years his sorry ass was living here.

But I digress...

This week, I was blessed to be surrounded by family, and a great support system. Luckily, I was able to mourn the loss of my marriage LONG AGO. I went through the worst and most painful dips and turns of the rollercoaster while the ex was still living here, and I had to face the truth...he never really loved me at all. It was a hard truth. But in the end, I know I gave this marriage all I had. Even through the pain of knowing what he had done, I tried to convince myself I could be wrong, just to make sure I wasn't giving up on a chance to keep my family together. To keep my vows. I wasn't wrong. After mourning the loss of my "happily ever after", and accepting the reality of his broken promises, I have found myself again. The timing of this milestone is fortuitous. It happened at a time when I had a long list of reasons to celebrate. Big birthdays for my parents, visits from relatives I love dearly and don't get to see nearly enough, my oldest and his hubby coming to has all uplifted me at a time I might have been overwhelmed by the end of what I had once believed with all my heart to be my forever. But all those reasons for celebrating, and all those people who love me have made this transition from "married" to "single" a smooth and happy one.

Oh, and my own strength and natural badassery have been an asset😎

In the end, it all comes down to something I remind myself of EVERY DAY. It is nobody else's job to make me happy. If I am waiting for someone else to provide me with the conditions that will make me happy, I am a fool. I am the ONLY one with the power to make me happy. It isn't about having the THINGS I want. It isn't about having a perfect relationship. (What IS that, anyway?!!) It's about knowing and accepting that not everything in my life will go my way, but I can CHOOSE to be happy in the midst of good circumstances, or IN SPITE OF bad circumstances. I get to choose. It is in making the choice to be happy that I remove anyone else's power to take it away.

And now that this rollercoaster has climbed all the way to the top of the tracks, all that's left is for me to throw my hands up in the air and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Are We All Aware Yet?

I used to make a big deal out of Autism Awareness Month. Back when I was a more naive, newbie parent of an autistic child, I hopped onto any endorsement of "the cause". We had to raise money, and put magnets on our cars, and buy all the blue light bulbs, and do all the walking. We had no idea what we were raising the money for, or what blue lights were going to do to help our child, or where the hell we were walking to...but if it said "autism", we were there.

My boy is 15 now, and we've been on this path since he was two years old. Maybe even a little before the diagnosis, we had a clue he would be...different. He was a chronically collicky baby. When he first started eating baby food, he would sit in his high chair and look over our heads. Never directly at us. I remember saying, "He's a deep child and he's looking at my aura!" When he was eighteen months old, we went to a restaurant with my parents, and my boy sat in that little wooden high chair for almost two hours, just chomping on some Italian bread. He never made a peep. He was SO older gentleman came over to us as he was leaving with his wife and said, "Excuse me, but I just had to tell you, I have NEVER seen such a well behaved baby! God bless him!"

Yes. God bless him.

So we did all the evaluating, and tried all the therapies, and diets, and schools, and doctors, and chiroprators, and vitamins, and enzymes...and Good LORD, short of selling the house for the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, we tried just about everything to help our boy progress. And he did progress. He still does. He also still has the cognitive ability of an eighteen month old child. My ex will tell you it's because I didn't work hard enough with him. My (then) two year old boy was working for 2 hours a day in a school program, working with (a modern, kinder, gentler version of) ABA therapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists for another four to six hours a day, I was driving him all over the free world to see DAN doctors, neurologists, the aforementioned chiropractor, doing blood tests, hair tests, urine tests, poop tests...oh, and I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. So, um...not doing enough? Fuck. Off.

We had a camera set up in his room and when he worked with all these therapists, sometimes he cried. But as he cried, he continued to work with all these professionals. He wasn't being hurt. He wasn't being tortured. He was just annoyed at having to do something he wasn't always in the mood for.

Welcome to the world, sweet pea:)

There were days I could see he just wasn't connecting. He wasn't getting anything out of a particular session. His therapists were all kind and loving women, and they got to know him well enough to recognize those unproductive days and would call it quits early. Or I would send them home. We all need a break sometimes, ya know?

When Early Intervention was done, my boy went to a great preschool, and moved on to a great program for autisitic children in the public school system. Because he was non verbal, and I was home at the time, I drove him to and from school. And then I took him for additional OT for anywhere from an hour to two hours, after a six hour school day. I made animal related flash cards to try to engage him with his favorite things, I spelled words with him in the car on the way home from school and therapy, I did tons of research, and then did more research, and I volunteered at school, and I was president of the PTA for three years, and I ran around like a chicken without a head to raise money for the school, (enlisting our entire family, the ex, his business partner, and everyone we knew), I sold raffle tickets, made prize baskets, attended meetings, voted on how best to spend the money, spoke at graduations, participated in family support groups, and then collected money for all those walks for Autism Speaks.

And to this day, I still hear, I didn't do enough for my boy.

Anyway, fast forward to now. I am older, wiser, and better educated. I am better educated about autism in general, and most specifically, I am better educated about who my autistic son is.

I am also wiser to the evils of certain charities.

So now, when April comes around, I do my best to put together at least one good message with the intention of enlightening the world around me, and opening the minds of anyone I can reach, to see and accept the beauty of my autistic describe his worth as a human being. I think I manage to pull that off.

But am I doing enough?

I recently attended parent-teacher conferences for my NT daughter. As I walked into the school building, there were four boys at a table in the main hallway. They had little blue paper puzzle pieces in a pile, and a can, covered in puzzle pieces, for collecting money. For a dollar, I could put my name on a puzzle piece, and it would be hung around the school. I asked the boys, "Where does the money go?" They told me,

"Um, it goes to an autism charity."

"Which one?"

"Well, I'm not really sure, but it goes to one of them."

A few days later, I went into a local grocery store. There was another can, with a multi colored puzzle pattern on top. "Donations for Autism" was written on top. I asked the young man behind the counter, "What charity does the money go to?"

"Um, it goes to an autism charity."

I'm surrounded by benevolent morons.

"What charity?"

"There WAS a sign on the can. Maybe it fell on the floor."

"OK. Thanks."

It's April, and people are raising money, and they have NO IDEA WHAT THE FUCK FOR!!!

That tells me we are doing something very wrong.

I am not one of those who believes we need to find a "cure". I do, however, believe we need to figure out why this particular neurological state of being is happening on such a grand scale now, more than ever. I do believe we need to see if there is a way we can slow down the future increase in this population. I DO NOT mean to say a single autistic person is less valuable than any other person. But whether you want to face the truth or not, autism makes so many things harder than...NOT autism. Autism and all the co-morbid diagnoses in my son, (mentally retarded, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder), do make so much of his life difficult. He struggles with so much. He will never fall in love. He will not get married. He will not have children. He will not go to college. Up til now, he has never had a friend. Not one.

However, because of all the hard work we have done, (except for me, who did practically nothing...*yes, insert thickly layered sarcasm), because of all the hard work my amazing boy has done, he may someday have a friend. He may someday have a job. But he will always be with me...unless I find an adult home run by Mary Poppins and all her sisters, so my boy will have a place to be when I am dead.

My point here is, if we are raising money, there needs to be a purpose. If there is research taking place, and it needs to be funded, let's determine what it is we're looking for. There are so many functioning autistics in society. I imagine many of these individuals will take offense to the idea of anyone wanting to find a way to make autism less prevalent in the future, but for people like my son, who don't have a lot of options for creating a life, autism can be completely disabling.

If we are raising money, let's concentrate on spending it where it is most desperately needed. Let's provide a better support system for parents whose children are newly diagnosed. Let's create family support programs to assist with acclimating to life with autism. Let's create better job opportunities for the autistic individuals who are capable of earning a living. Let's invest in safe, and adequately staffed group homes for assisted living. Let's invest in ways to help all autistics to live happy, engaging, productive lives.

Let's NOT donate money to another inept "executive's" salary. Let's NOT donate money that will be spent making more blue puzzle pieces. And for the love of all that is holy, let's NOT donate money to any blue can for "some autism charity" with no name.

It's wonderful that there are thirteen year old boys making an effort to do something positive for autism. But the fact that they don't have a clue what they're being positive ABOUT says we are doing this awareness thing all wrong. I, myself would love to be a more involved participant in changing the world and helping people see that autistic people have great value, and while some behaviors may seem strange, there are reasons for many of the "different" things they might do, and they shouldn't be made to feel like "freaks" because they need to flap, or blink, or rock back and forth, or carry a stuffed animal that makes them feel secure, or any number of self stimulatory activity that gives them some sense of calm. I want to be involved in the fundraising, and the raising of awareness. But the efforts have been muddied by folks who have taken charge of a cause they don't understand. People who had the power and the platform to really make a difference have dropped the ball because they are at the wrong game. I don't mean to demonize Autism Speaks, (in the way they seem to demonize autism), because I do believe they have made some great strides in getting the world TALKING about autism. But I have my issues with them.

I would love to know, that someday in the future, a parent won't have to struggle with a child who can't tolerate socks, or a person won't have to feel TORTURED by being in a crowd because he or she can't stand having to look at people, or engaging in conversation...I would love to know that science has figured out why some things are so very hard for these people, and could find a way to make it easier for these folks in the future. But I think all these big, money gathering, fear mongering executives have forgotten, there are people who could use some help right now. Who's raising money for them? Who is finding the funds for the purpose of educating the world and explaining how very valuable these autustic people are? I find it very strange that during Black History Month, there were ads all over TV to educate us all about the great accomplishments of many black Americans, and during Women's History Month, there were plenty of ads touting the accomplishments of women...but in the entire month of April, I have hardly heard a peep about people who are autistic. I find it sadly disappointing that a former television executive who started the biggest autism charity in existence, hasn't taken advantage of that status, and found ways to show the world the love we find in autism...the joy we find in every accomplishment...the amazing things autistic individuals are capable of. Instead of talking about the hardships, and the heartache of autism, and instead of demonizing the diagnosis, why aren't we showing ALL aspects of what it means to be autistic? Where is the money to take on THAT task?

Please don't mistake my meaning here. I am NOT of the "let's hold hands and ALL be autistic" mindset. I am NOT happy that my child struggles through so much of everyday life. If I could blink him neurotypical, with no harm, I would do it in a heartbeat. But since I have no "I Dream of Jeannie" power in my blinking, I wouldn't mind if the world could find a way to understand a little more about my boy, so that when we are sitting in a diner, people don't feel so compelled to stare, or be annoyed because my rocking child is shaking the booth. I try. I really try to help him stay calm when we're out in the world. Sometimes it's hard for him. That's what I would blink away.

But my boy is full of love, and he wants to please his mom, and he is eager to be helpful, and he tries his best to do everything I ask of him. I find the greatest joy in the accomplishments of all my children, and the joy is magnified when the child had to work so much harder than another to achieve something that should've been simple. These are the things I would like the world to be aware of.

I recently watched the Today Show interview, where Matt Lauer (who I don't especially care for), asks Bob Wright about his involvement in Autism Speaks. I believe his heart has always been in the right place, and his intentions are pure. But minds need to open, and people in power need to take a better look at the bigger picture.

*I would like to add, Suzanne Wright is in my prayers as she battles cancer.

Anyway, the main reason for this long ramble is to say, I think people are becoming more aware of autism, but I think we need to do a better job of explaining exactly what it is they are aware of. Or more accurately, WHO they are aware of. Autism is not a THING. Autism is about AUTISTICS. They are people. They have value, and rights, and are worthy of our attention. I love my children. I love my autistic son. I want the world to be a safe and happy place for him. There may be people who think, because THEY don't love anyone who is autistic, they have no reason to know more about autism. But my child is in this world, and those people may someday encounter my child. I will do everything I can to help those folks understand, my child is autistic and he is valuable. In order to help people to be autism aware, they have to be AUTISTIC aware. They need to get to know the autistic people they encounter. That's how we start to make real changes. That's where I will focus my autism awareness energy.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I was driving home from the store earlier. I had the radio on and I heard a ToysRUs commercial, proclaiming, "Children are making a list of what they want for Easter...", or something to that effect. It kind of stopped me in my rambling thoughts.

When the hell did Easter become a "making a list of what I want" holiday? 

Now, please keep in mind, I have been totally guilty of indulging such a sentiment. There was a time when life was good, and I went completely off the deep end of sanity into, "How big an Easter basket can I accomplish?" One year, I actually went so far as to forego the basket and I went straight for a giant Rubbermaid tub. That sucker was filled with candy, Cheez Doodles, chips, cookies, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, Lego sets, DVDs, jumpropes, pool toys, bathing suits, stuffed animals, animated toys, kiddie jewelry, kites, craft kits...

I needed my head examined.

The years following, the economy took a dive and business wasn't so lucrative, so I had no choice but to curb my obsession with building the biggest, fullest pile of gifts, and return to some semblence of earthly reality. I'm not sure if I would have seen the error of my ways had I not been forced to, but I'm grateful for the lesson, no matter the method of learning it.

For me, it is no longer an issue. The kids are older, the Easter bunny makes his way to the homes of much younger kids, and I no longer have to chomp on the carrots left out, to give the impression that someone had stopped by to nibble on them. I know that lots of moms and dads make baskets for their older kids, as I had for my oldest. I used to fill his basket with toiletries, and music, and maybe a t-shirt or two. But times are a little tougher right now. The oldest is on his own and married, and this year, the two youngest are with the ex for the holiday. I am totally taking advantage of that and leaving Easter baskets up to daddy dearest. My middle son has no concept of holiday expectations, or at least none his autism will allow him to express. But my girl...she still has hopes for something special. 

At 13, she understands what's real and what's not. She is also aware of our financial restraints. I wish she wasn't, but there are so many times I have to say "no", to pretty much every luxury, there is really no hiding it from her. But sometimes, I really have to just say "Screw groceries!", and do something special for my kids. I'm not planning on spending ALL the food money. I'm not doing anything extravagant or wasteful. The girl is at a stage where she is all about spending time with her friends, and God help us, that involves lots of time at the mall. I was reminded on my Facebook page of a teeny bopping Robin Sparkles, in all her 80s leg warmer glory, bouncing around and inviting all her friends to "Let's go to the mall!" The makers of How I Met Your Mother hit that nail on its adorably hat covered head. Yes. That is my girl and her friends. Minus the leg warmers. And the hat. But she often has to wander with her cronies without a penny in her pocket. So now, for every occasion that offers the potential for a gift, her request is cash. From pretty much anyone who will ask. But from me, for Easter, she asked for a Starbucks gift card. Yes. She is 13 and drinks coffee. As a child of mine, it's a miracle it took her this long. But most of what she orders at Starbucks is some kind of fru fru specialty drink, which is more milk and all kinds of sugar and whipped cream than coffee. And it will keep her in a section of the mall that has outlets for phone chargers, and she doesn't have to be the only one in the group who can't buy one of the fru fru specialty drinks. At least for spring break. 

So instead of asking my girl to make a list of what she wants for Easter, she simply made one request, and I think eating pasta a few nights this week will be worth letting her feel like a kid who is NOT being told "no" for every damned thing. A $25 gift card should keep her in macchiatos from Monday to Friday, right? And $25 is a whole lot less than past Easter baskets have cost. And for the boy, I have gotten wise. It doesn't matter to him if I take bags of his usual snacks right out of the kitchen cabinet and wrap them with a bow, he is simply happy to have them. One of the many blessings of autism. 

So the only thing left to worry about is, how will ToysRUs ever recover from my return to sanity? Honestly, it may not be too hard on their bottom line...there are still lots of folks out there who are still in the "who has the biggest pile of gifts" contest. Geoffrey is probably safe, for now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Will You Tell Your Wife?

I'm not even officially divorced yet, but my ex checked out of our marriage years ago so it's pretty safe to say I'm single. I don't really have the time, the money or the inclination to be going out to pursue some kind of romantic connection, and I'm enjoying my independence too much to bother with any kind of online dating sites.

I do have a few friends online. I have lots of friends who are men, and just about all of them are married. But that doesn't stop them from asking, "Can't we just meet for lunch? Come on...just as friends." And I ask, "Will you tell your wife you're meeting a friend?"

Can you guess what the answer is?

So here's my answer:


I have set a really high moral code for myself. But that's not the only reason I won't be some guy's secret lunch date. It took me a really long time to realize what a good person I am, and to reach the point in my life where I love and truly value myself, as a person. Why would I lower myself to be somebody's secret?

Even if I were to innocently have a burger with an old friend, the idea that somebody else could be hurt by such a meeting if she were to find out makes me feel awful! I know if I had a husband who was sneaking off to have lunch with an old girlfriend I would be hurt. Why would I do that to someone else? Do unto others, and all that.

There was an old, high school boyfriend who reached out to me on Facebook. He was sorry for the way he had treated me all those years ago. It was nice that he thought enough of me to let me know, after over 30 years, it wasn't was him. And when he started reminiscing, and the talk became sexual, I was like, "Yeah. It was great when we were 18. But let's keep the conversation G rated." The things that happened a lifetime ago are memories. They are not memories I am comfortable discussing with someone else's husband.

I am not a nun. I enjoy sex as much as anyone might. (At least, what I remember of it...) But for me, I have to be the main focus. I will not allow myself to be second to anyone. So to all these married guys who think it's perfectly fine to have a sexual conversation or some kind of sexual relationship over the phone, or It isn't.

I understand that marriage can be different for different couples. Some partners don't have a problem with their spouse's friendships, or their online activities. Whatever works in each marriage, that's what those people should stick with. But for me, I refuse to be the reason someone else might feel pain.

I did meet an old friend for coffee, not too long ago. It was kind of like, "I'll be in your neighborhood, do you have a half hour for coffee?" I did, so I did. In a public place. But will he tell his wife? No. She wouldn't like it very much. Then I guess it was nice to have had this cup of coffee.

And the funny thing is, they are always in a miserable marriage. They haven't been happy in years. They don't even sleep in the same room. I get it. I was that wife. And it was devastating to find out I had been replaced. Even more devastating that I hand delivered my replacement. But that doesn't mean I am willing to cause that kind of pain to someone else.

It would be so easy to say, "I'm really lonely and I'd love to spend some time with you." But it would not be easy to live with knowing I was doing to someone else, the most hurtful thing that was done to me.

It would be easy to say, "You're leaving your wife to come and love me forever? Great! Let's go for it!" But it wouldn't be great. Not for that wife. And frankly, however long ago I might have known an old friend, who the hell knows if we'd actually get along? I AM pretty awesome, but I also happen to be older. I'm tired. I am consumed with taking care of my kids. I don't feel like cooking every night and sometimes, he'll wake up and not have clean socks. And then I'll be the same wife he left behind. So no...I can't save anyone from a lousy marriage. I can't promise to be what he's looking for.

The grass on the other side may seem greener. And MY grass may be fabulous. But if anyone ever has the chance to lie in my grass again, he will be so happy and so proud to have that opportunity, he will prance me around like the damned Pirate King I am, and there will never be a need for secrets. I will never be the lover no one can know about. I will never be the reason someone has to lie.

I understand that not all marriages are forever. I understand that even good people can grow apart. If that's the case in any marriage, people should do whatever it takes to walk away and be happy. Honestly. When lying and sneaking are involved, it's just ugly. It's so much more hurtful than making a clean break. Or people can, you know...try harder. Til death do we part, and shit.

Whatever makes people happy, if they can do that without hurting other people, well then they should do it. Frankly, I am much too good a person and I have too much respect for myself to be anyone's secret. I should be valued, not hidden. So even if a man just wants to be my friend, he'll need to know I'll be asking, "Will you tell your wife?"

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear Former Cousin,

I guess this note has been a long time coming. Most days, I don't even think of you. It's much easier to hold the pain under the surface that way. But there are times when I feel that knife in my back, and it makes it hard to breathe.

Over the last week or so, I've been struggling. Sometimes it surprises me to be jolted by the hurt. But there were a few reasons I was reminded of your betrayal, and it made every other aspect of my days feel ugly.

First, as I'm sure you are accutely aware, the divorce is moving forward. Mine. I'm sure your own has been neatly wrapped up already. Unless, of course, your very agreeable ex has allowed the finalization of your equitable distribution of property to wait on the results of mine. Is that why my husband is in such a hurry to sell the house out from under his children? It must be a comfort to know you won't lose your home, and that you ended up with the man who can rebuild it for you...who can make a palace out of a shack. What a lucky woman you are! And where will my children live? Well, neither of you seems terribly concerned about that.

Another twist of the knife was last weekend, when my daughter came home from a visit with her dad and told me of finding the note you left on his door..."Don't forget to take your lunch! XOXO". That was difficult. Not because I felt jealous in any way, but because it hurt my girl. You committed the ultimate act of betrayal against her mother and against HER, and she has to have reminders of you in her face. We all know you are together. There is really nobody you have fooled. That note was sloppy on both your parts. It hurt my girl, who never deserved any of this. It will never be better. She will NEVER want you in her life. Even as you entertain the happily ever after in that fairy tale head of yours, it will never include the loving relationship with a future stepdaughter/former Godchild. Oh, yeah...her Godmother. What a travesty.

In the last week, my mom has been stressing over an upcoming family event. You know the one. She wants to go. She wants to be there for her sister on such a momentous occasion. But she's not going. None of my siblings are going. I'm sure nobody will much give a shit. We always were the outsiders of the family. But it hurts my mother that she can't go. Your mother will be there. She'll look like the supportive sibling, while my mother looks like she turned her back on a family that never respected her anyway. You can say whatever you want about my mother, but she was there for you your whole life. And now, she can't participate in a single family event because the idea of having to see your face makes her violently ill. She can't envision any scenario where she would have to be in your presence and NOT punch you in your traitorous face. The anxiety she has battled all week, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse for not being able to attend her sister's party was exhausting. I had previously requested that none of my immediate family members mention the turmoil you have caused but in the end, I told her to just tell the truth. It was eating her up. It's all making my whole family feel sick. So while I lost a husband, and my siblings lost a brother in law, I guess neither of you gave a shit that we would all have to give up an entire extended family. Our three aunts, two uncles, twelve first cousins, all their spouses, all their children...but you get to keep them all. To be honest, since not one of them has ever thought to pick up the phone to ask how I might be see if I had something to say about the whole "falling out", I don't really miss them as much as you might think. People who clearly never gave a shit about me the way that I did them, they aren't worth my breath. I just have nothing to say.

The thing that hurts the most in this whole mess is, I miss you. I miss my best friend. I miss the laughter. I miss the noise of having all the kids together. I miss our Lucy and Ethel existence. Which one of us was which depended on the day. I miss figuring things out together. I miss knowing you were always there to have my back.

You had my back.

And then you stabbed me in it.

How could you do that?

How could you allow this to happen? You knew how I felt. You knew your relationship with my husband was causing problems in my already shaky marriage. Instead of backing off, you indulged his ego. "You're the bomb!" "I'm gonna bake you a cake!" "You're so great!" For all the complaining I did about him, (for perfectly valid reasons), you know I praised him just as much. But he chose not to see that. He chose, instead, to fall on your every word. When I told you it was a problem, you chose to make it MY problem. It never mattered that after your husband walked out, I was pulling my own husband to help you with everything. I was there for you. I was supportive of MY HUSBAND being there for you. Until it got to be too much. In hindsight, I wonder if your husband left because he saw something that I refused to believe. So many signs, but I trusted you both. I trusted you with my life, and you took it from me.

The time my California family came to visit, and you asked if you could borrow my husband to take down a heavy box of winter clothes for you, and you were gone for an hour and a half...and then came back to my house, and you both went into my office so he could take out the electric massager for your back...WHO FUCKING DOES THAT?

All the nights you sat together looking at photos I took, and I had to squeeze into a spot at the corner of the made me feel like an intruder in my own marriage...that was shitty of you! I trusted you, and you treated me like I was in your way.

The day he said he was going to Home Depot and I found him turning the dirt in your yard. How convenient your hubby had just taken the kids out.

The day he came home from work early, but I found him coming from the direction of your house. First he said the exit to our main road was closed. Then he said he was lost. So many story changes.

That day, after your husband left, and you came to my house crying. I wasn't there. My brother was there. I asked what happened. He said you came over, got upset and started crying. I asked if you said why, but he said, "No. MAC went inside with her and talked to her." Oh. How noble. I believed my husband was being good to my cousin. I never imagined back then just how good he was to you.

And that day...we already weren't speaking. I wanted so badly for us to make things right. I stayed up all night writing to you. I needed you to know how much you had hurt me. Even after you had the audacity to accuse ME of being selfish, because I didn't want him to come to your house to put a gate on your deck, I still wanted to find a way to make things right. But I knew. I hadn't slept, and the alarm in my gut wouldn't be ignored. I loaded my kids into my car at 5:30 in the morning, because I KNEW where he was and I had to see for myself...I drove around for an hour. His car wasn't parked in the lot where it should have been. I drove past your house five times and saw nothing. And as I prayed, "PLEASE, GOD...just give me a sign. Show me I'm being crazy. Show me I have invented this all in my head! I can't go on wondering and feeling like I'm out of my mind. PLEASE just show me the truth!!" And as I was making my last pass down your block, there he was. Driving his car out of your back yard.

But he promised. Til death do we part.

And were the other half of me. You were more my sister than my cousin.

And now, none of it matters.

You can both try to tell people I was crazy. You can say everything I imagined was a product of my own jealous anxiety. You can try to tell people you were never together until he left. But the fact that you ARE together now makes it perfectly clear that even in the BEST CASE SCENARIO, where you really never were together until he left, your current relationship says otherwise. There was something there. Something was going on, and looking back, it was right under my nose. Does that make me a fool? No. I chose to believe in the two people to whom I was closest. There was a time I would have given my life for you. Now,

I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire.

I'm sure we'll be passing through each other's lives. My daughter will have milestones in her life and there will be celebrations. I'll find a way to get through it all. And while I have forgiven you, for my own peace, I will never feel the need to have you included in ANY part of my life. I will never have anything to say to you. The person you were to me no longer exists.

We were close as kids, even though I was three years older. We grew closer as adults. When we had our own families, our blood was the foundation of an amazing friendship. And I'm so very glad I had that experience in my life, because thanks to you, it will never happen again.

Most days, the pain of what you did isn't even a thought to me. Sometimes, it rises up and comes tearing through my heart. Do I hate you? No. That would give you too much value. But even on the days when I have the burning pain neatly locked away, and I am managing to dance through every challenge life brings, there is always the presence of an underlying sadness. It's the heartbreak of being so heinously betrayed by someone I loved so deeply.

They say the worst part of betrayal is, it never comes from a stranger. That's so true.

And I wonder how you sleep at night.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Does A Single Parent Of An Autistic Child Make A Living?

I have raised the subject of keeping a job while raising an autistic child, on my Facebook page. I have made sarcastic jokes about getting that phone call from the school nurse because my child was "very agitated" and "could you come pick him up?" I have shared the "resumé" that was written by my good friend at Autism In Our House. (<Hey, look!!! I learned how to insert the link...I think...) It included some of the little "emergencies" a potential employer might expect upon hiring a parent of an autistic child. I have played the possible scenarios in my head, over and over, and I really just want to know, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE?

There have to be parents out there who make it work. Otherwise, families with autistic children would be starving. But I really want to know what the answer is.

I imagine if a person is a skilled professional in a specific field, the possibilities would be greater. If a mom or dad were a longtime employee, going back before becoming a parent, there would be better odds of keeping that job, even with all the disruptions that will inevitably come. But I think there are a lot more parents out there who are in a position similar to my own.

When I got married, my husband told me, AND I QUOTE, "I will shovel shit, seven days a week if I have to, I want you home with our kids". I swear to you, those were his exact words. Luckily, for a good amount of time during the early years of our marriage, no shit shoveling was necessary. His business was doing well, and we were living comfortably. I was pregnant with our daughter when our son was diagnosed with autism, and being a stay at home mom enabled me to do all the running around that followed. Evaluations, therapies, school programs, doctor appointments, more evaluations, more therapies...I only gained 11 pounds during that pregnancy. There was a lot of running.

Those early years were busy. I spent several hours a day in the car. The school programs we chose were on the opposite side of our city, and because our boy was non verbal, and I was home, we chose NOT to send him to school on a school bus. Had I been working (at a paying job), we would not have been able to get him as much help as we did.

Fast forward to our move to the suburbs. The economy had crashed, business was no longer booming. We struggled quite a bit and the marriage suffered. Badly. I was accused of being lazy. I was told I was using autism as an excuse to stay home and do nothing.

It was an ugly period of our marriage. Really ugly.

So I took a part time job in a school lunchroom. And then my husband left.

So now, my soon to be ex is suggesting it is time for me to head back to the full time work force because his choice to exit the "til death do us part" has negated the whole "shoveling shit" promise.

I certainly don't enjoy the whole "living on the balls of my ass" existence. I wish the possibility of finding worthwhile employment was...a possibility. But here are some of the dilemmas I find myself facing:

1) I am a 52 year old woman with a GED and no college.
2) I haven't been a member of the full time work force for the last 20 years.
3) I have no currently marketable skills.
4) I have no family close by to help with my kids.
5) In addition to a non verbal autistic teenager with the mental capacity of a two year old, I also have a daughter in the throes of puberty. She is dealing with the emotional fallout of my broken marriage and exerting her intense need for independence. It's a really bad time for her to be left unsupervised.
6) Special needs child care is expensive.
7) Summer camp for my girl and ESY (Extended School Year) for my boy only go to the beginning of August. There are approximately four weeks at the end of the summer when my kids would be home.
8) Winter break.
9) Spring break.

Ok, with all that being said, I really need to know, where do I go from here?

Even if I'm able to find a job that pays a decent wage, the cost of commuting, maintenance of business attire and child care would pretty much eat up any salary I might earn with my minimal skills. It's like I would be leaving my children to be cared for by strangers, and there would be no money left. Not to mention, that non verbal boy...who do I trust? My daughter is responsible. I can run to the store and leave her with her brother. I can go to an after work meeting (for my lunchroom job) for an hour, once a month, and she is ok to keep him safe. But she's 12. My boy is usually even tempered and a pleasure to spend time with. But he is a 15 year old boy. He is becoming a man. He has OCD and is sometimes unable to control his obsessive compulsion. And my girl is tiny. So leaving her alone with him every day? Out of the question.

These suggestions by my ex, I'm relatively sure he is misinformed regarding the resources that are available. There are financial options that would help. SSI will probably be a possibility, once the divorce is final, and I have the necessary financial documents to present with an application. There is also help available in my state through Perform Care, (formerly known as the Department of Developmental Disabilities). But again, I need the documents regarding finances in order to submit any application. There are no babysitters. There are no discounts on special needs child care. There is also no after school program. I am pretty sure I know WHO is misinforming this ex of mine, who is all too happy to assume I just don't want to work. I imagine if I had a family member who owned a business that provided me with full time employment, and I was able to bring my kids to work with me, well, that would sure make the process a little simpler. It also might make me a bit smug, and feel like I might be in a position to presume everyone should be able to do everything I do.

But that's not the case for all of us, is it?

I don't go out. I don't visit friends. I sure as hell would never consider leaving my kids home alone so I could go out for drinks during the week. I rarely spend money on any kind of recreation. I'm not dating. My whole existence is about caring for my kids. Because I don't have any current options to EARN more money, I do everything I can to limit expenditures. But as this divorce moves closer to being final, I wonder what resources my husband has consulted in his mission to relieve himself of responsibility. He is currently taking care of his kids, and I do know he always will. But he appears to have decided that his choice to walk out on his wife and his promise somehow created magic possibilities for me.

When we first began having financial difficulties, darling hubby suggested I go back to work, and I would ask him back then, "What would you like me to do with our children?" He never had an answer. He still doesn't have an answer, but apparently, he is all too happy to point a finger at me, and leave the burden of making whatever arrangements will alleviate his own responsibility firmly on my shoulders. He doesn't care who his children are left with. As long as he can save a few bucks.

I don't know how this will all play out. We have a legal process to go through. But I sure would love to hear from anyone who has found a formula that works. I'd love to know if there is some magic solution I am overlooking. I'd love to know, where do I go from here?