Before I had kids, I fantasized about being a stay-at-home mom. I sat at my (trendy) desk chair at my (meaningless) advertising job and longed for the days I could wake up without a boss. I marveled at the idea of never having to leave my pajamas or even put on a bra if I didn’t want to. I knew just the kind of Mom I was going to be. I was going to play and create and dream and imagine. We would make homemade Play Dough and go for walks on the beach and go to “Mommy and Me” classes. I would be the president of the Mother’s Club and the Breastfeeding Support Group and I would make homemade treats for the members.
Then I had kids.
It didn’t turn out like that.
Not even a little bit.
When Charlie was born, I went to my first (and last) Breastfeeding Support Group meeting. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding, I did! So much so, that I went on to train to become a Lactation Consultant. I never finished. That’ll be another blog post I call, “Stick-to-itiveness. Why I don’t have it and why my kids probably don’t, either!” I didn’t stay in the support group because I didn’t feel like I had anything other than breastfeeding in common with the other moms. It’s not that the women in the group weren’t perfectly lovely. I felt uncomfortable and different, so I didn’t go back. I sought a Mother’s Club to no avail. I tried some “Mommy and Me” classes, but they were too expensive! I felt isolated and alone, so I went to Target.
I had nothing else to do and Target gave me a reason to put on a bra in the morning (which, surprisingly was less liberating than I thought it would be!) I didn’t have the structure of needing to be somewhere in my day. I would wake up in the morning with 12 unfilled hours. Target gave me purpose. Even if it was just to pick up dog food.
As I walked Target’s aisles, I saw many other moms just like me with infants and toddlers in their carts, filling their carts and their days with crap from Target. I used to joke that my first book was going to be called, “The Target Playdate.” I wanted to meet other moms, but I didn’t know how.
My sisters would say, “Wait til the kids are school-aged, you’ll meet lots of other moms.” Sure. Maybe I’ll join the PTA. In 4 years. It’ll all be better in 4 years.
Why couldn’t I just find some other stay at home moms who wanted to hang out and do stuff with our kids?
When Charlie was 2, we had Finn. Finn’s first 2, maybe 3… nah, most of Finn’s years have been really challenging. He had lots of tantrums. Most of what he did in public was not “socially appropriate.” Even my Target Moms were starting to look at us funny. And don’t even get me started on the old ladies at Target! I had to retreat back to the solace (and loneliness) of our home because no one was judging us there. By this point, we lived in our current house, so I couldn’t even walk to the beach anymore. So, here I sat with an extremely inquisitive 4 year old and a screaming, tantruming 2 year old. The Mother’s clubs were out of the question because I couldn’t even leave the house. I din’t know why Finn was freaking out, so it’s not like I could identify it or avoid it. And how on Earth was I going to get quasi-stranger moms at the hypothetical Mother’s Club to like us when Finn was practically knocking other kids out?
Thankfully, it was at that point that Joe introduced me to Facebook. Say what you will about Facebook, but I will always contend that it saved my life! (Now, it annoys the crap out of me because I can’t stand all the e-cards and seeing stranger’s posts and whatnot). But back THEN! When you could pin “buttons” on a virtual cork board on your “wall,” not your “timeline.” It felt very organic and high-school reunion-ish. It wasn’t about going viral. It was about finding old friends. It gave me something to wake up for in the morning. I mean, obviously besides my wonderful family! It gave me something else to think about. It reunited me with old friends. Friends who knew me before I became a stay-at-home-Target-stalking-loner-Mom. And eventually, it became the people who knew me before Finn had autism.
By the time Finn was 3, I realized that those weren’t “age appropriate” tantrums. In attempt to quell my fears and extreme sense of isolation, I started seeking a diagnosis. I didn’t really want one. I was more trying to rule one out. But once I started down that road, there was no turning back. Believe me, I tried.
Finn was diagnosed for about 24 hours when I called the local Autism Support Group called “FACES 4 Autism.” Given my lack of success with other groups in the past, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like it. Within a week, we were at the first “meeting.” It was at a Bouncy place where the kids bounced and the parents met. It was loud. There were lots of kids there. We couldn’t even get Finn in the door. Joe, who had grown up going to “Our Special Kids” events for his Down Syndrome Uncle, felt right at home and was eager to “join.” I, on the other hand, wanted to run for the hills. Again, not because the people weren’t perfectly lovely, but because I felt uncomfortable and different.
Since that first encounter, I have been back. I persevered through my lack of stick-to-itiveness for Finn’s sake. Despite feeling uncomfortable and different. Despite my first response to want to retreat and isolate and invent this wheel on my own.
I realized, in the past extremely introspective year since Finn’s diagnosis, that I am not a joiner. I don’t really like going to “group” events. Despite being in a sorority in college, which was the closest to a group I’ve been in, I find that even in a group of like-minded people, I walk away feeling more different and alone. But, I must force myself to go back to the group. Because uncomfortable, different and alone is exactly how Finn will feel.
If I let him.