“And how are YOU doing? Are you finding time for yourself?”
She was completely well meaning, but I wanted to laugh in her face. Actually, I think I did. Finding time for myself? How could I possibly? I had infant twins, a 6 year old and a newly diagnosed 3 year old whom I hadn’t the slightest idea how to help. Finding time for myself would have to wait.
I had little people who needed me.
The woman who asked the question was the therapist we were seeing before Finn was officially diagnosed with autism. At the time, I hadn’t a clue what autism meant. The therapist would give us weekly homework like, “Try playing board games with him.” Huh? What the heck did playing board games have to do with autism? And how the heck was that going to stop him from hitting his brother? But each week, I would drive all four kids to therapy. We would sit out in the lobby while Finn played Legos and talked to his therapist. Charlie played with toys while I tried to maintain some normalcy by returning phone calls to my girlfriends (in between breastfeeding the twins and reading my ever-growing reading list of autism books.)
I didn’t have time to worry about myself.
I would soon be grappling with a cerebral palsy diagnosis for Henry. I would soon have to fight for services with Finn’s school. And amidst it all I still had to feed everyone (cooking is not my forte). And go to soccer practice. And write milestones in baby books. And be a room mom for Charlie’s class. And remember to breathe in and out.
It was laughable in its absurdity.
I think as a Mom, I took on the responsibility of controlling everything and helping everyone all on myself. I read all the books. I joined all the groups. I immersed myself in anything I thought would help Finn. Moms all over the world do it all the time. I certainly didn’t invent the concept. We think that no one else can do it like we do, and we take our job pretty seriously, so we don’t let anyone try. We don’t ask for help when we need it. We want everyone to think we have it all under control.
Even in the face of completely out of control circumstances.
I have been so completely obsessed with autism over the past two years that I’ve forgotten who I am. Every waking moment is spent thinking about how I can help Finn. How to help him be happy. How to help him succeed at school. How to help him make friends. How to help Finn be happy in his own skin. How to make Charlie feel like his life is not wrought with sacrifice. How to make Finn not wish he were Charlie. How to make Charlie wish he didn’t belong to another family.
Last week, I saw an old friend from college. I haven’t seen her in probably ten years. She was a great friend of mine, but she moved away to the West Coast and we haven’t seen each other since. She called me and wanted to meet at the zoo because she was in town to see her parents.
We had a great day talking and laughing and chasing our kids around. It’s funny how ten years can go by and circumstances change, but old friends never do.
I barely mentioned autism once.
I drove home that day and cried my eyes out. Partly because I missed my old friend. Partly because I missed the old me.
The me who didn’t have a care in the world. The me who traveled far and wide to catch a Pearl Jam concert. The me who felt like she could take on the world.
I woke up the next day and joined the gym.
I have let my stress rule my life for too long. Literally, the day Finn was diagnosed, I called Weight Watchers and quit. I cried on the phone to the poor recipient of my quitter’s phone call and said, “My son was just diagnosed with autism and I can’t keep counting points because I have all these books to read. And I can’t keep paying for Weight Watchers because I really need a bowl of ice cream!”
She said, “I’m so sorry, honey, don’t worry. We’ll be here for you when you want to come back.”
And since that day, I’ve fed my stress with food. (Well, actually, since BEFORE that day, but let’s just say the stress eating has been epic.)
So, I have vowed to put myself back on the priority list.
I’m hoping that the gym will be good for me and for Henry and Tallulah. It will give us all somewhere to go during the day. Seeing people and being accountable, instead of holing up in the house and hiding from the world. Giving myself a healthy outlet for my stress. Creating a strong body which I’ve already discovered houses a pretty strong mind.
Putting myself on the list doesn’t make me selfish. I have to take care of me, so I can take care of them. Because if I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that NOTHING will stand in the way of my family.
And I’m stronger than I thought I was.