Posts tagged ‘sense of self’
I spoke with a friend today whose daughter is home sick from school. Mom’s comment that S was “sitting on the floor playing with her stickers and coloring” while Mom worked from home rendered me momentarily speechless. You mean kids actually do that? Sit on the floor and play quietly by themselves? Seriously? Wow. Just WOW.
I marvelled for a moment at how different our two kids are. When C is awake, it is a constant, all-consuming, every moment affair. If he’s actually quietly playing somewhere, chances are he’s overflowing his sink, testing to see if the flashlight works in the toilet, or pulling the ears of our way-too-patient dog. When it’s too quiet in our house, there’s a problem, or else everyone is asleep.
C’s need for interaction, any type of interaction, is simply so great as to make me wonder if C recognizes he is in fact his own independent person. It would seem that he is almost solely validated by his relationships with other people, which I suppose doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical ideal of someone with an autism diagnosis.
While all of my pondering on this subject has yet to yield a reason for it, the effect on me – the INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile – is great. Perhaps now I value my alone time more since it is more rare, but I find myself staying up late at night, enjoying solitary trips to the grocery store, and yakking on the phone with girlfriends, well, never. It’s almost as if C believes he ceases to exist if he is by himself, and I feel as though I can only remember my true self when I am alone.
When I was growing up, I always wanted to move somewhere new. We lived in the same house from the time I was one year old until my parents moved to Arizona 35 years later. Bored with my small town, I fantasized about being the new girl in school just about every year when school started. I wanted to reinvent myself, become someone new, and change personalities like a chameleon changes its color.
College, and subsequent multiple moves after marriage, afforded me that chance to morph into a new person. I could be in a place where I knew not a soul, and be whomever I wanted to be. Yet now, facing the possibility of yet another move, I wonder what this new place will bring. Should I become the ever-patient mother who befriends everyone and bakes fabulous gluten free/casein free cookies for all the neighbors? Should I turn into that Mom who knows everything about autism and is the resource for all the other moms? Should I be the cool Mom who always has kids running through the house because they all want to hang at our place?
What I have found, however (and I won’t tell you how many moves it took me to figure this out, but I’m working on double digits here), is that wherever I go, the old me follows. I’m still the slightly frazzled, pretty tired, mostly good Mom who is trying (not always successfully) to do right by her kid, husband, and self. No new personalities that don’t really fit, no new ability to magically become June Cleaver (even though subconsciously she must be my ideal), and no new “cool factor” that I’ve never really possessed before.
I’m just always me. Just me.
In the past couple of years, I’ve found myself on a strange journey to recapture the me I used to be. I’ve never liked the idea that one needs to find oneself, but I absolutely understand the idea that a person can get lost. I have, most definitely, been lost. Lost inside those early years of raising C where we bounced back and forth between specialists and therapies; years where my dearest friends were the therapists working with C. We shared a common goal of helping this child along his path in the best way possible, which probably explains the tightness of our bonds and why some of them remain strong all these years later.
In the years since C started school, I’ve slowly been working my way back to my own interests, although I admit to not being completely sure what those actually are any longer. Lofty goals such as traveling the world and writing great books have given way to watching Amazing Race and escaping into books other people have penned. A former desire to work at the Smithsonian has melted into not being sure I’d even care to work at the local history museum at this point. Just what is it I want to do with myself, my future, the rest of my life?
The entire issue of my sense of self hit me hard while sitting through what was, in my opinion, a terrible movie adaptation of the amazing book My Sister’s Keeper. At one point, the mother of the terminally ill child was asked who she thought she’d be if she weren’t fighting for her daughter. Recognizing that our situation is far less critical, I still asked myself the same question in that moment. The truth is, I’m not sure of the answer, but my sense is that I’ll figure it out. I am quite sure there’s a way to balance everything while still knowing who I am when I stand alone.
Since C was born, he has been on my mind, one way or another, almost 24/7. I am constantly thinking about how to get him to eat new things, how to work out the latest behavior challenge, or investigating what programs/sports/therapies will be the best for him. I can’t just sign him up for a class at the Boys and Girls Club; I need to find out what size the class is, who is teaching it, and if it’s in the loud (and intolerable) gym. Do I sign him up for gymnastics class, a substitute for physical therapy, at the local place that’s not very good in terms of gross motor work but has kids from his school? Or do we go to the place in town that has a one-on-one teacher for him, but no kids from his school?
While he’s at school, I can often be found figuring out the latest EOBs from the insurance company to make sure things were billed correctly and then working them into our flex plan for reimbursement. Or I’m running around to one of 3 grocery stores I visit on a regular basis to accommodate his (and my) dietary restrictions. Or I’m calling around to see if we’ve moved up on the wait list for music or physical therapy.
Yet today, as I was working my paid job, I realized several hours had gone by without my thinking about C in some form or another. Several hours. I’m frankly not sure that’s ever happened before, except when Husband and I are on a trip by ourselves somewhere and C is happily ensconsed at “Grandma Camp.” I sat here at my desk, quite stunned, actually, while I pondered the magnitude of the moment. I took it as a sign, both that C is growing, and that I am slowly becoming able to cross the line back into my own life, my own thoughts, my own interests. It felt like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. “Ahhh,” I thought, “here I am.”
There are two times when I don’t feel like I’m “on” with C. When he is somewhere with Daddy, or when he is somewhere with Ga (that would be Grandma, a hangover word from when he couldn’t say “Grandma”). The rest of the time I feel like I am “on” in some way. Even at night, given our continued use of a baby monitor.
School is no different; I dread the ringing of the phone. He is sick, he has eaten something he’s allergic to, or he’s finally sung “Brick House” (one of his favorites) to the principal and has been kicked out of school.
This child is a constant. I suspect, like my mother has sometimes gently suggested, that I am at times a bit too wrapped up in C. I freely admit to losing any sense of self after having C, and am now working very hard to regain it. Yet my answer to that comment, and to myself when I start to think about it, is “How could I have done it any other way?” As parents, we all just do what needs doing, and I firmly believe C needed my full and undivided attention. It’s not a sacrifice, it just is.
Sometimes I marvel at how far away I am from what I thought my life would be. I know I am doing “the most important job in the world,” but the cliche doesn’t really assuage the odd disconnect I feel when I read the alumni notes in my college and graduate school bulletins. It’s in those moments when I become painfully aware that I’m not really sure who I am anymore. I don’t know what, exactly, I would be doing if I weren’t raising this child, but somehow I feel as though I’ve completely lost my sense of self. I suppose that’s both the pain and beauty of being a parent, and like everything else about the job, it is magnified with a special needs child. I’m so wrapped up in my child I don’t know where he begins and I end. My brain recognizes the inherent conflict and danger in this, but my heart wouldn’t have it any other way.