So, this time of year (spring) is very busy for me, but my head is still thinking madly, feeling busily, working desperately... The connections between several events are wandering around in my head trying to make a pleasant picture.
Today is Mother's Day. I am celebrating without my children. They are gone to their grandparents. Our financial and work situations have conspired against us to create an... opportunity... for my children to spend an extended period away. It brings me conflicted feelings.
I feel incredibly guilty for being apart from them. Isn't the whole reason we are homeschooling because my children need a MOTHER - an adult to help interface the world to their Asperger's quirks? Their sense of world order is... distinctive... and requires facilitation. Meeting half way means the world has to come to them as much as they have to come to the world. And it is adults who create, enforce the "laws" of the "world", who will be able to see to it that the world comes to them too. I feel bad that I have "sent them away", even if it is a good place and time for them to go.
And I feel incredibly thankful that my family is capable of supporting us. Supporting my efforts to parent as well as supporting my children in their growth. I am so very very luck to have extended family that has the resources of time and understanding to walk with us on this journey into, not just child rearing, but rearing children on the Spectrum. We are not all on the exact same page, but we are all focused on making those kids KNOW they are loved and valuable, arming them with the coping strategies and strengths they will need as they get older.
But there are other Truths. First of all, I work. Yes, it is seasonal, and it is not fabulously important to the whole universe, but it is important to ME and to the people I work with. I am a camp and swim instructor. I Teach, about biology, about human dynamics, and self-control, about connecting to new experiences, and I teach the life saving skill of swimming. I ENJOY my work. I enjoy where and how I work. I truly, deeply love the kids who work for me as lifeguards, and the kids who come to me for swim lessons, and the managers over me who support my ability to teach. I love the "Ah-Ha!" moments, and the sacred campfire songs, and the time outside, and sensory experiences of water. I feel both guilty and satisfied about all that. Mothering should be, IS, my primary responsibility. But do I HAVE to mother just my own kids? Isn't it Ok, great even, if my "mothering" can help, teach, facilitate others to strength and independence?
When my daughter was born, I was working at a small independent Montessori school. The daughter of the founder/ "principal" of the school had just reached adulthood (like finishing up a college degree) and also worked at the school. She was an "only" child. But she wasn't. Her jealousy was reserved for the school itself, her "sibling", the thing that took her mother's time and divided the mother's attention. I am very Montessori in nature, and I TRULY believe that each of us is created to work, to do a job that is divinely assigned to us; we each have a purpose. I came to realize... well, pretty much just decided... that my children should see the same. That by seeing my Work (whatever that might be) as a "sibling"; they too would come to know that they have a divine purpose by my example; they would practice that we are all innately unique, independent, and interconnected - they would see the Divine Plan at work. They needed to know that they had to share me.
It was not until a few years later that I came to the place I work now, and even further that I came to the position that I now hold. I know, with every fiber of my being, that the work I do as a camp instructor and as a swim instructor is IMPORTANT. There are lots of nice academic reasons about brain-based learning and experiential education, and statistics about water safety and drownings, but I KNOW because I connect with my students, because everyday I work I am getting positive feedback from my coworkers, my students and the adults observing us (the parents watching us). I am SO proud of that. But also kinda guilty because it does mean time away from my children, the 2 that God assigned ME to teach.
But then again...
I have been around, seen LOTS of schools, LOTS of families, and have made some decisions about what kind of person I want to be, what kind of parent I want to be, what kind of people I want my kids to be...
There is no doubt that I am very "alpha mommy", that I prefer being in charge, and I have a lot of "presence" (I've decided that is a symptom of being raised in a First Responder's family). I am VERY careful about not smothering my children. That was thrown in my face when my son was only 1 month old. He died - he quit breathing in my hands, his eyes rolled up in his head and he "turned off" (that's the only way I can explain it). I gave him rescue breaths, cleared his airway, and he turned "on" again. We went to the hospital and spent 3 days on oxygen. I was MAD at God. How could He do this to me?! The baby wouldn't remember, this was clearly a lesson for ME. I prayed and railed, and came to see that God was reminding me that life is HIS, and that I needed to let that child be who He destined him to be. That is my Autistic/ Asperger's child.
Montessori education is MUCH about independence, about creating a space for children to own and drive their own learning, about "student led curriculum" and encouraging innate abilities. Like I said, I like that, I live that, I believe that. SO... I tend to let me kids practice that. Not everyone is at peace with that, but that's Ok too. And it has been kinda hard with the Autism/ Asperger's. He NEEDS a facilitator, but he also NEEDS to OWN his own coping strategies. "Successful" autistic people are those who can effectively communicate their needs, and openly ask for and accept the assistance that supports them. This is a discussion I have had with MANY educators & therapists (and family members). THINK about it! If someone came to you and openly said, "hey, I know that I work better with the lights out [music on/ in the morning/ whatever]" aren't you more likely to accommodate that need - in a relationship (family), in work (supervisor)? The whole SPD thing, the whole Asperger's thing is about arming my kid with a strategy that makes the people around him comfortable with his "weirdness". As I said in an earlier post, you just gotta own it.
When I was pregnant with my first, I read in a Spanish parenting magazine in the doctor's office an article on separation anxiety. (I don't know if that's what it's called for people, but that is what it is called for dogs). This article, written in Spanish, for the Hispanic population, credited Hispanic society with having children who were less anxious about leaving mom, about going to new places, who just seemed to deal with the flow better. Their explanation was that Hispanic society has a greater emphasis on extended family. Basically they said that the baby gets passed around more, so it comes to see the leadership/ safety of several adult role models as the norm. The continued postulation there is that the child has less anxiety as they grow because they come to expect all adults to help/ care for them. The family shares the responsibility and the child has more supporting connections.
I decided right then that I wanted my child to be like that. I remember being "shared" by my parents. My parents were the first to have children in their crowd, and we were everyone's kids. We have MANY MANY "Dutch" Aunts and Uncles, "extra" grandmothers, active God parents. As we got older it was apparent that these people were interested in us as human beings, not just as "Our Friend's kids". They threatened my boyfriend (eventual husband) when he started courting, they gave us (my brother & I) advice on college and jobs, they provided valuable resources for life changing events, went out of their way to be a part of our lives even when we moved across the country. Many are still keeping track of me on Facebook. These relationships have NOT subtracted from the strength of my relationships with my parents, they have strengthened them - because it provides me a place to put parents in perspective, to "see how they are as co workers, friends, and neighbors. These relationships with the adults who knew my parents help me to know my parents as PEOPLE, not just as "parents" - and that can be hard when you are dealing with a family history of "Asperger's"/ "weirdness" - that inability to communicate/ verbalize things [like emotions] effectively. It is one of my coping strategies, one of the ways I learned to look for "why" and "how". These "Dutch" relationships let me have many adult role models and make more informed decisions about "who" I wanted to be. I WANT my kids to have that. THEY DESERVE IT!!! I need to share my kids.
So I feel a sense of pride that my kids can go to their grandparent's for an extended visit. While I feel guilty, I also know that it makes them stronger. One of my best friends took me out for a "Mother's Day" breakfast yesterday, and told me she admired how independent my kids are. They put themselves to bed, they get their own snacks, they [try] to clean up their own messes. I have a 5 year old and a 7 year old who can go to bed without being tucked in, who have spent many nights away from home and without parents, and they are OK with it. They have coping strategies, routines, and are still surrounded by adults who love and support them, even when they are difficult to love and support.
We are so early in this journey, there is so much living and learning and growing yet to do. Lord, I hope I don't screw this up, Lord I hope that they get everything they need, and most of what they want, Lord I hope that it really IS gonna be better than just OK, Lord I hope that every kid I teach and work with recognizes that I genuinely care for them and that the knowledge is helpful in some way, Lord I hope that the guilt will set me free but that pride doesn't ruin us, Lord I hope that my family is not angry that I need to lean so heavily upon them, Lord I hope we are striking that balance between independence and interdependence...
Mostly, Lord, I hope that it's Your plan I am following and I am not just making all this shit up.
So Happy Mother's day to ALL of you: to the mother's out there who are enjoying their families, to the "village" out there helping me raise MY kids, and even to me. I am now going to go get my nails done. And then my husband is taking me to Ikea for meatballs.