The scariest part about being a mother isn’t the process, it’s the anticipation of the process being over and having to ask yourself if you are obsolete.
I am at no risk of becoming obsolescent; I don’t know how comforting this thought really is because, ultimately, it means that J will be living with us -and somewhat dependent on us- for a long time. In other words: we don’t get to slowly transition into any sort of retirement…ever!
Lately, though, I’ve noticed that J has blossomed in an unexpected way. We’ve talked before about how he can be SUCH a teenager with the clothes, the music, the independence…and how this tickles us pink because it’s a sign that, under all the gloves, the hats, and such, there’s definitely adolescent brain activity to match his outward appearance.
Let’s add to the mix the little details that have suddenly, and gradually, crept into our day-to-day existence. I’m talking, namely, about dirty dishes left in the sink, bed made in a rush and -obviously- only to prove that it’s done, tossing of shoes into the closet carelessly, wearing a t-shirt with a stain on it. J now joyfully bounds up the stairs to get to his room or ignores calls for dinner until we go to get him. This is not a sign of depression, this is a sign that he no longer feels the urge to prove he’s paying attention. This is J’s happy “screw it” to the more obsessive aspects of Autism.
I guess I failed to notice this change because I’ve been distracted by life in general. We moved to this state a few months ago and, as you all know, that leads to a lot of tangents and to falling into an unfamiliar groove that you work at making familiar. And now it has become obvious, because we had time to hang out together last week, that J is evolving.
We have known for a while that J prefers the company of his cooler older brother. Let’s face it: the dude has a goatee, earrings, tattoos, a leather jacket, long hair, and turns the volume up whenever their favorite songs play. We, on the other hand, are…his parents. We are the ones who name the chores and when to do them, who walk up to his door, knock and say “volume, please.” We are the ones who are only cool indoors, at home, with the curtains drawn. It’s not that he doesn’t like us, it’s just that the realization that we are lame has finally caught up to him.
What a relief!
At the same time: what now?
Thankfully, my husband and I are very much a couple. We are into each other; we enjoy each other’s company; we feel comfortable pursuing our own interests and knowing the other person isn’t going to feel neglected. We got married knowing that our nest would never be completely empty because, well, J is a given (we have this image of him sitting in the backseat of the car, pissed off because we’re going to the early-bird dinner AGAIN!)
I’ve been a mom for nearly 21 years now, and I’m pretty competent at it (I wouldn’t dream of saying I’m great because I have screwed up left and right, up and down and round-and-round,) but I won’t be “mom” forever. Well…let me amend that: I won’t be “JUST mom” forever. I am sure that, in a few years, J will feel I am underfoot if I try to interfere more than is absolutely necessary. The big difference between J and his brother is that I started getting ready for these changes much, much earlier and with greater enthusiasm.
When I speak to women who have no real experience with a disabled individual in their household or as a part of their work, they ask me what I do for a living. I don’t quite know how to answer that question. The word “housewife” seems a little dated; “professional mother and home resources administrator” -my job description of choice- sounds like a joke; “just a mom” makes it sound like I drive a van, cart the kids around, belong to a book club and stuff like that… “What did you study?” “Liberal Arts” compels them to go “ooooooooooh,” and “I have an M.A.” makes them go “aaaah…oooooh” with a lilt of incomprehension and sadness in their voices. I tell them I’ve worked: I’ve been a teacher, a receptionist, a file clerk, an administrative assistant, a membership coordinator at a museum, a barista, a bookseller…”ooooooh!” They are never impressed and then, like the dork that wants a bit of acceptance from her not-quite peers, I interject “I’ve always wanted to be a writer…” in a hesitant tone. “There you go! You could write a book! I’d buy it!!!”
I’m not looking to reinvent myself; if I’d wanted to be a different person, I would’ve taken a different route when I had time still unfolding ahead of me like a blank canvas. Right now, my pages are ruled. That’s my fact of life. The rest of my days come with built-in chaos that changes in surges and spurts, and I’m OK with that. I’ve never REALLY been “just mom” because, for the most part, I’ve been paying attention and I know my kids -well…one of them more than the other- are “on loan,” merely spending those last few minutes in the oven to brown enough so that they are ready to be served and look like the picture that came with the recipe.
Right now, at this particular point, I am just happy that -while I was a little distracted by the day-to-day- something changed that made us a little less isolated from the mainstream. My house is a little messier and I have a few more dishes to wash; I now use the “mom” voice to get J to finish something left unattended mid-task…or to pick something up from the floor…or to not run up the stairs…