After David hit a police officer on the school grounds, my coping skills were at low ebb. I felt shame about the sudden fantasy of driving us both off a cliff. Even so, it felt like just one data point in a downward spiral.
The Kid Must Get It From Somewhere
Disguising my fear seemed to get a little harder every time I walked past the bright purple graffiti into the dull gray building. The less control I felt over my own emotions, the more I worried that the school principal or the classroom teacher would classify me as one of those parents. Those parents are the crazy ones who make a scene and can’t be taken seriously. Well, the kid must get it from somewhere, I imagined them saying to each other. What if “responsible mom” was not able to suck it up that day in the school parking lot? Would David have gone home, or to a holding cell?
90 % is Just Showing Up, Right?
Granted, this was not a wacko fear by any means. The people who provide services to children with disabilities make judgments about parents every day. You can easily earn a reputation for being too angry or too emotional. Get weepy in an IEP meeting and watch how fast people tap their phones to check the time. Dealing with a parent’s headspace is not the job of the school staff. It was my job to show up in one piece. I kept showing up. However, it was getting hard to glue those little pieces together day after day.
Perfect Mom is Perfectly All-In
My imperfect child went to school every day in an imperfect purple and gray oasis that was not quite intended for kids with autism. It was good enough for now. I got that. Yet in my head, I was the one who was still supposed to be perfect. If I always looked reasonable and willing to solve problems, how could anybody blame me for the way my child acted? If I never forgot to send thank you notes or gift cards at Christmas, how could anybody think I was less than 100 percent all-in for the good of my child? Ergo, they would give me a break. They would like me even when my child seemed unlikeable. People would invest in his success because his mom was so wonderful. So brave. So nice.
Yeah, right. Sounds weird to me, too.
Introducing Responsible Special Needs Mom 2.0
My practical, down-to-earth husband finally insisted I find some therapeutic help. “I can’t take care of these kids without you,” he said in his logical engineer voice. He drove me to meet a psychotherapist I would see on a regular basis for the next dozen years. Bit by bit, I recognized that I was an imperfect person trying to muddle through as best I could. There really is not a Nobel Prize in Special Education Motherhood. We just do the best we can.
I realized at some point that one part of being a “responsible mom” was to build emotional trust with the school staff so we could afford to be human with each other. One very bad day, the school psychologist admitted she had absolutely no idea what to do about David’s explosions. “Wendy, I’m so very sorry,” she said, biting her lip. “But can I give you a hug?” I took that hug. Then I and surprised myself by answering, “It’s okay. There’s always a solution, even if it’s a bad one. There’s always the next thing to try.”