Monday, July 12, 2010

The parenting dream...

These blog entries are like word photographs... little grabs of time and experience that most likely make my life seem incredibly floaty and fun.

It is fun. Definitely. And it has its floaty moments. Definitely. But there have been some hideous, horrible, frustrating teary times as well. They are fewer and further between, for sure, as time goes on. I'm so very glad about that.

Because for a long time it didn't seem like it would ever feel good.

When I was a little girl (don't you hate it when sentences start like that...? Don't worry, you're not about to get in trouble) my sisters and I used to talk about what we would be doing in the year 2000. It seemed so far away, but we'd add up the years, work out our ages and chat about our imagined careers, husbands and children.

Career-wise, I'd had a seminal experience as a five year old in the theatre in Ireland. I was taken to a production of the Wizard of Oz, and as soon as the lights went down, I knew I wanted a piece of it. I was talkative but not really a performer (read, lots of intentions but not much actual talent) but I liked words a lot. I was a precocious reader (three years old by family legend) and liked to write even at five, so my career was set. Bizarrely, I actually managed to pull that one off.

So, it was just a matter of a husband and children.

My relationship history is hardly worth writing about - essentially, a series of misguided attempts followed by a major stroke of luck. As time went on, I became more and more worried that the child I'd dreamed up wouldn't materialise. But at 35, along came Billy.

And not long after it began, my much imagined parenting journey took a swerve to the left.

Now, people who know me would know that there's nothing odd about odd to me. I've never quite fit in to the mainstream. Not different enough to be way out, but not on that straight and narrow Barbie, ballet and team sports road either.

I love that I found a lovely, understanding, funny man to make a family with. I love that I found a job that paid the bills (mostly) and was creative and interesting too. So, having a child who was destined to be a bit odd shouldn't have seemed like such a big deal.

But it was.

The realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. It hurt. It was deeply frightening. It was a threat like I'd never felt before. I was 'queen of the little kids', the favoured aunty, the babysitter of choice... this was supposed to be my moment in the sun.

I had taken on pregnancy like a member of the special forces. Full of rules and discipline and choosing to do 'the right thing'. I didn't eat anything I wasn't supposed to eat - soft ice cream, sushi, salami, salad bar salad. I extended the ban to caffeine - no coke, coffee or chocolate. I drank litres of water, ate tons of fish (I know... I lived on the coast and the doctors said it was the right thing to do... gack!) and generally looked after myself.

So this shouldn't have happened, right?

But it did.

Over the past six years, there have been moments where I thought I couldn't breathe. Sometimes it was because of the unfairness of it all. Other times it was in response to Billy's struggle to master something that other kids just breezed through. Mostly, though it was because I didn't want to accept what was going on.

I'd dreamed of this for so many years. I'd worked so hard to make it happen right. And I'd failed to make the dream happen. Let's face it, I'd flat out failed. I'd fooled myself into thinking I could succeed but, meh...

But... and it's a big but (funny that). Once we finally got Billy off to school, and I got a bit of thinking space, my perspective changed.

I realised I'd learned quite a bit on the journey so far. There's a lifetime of learning, of course, but it's incredible how much you can pick up when you have to... and with autism, you really have to. So, my brain was well exercised.

I also realised that the career that often failed to bring the dollars, brought a lot of flexibility. I could work from home, I could bring a whole lot of new perspective to my work practice (lord knows lots of autistic kids have a passionate relationship with kids television).

Finally, I can confidently confirm that, in my experience, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It also makes you much more efficient, increases your time management skills and means you care so much less about things and people that annoy you.

I dream about the future now, like I did when I was a child. But now it's Billy's future I wonder about. And it's not my sisters I share my dreams with, because they have kids of their own to speculate about. Now, I share my thoughts and fears with a new bunch of women - autism mothers. They're just like sisters, really. We giggle about mistakes, we challenge each other's ideas, we sob on each other's shoulders, we tell stories from the trenches that no-one else would understand...

With their support, a bit of space to think and a real reason to succeed... I've reached a point where my parenting dream is becoming a reality.

Watch, next week, some other giant hurdle will appear in front of me on the road less travelled. Throw me a giant squid wielding a light sabre. See if I care.

Actually, I might. That's the stuff of bad dreams...


fiona2107 said...

Valerie, you are remarkable!
I just LOVE your writing - and you're right. Writing is the niche that is perfect for you!
It's interesting to read the journey that you have all taken from meeting your husband to Billy's dx. It's true that life throws curve balls at you when you least expect it - and I think you are an amazing mum and the BEST mum for Billy.
I personally look up to you and only wish I had the drive that you do to keep on keeping on

Anonymous said...

Valerie I totaly understand where you are coming from :)
I did the same! I did every thing right, i even at fish, yuck!! (i'm a vegetarian and have been for 2o years)

I ask the question why? and how? all the time. How come my crack smoking (lol) freinds got perfect children? They never did right by their children, its so not fare!!! (stamping my feet).

But I look at my 2 now and see that I did get perfect kids its just that my perfect is a little different to theirs :D and thats just fine with me!! :D

Thanks for sharing your life and dreams with us ;)

Lisa said...

Dear Val, there's a book/movie/TV show I want you to write.