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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Let's hear it for the moms!

It's mother's day, and I've already talked to my three boys and my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. It's a day that always takes me back to the kaleidoscope of experiences that make up my own personal experience of "mom-ness". Being a mom is much more than the pastel water-colour sentiments that are usually expressed on mother's day cards. For all of us who have faced serious crises with our children, the soft focus dreamy smiles don't exactly encompass all that being a mom means.

The reason that I initially chose to go into the field of autism was that it was the only diagnosis that seemed serious enough to be worth my professional time after I lost my young daughter to cancer. My own experiences of being a mom include days of crisis and uncertainty, paralyzing fear for the future of my child, enduring the judgement of well-meaning professionals about how I should be handling events that were well out of the realm of rationality (always interesting to read about yourself in the hospital notes), having people turn and walk another direction because they don't know what to say to a person "in my situation", reaching the point that I would not have imagined I could live beyond and yet surprisingly (shockingly) finding myself still breathing and required to do my duties the next day. But my experiences also include humour and laughter in the middle of dark times, not taking the joy of ordinary days for granted, reinventing and rebuilding a family life that works despite circumstances we would not have chosen. Great joy and great sorrow mixed.

a picture of Adam and his mom, drawn by Adam

The moms of children with ASD deserve a special "shout out" on Mother's Day. These are moms who know crisis and uncertainty and fear and judgement. They are moms who don't get to have a day off, or even any certainty about how many years the full-body-contact mom duty will last. They are the moms who are seen by their children as a shield in times of trouble, the person who will help them make sense of the nonsensical, the one who will absorb their distress, forgive them their outbursts and make the world safe. They are the ones who run interference when the child is publicly and spectacularly melting down in the grocery store (and bystanders are calling in the police, the CAS, the coast guard). These are moms who historically have been blamed for their children's troubles (R.I.P. refrigerator mother theory!) at the same time as they've been asked to "just make those children behave".

They are mother, teacher, advocate, counsellor, sheriff, ... with this job description, you couldn't offer a high enough salary to retain quality personnel ... but every day these moms show up.

They are also the ones who find the comedy in the chaos. The ones who take the child to the school board superintendent's office and let him take every piece of paper off the walls and the desk as they question the decision to remove EA support from the classroom. The ones who get the shy eye gaze, the rare kiss, the "backing into your body" contact that is as close as that small person can come to a hug.

Moms, you need to know that all this time, all this love, all this heartache is not lost on your children. They see it, they know it, even if they can't always tell you in a conventional way. Here's a little note from a friend of mine named Owen, drawn and written when he was in elementary school, that gives a little flavour of how important his mom is to him: