I’ve been faithfully following a new blog called the Oxygen Mask Project. It’s essays written by other Autism moms with a focus on how they care for themselves.
It’s got me thinking about when Jett was 3, 4 and 5. Before he had an official diagnosis. When I was pretty sure his problems were because I was a bad parent and he might be a bad kid.
I did two things for myself during those dark years. First, I had a regular babysitter who came once or twice a week for a few hours at a time. Not only could I go to the doctor or dentist, I could also get my haircut, or see a friend for lunch. The best thing about her, though, was how much she cherished Jett and later Carlos and Letty. It was not only beneficial for me to have that time away from my children, but they also benefited being with another caregiver who also loved them.
The other thing I did for myself was attend the mom’s group at my church every Friday morning. This group met for two hours each Friday to drink coffee and talk about parenting. Childcare was provided, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say this group saved my life.
Some Fridays I cried the whole time. Most Fridays I laughed much of the time. And all Fridays I talked, often more than I listened.
I was so needy. I was like a dry sponge, soaking in the love and acceptance I found there.
When Jett was 3 1/2, we had him evaluated by an OT, who diagnosed him with Sensory Processing Disorder. Those three words started us on the journey so many other AS parents go on as well. Twice a week occupational therapy, speech therapy, play therapy. Our time and money was spent with therapists all over town. Add in a one-year-old and and a year later another pregnancy, and we were busy. And stressed.
There wasn’t much self-care happening. Until my mom friends from church decided we should all get away for the weekend. We had all just weaned our second babies, and we were ready for the freedom you just don’t have when you are the direct source of kid nutrition.
One of us has a beach house in her family, and we quickly picked a weekend in April. Email flurries abounded as we organized food and wine. We arrived at the beach about midnight that Friday night. We dropped our bags, poured wine, and ran out onto the beach. I have such vivid memories of the sheer giddiness I felt as we ran on that dark sand and stuck our toes in the ocean. We were free from children for the first time in three or more years. We were in a place where we had to be responsible for only ourselves.
I came home changed. I knew it was possible to thrive even with the circumstances of my children. I knew as long as I had friends and time like that, I could make it.
Since that weekend, my group of friends has changed a little. Most everyone has gone back to work, at least part-time. We have added members to our pack and some of our members have moved or gotten involved in other things.
We no longer meet every Friday morning. We call ourselves the Friday Night moms now and we still try to get together every month or two. There is always wine. There is almost always crying. And laughing. There is always talking. And listening.
And we still go to the beach. Sometimes just once a year, but in good years we go twice. I’ve never recaptured that initial giddiness I felt that first trip, now I experience a peaceful comfort I rarely feel in my daily life.
That comfort sustains me.