Mommy, do you know what I want to be when I grow up?
I want to be a mommy!
My heart swelled. I asked, “How many kids do you think you’ll have?”
Two. Will you help me with them, mama?
Every single day. I can’t wait to be your little mommy helper.
That was a conversation my six-year old daughter and I had a few months ago. Two weeks ago, we revisited that conversation:
Mommy, do you remember what I want to be when I grow up?
You want to be a Mommy!
I do, but I want to be a mommy who comes to help at the school, like Margaret’s mommy does. That's the kind of mommy I want to be.
Margaret’s mom is really nice. She’s always helping at the school, in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and on the playground. That's the kind of mom I wanted to be. I wanted to be that mom even before I started having babies. But the sicker Ronan got, the less time I got to be that kind of mom. The less time I got to spend with my typical children, too. My typical children realize this and know that I can’t always be there for them. They also know that I sometimes have to rely on others for help.
Since we have no immediately family in the area, some of the people I’ve had to rely on are typical moms of the typical kids we’ve gotten to know from school. These typical moms, and our extended circle of friends, help me and my family without hesitation. They’d actually be upset if they found out I had needed help and didn’t ask for it.
I needed a lot of help a few months ago when Ronan had two surgeries scheduled. Two friends jumped in to help without question.
Tell us what you need.
Tell us where we need to be.
Tell us what to do and consider it done.
While waiting for the second surgery to start, a very long day turned into an even longer one. Surgery was delayed. Recovery took longer than we’d expected. When it looked like we wouldn't be back home until well after dinner, I sent a text:
So sorry! Another delay...
I've got this. Take care of Ronan.
The kids will need dinner…
Don't even give it an extra thought.
I don’t like asking for help. I’d rather be the helper. Helping people is something I look forward to doing. But I can't always do that. Lately, instead of helping others, I’m the one who needs assistance. I’ve been forced to lean on other people because of Ronan’s recent medical setbacks, including those recent surgeries. Because I’ve had to dedicate more time with Ronan, I’m missing out on some of my other children's activities. I haven’t been able to drive them to their practices and games. I haven’t been there to cheer for them. My typical kids need me just as much as their brother does, but I can’t be in two places at once. I’ve had to leave them with others.
Who do I call for help?
The typical moms. They get it. And I am grateful that they do.
These moms step in when I physically cannot. They’re quick, and the ones I know are more than ready to help. They do that with ease, with happiness, and never with pity. Sure, they may be facing their own struggles, but when it’s my turn to reach out, they don’t let me see that they might be struggling. I witness confidence. I sense strength. I feel friendship. I look at these women with gratitude and in awe. But sometimes I look at them with a twinge of jealousy, too. I compare what I think they get to do with things that I never imagined I’d have to do.
They don’t make weekly phone calls to specialists, therapists, or insurance companies.
They don’t itemize medical expenses, supplements, and out-of-pocket therapy charges.
They aren’t strapped to their child's therapy schedule.
They aren’t inhabitants of stale-smelling waiting room.
They have the chance to make plans and to actually keep them.
They have more freedom do whatever they want.
They have more time to go wherever they want.
They are living a life that I had planned.
They are the classroom helper, the room mom, the lunchroom mom, and the playground monitor. I don't know if I’ll ever have the time or the energy to fill those roles. When I’m at my children’s school, I’m hardly ever at the school for more than five minute stretches. I dart in and out of the building—dropping off an overdue form, bringing lunch to the child who forgot it again, picking up another child for an orthodontics appointment. The last time I darted in and out of the building, Margaret’s mom was there. I flagged her down with the biggest grin on my face. I couldn’t wait to tell her what my youngest daughter had said.
With everything my children see me having to do for them and for Ronan, I’ve always wondered if they’d be hesitant to have their own children. It’s tough work being mom to five kids, one of whom has special needs. My other children know that. After a very grueling day full of meltdowns from Ronan and sad tears from me, my eight-year old said she never wanted to be a mom. Ever. Over time, though, one by one, my four typical children have said that they do want to have kids when they grow up. And one of them, my youngest, wants to be just like a mom she sees her school - Margaret’s mom.
When I saw Margaret’s mom in the hallway of the school, I told her that my daughter not only wanted to be a mom, but wanted to be just like her. Margaret’s mom looked at me and said, “Thank you for telling me. I needed to hear that.”
Margaret’s mom helps in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and on the playground. It may not feel like she and other moms like her are doing a lot, but they are doing so much for me. They are doing things for my typical children that I just can’t do right now.
To the moms who step in for those of us moms who can't…
To the moms who understand why I can’t be the room mom, the lunch room mom, or the playground monitor…
To the moms who see me and my disheveled self come barreling through the door, and who step out of the way…
To the moms who know I’ve fallen apart but who don’t judge…
To the moms who offer kindness and never, ever pity…
Thank you for doing what I cannot.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.