By Cathy Jameson
We got rid of cable a few years ago. Disappointed with rising fees and discouraged that my children were picking up bad habits from characters on the kids’ shows they were watching, it was one of the best parenting decisions we made. Initially, I missed some of the channels and programs I’d gotten into the habit of watching. Over time, though, we as a family created new habits and screened better what we wanted to watch. With how quickly one can stream current shows and movies, I am glad that can still watch TV. We control better now what comes into our home. That said, I’ve been known to binge watch a show that some think absolutely ridiculous: Grey’s Anatomy.
Now, I know that it’s not the best show out there, but at night, after the kids are tucked in, and before my husband and I catch up on a documentary or a previously-aired cable show that we missed, I sit there and watch some mindless (to me) television. Purely for entertainment purposes, Grey’s Anatomy is total TV drama. Until one day, it wasn’t.
In a flash back scene in season 6, Dr. Ellis Grey was insulted by a male co-worker. Telling her that she didn’t need to go in the operating room with him and that he could handle it because she “had her daughter to think about,” she rebuked him. “I gave birth to a child, Richard. That makes me a mother. It doesn’t make me inept. It doesn’t make me less of a woman. It doesn’t make me less of a surgeon. No matter how much everyone else wants it to.”
I may have quietly shouted out “Yeah!” after that scene also.
While I know that it was just a scene on a popular TV drama that has little to no morals, I couldn’t help but think of how many times that I, too, have been dismissed like Grey was because I was a woman. It’s happened while talking to administrators and others who had the power to help us but didn’t. It’s happened while talking to medical staff about my son. Not only that, I’ve been insulted for asking direct medical questions because I’m not a formally trained medical person. Worse, I’ve been told that I can’t know what I’m talking about because I’m just a mom. I can deal with misogyny. I can and do fully admit that I am not a nurse or a doctor. But to disregard the most important role I have as a mother is the lowest of the low. It happens. It happens to me, to other moms, and more times than it should.
Before I was a mom, I had a professional career. Once I had my degree and license, I put my heart and soul into teaching. An elementary school teacher, I was told many times that I was a good teacher. I loved my job. Only when I started to have my own children did I think I’d ever take a break from it. Grateful for the chance to stay home to raise my children, I enjoyed the short break from planning, grading, and creating curriculum. Always with the thought of returning to the classroom though, while home I kept up with what was going on in the education world as well as with maintaining my credentials. But when Ronan got sick, I knew heading back into the classroom wasn’t going to be as easy. Even so, I continued to plan for it. I never intended to have to walk away from the workforce completely as I eventually had to. Ronan’s needs were just too great. Some days, I miss having a career that I loved – being out of the house, teaching, contributing to society, making money, but my calling now is that of being a mom. Some don’t care to recognize the value or intensity of motherhood, but there really is no other job like it.
The role of a lifetime, being a mom is fulfilling. In the early, tiring days, I didn’t always think that, but now that I’ve being doing this motherhood thing for 16+ years, I do. My kids seek me out first. They tell me things first. They share personal things with me first. They want a hug from me first. Ronan can’t share all of his thoughts or feelings like his siblings do, but that doesn’t stop him for seeking me out as well. With his signs, or after typing a request, he tells me,
Mom help movie please yes.
Mom more eggs meat cereal yes.
Mom no no thank you.
While cryptic at times, his messages are always purposeful. He wants me, my help, and my immediate attention. I burst with pride when he does that, but at the same time, I lose myself in being his Mom.
Most days, I feel that I’m more Special Needs Mom than Cathy. I’m more Special Needs Mom than Wife sometimes, too. Putting all of my energy – both good and bad – into mothering Ronan, I forget to take care of me. I forget to divide my time with his siblings. I end up forgetting to share things with my husband, too. Finding a balance – wife/mother and also wife/special needs mother – and keeping that balance takes work. What can I do to create that? If I forget to pour my cup first, I know that I’ll run out of steam. If I slow down too much, though, I may lose the motivation I need to put one foot in front of the other. Not every day is the same and not every situation with Ronan plays out the same way, so I find myself having to try, try again whatever it is I’m hoping to get done.
The other day, after an exhausting day that included being outside in the heat longer than usual, a young woman we’ve grown fond of saw me. It was at the end of one of Ronan’s little sister’s sports events where Ronan had immediately lost interest in being there as soon as we arrived. At the end of the game, with Ronan in tow and in awe of how I do the things I do, she said, "Mrs. Jameson, I don't know how you do it. Teach me your ways." I could’ve gone on and on about how this wasn’t what I signed up for, that this isn’t what I thought motherhood would be like, that I hope she’d think twice before vaccinating when she has kids, but I took a different approach. Instead of bemoaning or highlighting how very hard life was for me and Ronan for the last few hours, I replied, "It takes a lot of peace, a little bit of patience, some coffee in the morning, sometimes some chocolate in the afternoon....and every now and then, a splash of vodka in the evening."
Smiling at her, we both then laughed and laughed. We found humor in what had been a tough situation. All joking aside, I was at a breaking point when she saw me earlier that afternoon. Glancing at us during the game, I know she recognized that it wasn’t easy for Izzy’s brother to be there. Because of that, she knew that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk for me either. Ronan wanted to go home. But it was Izzy’s turn to shine, and I wanted to be there for her. Putting her needs ahead of Ronan’s and mine, because easily I could’ve made an excuse and taken him home, I encouraged Ronan to make the most of it. Eventually, he did. He settled for some snacks and a game on brother’s iphone. In doing that, I got to see Izzy play and others got to see that I could finally enjoy the rest of the game.
That young woman at the game saw and appreciated a side of me that some of Ronan’s professionals do not. She understood that I had to juggle much more than I expected to. She saw that I did that only with love, too. I don’t get that same response other places, especially from some medical providers. But as long as those who chose to support my family know and respect that I am more than a mother to my kids, that’s what matters. In supporting us they get to witness me, my children, and my husband doing more than we ever expected, imagined, or thought we’d have to. We could pitch wild fits about it and complain all day long about it, but we don’t. How could we? Ronan’s autism certainly is not a gift, but he, and all that we’ve learned from him, is and always will be.
I may not be an educator in a classroom anymore, but I find that I am still teaching others. It isn’t science, social studies, or mathematics like I used to teacher. It’s unexpected lesson in life like that young woman witnessed last week. To those who care, to those who listen, to those who respect us, thank you. Thank you for helping me be more than a mom to my little family.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.