I am at the music school, waiting for Martin to emerge from his piano lesson. He gets a private lesson, with a patient instructor who lets Martin move at his own speed, which pretty much amounts to lazy Martin doing not much at all. This waiting room is full of children, coming out of lessons, going in to lessons. The children are noisy. They are chasing each other and playing. Some girls are standing in a little group talking so no one else can hear. And the parents, mostly moms, are talking, too. They’re talking about the music lessons, but also about the elementary school, an upcoming birthday party, and some dispute about electric lines here in town.
As you can tell, I’m not joining in. I’m writing. I enjoy talking to other people, but what do I have in common with these moms? Martin doesn’t go the elementary school here. He doesn’t run with these typically developing kids, isn’t invited to their birthday parties. (Don’t feel bad; Martin goes to plenty of birthday parties. He has two this weekend.) When Martin is done with his lesson, he won’t show interest in these kids. He’ll come only to me. We’ll be the two of us, the Martin-and-Mommy unit.
How much time to I spend self-segregating? I’ve never been a “social” person, never felt like I fit right in. Not anywhere. So I have to ask myself: To what extent does having a child with autism give me an excuse not even to try, an excuse to say, gosh, it would be easy to have a typical child? Then I would talk to the other mothers and make plans. Then I would integrate myself. Then I would be a completely different person from who I actually am, and pretty much always have been.
When Martin was a baby, or a pre-diagnosis toddler, I disliked taking him to the playground. In my experience, the playground had two distinct groups: the mommy group, and the nanny group. Even the children split into these groups: The children who came with their mothers played together while their mothers chatted, and the children who came with their nannies played together while their nannies chatted. And I sat alone, while Martin played alone. I didn’t fit with the nannies. I felt like I didn’t fit with the mommies because they were full-time parents who all seemed to know each other so well. How ever would I break into that group? With one child, many work hours, and a nanny on the payroll, I hardly even felt, at the time, like a mom. I couldn’t sidle into a group of mom pros.
To that extent, my parenting life has constituted a continuous stream of self-segregation. I’ve looked for excuses not to fit in, and I’ve found them.
These days, there is an exception to that trend: among fellow special-needs parents. At Martin’s school, or his play group, at Autism One, during meetings of the special-education association, in on-line recovery discussion groups, I do okay. I feel like a mom, like the other moms, and I’m comfortable. I even introduce myself to strangers and, occasionally, make plans.
Martin’s autism has a dual effect. First, it’s the latest of my reasons I’m not like other moms (which follow my reasons I’m not like other lawyers, and not like other writers, and not like other students, all of which add up to the fact that I’ve never enjoyed going to parties). Second, it’s allowed me to let down my defenses for a change and be just like everyone else.
At least, everyone else who happens to have a special-needs child and involve herself in the same activities I do.