To The Warrior Mothers of Autistic Kids:

I really lost her once. She popped around the end cap of the aisle while I was looking at clothes for her baby brother who was sitting happily in the tandem stroller. Whenever I lose sight of her in a store, I start counting the grains of sand on a mental timer. If she doesn’t pop back into view by the time the sand runs out, I must go find her. First, I’ll say, “Honey, come here please.” In a sing-song voice. Then, “Honey? Where are you? Can you come here please?” If I hear no answer (in the form of a giggle) I start looking for her. Usually, within a minute or two I see her. This happens at least every 10 to 15 minutes whenever we go shopping. Eventually, I will wrestler her into the stroller while she whines, grabs at everything and says she’s ready to go home. It’s exhausting and frustrating but not as bad as if I were to lose her, which I did that day.

That day I kept turning corners and I couldn’t catch sight of her anywhere. I maneuvered the stroller in and out of the racks and down the nearest aisles. I stopped at an adjacent toy area where she would likely be dawdling. She wasn’t. Soon, I panicked. It doesn’t take long for me to panic; two minutes, maybe three.

My biggest fear is losing one of my children, especially my daughter since she is a wily toddler and prone to run. It’s a game to her and an exercise in frustration for me. Sometimes, when I’m weary with exhaustion the scenarios play out behind my eyelids as I try to sleep. The moment I realize she is lost, my body jerks involuntarily from the terror and I am awake. It’s the by-product of an over-tired, over-active mind.

The other mothers in the store could see the panic on my face that day and immediately went into their helpful, mother-modes; asking questions, bobbing their heads around corners and calling her name. Ten, anxiety-ridden minutes, and one hasty Code Adam later, I found her. She was happily climbing on furniture, oblivious to my panic.

While I was in college I was a substitute teacher. One of my regular jobs was as an aide to an autistic boy named Vincent. I was nervous at first. I was 21 with no prior experience with special needs kids. Vincent was in the 1st grade but he spent most of his time one-on-one with me in special classroom. It was my job to assist Vincent throughout his day with everything from learning numbers to using the restroom. I don’t know why, but Vincent liked me… a lot. His regular teacher kept asking for me as a sub anytime she needed one. I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I just I let him sit on my lap and play with my hair most of the time. Vincent was non-verbal, so communication was difficult. I had to ask a lot of yes/no questions or attempt to decode his grunts and gestures. Most of the time he looked stoic, maybe confused, but every now and again you could connect with him. It could be over the simplest thing like a look or a song–at those moments he produced the goofiest grin and guttural laugh that you couldn’t help but think he’s just like any other little boy. One time, at a school-wide assembly he got very agitated. He sat on my lap, put his hands over his ears, squeezed his eyes shut and began rocking. Just a minute ago he had been a happy boy holding my hand following a line of kids and within seconds I watched him go somewhere inside himself. I didn’t know what to do so I just sat there with my arms around him, rocking with him until it was time to leave. I only substituted for Vincent for a year and only three or four times, but he was memorable.

April is Autism Awareness Month. OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network aired a documentary on called, “Autism: The Musical.” The film followed a group of autistic kids and their families through a six-month program wherein they learned to perform a play. I was riveted, mostly, because of the mothers. What warriors these women were. Most were divorced and one was in the midst of a separation. Divorce rates for parent’s with autistic children has been quoted as high as 85-90%.

These women devoted their lives and many sacrificed their marriages for these kids. They cried, they got angry, they looked worried and frightened and my heart broke over and over for them and their pain. There is nothing they would not do to connect with their kids even if it meant their own health and wellbeing. One woman made the comment that she knew her daughter was in there, she just needed to find a way to find her. At that moment, I knew.

Just the thought of losing my daughter can make my body react involuntarily in terror. I cannot imagine feeling that way everyday when you look into your child’s eyes. Two minutes of losing my daughter in a department stores can incite panic in me. What must losing your child inside themselves feel like? You can see them, they are right in front of your face, and yet they are gone into another world and the only person on the planet who cares enough to go and find them is you, their warrior mother… at any cost. I can strap my daughter into the stroller and find comfort in the fact that she’s there, safe with me. If that fails, I can enlist other mothers and call a Code Adam if need be. There are no such devices for these moms. They are mostly alone. They have fleeting moments, glimpses of smiles and safety inside a mostly confusing, stoic world.

I blink back tears just thinking about that kind of strength.

When I made my life’s vision board two years ago I included this:

Because I never wanted to forget Vincent and I never wanted to forget, for the rest of my life, how lucky I am. And now, it will also remind me of those warrior mothers. Mothering on, mostly alone, in the face of their children. This post is for you.

Consider these words my arms around you, rocking you until it’s time to leave.

To Work or Not to Work? That is the BIG Mom Question.

I’m a serendipitous SAHM. That’s Stay-At-Home-Mom for those unfamiliar with mommy acronyms. I say serendipitous because although I had desires of staying home with my children, I hadn’t planned on it. My three-year paid subscription to Working Mother Magazine will be running out when my first-born turns three next month. I was a working mother when I bought that subscription but due to some unfortunate and unforseen events at work, I have been a SAHM for a year and a half. After having sashayed in the heels of a full-time, working-mama and schlepped in the imitation UGGs of a full-time SAHM (doing both for the right and wrong reasons) I have had time to contemplate the quality and quantity of grass on both sides of this proverbial fence.

Women have been discussing this issue for decades earning it an ominous-sounding moniker, “The Mommy Wars.” After nearly two decades of debate, I actually thought we had come to a truece, but just open Facebook or Twitter, or any number of popular mom blogs and you will quickly realize that the debate is alive and thriving with plenty of fertilizer to spur healthy growth.

To work, or not to work has always been an emotionally charged subject for Moms. Clearly, there is so much at stake that the choice is fraught with high opinions and deep self-identifications. You could certainly draw parallels between it, and religion and politics. Just like religion and politics, everyone acts like they are tolerant but secretly believes their way is the best way. We all rehearse the talking points, recite the research and remember the anecdotal stories that defend our choices and yet, I know from experience there is not one of us who is not frothing over with doubt like a forgotten pot of macaroni-n-cheese. It’s so hard to have this conversation because no one wants to admit they feed burned mac-n-cheese to their kids five nights a week. Well I do, and they get the leftovers, too.

Truth is, this job, this thing, this privilege and honor of being someone’s Mother, it possesses all the imposing majesty of a full-grown Sequoia in an old growth forest–it’s deep, sacred and far-reaching. Trying to figure out the one right and perfect way of doing it is like trying to untangle the roots and pick the very best one.

Just like the roots of a Sequoia nurture its growth, women are drawn to nurture things. Walk down the aisle of any toy store and you’ll come to the dolly section. There you’ll find everything a real-life mom needs to care for an infant only in miniature, pink, plastic form. The instinct to play “mommy” is part of our double xx chromosome package. We can’t help it, it’s in our DNA. Most of us are drawn to those big, watery eyes and rosebud fists like desert animals to a watering hole.

When this awesome event happens in our lives the responsibility we face is overwhelming, and the love, even more so. We spend nine months giving up your bodies to create this life and when you see that squinty, swollen, turtle face you know that it is but ONE step in a trek toward the moon of how far you’d go. There is nothing, as in NOT. ONE. THING. we would not sacrifice for our baby’s well-being. We want the best life possible for them even at the expense of our own. I believe all mother’s everywhere feel this way. It’s who we have been across space and time because every species (if they are to survive) needs someone to care beyond all reason for its babies. By in large, mothers are that someone.

The role is a sacrificial one and us mothers… we have perfected the art of the sacrifice. Unlike our ancestors and women in Third-World countries, most of us (thankfully) are blessed to live in an environment of safety and conveniences. Our sacrifices are less dramatic than life and death but still important because they involve our single greatest commodity… time.

When you become a mother you learn the true nature of time. You are left breathless by its scarcity and whip-lashed by the ferocity with which it dissipates. Pre-kids, time is infinite, measurable and almost tangible. When you become a mother, it goes all Salvadore-Dali-melty-clock on you. Babies outgrow onesies at surreal rates and still some days feel like they’ll never end. Time becomes a million times more precious and quantifiable and therefore we are constantly making decisions on how to spend it, with whom, and for what reasons. Daily sacrifices are made in the name of quality and quantity. This melting-clock-time is the reason we choose to stay home, or not.

A mantra is something to help you focus when you’ve lost your reason for doing something important. When I was a working mother my mantras were, “I’m a better mommy because I have time to myself,” and, “the time I have with them will be more special because I’ll really be present,” and lastly, “I need time to interact with adults and use my brain.” In my opinion, the latter is the worst reason. I know all these rationalizations because I ingrained them into my psyche everyday while slipping into my patent leather pumps. I worked because our family relied on my paycheck. I now believe this is the best reason to be a working Mom and if economics is your reason for working, then stop reading because you are doing the right thing. But if you find yourself having to make choices or feeling bad about your circumstances, this might help you to feel better about which shade of green your grass could be.

Deep down I always wanted to be a SAHM. I am drawn, sometimes without reason, to this lifestyle. This is the best reason to be a SAHM. I also thought my children would have a better childhood, one that I felt I didn’t have with a working mother. In my opinion, this was the worst reason to be a SAHM. None-the-less, this job requires a mantra of its own which is, “They are only young once and I don’t want to miss this time in their lives. I have a lifetime to work.”

Everyone wants quality time with their kids. Quality time is the best time. Quality time is what your visions of parenthood consisted of before you became a parent. It’s delighting in belly laughs and watching their faces light up as they process the world. It’s feeling your heart swell as they take their first wobbly steps and then want only Mommy to hold them when they fall down. Those are the special moments; the time well spent and worth spending. The problem is, those moments happen at random and not always between the hours of 6pm-8pm or on weekends. In fact, those late evening hours are usually the least quality time spent with kids.

But if you’re a SAHM, there is no question you are there for those moments. That awesome quality time is in abundance… the quantity is quite overwhelming in fact. I am currently so full on time that I’m bloated. Time weighs quite a bit as it turns out. I am so overloaded with quality time with my kids, that I have to sacrifice the quantity and quality of my own time. I can no longer go where I want, take a break when I please, or pee in privacy. Sometimes I get frustrated to tears when I don’t have time to write, workout, or just sit down and stare off into space. My kids often suffer the brunt of these frustrations by way of my sudden outbursts of anger and hearing my favorite word over and over, “stopthatrightnow!”

No matter which option you choose, it’s always about sacrificing time and convincing yourself that you’re doing the right thing with yours for the wellbeing of your children. The ultimate question becomes, do you want to be there for every single quality moment with your kids while dealing with the weight of ALL of it AND sacrificing of your own time? Or would you rather sacrifice maximum quality time, for a little more quality time of your own and NOT have to burst into tears the FOURTH time you take your toddler to the potty at Target?

It’s a difficult and personal decision, but the answer for me was simple. My infant son wiggles his whole body when he sees me. It doesn’t matter if I’m gone for 2 minutes or 2 hours, he still wiggles and smiles with his whole head in my general direction. No client, no matter how much they liked me ever did that.

So I choose to sacrifice whatever I need to for maximum wiggles. Might I also scar them for life with my sudden and seemly inexplicable outbursts of rage? Nah. Nor do I believe that if I choose to work again they will have less security and happiness in their childhoods. The reason I believe this is because all mommies everywhere love their babies beyond reason and that is reason enough.

I know this is true because motherhood is like a Sequoia with melty clocks on its branches. There is not one route or root that is more important to the WHOLE tree than all of them. Every root and route is an equal expression of nurturing and love…

…and grass doesn’t grow under them anyway.

Update: Look what I got in the mail the day after I posted this? Serendipitous? I’m starting to believe that all there is, is serendipity.

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