Georgia woke up twice overnight. She hasn't done that in awhile. She woke up talking loudly and saying things like "Ah-ah-Apple." If that's not school anxiety, I don't know what is!
This morning she woke up kind of late--for her. 7:15. I am certain it will take a little toll on her this new extended school day, but I am not particularly concerned. She needs it. I am also becoming aware of what a change it will be for me, too, though. It dawned on me this morning that with Georgia either gone, or recovering from her day (we've noticed G needs a lot of "interior" time after school and/or other events outside the house), I won't get a lot of time with her. It's funny how one can both recognize they need a break from someone and also miss them the moment they've gone.
I want to talk a little bit about that need for a break. I can already hear the voices of my therapist, my closest friends, some commenters, telling me that I needn't feel guilty, that I shouldn't feel guilty, that I need to put on my own oxygen mask, and intellectually, I agree. I am trying to be okay with just admitting that I need a break and that that's okay, but I also can't help but feel like I've sort of thrown my little miss under the bus here on this blog.
Just writing about how I need a break from her without talking about some of the reasons why could be easily misunderstood. Granted, I don't necessarily need to explain myself to anyone, but I'm writing in a public arena and I don't think it's fair if I don't.
First, I think every parent needs a break from their children now and again. I think it's healthy. Alex and I aren't really good at factoring that into our schedules (or our budgets). But what I am going to write about here is about a little more than that.
I feel self-conscious saying it out loud. I worry about the commentary it could raise when the parent of a child with special needs says anything that can be construed as complaint. About what children are worthy and public assistance and Bob knows what else. I wouldn't want my children--either of them--to think that I have disliked parenting. Or that I loved either one of them more or less than the other. Or that I have regrets. Generally, I don't have regrets.
I do, however, find parenting incredibly hard. And here's the sentence that is especially hard for me to write--it makes me feel incredibly guilty, but I just have to get it out.
Parenting my daughter has been especially difficult for me.
Granted, both of my kids have caused me stress or consternation at various points, but for this conversation, I am talking about my daugter.
I think the "for me" at the end of that sentence is especially important.
Parenting my daughter has been especially difficult for me.
You see, I think parenting my daughter could pose some amount of stress for lots of people, but, for instance, my husband doesn't seem to have the same experience as me. Of course, he is not the person who spends the majority of time with the kids, he gets "breaks" five days a week when he can go to a job that he loves. He doesn't handle the education stuff. He shows up and plays a vital role in decision making, but the coordination and research and outreach is done almost 100% by me. He will read an article, edit an email, give me his opinion when I ask, but the majority of the legwork is MY work.
I actually appreciate this. It can be a heavy burden, but I am thankful that he trusts me. And, I fully believe that if he didn't think I was making the right, or rather, best decision(s) in the moment, he would tell me.
I am also the parent who thinks about and implements our discipline plans, our social lives, our community life, our church life, our groceries and house repairs...and I could go on, but let's just suffice it to say I am our House, Home, & Family coordinator. He lugs the wood, but I generally say "Hey, we need to make a fire and it needs to go there."
He doesn't add as much input, but the input he adds is INVALUABLE. I may get us to an IEP meeting, I may set the tone and much of the agenda, I will be the one who knows all the acronyms and the end-goal, and all the people's names both around the table, in the school, and from the county special ed office, but I ALWAYS, ALWAYS turn to Alex when they ask if there is more to discuss or any questions.
Alex has an amazing way of deciphering things down to the smallest element. He has an extraordinary way of seeing the big picture and asking the right questions. Or responding to crisis. We are both smart, hard workers, but where we excel is different. I think we complement one another.
All that to say, we handle life differently. We have different obligations, jobs, and roles, and we look at all this very differently. We may have the same destination, but we get there in very different ways.
But I am digressing a good fair bit...
Georgia, my dear reader, has always been a bit of a puzzle for me. Now, I think my husband finds her every bit as puzzling as I do at times, but how he handles that seems very different from how I handle it.
Georgia, from the time she was a newborn baby has perplexed me. I have never felt good enough for her, I have never felt like I was able to do anything right by her. From those first days in the NICU when I couldn't get her to latch on to breastfeed, to three months later when I couldn't thread her NG tube correctly down her nose, or hold her in the right position that she would take a bottle, I have felt like a faulty mother.
She was a calm baby. She didn't have many demands. She was independent. As a result, she didn't often seek out my affection. And while I certainly lavished as much as I could on her, there was the very distinct sense from early on that she could sort of take me or leave me.
In retrospect, I think this was the autism, but as it was happening, I didn't see it through that lens and I think it impacted our relationship. If there is blame to place, this is entirely my fault.
I have always, ALWAYS, loved her fiercely. And though she didn't seek out my affection all the time, I have many wonderful memories of snuggling with her in my bed in Connecticut, and later Vermont, while Alex was away at school or work. I would play with her for hours on the floor of her yellow bedroom over the general store. I would rock her in my arms in the chair in there and sing her songs like "Three Little Birds," and "It's a Big World, Baby" by Renee & Jeremy. Back then when every single thing I sang felt like it had new and significant meaning because of her very presence.
It's stunning for me to look back on those early years and remember how truly easy they were. How truly easy Georgia was. I remember thinking, even despite all her health issues early on, that my friends with first borns must have been playing it up. I thought it was INCREDIBLY easy.
But then, my daughter, because of her heart, was sleeping through the night at one day old. She slept much of the day until after her heart surgery at almost 6 months, and while I wouldn't wish having to wake your child up with a wet washcloth and awkward positioning to feed her (lest she die of starvation) on ANYone, in terms of general parenting, it seemed a lot easier than I'd been expecting. I didn't have any perspective, of course, and in that way, I think I lucked out that my first born--rather than a later baby--was the one who had Down syndrome. I had virtually zero expectations.
Also, there's love and keeping the baby warm, fed, and alive in those early years, but true parenting...the gristle of it, doesn't seem to REALLY begin until the child is a little older.
It really wasn't until G turned three that life started getting difficult. That's when Georgia's anxiety struck with a vengenace. In truth, it's kind of appropriate that it struck then, developmentally speaking, but it was intense. And that was when this mothering thing started to feel a little less fun and easy.
Without getting into all the details, let me break it down into this brief synopsis.
Georgia's anxiety came on fast, and strong, and in order to keep her comfortable, and in order to avoid unpleasant scenes, and because I also had her young baby brother to take care of at the same time, our life got very, very small. We started staying home, not going almost anywhere. We couldn't even go to the grocery store lest G get really upset. It all seemed futile. I'd just rearrange our lives, make everyone happy. Happy was the goal. Calm! Calm was the goal.
Three years later and I bet the number of times she has been to the grocery store with just me is under forty since she turned three years old. Considering I am a stay at home mom, that seems significant.
Of course I still WENT to the grocery store, but I planned it so that I could either go alone in the late afternoon or evening, or with just Rainer when Georgia was in school.
I began setting up our entire lives to accommodate Georgia and her various needs.
I am here to tell you that I don't necessarily think this was/is the right way to handle things, but it was/is the way I did handle them and to an extent I still handle them. We slowly clawed our way out of the extreme isolation in which we were living, and since last year with the help of an anxiety medication, and lots of perseverence (as well as, I think, Georgia's continuing to develop) we have made great strides. I know I need to expose Georgia to new experiences to help her overcome her fears, but at the same time these trips (even today) are sometimes so utterly traumatic for everyone, I'd be lying to say I don't still avoid them at times. We make brief forays and we have absolutely expanded on what we can do, but there are some situations that are still difficult to traverse. And it's just plain easier to go grocery shopping without her.
Anyhow...this is getting really long. This is the long-winded version (and still, only partly) why I feel relief in sending Georgia to school.
I would like to talk more about Georgia's autism and how it manifests in her, but I think I need a break from writing about this right now.
Georgia is in school all day and, yes, it feels like a relief. I also miss her greatly and feel guilty that it is such a relief. Human beings are dichotomous. I am choosing to forgive myself for feeling both ways. Acknowledging it and moving on.