For those who carry a heavy load

Several weeks ago, during one of my daily sessions of mindless scrolling, I saw a job posting for a Copywriter position at a big company. It was full-time and paid well, so I applied. The weird thing is, I’m not looking for a job. I don’t even have time to have a job.

I routinely do this thing when my life starts to feel overwhelming: I start thinking that the answer to all of my troubles is to get a full-time job, because then I’d have a legit excuse to be somewhere at a specific time and the additional income would easily cover the cost of hired help to shuttle my children to and fro. It would also pay for all the Botox I need after spending two years worrying.

Also in this imaginary scene where I have a job, I could do what Robbie does every morning and just yell “Bye!” as I back out of the driveway, waving out the open window with one dry-cleaned, tailored arm.

Of course, you and I both know that adding anything extra to my plate right now would be a fatal mistake and that’s probably why I got a rejection letter yesterday from that company, despite the fact that my cover letter was fucking amazing.

“This is a form of escapism, isn’t it?” I asked my therapist during one of our sessions, which was a silly thing to ask her because I already knew the answer.

Sometimes parenting these three astonishingly bright, neuro diverse children feels like too high a calling.

No. That’s a lie.

It’s more like it feels like too damn much. I don’t think it’s just me — I know a lot of other mothers who also feel like I do, like we’re drowning in a sea of face masks and parent/teacher conferences and antibacterial wipes — but I can also say, as the parent of children who are amazing but also not exactly normal, that most of the time I am just too exhausted to talk about it.

The reason why the parents of unusual children feel lonely is because they’re too tired from parenting to discuss it or anything else with any other human being. I make myself talk about it because my therapist hounds me every two weeks at my appointment.

“Are you writing?”

She already knows the answer, but she asks it anyway, just like I did with the job application question.

“NO, I’M NOT. Because where do I even begin?”

***

Maverick is now is 13 years old, an age I’m surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoy. For so long, I dreaded parenting a teenager, but now I know my fear was based in the simple fact that I’d never done it before. He’s a joy to spend time with, when he isn’t skulking around moodily, but really, who DOESN’T skulk around moodily from time to time?

His suicide attempt in 2020 marked the beginning of a time that I haven’t fully emerged from or processed completely. It feels like the whole family was on a relatively normal plane ride and then we hit turbulence so violent I still find myself dry heaving into that little blue barf bag tucked into the seat pocket with the boring airline magazines.

The airplane straightened out a bit for awhile. We moved into a new house in a wonderful neighborhood only minutes from the school. We have a big yard and a covered porch and a big grill next to an outdoor TV. There is a community pool. Our quality of life is so much better; I am certainly happier and less frazzled now than I was when I spent 2 hours a day in the car. We love it here.

All of us, that is, except for Asher.

By the time dusk settled on Asher’s 10th birthday, the bottoms of his feet were turning black and blue from stomping barefoot as hard as he could on the slate tile in our kitchen. He was crying because it hurt, but he was unable to stop. We all stood by helplessly, unsure of what to do. I’d never seen anyone, let alone a child, in the middle of a severe obsessive-compulsive episode. Every time he “messed up” (what does that even mean? We may never know), he’d have to start over at the beginning — stomping and counting, stomping and counting. If anyone touched him, he screamed, and it would start all over again.

I have to do this! he yelled, and we believed him. It was obvious that whatever was going on was beyond his control.

Later, as we tried to sing happy birthday, he sobbed because he couldn’t stop washing his hands. He scrubbed for so long that we finally lit his candles, hoping that would help him stop, but he didn’t. He couldn’t.

The candles burned all the way down until there was nothing but a sheet of hardened wax on the top layer of his cake. By the time we finally got him to stop washing and drying his hands, they were raw and bleeding. I sliced the top layer of his birthday cake off and threw it into the garbage.

“PUT IT BACK!” he screamed. “PUT IT BACK!”

I stared into the garbage can and whispered I can’t. And we all cried, except for Robbie.

Just writing about these moments makes me feel exhausted. My arms feel like they’re full of lead. How the hell did we get here and when was the first sign that Asher was struggling? Honestly, who knows. He’s always counted, always collected, always enjoyed rituals. Where is the line between quirky and needing hospitalization?

I’ve learned that it’s impossible to know until you get there.

Both of my sons see a psychiatrist. Asher attends Occupational Therapy twice a week and he started talk therapy today. His new counselor’s views line up with my own in that she feels it’s vital that a child understand how his or her brain works so they can learn how best to manage their own symptoms and triggers. He emerged from her office with a pocket full of random items that he picked up in there — a popsicle stick, a paintbrush, some random colored beads.

“I need my paintbrush back,” she said, extending her hand. He wordlessly handed it back to her, and I detected the slightest hint of a dimpled smile underneath his face mask.

I hope this means they will get along.

***

There is more. Pepper can’t hold scissors correctly or tie her shoes and no one knows why. She struggles with executive functioning and we suspect something might crop up in the future, but in the meantime she’s starting Occupational Therapy and continuing with talk therapy and somehow, between all of the damn appointments, I worry that I’m not doing enough or enough of the right things.

Sometimes I miss drinking. Sometimes I have crazy ideas like I SHOULD GET A FULL TIME JOB and I run with that until I come to my senses. I cry in the bathtub. I talk to people. I sit in the sun.

I take my meds.

I see my therapist.

When I was growing up, people didn’t know as much about mental health, and we certainly didn’t talk about it. Things are different now, and I’m grateful. We are very big on mental health in this house — and the fact that my kids have differently wired brains is something we’re proud of. There’s no shame here.

What do I have, though, is a monstrous, invisible backpack that feels like it’s filled with rocks and I wear it all the time. I’m writing this for the other people out there who have a heavy load, too.

I see you.

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3 thoughts on “For those who carry a heavy load

  1. That is a lot. Parenting is almost always hard and is harder when your child(ren) is somewhat outside the norm.

    It’s great that you are able to get your children the services they need, and kudos to you for maintaining your sobriety while dealing with this. I’m sure that’s not easy.

    Like

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