We had a guest speaker for our class on Friday, a stay-at-home mom with a child diagnosed with autism. She told us about her experiences – bringing her son up, his problems with digestion, her struggles with their doctors, and the camp that her son went to this past summer. She briefly mentioned that before she had her children, she was working at MIT.
Her stories resonated with me for several reasons. One, my brother was diagnosed with autism and ADHD when he was young. Two, her son and my brother both turn eighteen the coming April. Three, while she never returned to work in order to be with her son, my mother never stopped teaching while my brother was growing up. And at times, I have resented my mother for having done that.
Our guest speaker told me that she does miss being with grown-ups, but she never regretted staying home to be with her son. Her love for her son was overwhelming; even as she related her tales of frustration and difficulty, there was no irony when she pulled out her son’s drawings and showed them to us, her face beaming with pride. Me, I oscillated between loving and hating my brother. Mostly hating. For the trouble he made, for the extra effort we had to put in to take care of him without understanding what autism and ADHD meant, for the fact that my mother always ‘made excuses’ for him even though it was clear that he did something bad. Being a full-time teacher, my mother never had enough time for my brother, much less me and my two sisters. I don’t remember us ever getting more than a ‘your brother is sick, he has autism and ADHD,’ when our parents told us about our brother’s problems.
At roughly fourteen years of age and studying in an extremely competitive school system, that wasn’t quite sufficient for me to understand my brother’s situation. I grew up believing he was a monster.
In Friday’s class, it was all I could do to keep tears from spilling over when our guest speaker told us about that time her family went snorkeling and her son “was so comfortable and relaxed. He didn’t have the world confusing him all the time.”
It was my mother’s choice to stay in school and teach even though my brother was having problems at home. I don’t quite understand it, but I know that she loves her work and if I had to guess, it was her way of coping with the stress at home. I don’t think I’ll ever quite fully comprehend the struggle she probably had with her choice – the pressure of being a working mother, and a mother of an autistic child. I am a champion of working women, and it is my current goal to someday direct a production team in the making of some documentary and be at home with enough time and energy in between to make dinner and cookies for my husband and kids, listen to their stories and put them to bed. But the idea that I would have to give my work up, or it would be very difficult for me to be satisfied in either my role as a director or mother, if one or more of my children turn out to need extra attention, terrifies me.
In any case, that is all up to the universe. For now, to all working women, mothers of children with problems, my mother, and actually, just all women in general, happy Sunday before Halloween. Life is good.