The Mother’s Day Post….one week early
Looks like I'm a week early on this; as well—once a mother, always a mother, and not just for one day in May, no?
More specifically, I like being Charlie's mother. Charlie being Jim's and my only child, I don't know what it would be like to parent a child who wasn't disabled, wasn't 'special needs,' didn't have the myriad challenges that Charlie has—though as I understand from talking to other mothers and parents, of autistic children and 'typical' children, being a parent is one of those things that always comes with challenges.
When I was a kid, I never had plans about having so many and such children or, for that matter, about being married. My future plans only concerned my education—I wanted a to earn my Ph.D.—and I had vague thoughts about being a writer; a poet. I had a very blurry (and quite laughable to me now; ah hindsight) idea that I'd wait until I had the writing/career/Ph.D. stuff 'done' and then, when I was say 40, I'd have one child, hopefully a girl—I have an older sister and the thought of raising a boy was beyond me.
Life likes to deal in the 'surprise surprise,' right?
I was fortunate to meet my bestest pal Jim just as I was finishing graduate school, in early 1994. We got married on the 15th of December, 1995, six months after I'd gotten my Ph.D. I got my first full-time job teaching Latin to middle and upper schools at a ritzy private institution in St. Louis, Missouri. Charlie was born on the 15th of May, 1997 (sounding the knell of my middle/upper school teacher career; I was okay with this) and I got my first tenure-track job as an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minneosta, and started teaching there in September of 1998.
And Charlie was diagnosed with autism in July of 1999.
I resigned from my St. Thomas job a year later, when we were living again in St. Louis, where Jim was a professor at Saint Louis University. There'd be quite a few more jobs to move in and out for both of us, the most significant perhaps being Jim's taking a one-semester position as the Will & Ariel Durant Chair of Humanities at Saint Peter's College starting in September of 2001. That job brought us back to New Jersey so that Charlie could go to the sort of autism program that would, we thought and hoped, best meet his educational needs.
But this isn't meant to be a post detailing our odyssey to find Charlie the right school and a good life. This is the Mother's Day post.
Mothers of autistic children haven't had an easy time of it (the whole refrigerator mothers theory, for one thing). I don't know what it would have been liked to have lived in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, when the likes of Bruno Bettelheim would have pointed the finger of blame at yours truly for Charlie being Charlie. Things are very different now, and yet I always feel a kinship for mothers back then.
And somewhere along the way—definitely a journey, an odyssey—of taking care of Charlie for almost 13 years now, being a mother has become part of what I guess you'd have to call my 'identity.' Momhood and Charlie's needs exist side-by-side with my job. Indeed, my work/teaching schedule is set up to accommodate Charlie. Prep time for teaching happens when Charlie's sleeping or using the computer or when we're walking or I'm driving. When Charlie starts and finishes school and the time it'll take to get him there and then get to work are the first things on my mind when thinking about setting up class times, offices hours, meetings. And if there's a word to describe my teaching style, it is, indeed, 'maternal.' Indeed, now that Charlie will soon be 13, he's nearing the age of my youngest, first-year college, students.
In graduate school, I'd thought, or wanted to think, I would end up at a big research university and (I kid you not) write articles and books applying contemporary literary theory to ancient Greek and Latin poetry and teach courses on the same. As I work at a small college with a primarily undergraduate population, most of my job has me in the classroom teaching quite a bit and, at other times, advising students I spend my days teaching elementary Latin (year after year—come fall semester, at 8am), ancient Greek (that's at the more reasonable—from a college student perspective—of 11am), Roman law (a topic I studiously avoided throughout undergrad and grad school—give me contemporary American poetry and the Romantics instead!), archaeology (never been on a dig), Greek history (which is endlessly complicated and, more and more to me, particularly rich and fascinating, plus Jim is a fan of Herodotus, the first ancient Greek historian).
This was our May Day: Charlie and Mom walk with the dawn rising. Family ride for bagels. Charlie and Dad bike ride, Charlie leading the way on a long route. Home for a mid-morning snooze. Post-lunch Charlie and Mom walk again. Post-walk#2-bike ride including a stop for something cool (it was in the high 80s here Saturday). 'Rest at home' listening to music and munching watermelon. Waiting for Jim to get a little rest himself and then off for a weekend burrito and who should come on the radio but Phil Schaap on the way back. One more walk, this time with Jim, at a nice leisurely pace and with no more hot sun. And then, one more bike ride.
(Yes, when we said that life with autism is a marathon not a spring, we weren't kidding!)
During one of the Jim and Charlie outings, I actually started to do a little translating; am way behind with this project (no surprise—for me, scholarly work takes a distinct backseat to everything, at this point). I didn't think I'd ever make translating Greek and Latin my main scholarly work but that's how it's turned out, in part because 'translating' what Charlie, via words and otherwise, is 'saying' to us and me trying to translate my thoughts to him is a task occupies a very lot of my thinking and energy.
And I like it that way.
And I sure love being Charlie's mother.
Wishing every mother a joyful and lovely Mother's Day with those you care for, and who take care of you.