That line from a wonderful blog I recently stumbled on has stuck with me the last couple weeks. I celebrated my real, 42nd birthday July 14. But as a special needs mom, I am a true babe in arms – just 14 months. (I date it from May 20, 2010, the day the early childhood assessment team told us our son, then four and a half years old, was eligible for special education under autism spectrum disorder criteria.)
There’s not much you can do at 14 months. Both my kids were still a bit unsteady on their feet at that age. Minimal vocabulary. Napping twice a day (OK, that part sounds good.) For neurotypical kids, anyway, 14 months is also an age when their minds become sponges, soaking in new experiences and people and knowledge.
Except for the napping, sound familiar, special needs parents? Unsure what to do, how to help, where to seek information. Unfamiliar with the language of ASD and NT and IEP etc etc. And trying to learn it all as fast as you can.
Almost concurrent with my entree into special needs parenting has been my debut as a fiction writer. I wrote a first draft of my first novel in November 2010 (Exhibit A of art imitating life, my protagonist is a boy with autism). Entered it in a contest in January. Found out in June I didn’t win but did pretty well. All along I was revising the manuscript. I’ve just finished what I consider the fourth draft and have sent it out for feedback to some trusted readers before — fingers crossed — submitting to a publisher in August at what will be the ripe old novelist age of….ten months.
It feels lately like these two processes are reinforcing each other, making me barely more than a newborn. It’s difficult sometimes, and makes me difficult to live with: anxious, cranky. I feel a bit like I did as a new parent, when one of the losses I felt most acutely was that of competence. Pre-kids, I spent my whole day as a writer. I’d been a professional (nonfiction) writer for more than 15 years. I was good at it, and I knew I was good at it.
That self-confidence came to an abrupt halt on Sept. 25, 2005, the day my son was born. I now had to spend my whole day taking care of a crying bundle of bodily functions that couldn’t tell me what it needed. I
was bad sucked at it, and I knew it. With practice, though, I got better, and earned a new kind of self-confidence. Enough to have another child Sept. 14, 2008.
Now come these two new mountains. I’ve been at both long enough that my legs are underneath me, but they’re still unsteady. I’m still not sure I’m much good at either – or at least I have frequent doubts. All this to say, if we run into each other, smile and pat me on the head. I could use it.