Watching my five-year-old tear around the school playground after school makes me ask myself if I was once that carefree. I realize that I must have begun for the first ten years of my life. I have small memories of after school play dates and skating club parties. That all changed the summer before I entered the sixth grade when mom died.
I remember clearly my first day back to school. I was asked by the teachers to help the librarian while the class continued on. Shortly after, I told the librarian that I had to go to the bathroom. I snuck back to my classroom door and saw the entire class gathered around the teacher. I heard the words, “Her mom died.” Stunned, I went back to the library and was excused to go back to class after an hour.
When I entered the classroom and walked to my desk I could feel all their eyes on me. No one spoke to me or looked at my eyes. From that moment on I had a label, Motherless Child. For the rest of my school years I had a hard time making friends. I still hear the whispers as I passed through the playground about how my mom died. The calls to play diminished fast. I felt like a circus freak.
As I became an adult and began working full time, I made few friends. I felt like I forgot how to make a friendship work. Yes, I had my husband who became my best friend instantly. I also had my younger sister who is still one of my best friends. Yet, as her older sister there is only so much I can dump on her emotionally. I continue spending my life protecting her.
When I became pregnant for the first time, I went into research mode. We have very little family around and I wanted to make sure that my child grew up with people to call friends. I joined a mommy and me group. All the babies were close in age. While on maternity leave we got together several times a week. We have shared a bond in motherhood that stuck through the years.
As our youngest showed global delays, it became harder to meet in groups. She would stick out with her differences, especially in her speech delay. Her older sister wanted to go do pre-schooler things like water parks and indoor playgrounds. Her younger sister could not handle large crowds. I had to turn down invitations because I could not handle the stress it caused my young one let alone me. I had to watch her every move.
As she was finally getting the assessments for autism more friends faded, just when we needed moral support. I don’t blame them. We just could not do the things ‘normal’ families could do. And then, magic happened. We made new friends, and new acquaintances became fast friends. They helped in ways they may not have realized. Also, entering the world of autism opened a new support system. Everywhere I looked there was the label of Autism and it felt okay.
My youngest comes over to me wordlessly demanding to be picked up. I scoop her up and look for her big sister. I see her off on the swings with a school chum. Instead of telling her it’s time to go home, I give her a five minute warning. A compromise. It is so hard to balance both girls’ different needs. The best gift I give them is labelled simple- Love.