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Anything is Possible if you Dare to Dream

June 6, 2008

Life in the fringes. . .

is really much simpler for parents of special needs children. That's why I choose to stay there.

Unfortunately, I often drift into the mainstream, either intentionally or by necessity. Whenever that happens my stress level triples. Eventually I get to the point, like today, where I run for cover.

After a very stressful couple of weeks, including a soccer tournament, IEP issues and this year's round of soccer try-outs for next year's team, I am completely drained.

Tempers are flaring all over town, so I have retreated to the fringes for the next two weeks to prepare for our BIG TRIP to the Grand Canyon. In other words, I'm holing up in my air-conditioned sanctuary, i.e., my master suite and home office, and only coming out for meals and trips to the pool.

Like any special needs mother, who's worth her salt, I'm going to let my husband make all of the rounds to the soccer fields, zoo camp, Vacation Bible School and the grocery store.


June 4, 2008

Left of Center. . .

As the song goes, my 12-year-old daughter and I live our lives "left of center, in the outskirts and in the fringes, in the corner, out of the grip."

The only difference is that I choose to live there and she does not.

Because my daughter is autistic, she doesn't know how to approach people, ask them questions or join their group. In short, she lacks the ability to socialize.

When she sees her few close friends in a group setting, she will instinctively remain separate, always on the outside looking in.

A few of her friends have learned that they can coax her into joining their groups by taking her by the hand and leading her there. Even then she keeps her distance.

Last night, as I was photographing my daughter's soccer assessments, I very proudly noted that she was laughing and joining the girls, while they kicked their balls around during a break. Still, when their new coach had them sit in a circle to talk strategy, my daughter sat on her ball to the left. Once again "in the fringes."

Looking back on my life, I note that I always spent my time in the fringes as well. I'm not sure when I decided that I prefer life there, but I think that decision evolved in college where I met others like me. It probably had more to do with the fact that my friends and I were all outsiders at our very Midwestern university, so we rebelled. You can get away with that at a school with 30K students.

Still, I went through my stages of trying to fit in: Pappagallo, Laura Ashley, Doonie & Bourke and the Southern Belle Primer.

On the outside, I was one of the hip crowd, on the inside, I felt like an outsider. Somehow, I learned not to let that show. Those were my quiet years, when I kept my opinions to myself, showed only my poker face and focused on my career. I married, built my dream home, wore designer clothing and spent my vacations in fashionable Charleston. As my husband always said, "I walked the walk and talked the talk."

My quiet years ended when I found myself raising two special needs children. I just didn't have the energy or money to keep up with the Joneses anymore. Over the past 12 years, I have slowly evolved into a person, who doesn't worry about what other people think. My favorite sayings are "So what" and "Whatever."

I keep to myself, unless I want company, and only buy designer clothes, if they are made of cotton, black and grey, and sold at Sam's Club, Costco or BJ's.

Unfortunately, the same principles don't apply to my daughter. She is finally getting to an age where she realizes that she's different. I remember those years. Being an emotional pre-teen is bad enough. Living on the outside, looking in can be devastating.

I don't know how to explain this to my daughter. I'm still trying to figure out how I developed such a bone-dry wit. I'm a lot like the mother in Erma Bombeck's poem "The Special Mother," since I have to learn how to teach my children to live in a world full of ignorance, cruelty and prejudice toward anyone, who is different.

For now, I take my children's issues one at a time, I wake each day wondering what new crisis I will face and I live for those special moments, like today, when my asthmatic/SID/ADHD son finally put his head in the water after two years of swimming lessons.

I suppose that kind of moment is special to all parents, but it's priceless to me.