But I’m not just talking about my tummy.
I’m talking about all of me, including, especially, my relationships.
I am blessed to have a healthy and happy marriage. My husband, Sean, and I have been together almost 20 years, and we actually, really, most of the time enjoy each other enormously. We make each other laugh, we talk about things that matter and even more importantly, sometimes, about things that don’t matter. We partner well in life, with parenting, cleaning, sleeping, and most of the lifestyle stuff. We both feel really lucky to have found one another, and after many years of strife and pain (we are both lawyers, after all), have found a sweet spot in our relationship.
But Sean’s not enough. I am just not one of those women who can be happy just with her guy and kids. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it ain’t me. I really need my girlfriends. I need a community of women with whom I can be myself. That’s not just a want: it’s a need.
When my son, Ben, had autism, I lost touch with a lot of my girlfriends. It was just too hard. I felt like the physical embodiment of that book, Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid. I remember, for example, one of my closest gal-pals saying to me one day, “UGH! I just got back from the crappiest trip to Disney with the kids!” I felt like slapping her. Didn’t she know what I would give to have a crappy trip to Disney? But at that time, Disney was oh-so not on the table for us. One of the many problems was that Ben was sometimes a “bolter.” Specifically, he would run away, with no warning. Sometimes I wouldn’t realize he was gone until minutes later, and then I would be out on the street, screaming his name, calling the police, mentally terrorized by scenes from TV shows and movies about kidnapped kids.
No, we were not going to Disney. (Not at that point, anyway.)
I remember attempted play dates where Ben threw massive tantrums. I remember feeling humiliated: Why couldn’t I control my child? Why couldn’t I calm him down? My own child? I remember watching him not-play with the other children. Not-play board games. Not-play baseball. Not-play outside games. I remember watching the kids who did play, and watching Ben not-play. Watching him walk around in circles, talk to himself, or just lay on the ground, mentally miles away, in his own world. I remember my feelings. I remember feeling like my kid’s a Martian, and I’m a loser and a failure. I remember my friends trying to help, and I remember knowing they couldn’t help, and that being with them and their children just made me feel worse.
So I stopped the play dates. And in losing the play dates, I lost the camaraderie of my mom-friends. I spent days at home, with my children, isolating and living in a weird world of autism and early childhood, devoid of adult contact. I was safe, away from the temptation to condemn myself and my child in comparisons to so-called “normal” families. But I paid a big price… I was terribly lonely.
As the years went on, I found solutions for Ben’s autism in healing nutrition and in at-home, child-driven therapies. At the heart of those solutions lay a core trifecta: self-acceptance, self-care, and an understanding that I needed to balance my children’s needs with those of my own.
Eventually, I started having play dates again—but this time they were for myself. I got together with my friends, without our children. I spent time with women with whom I could absolutely be myself. Guess what: the loneliness went away.
At first, it was just about sharing resources. I met with other moms trying to recover their children from autism, ostensibly getting together to talk strategies and interventions. But what emerged was much more than just talking about tactics for our children. We were bonded by our spiritual and emotional struggles, striving to love our children despite their behaviors—ultimately in part because of their behaviors—and at the same time stay healthy in ourselves. To this day, spending time with another mother of a child with special needs fills my own special need to connect with someone who “gets it.”
At this point, I have forged a community around me of strong women, many of whom are, like me, mothers of children with special needs. These women love and work hard for their children, and somehow simultaneously sustain their sense of humor, their appreciation of life, and their willingness to nurture themselves as they travel this often arduous parenting journey.
So yeah, I really need my girlfriends. They fill me in a way nothing else can.
P.S. What helps me, helps my kids.