This post about relaxing with friends away from the stress of raising a kid with disabilities was first written in 2017, when I was homeschooling both boys. I made a few alterations to the formatting in April 2021. Enjoy!
Last week my son with autism spent his spring break at a lovely art camp. It was a new experience for him: four hours away from me each day, the opportunity to be creative, with enthusiastic supportive staff all around.
He was not the only one who enjoyed the time apart. As much as we hate to admit it, those hours apart from our children can be what makes homeschooling all the more bearable. Especially if we spend those hours in the company of a good friend.
The old refrain from Girls Scouts always springs to mind when I think of friends:
Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver and the other gold.
I was never much of a Girl Scout. I stuck with it maybe a year and then defected to Campfire Girls. But I do remember the song, and it has always seemed true to me. Besides making me hungry for Thin Mints.
During Art Camp, I had the opportunity to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen for years. Our paths had diverged somehow, but once we started talking, it was amazing how much we had in common. How nearly identical our experience had been, since the last time we had seen each other. How very much our sons were alike.
What a relief it is to talk to someone who has walked the same road as you! Sometimes, in the special needs parenting world, you begin to feel like a specimen. People are kind to you, but in the way you might be kind to a stray cat or a limping dog. They have pity for you, they understand you may be feeling pain, and they want to help, but they do not necessarily want to get in too deep.
It may take a lot of explaining before they understand how things are. They may suggest things you’ve already tried, or treatments you have already assessed and determined to be ineffective or too costly. They may propound as new a myth you have long since dispelled. They may simply feel awkward and avoid you, or run out of things to say. They may say encouraging things like, ” I think it’s so great that you bring him to…[fill in the blank for normal childhood activity.]” As if even attempting this were an heroic feat.
So to sit down and enjoy someone’s company, free from the obligation to explain yourself or your child, is pure delight. And you can learn so much, and delve into dull details that, in the company of an outsider, would fall flat. Suddenly you feel interesting again.
This is an age of specialization, but who knew that raising a child who falls on the spectrum would be such a research-intensive activity? Who knew it would involve such a lot of trial and error? All in a field that few parents enter with any prior expertise.
Anyway, we had no difficulty chatting away for four hours, while the kids made art. Most of our conversation consisted of funny stories, or odd comments, or small triumphs. But there was also that underlying fear that we share, like so many who have children in similar predicaments. How will they manage in the future? Who will care for them? How can we guarantee their security when we are gone?
I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions, but how wonderful it was, to share the burden of worry. When there is a problem, and it is shared, people tend to come up with solutions. And that alone is comforting. No matter what happens, there are other minds at work, trying to make sure that what happens is good.
A friendship like that is golden!
For an essay about problems that those growing up with disabilities, and their families, may face, read Hurdles.