If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that we can all live absolutely perfect lives. We can have wonderful, giving friends, perfect funky houses and wise old people who will show up at the perfect time to reassure us that everything is going to be ok if only we just believe. After all, we live in a beautiful world with cars that can park themselves and non-alcoholic beer and if we can make that amazing stuff happen, we should be able to master our own lives. How hard could it be to take care of one tiny household in the awesome expanse of the whole universe? We can control that much at least, am I right?
Nope. Not even close, sucka. As a mom with twins, an autistic daughter and one failed marriage I have learned a thing or two about control. Even my best Jedi mind tricks won’t turn my family into the peaceful, polished people of your average cereal commercial or my battered and broken sofa into shabby chic. I can’t control at what time my mail will arrive, how the weather will be on vacation, rush hour traffic or stray animals. How I wish I could control stray animals! Most of all, I’ve learned that I can’t control other people. I can’t control what they think or believe and especially what comes out of their mouths. Turns out that the only thing I really can control are the tender and thoughtful words that come out of my mine.The past two decades of marriage and parenthood have provided me ample opportunities for growth in the “keeping my big, fat mouth shut” department. Good thing, too as I was not the most graceful parent on my best day, to put it mildly. People who knew me seemed to excuse my cranky demenaor and potty mouth and in my defense, I had a lot of distractions at home. In 1998 I had three children under the age of five, one of whom had already been diagnosed as autistic, another child who wasn’t speaking, and my husband and I decided that yelling at each other was the only way we would communicate. That year, I had a business that failed and then my father died. When I was at the depths of despair, some well intending person would try to reassure me by telling me that “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I heard this a lot. I think people intended this to be a compliment about my strength but I really didn’t appreciate the oversimplified, Hallmark Card reading of what were a series of crises in my very real life. In order to process statements about almighty intervention I decided to engage in a little creative listening. I heard that response as a way of saying “better you than me, lady” which is an attitude that I could at least respect for its honesty. Because my life was fairly harsh, at least in a first world way, people loved to invoke teh Jesus when speaking to me. “You know Katie, God chose you to have those children for a reason, He chose you.” I heard this so much that I eventually wrote this joke:
When you have a kid with special needs people always tell you that god chose you to have this child. And you know I don’t really trust god with kids. After all, he chose the Virgin Mary and look at what happened to her kid!
For the record, that joke never went over very well. Oh well, I won’t quit my day job.
Besides the folks who think that God is the type of asshole who picks on kids by deciding whom to inflict with developmental delays or cancer or whatever, there are those whom always want to “pray” for me. “Mind if I pray for you?” This used to really and very seriously piss me off. Don’t ask me to be greatful for your useless and empty gesture.These days, I don’t get so mad. After all I’d rather have someone tell me that they are praying for me than prattle on about some neighbor they have who has an autistic kid followed up with some horrific story about how he loves to eat houseplants and ends up in the ER a lot. Yeah, just tell me that you’ll pray for me so we can all get on with our day. And at the end of the day, we all have to find ways to get along and talk more, relate more to folks whom we have great differences with. It’s always easier to demand change from the other person, after all their issues are obvious, right?
I seek to influence these days more than control or instantly change. Now when I hear about the praying I add a very quick sentence remining this kind and thoughful person that my daughter will rely on Food Stamps and SSI for the rest of her life so I hope congress doesn’t cut these programs. Something to hit home the reality of what I am thinking about so that maybe instead of praying that this person will think deeper about the issues surrounding those with disabilities. I always try to add a “thanks for thinking about me and my daughter” as well.
I may never have the benevolence of a character in, say a Judd Apatow movie, but I’m improving.