I was into re-invention long before Madonna made it her trademark, identity-hopping every year or so like a lizard shedding her skin, which leaves me at forty-four strangely devoid of long-term friendships, but full of life experience. And with each skin came a community. In chronological order I’ve been: a Hollywood Hills six year-old schooling with privileged children prepping to be movie stars, an anxious American in British Columbia chumming up with other children of alcoholic fathers, a Seattle high school theater person holed up with the drama department during rehearsals, a bisexual band-aid dating my way through a pack of pot-head Jimi Hendrix wannabes, a radicalesbian feminist studying sexism alongside fellow Women’s Studies majors, a platform-dancing sex-radical sucking lattes with erotic dancers, Leather Dykes and fascinated college basketball players, one-half of a monogamous same-sex couple spending time with other same-sex couples attempting to stay together against the odds, then, a Portland, Oregon, stay-at-home mom to one, two, and eight years later, three kids surrounded by a supportive circle of lesbian moms.
Oh, and a writer, artist and Unitarian Universalist unsure about organized religion.
The parenting communities we belong to push arts and athletics, are left-leaning and liberal-minded, read Reviving Ophelia and Real Boys. They believe in no-hitting rules, reward systems, co-operative preschools and that good parenting makes for a well-behaved child. My new mothering path does NOT resemble that—our boy was tossed out of the co-op, the pre-K, and the summer swim program, reward systems and punishment alike meant nothing to him, and chatting at the playground (that sanity-saver for the at-home mom) was something that couldn’t happen when I had to be on high alert. By the time we had a name for it, I’d been held hostage by our son’s autism for years.
It’s hard to find or be in a community when you can’t see other people face to face with your kid around, or receive a phone call without getting assaulted, or spend much time online since you’re always preventing disasters. But one tries. I realized I needed other moms who “got it” about our kid, without judgment or harsh looks.
He’s six, now, and I’ve found my sub-culture: moms from his high-functioning K-2 class, his aide, and his two teachers. No, it isn’t a circle of post-co-op preschool parents, raising vegan, non-television watching kids, or a set of wholesome soccer moms, bringing rice crispy treats to the sidelines. Yes, these women understand. Even a few of our parenting pals with typical kids are starting to see it wasn’t just bad parenting.
We, my newfound posse of parents and specialists, can be relaxed together about these atypical, intelligent kids, ragging on them without having to extrapolate on the guilt involved; it’s fair game somehow to bitch about your kid’s potty-training challenges when he’s just a bit later than usual, but complaining that your four year-old is in diapers when he’s developmentally-delayed seems below the belt, so to speak. We know our job is to cheerlead, support, boost, but we must complain somewhere about how hard it can be, just like the other mothers, or burst. Together, we can riff on grocery store meltdowns, rant about the gawkers who didn’t make it easier, repeat frank comments our kid made about Uncle Bob’s belly that bring down the house, roll our eyes about broken windows, confess how our kid lost it and we cried all day, and discuss the possibility of needing tasers when our kids are teenagers, without feeling like the sickest mothers in town, or anyone involved questioning our love for our children.
The usual parenting paradigm does not apply, and we know it. For every kind of “typical” childrearing methods that proved useless if not harmful to our sensitive young, whether our own idea or urged on us by others, we are weighed down with remorse. For every misplaced effort (and lowering your standards seems key to survival), misspent money on therapies (but believing in a positive future is necessary for progress), and mistaken kinds of discipline before we knew better and that “a little more structure” wouldn’t make all the difference, we angst, beat ourselves up, and try again.
As a lesbian mom wishing for some visibility at the dawn of the gayby boom, back when pregnancy = straight, I often thought that a T-shirt was the answer, though at the time I really wasn’t cool with inviting strangers to stare at my chest. I’d had enough of that back in my platform-dancing days. Now, not only would I hand out business cards urging people not to remark on our son’s beeping, clicking and repetitive coughing, if I didn’t think our son might take it as a negative reflection on himself, but I’d happily wear a T-shirt that reads “I [heart] my [puzzle piece],” identifying myself as the proud parent of a child on the autism spectrum.
This skin, however, must co-exist with those beneath; I’m still a stay-at-home mom to two teens who set a high standard for behavior, discourse and sense of humor. I’m still one-half of a same-sex couple staying together despite the odds. I’m still a writer, an artist, and a reluctant church attendee. I will find my way back to those communities once I settle into my new one, surer of myself and my role in the world, and no longer alone.
Beren deMotier is a frequent contributor to Curve magazine, and has written for And Baby, Proud Parenting, and GLBTQ newspapers across the nation. Her award-winning book, The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage, was a Finalist for the 2008 Oregon Book Awards. You can find her at her blog The Lesbian Mom Next Door.
This piece originally appeared in hipmama magazine and we are eternally grateful to them and to Beren for allowing us to reprint it here!