I am an actress. I never set out to being one. I somehow fell into it. It was a way to protect myself, my family, and most especially my son. My Autistic son who for half of his life was nonverbal. How is Johnny doing?
I think that when you are a parent of a special needs child and someone asks how your child is doing you flinch. What does the person want to hear? Do they want to hear how we celebrate every accomplishment by the steps that it took to get there and not just celebrate the end? I remember going to playgroups and toddler song groups and listening to all the other moms gush about their baby girl or baby boy. I was so proud and so happy to enjoy every little moment with my beloved Johnny. Excitingly sharing the next wonderful thing he did with all the parents just like they were sharing because that’s what you do when you’re first-time. But at some point that was taken away from me rudely. Snatched in the way an older child did to me when they told me that there was no Santa Claus when I was 9 sort of snatch.
It’s because suddenly Johnny wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing and here I thought he was just being Johnny. A cute little guy who was a bundle of joy happily interacting with the world around him and putting a big smile on my face. Suddenly I am around all the ‘”latte moms'” as I like to call them and they were making me start to feel something less for my son. What??? I thought I was passed all that peer pressure from high school and here I was suddenly thrust into conversations like this:
David is sitting up now. Is yours?
Sam is crawling. He is such a fast crawler.
Luisa is talking. I swear she has so many words
George is so smart I can’t believe what he can do as a baby
Ron is running around.
Elizabeth is playing with friends
Adam is reading.
Mark is playing soccer.
Mary is in gymnastics.
Bill is riding his bike all by himself.
Brenda is going off to summer camp.
Joan has a play date again.
When you start having a family you are not told about the sharing and one up man ship that happens in the playgroups or playgrounds. Look at my son or daughter becomes “I have him enrolled in $$$$$$$ and $$$$ activities and “what are you doing?” The pressure you feel when these conversations happen and then the” latte moms” turn their attention on to you. I remember Johnny and I taking a music playgroup when he was about 2. I dreaded going to because the moms spent more time talking amongst themselves and sharing “how their baby or toddler slept through the night” tips and eating tips then playing with their kids. It was torturous. I came just to have Johnny play, have fun and interact with little ones. I didn’t come to compare and dissect my parenting skills.
So as more and more conversations happen where parents are comparing their children and celebrating milestones I then start having this nagging feeling that my beloved Johnny is not meeting these milestones and I have nothing to talk to them about. It’s not his fault. A social disconnect begins to happen with parents and I fear he is feeling the disconnect I am having as he is feeling it with other children. He feels different and every day it’s amplifying. He can hear what the other parents are saying to me and to each other every time we are at a park or at a playgroup.
So that is why I have become an actress. I have had to learn to read the social cues and know which friends and family don’t really want to know what’s really happening. They are not raising a child with autism and they are not special-needs parents. But in order for me to fit in and for my son to be accepted, I cannot share everything. That sounds pretty harsh but when I’m meeting my kids and picking them up after school and other parents ask me how they are doing I have to stop and think of who I’m sharing their stories to. Do they want a real friendly conversation or do they want honesty that leads to support? “He’s doing fine” and “She’s fantastic!” is what I keep hearing. Is everyone acting as well? Everyone is trying to portray a perfect world and hope that no one notices the bumps in the road.
So that’s what I do. I am an actress and my kids are doing absolutely fantastic thank you. But I have also met wonderful parents who are understanding and accepting whose lives have either been touched by other family members who have challenges that I instantly bond with. I can be real and authentic with them and we can share an understanding of having good days and not so good days. Maybe one day I will feel more free to be more open with parents who are on a different journey and not feel like I cannot share. Until then for both of my children’s sakes, I am an actress.