Posted in autism, custody, distance parent, non-custodial mom, non-residential parent, parenting

The Beginning: Autism, Non-Residential Custody, and Chewed-On Ugg Boots

  • 12:53 p.m.: Took a break from Pandemic Plague Home Improvement Projects.
  • # Of Cups of Coffee: Define “cup” exactly: is that 8 imperial ounces? Metric kilograms? What kind of cup? Drinking? Tankard? Dixie?
  • The Omen: Napping on the couch.
  • The Canines: Napping on their dog beds next to The Omen on the couch. Traitors!
  • Leading Man #1: BJ’s Garden State, grocery shopping with his dad.

So, not to scare you off reading this, or tuning in every week to follow along and find out how it all turns out, but I am not a storyteller. I am a non-fiction business writer. That could very mean that you will be bored to tears for the next 52 weeks. I don’t know.

All I know is I need to tell you my story: of a bad fiction writer but a brilliant, marketing copyeditor and Mother Rogue who did not leave her son to find herself (finally, after over 50 years) but accidentally did so by…

Okay, okay… by being forced to get a life after several members of my son’s IEP team, my ex-husband, my husband, and my son himself insisted I do so.

Just because you send a few texts before coffee o’clock… Geesh!

When I do write fiction, or fictionalized narratives, I don’t do well with beginnings. I can tell you all about where I am now, why this blog is called The Mother Rogue, and what my son had for dinner last night (I cannot tell you what the dogs ultimately had for dinner last night. I think it was my Ugg boot). I could even tell you about the 10 sticks I peed on before I finally accepted that I was pregnant (although my son definitely doesn’t want to read that. Sorry kiddo).

Talking about voluntarily giving up residential custody of my kid, and living without him full-time for over 15 years now…that’s hard. I want to over explain my decision. I want to gush about how great my son is and what a wonderful mom I am, even from 210 miles away, so you don’t think less of me. I want to justify who I am, and why I am, as Merriam Webster puts it: a rogue: someone who goes off script.

The “script” for a divorcing mother, of course, being to fight for and actually retain custody of her kid.

Here goes.

My son was 4 years old when TheEx and I divorced, he needed his support system, including my now ex-in-laws, and his father, who worked from home. TheEx could also afford a custody battle. Not only couldn’t I afford one, but I didn’t want to put my son through one, not one I was certain, on a purely financial basis, if not with my well-intentioned by quite legendary Irish Portuguese temper, I would lose.

The day I decided my son would live with his father was a Wednesday in late July. TheEx and I were in our old bedroom, late afternoon, a green tinge to shadows on the walls.   

“You take residential custody,” I told my then current, not quite divorced husband.

“Of course,” TheEx said.

The next month I moved out of that house, into a townhouse apartment the next town over. The rest, as they say…well…history, or mystory: how a single heartbreaking decision, started a 15 year journey I didn’t even know I was actually on until this past September.

I’m not great at picking up on the obvious, by the way. That’s okay. My husband, The Omen, Leading Man #2, Husband #2, is worse. He didn’t know I was his girlfriend after 3 months of dating until a coworker at a company Christmas party told him.

I also, after a lifetime, know who I am, finally, who I want to be. Geesh… I’m turning 52 this month. THAT didn’t take too long, did it?

I pause as I’m about to click save and upload this onto WordPress to see my dogs, Rocky the Boxer and Ella Ma Belle, troop into my home office one behind the other. They walk straight over to their local dog beds – there are about 10 dog beds in this house, in pairs to prevent sibling rivalry issues – and lay down practically synchronized. That is NOT a good sign.

Right now I want to be the owner of unchewed and saliva-soaked Ugg boots.

Tune in next week…it’ll be better, I promise…

Posted in autism, parenting

On Autism: Assuming Legal Guardianship of My Son Instead of Attending His High School Graduation

For the last week or so I’ve been holed up at my favorite yoga studio, working out my frustration with and trying to figure out how I feel about signing off on my son’s Guardianship paperwork in a couple weeks. Leading Man #1 has Autism and Intellectual Disability on paper. He is unable to function independently. TheEx and I will assume legal guardianship on his 18th birthday and kiddo will become an “un-emancipated adult.”

So how do I feel? It’s gone in stages.

  • First, I got angry, really, really angry. Why did this happen? Why isn’t my son going to graduate in June like a typical teenager? Why does an  attorney have to explain to him in a formal setting that he’ll be under his dad and I’s care for the foreseeable future?
  • Next, I felt guilty. It had to be those peanut butter M&Ms I ate every day at lunch during my pregnancy! I gave up residential custody! I moved to Massachusetts when kiddo was 8!
  • Then I assessed blame. Mostly to the high school JR attended before he was placed out of district, to the school district in general, to the water quality in his hometown, to M&M Mars, to TheEx, and, of course, to myself.
  • After that, I got depressed, really, really depressed. On Facebook, my mom friends were posting senior prom and graduation photos and talking about which colleges their neurotypical kids got accepted to.

As happy as I was for my friends and their kids, seeing those posts sucked. Seriously, when did TheEx and I stop planning for college and start planning for a vocational job? When was the crucial moment where JR turned the corner from “With the proper supports he can…” to “He might not ever be able to”? I know I’ve been a long distance parent for the last decade, but I’m an active presence in my son’s life nonetheless. I wouldn’t have missed that pivot. 

Somewhere inside of me, through all of the specialists, the neurologists, the psychiatrists, the school social workers, and the wretched IEP meetings, telling me otherwise. I still believed we would never reach this moment. I honestly thought that if TheEx and I can just find the right doctor, the right Molotov cocktail of medications, the right …something, the frosted contact paper that seems to veil my son’s true potential from the world would be ripped away, and he would magically become high functioning. 

Assuming legal guardianship feels like I’m giving up.

“Seriously, when was the crucial moment my son turned the corner from “With the proper supports he can…” to “He might not ever be able to”?

I know better. I also know many autistics will scream at me and call me “Martyr Mom,” say I can’t accept my child as he is and my son is good enough as such. That’s not the problem. I love my son exactly as he is. I accept him. I know JR is good enough, because for me, there is no question he is “good enough.” Of course he is! He’s my son. Even during a meltdown, or, actually quite worse, the very neurotypical 100th blast of anime teen angst music from his bedroom, I wouldn’t change a thing.

My dilemma, and why I am holed up in a 100 degree yoga studio sweating out a downward facing dog trying to sort out my feelings, is this: JR is my child. I am supposed to take care of him. I am supposed to protect him. Somehow, by JR growing up atypical, it feels like I failed somehow…like I let my son down. Will JR hate me for assuming guardianship and taking his legal rights away? Will he hate me for not finding that “magic pill (therapy, etc.)” that would have prevented me from doing so?

Will Leading Man #1 ever know what, in the eyes of a neurotypical world, he “missed out on”? That’s a very valid question. The answer is as yet to be determined.

Did I fight hard enough to find that magic…whatever? Again, that’s a very valid question, and again, the answer is as yet to be determined. 

I know I shouldn’t mourn my son’s lost potential, but I do. Like most people, I am hardwired to believe in “normal” and to want “normal things” for my son. My son’s life is not normal. It never has been. That was okay until now…until senior year of high school…until TheEx and I were gently but firmly told guardianship had to happen.

In the end, I decide I feel horrid about having to sign that paperwork, about having to take legal guardian ship of my brilliant 18 year old. I let myself feel that way for one more downward facing dog, and then I let it go. Wallowing in the loss of what might have been won’t make what will be better. It’s also a waste of time. I have better things to do, like spend quality time with my son. 

I also think I’ll stay off Facebook until August.

Originally written Spring 2019.

Posted in autism, custody, distance parent, non-custodial mom, parenting

Reflecting on the End of the Pandemic…

Ok, I’m a realist, so not the end of the pandemic, but at least a lull long enough for me to see my son in person again.

Yes, I will settle for just a temporary lull in New Jersey COVID-19 new case rate

I’ve missed seeing Leading Man #1 in person, hanging out with him, having an excuse to stop working and play BioShock on my dusty PS4, and having someone to visit museums with. Yet, despite not being able to see JR in person, I did, through this COVID-19 enforced separation, see him every day. The Pandemic Mess’ Zoom Schooling Phenomenon allowed me to buzz into JR’s classes for an hour every day.

I think it may annoy the frack out of Leading Man #1 that I did that…

I don’t mind if he’s annoyed. Dropping into those Zoom Classes every day taught me a few things about how my son functions on the autistic spectrum, how he functions without me, and how much like me JR actually is. We have the same expression, right down to hand in chin placement, when we’re thoughtful.

I’ve also learned how smart my son actually is. I have witnessed him seamlessly calculate 18 x 4 in his head in practically seconds. I’ve heard him answer comprehension questions that left me baffled. I even learned to budget more effectively thanks to his classroom teacher.

I’m a long distance parent, but I’ve learned that I am no less a parent for the long distance between Leading Man #1 and I. TheEx works for a lab testing company, therefore I was the one, most of the time, making sure JR was “in class” (and reprimanding him to get in class when he wasn’t).

The pandemic also forced me to come off the road for an extended length of time. With multiple state quarantines and travel restrictions keeping me at home, I was finally able to learn what living in my house, with my husband, is like. Fun fact: I have a rhododendron that blooms purple in my front yard. Equally impressive: I can survive my husband (a CPA and Tax Director for a MetroWest Public Accounting Firm) working from home during tax season. Ok, that might be because he also cooks fantastic dinners every night.

Finally, the pandemic taught me to think first, and stress out later. Just because we’ve been divorced for 15 years and I have accepted that as non-residential custodian/guardian means I have very little say or insight into the day to day decisions made about my son does not mean I’ve stopped fighting for my son. It just means I’ve gotten choosier about my battles. I think my combat strategy through more carefully BEFORE I act. Some things – visitation when a pandemic is spreading like wildfire – aren’t worth arguing over…or getting stressed out about.

I have never liked being a long distance parent. I have never liked being a non-custodial one. Now, though, I’m a little more at ease with the situation, and a little better at co-parenting.

Not nearly enough, but something…

Posted in autism, custody, distance parent, motherhood, non-custodial mom, non-residential parent, parenting

From The Archives: SupercalifragilisticDistance Mom!

Originally Published on Various Shades of Blonde Nonsense in December, 2012.

Mostly I consider myself a decent parent – for the role I have in my son’s life, which is by no means that which society considers a mom should have.

Or me.  Three years later, I really think I should be there in person more often.

Hey!  Hadn’t Roddenberry, Clarke and Kubrick promised us teleporter technology by now?  What gives scientific community?  Surely the demigods of classic sci fi could not have been wrong in there predictions.

Even worse – Lucas gave it to us a long time ago…

Moving on, since Toyotas are brilliant, but even they get cranky driving 500 miles round trip once a month.

One of the tics and quirks of Autism is perseveration.  An autistic person’s mind will get locked on a topic and stay there.  They will talk about the topic non-stop.

For the last few months Leading Man #1 has been perseverating about an internet video game (we’ll discuss how it is an “M” game he was not supposed to have access to and how he bypassed his father’s internet security protocols blocking the site later.  I’m not done groaning over that one sufficiently to type about it yet).

My ex installed new industrial content blocking software on J’s computer, but I decided something more needed to be done.  I asked that my son’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) be modified to address the issue.  My concern was that once J. stopped perseverating about Randy’s Empire, he’d go on about something else.

One well tapped email and a call to the principal later, my ex, myself and Stepmom received an email from the behavioral specialist at the school outlining their plan to assist my son and modifying his IEP.

I know, I know, all in a day’s work for a custodial, in person parent, but I did this from 250 miles away, on a break from my full-time workday.

Parents, but NCPs especially, need to celebrate our little victories.  We need to give ourselves credit for how involved we stay in our children’s lives.  We know it is all in a day’s work for us, but others do not.

I, especially, am thrilled when I can successfully advocate to make my son’s life better, on the spectrum and off.

Ergo, supercalifragilisticdistancemom!