Sep 25, 2012 0 Share

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


School bus on road in autumn.
iStockphoto

Somehow, we are screeching up to the end of September, and I have NO idea how that happened! I find myself questioning what back-to-school time is like for the typical household. Is there such a thing? This is the first year in about the last 15 where I was not getting two children up out of bed, fed and out the door in the morning, as one is now off to college where he is presumably getting himself up out of bed, fed, and out the door. Furthermore, it’s as likely as not that my 16-year-old will be gently checking to see if my alarm has gone off as vice versa. So the life of a mom-with-kids-in-school is definitely winding down. 

I have come to recognize how extraordinarily helpful it would have been had my Asperger’s been diagnosed before I embarked upon the seemingly endless cycle of getting children up out of bed, fed, and out the door in the morning. My Asperger’s, when directed towards the positive, provides me with a source of great strength and more recently, a willingness to tap into that strength for good rather than for near-constant self-recrimination. “Normal” for me has never been normal and it is only in the last few months that I find myself seeing the ways in which I can finally consider myself a grown-up. For all of the time that I spent berating myself in the past for an inability to just do the next right thing because it was the grown-up thing to do, it’s hard not to look back with some regrets. But regrets don’t help me be a better mother, or teacher, or grown-up who happens to have an autism spectrum diagnosis. I can look back and regret that not valuing myself enough to recognize when I needed help did not make back-to-school time any easier over the course of my children’s lifetimes. It has always been about hanging on by a thread, waiting until the last second. (How many times can we hit that snooze button and not have to write a note explaining why the kids are late to school?). Back-to-school for my children was, as I’m sure is the case for most families, an enormous transition. Factor in me getting them ready for back-to-school, and the result was hyper-vigilance mixed with obsessive-compulsive school-supply-shopping trips. I timed out everything just so to ensure that as much was done that could possibly be done ahead of time, so that when I felt the inevitable shut-down mode coming on, I would have some slack. Cutting myself the slack scared me to death, however, when it meant allowing an opening for the feelings of laziness, worthlessness and self-pity to march on in … usually by about this point in the back-to-school time of year.

So, I am more than a bit relieved that the changes that have shifted my little universe over the last year or so—since my “officially official” Asperger’s diagnosis—have enabled me to truly internalize so much of what I spent years trying to impart to my children, and later my students. Strategies work when you actually use them. It’s okay to be wrong sometimes. It’s okay to be late for school sometimes! It’s okay to stay home when you’re sick—your classmates and teachers don’t want you around when you sound like your ready to lose a lung! Organization is good; it does not always have to morph into obsession. Taking care of yourself is good, and it does NOT mean you are lazy or worthless.

My favorite part of this year’s back-to-school time is the mornings. Anyone who has known me for longer than the past year who is reading this needs to stop laughing for just a moment and allow me to explain. I don’t hit the snooze button anymore—I wake up to a favorite Mozart tune on my phone, and with enough time that rushing around like the Tasmanian devil is a thing of the past. I have clothes hanging up in the closet to choose from, which is more streamlined than digging through a laundry basket or weeding through the pile on the dresser. I have a lovely little dining area where each morning—because there’s plenty of time now—my daughter and I can sit and have a peaceful meal to start our days while being entertained by our cat. No pressure, no muss, no fuss.

I could get used to this self-acceptance thing. Now, if I can finish out the month without looking back with regret over the past however-many years that I basically tortured myself at this time of year and missed out on so much peace along the way, all will be well … and I’ll have one more back-to-school time to look forward to.