Tag Archives: Parenting

Career Casualties: The Cost of Traveling Parents

The call came in the summer of 2004. My husband, Jake, and I were enjoying a well deserved vacation. Sitting seaside, I peacefully gazed at our four month old son, Ben, cozily nestled in my arms.

He was the baby I had yearned for my entire life. After two miscarriages and a stressful pregnancy, here he was. For the first time, I felt pure joy.

Jake’s ringing cell phone momentarily drowned out the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Mesmerized by the crisp salty air, I faintly heard Jake agitatedly utter, “What?” I glanced up as he stepped inside.

I was fixated on the ocean mist when Jake reappeared. He stood behind me declaring, “The company folded.” Instantly, those three words changed the course of our marriage.

Suddenly our income was annihilated. We were already down one salary due to my extended maternity leave. Now we would be losing our primary source of revenue. Serenity was quickly replaced with uncertainty and panic.

Five years earlier, a friend introduced me to Jake while he was upstate recovering from an accident. At the time, his career was centered in New York City, overseeing ornamental ironwork projects on the City’s largest bridges.

Luckily, Jake’s affection for me soon outweighed his love for bridges. He abandoned New York and found a management position locally. We married, bought our first home, and hoped for a family.

When we returned from vacation, Jake immediately began pursuing professional opportunities, exhausting all territorial leads without success. Regional jobs were scarce in the steel industry.

My heart filled with dread as the statement spilled from Jake’s lips, “I think we should consider jobs in the City.” Jake was highly respected, with a stellar reputation. Logistically, securing employment in NYC wouldn’t be difficult. Navigating the emotional turmoil an offer would generate was more problematic.

Concerned about our dwindling savings, I agreed to the possibility. Jake quickly received a proposal. We debated arguments for and against, reflected on the expected challenges, and cried envisioning the impact of long distance parenting on Ben.

With my approval, Jake accepted the offer. Our agreement was that he would continue to look for employment locally. The promise was that Jake would be home permanently by the time Ben began kindergarten.

Eleven years have elapsed. We have been blessed with two more sons. Jake’s affinity for the bright lights of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges has returned. This affection, coupled with his ingrained ideology that man is provider, impedes our intentions of 2004. Sometimes agreements aren’t fulfilled and promises are broken.

As adults, Jake and I have adapted to the weekly commute and irregular lifestyle. Our children have acclimated, weathering the disappointment of missed concerts, plays, and sporting competitions with grace.

But each struggle uniquely and individually. Ben and Jake share the same juvenile sense of humor. Ben’s loss can be felt in the evenings, when his favorite comedies are on. He glances at Jake’s empty chair absentmindedly, perhaps hopefully, prepared to share a laugh with his dad. Ben misses Jake’s daily physical presence, their wrestling matches and quiet cuddles before bed.

Peter is introspective, practical, and sensitive. His deprivation is felt during homework, class projects, and school events. Of our three boys, Peter is the most conscious of his peers. He watches friends interacting with their fathers with envy, mourning the paternal friendship he feels entitled to. He yearns for a deeper relationship with Jake, for his dad to have a deeper understanding of his dreams and ambitions.

Jake’s absence has had the most visible impact on our youngest son. Josh is emotional, creative, and nurturing. He loves acting, drawing, and painting. Josh’s concern for other children, belies his age. In kindergarten, he received three commendations for demonstrating compassion, after instinctively befriending and assisting his differently-abled classmates.

Sensitivity and creativity don’t come naturally to Jake. His boisterous approach with the older boys hasn’t been successful with Josh. Their differing interests have shaped a divide between them.

The distance has promoted awkwardness and hampers their relationship. Neither can see the ramifications of their mutual indifference. Josh because he’s 7. Jake because he takes Josh’s attitude personally.

Josh feels deprived of the fatherhood he should have. He lashes out physically during the recreational time he shares with Jake. He aches for acceptance, but doesn’t know how to articulate it.

Jake expresses anger and impatience at Josh’s belligerence, failing to recognize the origin of either of their feelings. To do so would mean facing the casualties of Jake’s career, addressing the realities of what our family has forfeited.

There are glimmers of hope. I have seen moments of spontaneous and unadulterated affection between Jake and Josh. It is clear that they love one another. But, attempting to strengthen their bond, while quelling Josh’s aggression is laborious.

As a mother, I am charged with teaching and nurturing my children. I embrace these responsibilities unconditionally. Feeling obligated to parent a spouse feels awkward and unnatural. How can I bridge this gap without showing favoritism to my son or demeaning my husband?

I’m navigating this terrain gently. My focus as a parent is to reign in Josh’s behavior. As a wife, I have encouraged Jake to find a common interest with Josh. My hope is that meaningful interactions between father and son will turn the tide of their relationship.

The influence of a father in a son’s life is indisputable. I want Jake to have a positive relationship with all of our sons. He does too. However, staying connected while commuting has been challenging.

Sometimes in the serenity of the night I hear Jake’s words again, “I think we should consider jobs in the City.” As I peacefully gaze upon my precious boys as they slumber, I envision how different our lives would be if I hadn’t consented.

Childhood is fleeting. My hope is that one day when Ben, Peter, and Josh reflect on theirs it’s happily, remembering the quality of the time spent with their father and not the quantity.

Autism Awareness: One Mother’s Perspective

Once again, we are at the conclusion of autism awareness month. Every April the world is prompted to Light It Up Blue, through a campaign initiated by Autism Speaks to raise international awareness of autism. As a demonstration of solidarity, supporters consumed periwinkle doughnuts, walked in cobalt shoes, and combed sapphire hair.

Throughout the month, many people wear blue as a badge of honor. I applaud their commitment and am moved by their passion. Visions of iconic landmarks across the globe, illuminated in various hues of blue, demonstrate the evolution and vastness of this inspirational quest.

By design I am not an active member of the blue brigade. Certainly, the cause is a noble one, bringing attention to a subject near to my own heart. But for me, this annual commemoration has lost its luster, invoking personal feelings of disappointment and disillusionment.

The harsh reality is that I don’t need to be enlightened about the nuances of autism. My family lives with it every day. Our commitment to autism awareness is not limited to 30 days a year. We are shackled to it for a lifetime. Blue apparel won’t raise my consciousness on an issue perpetually ingrained in my mind.

Instead, educate me about the utilization of millions of dollars raised by major autism not-for-profits annually for research and family services. Despite the efforts and presumably altruistic intentions of these entities, statistics indicate that the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders continues to rise at an alarming rate. And although these organizations have impressive resumés, their endeavors have little impact on the daily challenges my family encounters.

Research for tomorrow doesn’t help my family today. A colleague’s blue shirt doesn’t administer any direct assistance to my child. A celebrity’s tweet doesn’t provide me any respite. Many of our needs are simple – kindness, compassion, acceptance, and inclusion.

My family is fortunate. Our blessings are abundant. I adore my children. We have found encouragement, comfort, and relief in early intervention providers, inclusive sports programs, academic institutions, and community services found in our backyard, not through a global campaign.

Still there are gaps. Families dealing with the complexities of autism spectrum disorders need more. We need you.

Make a difference in a child’s life. Look for ways to assist a family in your neighborhood. Help facilitate a friendship between your typically developing child and a differently-abled one. It may be as effortless as inviting a child to a play date, birthday party or sleep over. We all want our children to be popular. But I also hope my offspring are benevolent, thoughtful, and tolerant.

Extend your hand or lend an ear to a parent of a child with unique capabilities. He or she may only need a sounding board or someone to share a bottle of wine. You can’t imagine how cathartic a few hours of adult time, away from therapies and social groups, can be.

Consider providing financial assistance to local entities, which are assisting families in your own communities. Volunteer your time working with athletic organizations that cater to the unique attributes of those who find it difficult to assimilate on typical sports teams. Patronize businesses that employ differently-abled individuals. Support universities that make it possible for students with autism spectrum disorders to succeed in college.

You have the capability to directly impact the life of an individual impacted by autism. Try it. I suspect your life will be enriched.

Next April please don’t ask why I’m not adorned in blue. I choose not to wear blue, because a part of my soul will forever be tinted blue.

Parents Anonymous: 12 Step Program for Parenting

I’m not a perfect mother. There, I’ve finally said it. It’s difficult to write. But, it’s even harder to admit. With this acknowledgement comes a sense of relief. A weight has been lifted from my soul. I feel as if I’m standing at the podium of a twelve-step meeting, confessing my deficiencies.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a horrible parent. I’m just not a great one. My children don’t come home to freshly baked cookies every afternoon. We don’t make the beds every day. Some nights, I don’t read to my sons.

In my head, I know there are no perfect guardians. The problem lies within my heart. There, lurking in the recesses of all four chambers, is a nagging, a longing, to be an ideal mother. Living in the shadow of this unobtainable objective is daunting.

Lying in bed each night, reviewing my daily transgressions, I vow that tomorrow will be flawless. Some days are. But, life is unpredictable. Children are inconstant. Regardless of my best intentions, I make mistakes.

On a typical week day morning, we juggle breakfast, lunches, backpacks, clothes, coats, and shoes in a controlled chaos. If the stars align, we manage to successfully squeak through the morn, leaving our day unscathed.

Today, we weren’t so lucky. My five-year-old son, Peter, had a series of meltdowns. It started when he couldn’t find the toy he wanted, followed by the declaration that his Spiderman shoes mysteriously disappeared. Peter’s refusal to leave the house was the tantrum culmination.

Until Peter’s outburst, life was running on schedule. As I glanced at my watch, I imagined walking into my business meeting late. Standing in the garage, seething with anger, I resisted the urge to forcibly drag him to the car. Instead, I stormed back in, retrieved the Spiderman shoes from their usual spot in the closet, and yelled at Peter in my fiercest tone.

Shrieking worked. Peter promptly scurried to the car. Deserted in the hallway, I was immediately overwhelmed by sadness. Entering the garage, I could see Peter sitting in his car seat, sullen and dejected.

I climbed into the backseat, gathered him in my arms, and apologized. As I held him in my arms, Peter proclaimed, “Mommy, you hurt my heart.” Then, Peter forgave me. His love for me is pure, innocent, and unconditional, which only made me feel worse.

Now, hours later, I sit at my desk pensive. I’ve watched enough Oprah and Dr. Phil to know I handled things poorly. My mind is on deep breaths, time outs, and all of the other parenting techniques I’ve digested through the years. Why didn’t I employ these tactics? Instead, I mimicked the very behavior I was attempting to control. Again.

Now what? There is no twelve-step program for poor parenting. Perhaps there should be. I’m sure there are other parents who feel as I do. Until I became a mother, I never realized the depths of unrelenting guilt. It started when my oldest son was in utero and hasn’t dissipated since.

I don’t have the answers. What I do know? I will never be a perfect custodian. For now, I hope that being a good parent, with some great moments, is enough.

A guiding principle of twelve-step organizations is to live life with a modified code of decorum. As I lie in bed this evening, I will commit myself to this pledge and strive to become a better parent. I will remind myself of Peter’s words this morning. I believe him. I did hurt his heart.

Am I being too hard on myself? Maybe, but I don’t think so. You see, in the recesses of Peter’s heart, he’s longing for me to be an ideal mother too. I can live with disappointing myself, but being a disappointment to your children is an arduous burden. Just the thought of it hurts my heart.

Privacy Policy: Protecting My Children’s Privacy in the Internet Age

Another privacy policy arrived in the mailbox today. These legal documents, created to ensure our protection, have inundated our populace. They have become commonplace, often unread or discarded. The mass dissemination of these confidentiality disclosures may be desensitizing their own relevance.

As parents, we assume responsibility for the lives of our children. By necessity, infants abdicate all rights to their caregivers instantaneously at birth. Maintaining a child’s privacy is a task no guardian should take lightly.

Parents blog about the adventures of their children. Slideshows chronicling an entire childhood are viewable on Facebook. We tweet about a first tooth on Twitter. Our children’s lives have become open books in a public forum. I wonder, how much exposure is too much?

Social media outlets allow us to share family photos expeditiously. The latest child YouTube sensation is often viewed by millions. Watching a giggling baby or talented toddler brightens the day. These exchanges may innocently expose our children to a global audience.

Preserving our children’s privacy isn’t an easy effort. As the parent of a differently-abled child, it’s an internal conflict, I continuously struggle to reconcile. Do I have the right, morally, to disclose my child’s diagnosis to the world?

When my son, Ben, was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I spoke about it sparingly. Subconsciously, I hoped Ben would outgrow it. Consciously, I didn’t want Ben to be labeled.

Initially, Ben’s dissimilarities were easy to camouflage. As he matured and entered a mainstream educational institution, Ben’s distinct characteristics were evident. Concealment was no longer an option. Although exposed, Ben was still sheltered within our local community.

Now as an entrepreneur, blogger, and autism advocate, I’ve made the decision to openly discuss Ben. Am I entitled to share his story? Some may argue that it’s our narrative. They would be right. But these parables only encompass a chapter of my life. For Ben, they comprise the entirety of his biography.

Time, and Ben, will determine if I’ve made the correct choices. Parenting is subjective. Even with the greatest intentions, guardians make mistakes. We trust the successes outweigh the failures.

In the meantime, I relish my personification in the history of Ben’s adventures. Hopefully, Ben will appreciate his personage in our family chronicle, as well.

Stage Presence: The Spectacle of Autism

Every year, families of elementary school students are transported to a fantasy world via the annual school play. My son, Ben, has been practicing for weeks in anticipation of his debut as a rain drop in his first grade production of Spring Starts Here.

Ben has been in numerous productions throughout his academic career. In previous years, Ben has been more of a stage prop, than a participant.  As a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, Ben is often overwhelmed by loud noises and excessively stimulated by an audience.

Before every student theatrical creation, my anxiety begins to build. Historically, Ben has always taken the stage with his classmates, but his focus has never been on the show. Ben withdraws into a world of his own. A world I want to see, but I can’t.

On the day of this year’s performance, Ben was excited. I was nervous. As a parent, I always hope for the best. As a realist, I know wishes don’t always come true.

My rain drop bounded on stage enthusiastically. Ben recited every word on cue.  He sang every lyric of “Springtime” with zeal. As he stood on stage, for the first time, Ben seamlessly blended with his peers. My heart swelled with pride.

As the play neared its conclusion, with mere minutes left, Ben began vigorously flapping his hands. He stood in the front row clearly visible to the assemblage.

Tears welled in my eyes. Not because my pride had waned. For forty minutes, Ben had the performance of his lifetime. Unfortunately, no one in the audience will recognize or appreciate the accomplishments Ben displayed throughout the majority of the play. When they look at Ben, they’ll only remember those last few moments.

I’ll never forget this appearance . I know the progress Ben has made. I recall every obstacle he has overcome. If only everyone could see that my rain drop was miscast. Ben is actually a ray of sunshine.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. My desire is that others will learn to look past the unusual ticks and sounds of autism. Although we can’t see inside the world of those afflicted with autism spectrum disorders, we have had glimpses. Allow a child on the autism spectrum into your world. You won’t regret it. Everyone enjoys the sunshine.

Spring Training: Fair or Foul

April is the time of year we begin thinking about spring and summer sports. Nothing can compare to a summer baseball game. Many of my favorite childhood memories are related to baseball and softball. For as long as I can remember, sports have been a part of my life. My mother faithfully brought my sisters and I to watch my father play. If the Yankees or Red Sox were on, we gathered together in the living room to root for our favorite team. As a girl, I played softball in Little League and high school.

Now as a parent, my role is to introduce sports to my sons. The benefits of team sports are undeniable. Being part of a club can provide fun, friends, and discipline. Participating in athletic endeavors can positively influence academics and self-esteem. From the moment my oldest son, Ben, was born, I envisioned him as an athlete.

After Ben was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, ensuring Ben joined community sports had an added sense of necessity. His doctors and therapists stressed the importance of social endeavors for children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Ben’s desire for friends is glaringly apparent; although he doesn’t know the appropriate social cues to initiate friendships

Sports seemed like an ideal opportunity for Ben to engage with his peers. Our local Y offered a basketball biddy ball clinic introducing pre-schoolers to the fundamentals of the game. It was advertised as a fun interactive program for the youngsters in our community, run by a professional coach.

From the moment we stepped in the gym; it was a disaster. Ben spent his time lapping the court. The coach didn’t even acknowledge Ben. I knew immediately, there wasn’t going be any mentoring in this program. After several weeks, unable to contain my fury any longer, I withdrew Ben from the program. Since then, we’ve tried t-ball, soccer, baseball, swimming, and track.

Each year, participating in sports becomes easier and harder. As Ben is maturing, he has more focus and a clearer understanding of the game fundamentals. Each season, his teammates become more aware of the fact Ben is different. Thankfully, Ben doesn’t feel different, not yet.

I know someday, Ben will have questions.  Sadly, my biggest concern isn’t the disdain of  Ben’s peers. I worry about their parents. On every sideline, there is always at least one competitive parent, shouting their critiques for all to hear. I see their disappointment as they watch their child, and mine.

Once again I’m faced with the decision. Do I enroll Ben in sports this season? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Are the very activities meant to bolster his independence a detriment to his self-esteem?

Have we lost sight of the purpose of sports? Wasn’t the original intent for  children to have fun?

Ben is seven. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. His life will be full of challenges. They shouldn’t begin on the fields of extracurricular sports.

Adult Education: A Bully In Our Midst

My seven-year-old son, Ben, called to me as I was cooking dinner, “Mom, someone’s at our house.”  As I walked to the front window, I heard him gasp, “It’s the naughty boy from the bus, who has been bothering me.”

A week earlier, as we were lying in bed, Ben told me, “two boys are being mean to me and keep ripping my paper.”  I was surprised, because my son rarely initiates a serious conversation. You see, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum.

To most children, a piece of paper has little significance. Ben’s strip of paper is his security blanket, his “stim” of choice. He carries it with him wherever he goes. At bed time, Ben carefully places the paper on the headboard. When he wakes; it’s the first thing he looks for.

I don’t know what transpired on the school bus between the boys. I imagine other children on the bus think Ben is different. He is. Researchers struggle to find answers explaining autism spectrum disorders. I don’t expect a bus full of elementary school children to comprehend why my child is enthralled with a fragment of paper.

Parenting a differently-abled child can be overwhelming. Although I adore my child, sometimes I envy other mothers whose lives seem so much easier than mine. Certainly my parenting responsibilities are more daunting than theirs.

When Ben and I answered the door, John, the boy standing before us, wasn’t quite the bully I imagined. He was small. He looked as if he had been crying for a week. John apologized to Ben.

My chest tightened. I wanted to hug the little boy standing there. He seemed lost, frightened.

Ben was excited. He blurted enthusiastically, “Maybe you could come to my house to play some day. How about Sunday?”

My heart ached, knowing Sunday would never come. Watching this sweet, loving boy unconditionally forgive John, and open his heart to a peer, was almost more than I could bear. It’s possible, my child may never find the friend he so desperately wants.

I felt tears stinging my eyes. I glanced at John’s mother. Tears were in her eyes too. She was gracious and kind. I wondered. Would I have had her courage?  Would I have approached a stranger’s door? Would I have brought my child to apologize, knowing he was scared and uncomfortable, regardless of the lesson?

Sometimes we get lost in our own journey. Parenting is an enormous task, regardless of individual circumstance. It’s especially difficult when a parent dedicates themselves to doing it right. Today reminded me of that. John’s mother taught him something today, but she educated me, as well. She’s a mother who did it right.

Parent: The Role of a Lifetime

Throughout our lives, we each embody numerous roles. Humans juggle many relationships concurrently.  At each stage of development, the significance of these personifications varies. All individuals have defined a relationship hierarchy for themselves, whether consciously or subconsciously. In our earliest years, our kinship lies with our parents. Later we develop friendships and intimate interconnections, which become essential components of our happiness.

As we mature, and become adults, our associations become more complex.  For most parents, having children dramatically alters the landscape of their lives. I was no exception. Prior to parenthood, my primary affiliations were to my parents, husband, and employer. Motherhood shook the core of my relationship pyramid. Instantaneously, upon my first child’s birth, I was overwhelmed with a sense of accountability for this tiny person, my tiny person.

In time, the urgency of infancy wanes.  The innate feeling of parental responsibility does not. I often reflect on the fellowships I’ve been blessed with in my life. I know which role is the most important. My business card title reads, Parent, President. Parent is not simply my title, it’s my greatest contribution, biggest joy, and honored privilege.

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