Friday, February 09, 2007

Seventeen Years, Now What?

On August 15th of 2006, my 17 year old daughter moved out of my home. No ordinary parenting moment, this was not classic empty nest syndrome due to my daughter maturing and moving out on her own to fly solo: My daughter moved into a 24/7 care facility group home.

As some of you know, my daughter has Asperger's. A relatively newly recognized 'location' on the Autism continuum, we've suffered for many years without a proper diagnosis (and complications of our family history) along with the condition itself. I've known for years that she was fast approaching a level of care that a work-from-home or even stay-at-home mom could provide...

She will not have the life I dreamt of when I first held her -- not any version of it. Instead of wishing her love and family of her own my largest nightmare is her giving me grandchildren -- and of how they were conceived. Instead of parental worries & disapproval over little things, I need to worry not about what career she chooses, but if she can hold a job -- and will she get there and back home safely? She needs reminding and policing of such things as basic hygiene and other tasks which affect her health wise and socially.

While relieved that she's now getting the care and training that she needs to reach for things that many take for granted -- I was also devastated.

If every mom or parent self-identifies with their role, imagine how it feels to be the parent of a child who has remained perpetually emotionally about 4 or 5 years old. That's 17 years of parenting at a toddler/pre-school level yet dealing with the issues of hormones (imagine explaining menstruation, love vs sex, masturbation, and abstinence to a small child), problems with peer relations such as drugs, dating, and driving (mainstreaming is utterly cruel), and sibling issues (if you think a new brother 11 years later to an only child is rough, try one with Autism -- and then there's step-family issues compounded to the max). That's 17 years of very hands on parenting.

That's 17 years of being a warrior because in the business of parenting kids with Autism, you are an advocate, a researcher, an educator, and a whipping boy. You lose friends, you have difficult family relationships, and you even have that child used against you in court proceedings. That's 17 years of being a special-needs-kids-mom.

That's 17 years of my identity (good, bad or otherwise) being 'Mom.' Then, in one day, Poof.

It's not that I don't see her anymore (she's 7 minutes away and we are together as a family at least once a week), or that I don't still have to do things for her (obviously my advocacy continues as before), but I am less 'Mom' than I was. The physical and emotional relief are mixed with loss not just of her, but of my own identity.

It's not that I didn't know it was coming. I not only had to work to get her this care but explain it all to her and the rest of our family as well. And there were the countless supportive discussions with Az, who deserves awards for, well, for being him. But all of that kept me busy. It was pragmatic 'must do' Mom stuff. Even dealing with her emotions and reactions to the move was about her and her needs, not me. So it wasn't until after we moved her into the group home that it all hit me.

Who am I if not always Allie's Mom?

Or maybe it's, "Who am I when not Allie's Mom?" because we are just now organizing to retain guardianship of this woman-child before she turns 18 in May. My parenting will not end or lessen as most parenting does. And yet here I am in a new place.

After 17 years of, "Who is Allie, what can she do, and what must I do for her?" it's now also, "Who am I and what can I do for/with me?"

The answers are coming.
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