Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Road Less Traveled: A Parental Journey

I saw a tweet today and it reminded me of this blog post from 2009. It just so happens that it is once again that time of year when we Jews reflect and think about the world around us. This ten day period of time is called the Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. We contemplate who we are and what kind of person we hoped to become. We remember that as human beings we are never done becoming better versions of ourselves. This post is about a time when I did not sit in synagogue on Yom Kippur but in a doctor's waiting room. The prayers I said were as heartfelt as any I had ever said before....(FYI all the links go back to my old blog address)

Now that you have that diagnosis, what do you do? You have heard the words autism spectrum disorder. You may have even been given the diagnosis pervasive development disorder or asperger’s syndrome. You have known for quite some time that something was not right. That your child was not developing along the same lines as their peers so it comes as no surprise and maybe a sense of relief. Finally there is a name for what is going on. So you ask, what does it actually mean?  But first, it really is ok to cry. It does not mean you love your child any less. It does not mean you will not do what you have to. It does not mean that you are not up to the challenge. What it does mean is that you cry for the road your child has been given. You cry for the fear of the unknown.  You cry because they did nothing to deserve this. You cry because if it’s true that parents are punished by God through their children you can’t understand what you did that was do horrible that your baby has this disability. You cry and it’s ok. Then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get to work.
Psychologists talk about mourning the child that you have lost. I don’t think I mourned my children. I know that my day to day purpose changed and quite frankly I think what I became was very angry. You bet I walked around angry at the world and at God. I know that I had not committed a crime so evil that he should have wrought this upon my child. Now none of us are perfect by any means, that is what they call being human, but I did not break any commandments. I do admit to hubris and being judgmental but most young people are. Most young people believe they have all the answers. It’s something you learn with time that there really are no answers beyond what works for you and yours at any given moment at any given day. The interesting thing about how I felt all those years ago is that I know exactly when the anger lifted.
Collegeman was in the third grade and the doctor had found a lump in one of my ovaries. (Suck in deep breath) I had just finished taking the Bar Exam for the third time. I had been able to get myself together to study by using a computer program. This enabled me to study at my convenience with a child sitting next to me or on my lap. I had just taken the exam and was awaiting my results. In the meantime, the doctor had found this mass. She sent me for an ultrasound which indicated I should have a blood test. You know that blood test that every woman should really have every year which is an indicator of ovarian cancer, but the insurance companies won’t pay for it, so no one does it. (Not of course that the government would require it, since their new mammography recommendations decided that financially it’s ok to forestall breast cancer screening until 50 even if some women die in their 40s-nice huh) Anyway I decided to not wait and went to the blood test center to have the test.
It was a very quiet day. It happened to be the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. That is the day that Jews around the world ask God for forgiveness of their sins against him. (For sins against any man you must ask that individual or society, no Godly intervention there) Well, no one was there waiting for testing. Just me. I was the only one. Thought that was really strange. Usually the place is packed with people. Really didn’t think a Jewish holiday would cause such a dearth of persons, it’s not like I live in Jerusalem.
Well, anyway, they called me immediately and sat me down. I know that the woman who drew my blood was very upset. She kept trying to make conversation with me, but I could hear the strain in her voice. I knew it had to do with the test I was in for, how young I was, and how young my children were. You could see it on the faces of all the nurses as I left. As they all wished me good luck. When I left the blood center I remember coming to a traffic light. I sat there waiting for the light to turn green. I remember I actually said to God, that he” owed me.” (Funny now that I think about that) He had allowed my children to become ill and I was needed to take care of them. Hubby had to work and there was no one around who could take over what I had to do for my children. “Remember,” I said, “the numbers on the ovarian cancer test were to be very low and the scores on the bar exam were to be high.” Yep, those were my exact words. You know, as soon as I did that, I was no longer angry. I actually felt this weight lift off my shoulders. There was a huge sense of relief and calm in my soul. That anger never came back.  I also knew that everything was going to be fine, as far as my health was concerned. The boys we had to wait, work hard, and fight with all our might. But you know what; I knew at that moment, if I hadn’t realized it before, that I was definitely up to the task.
So, what is the point of the story? Just that it’s OK. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to get frustrated, furious and overwhelmed at times. It’s OK to be human. But, most of all I don’t think God minds if you are mad at him/her. Maybe that was the lesson he was trying to teach me that day on Yom Kippur so many years ago. God has sent me many messages over the years. I think that that day he was trying to teach me that the road that you take, whether less traveled or conventional, has more to do with how you handle the situation and how it can make you a better person. It is the journey. One I am still on.

Until next time,
Elise