Book Review: Beyond Rain Man by Anne K. Ross

beyond rain man

When my son was first diagnosed with autism nine years ago, I went to my local bookstore in search of help. I was looking for books that would tell me how to deal with the sensory eating issues, the grocery store meltdowns, the head banging incidents that left dozens of holes in our drywall. I wanted to know how to get my son to talk, to make friends, to play with toys instead of spending hours staring at a piece of string.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I didn’t need an instructional manual. I needed to know that I was not alone, that there were people out there who knew what I was going through as the parent of a child with autism, and above all, that my family and I would survive. We would figure out all of those things that I was so desperately looking for, and we would, in time, adjust to our new version of reality.

While I was enduring this phase of post-diagnostic angst, psychologist Anne K. Ross was going through experiences that she would later capture in the pages of a wonderful book. Beyond Rain Man tells the story of a woman who, having devoted her life to helping children with developmental disabilities, was thrown for a loop when her son was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

With compelling bravery, the author tells the story of her son’s childhood. She describes his struggles, the tears and the triumphs, and the ups and downs of the relationships within her family. As an autism parent, I can relate to so many of the stories Anne tells in her book: the impact of her son’s Aspergers on his younger brother, the challenges of keeping a marriage healthy when there’s so much going on, and the endless concerns about the future.

I do not feel as if I read a book. I feel as if I sat on a couch chatting with the author over a cup of coffee, learning about her experiences and how she and her family got through them.

If time travel was a thing, I would toss a copy of Beyond Rain Man to that earlier version of myself who was desperately searching bookstores for answers. I would make the book magically appear in front of her, and I would tell her that this is the book she needs to make her feel less alone and more hopeful.

Kirsten Doyle was given a copy of “Beyond Rain Man: What One Psychologist Learned Raising A Son On The Autism Spectrum” by Anne K. Ross, in exchange for an honest review.


9 Rules Of Parenting That I Don’t Follow


1. Don’t let your child have more than 30 minutes of TV or computer time a day

My kids probably get 30 minutes of screen time just before they leave for school in the mornings. Contrary to what we keep hearing, their brains are not turning to mush and they don’t live in a catatonic zombie-like state. They are bright and energetic, there is nothing wrong with their motor skills or my neurotypical child’s social skills, and the games that my autism boy plays have a noticeable positive impact on his speech.

2. Don’t feed your kids processed food

Whoever made this rule probably didn’t have picky eaters. Like most parents, I try to feed my kids a healthy balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and all of the right nutrients. Some of the food they eat regularly is processed, and I am unapologetic. If I were to eliminate all processed foods, my younger son would start to look like a starving refugee. The kids will grow out of the processed food and into “real” food – I am already seeing this with my older son, who used to eat nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches with processed cheese.

3. Don’t ever yell at your kids

According to The Experts, yelling at your kids is ineffective and psychologically harmful. Apparently, talking to them softly will cause them to stop what they are doing and listen to you. That has got to be the biggest joke of the century. There are times when yelling is the only effective way of getting them to stop whatever chaos they’re causing. Do I constantly yell at them all day, every day? No, and if I did I would deserve a slap upside the head. But the occasional bout of yelling in frustration is not leading my kids to a lifetime of therapy. They know I love them, because I tell them all the time.

4. Don’t expose your kids to germs

I’m not stupid about germs. I’m not going to dump my kids into the middle of a crowd of tuberculosis patients. I make them wash their hands before meals and after using the washroom. They are expected to maintain acceptable standards of hygiene. But I believe that there is such a thing as too much cleanliness. If my kids touch an unsterilized surface like the handle of a shopping cart, I’m not going to go to war using a bottle of hand sanitizer. I don’t keep them away from places “just in case” someone has a cold. They are strong, healthy kids who rarely get sick.

5. Sit down at the table and have your dinner as a family

I’ve read the statistics: families that eat dinner together at a dining room table are less dysfunctional and more connected. The first problem with that is that we don’t actually have a dining room table. The second problem is that getting the autism boy to sit down for an entire meal is a bit of a challenge. Even in restaurants, he has to get up and wander around from time to time. Our family is admittedly a little bit dysfunctional (show me a family that isn’t), but we are highly connected with one another.

6. Send your kids to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends

I have nights when I’m absolutely exhausted, and I have other nights when I’m too wired up to even think of sleep. My kids are the same. They don’t get tired at the same time every night, so they don’t go to bed at the same time every night. Generally, I try to make sure they’re in bed by 8:30 during the week, but if it turns out to be 9:00 from time to time, it’s not end of the world. Not only that – they are allowed to stay up later on weekends.

7. Treat both of your children equally

I have one son, aged 10, who has autism. He doesn’t talk much and he struggles with social interactions. I have another son, aged 8, who is neurotypical. He is outgoing and talkative. The boys are very, very different from one another. They have different capabilities, different levels of cognitive functioning, and different needs. I love them both with all of my heart, but they have to be treated differently, because they are different people.

8. Always put your kids’ needs ahead of your own

If one of my kids is cold, I will give him my jacket. I make sure my boys are fed before I eat anything myself. If they are sick or scared in the middle of the night, I gladly sacrifice my own sleep so I can comfort them. My heart bursts with love for them, and I live to make them happy and take care of them. Sometimes, though, I have to think of myself first. I have to tune them out to do my own thing, or I have to go for a run before I take them to a park. Because sometimes, if I don’t take care of myself, I am too burned out to take care of anyone else.

9. Don’t let your kids do dangerous things

Look, I’m not going to buy my 8-year-old a Harley Davidson or encourage him to go bungee jumping. But if he’s doing something daring on the playground or riding his bike too fast around our cul-de-sac, I’m not going to stop him. If he falls, he falls. He might get a grazed knee or a bump on the head. If that happens, he’ll get First Aid and the appropriate amount of sympathy, and he will have learned something about what he is physically able to do. I’d rather let my boys test their limits while I’m around to watch, instead of restricting them and forcing them to experiment without proper supervision.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


My Life According To Cars


The men in my life with the Soccer Mom car

The men in my life with the Soccer Mom car

In 26 years of driving, I have had five vehicles, and each of them has represented a different phase of my life.

My first car was a clapped out old Renault. It took me through my young-and-stupid student years and the first few years of my working life. It wasn’t sleek and shiny like some of my friends’ cars, but it had a great deal of character and it was surprisingly reliable for such an old car. Its decline coincided with the retirement of my mechanic: when his replacement took over, my car started leaving the repair shop with new problems. When I made it onto the afternoon traffic report for blocking a lane of a major road, I decided to sell the car. A co-worker purchased it, fully aware of all of the problems, and restored it. As far as I know, it’s still on the road.

With the Renault gone, I bought my first brand new car – a sexy, bright red Opel Corsa. That was my Single Working Girl car, purchased when I was earning a good salary but had only myself and a cat to take care of. It was the car of someone who is a professional, but who is still young enough to be a little bit adventurous. When I left the country in 2000, my parents bought the car from me. They eventually sold it to a family friend, who is still zooming around in it.

When I came to Canada, I got the Desperate Newcomer car. What I really wanted was to buy a new Pontiac that I had seen, but the dealership wouldn’t sell it to me because I hadn’t been in the country long enough to establish a credit rating. I needed a car, but no-one, it seemed, was willing to sell me one. It didn’t matter that I had a good salary and no debt. Apparently, that somehow made me more of a risk. Eventually, I found a dealer who was willing to lease me a Chevrolet Cavalier. It was an OK car, but I was a little peeved that I had to just take what I could get instead of being able to choose.

The lease on the Chev expired when George was about a month old. When I returned it to the dealership, I discovered that the dealer had actually given me a very raw deal. It wasn’t really surprising – as a newcomer to Canada with no social support system, I had been a very easy target. It meant that I had to pay the dealer a lot of money when I returned the car (and yes, buying it at that point would have been prohibitively expensive). Because of that and the fact that I was living on maternity leave benefits (translation: half of my regular salary), I had no money to put into a new car.

My mother-in-law came to the rescue by giving me the old Dodge van that had belonged to my father-in-law. He had been dead for seven months, so he no longer needed it. The thing was just sitting in the garage. I accepted the car gratefully, knowing that it was on its last legs. It got me from A to B, and since I was on maternity leave, I didn’t have to worry about whether it would survive daily commutes of an hour each way.

That was my New Mom car, and although I only drove it for a few months, I have many happy memories of it. I liked the idea of driving my father-in-law’s car. I had been very close to him, and felt that he would approve of me using his car. Almost every day, I would buckle my new baby into his infant carrier, and we would go off in the van to the mall, the bookstore, the coffee shop, or a park. I had some wonderful bonding time with him, and the old Dodge had a big part in that.

About two months before George’s first birthday, the Dodge shuffled off whatever mortal coil a car can possibly have, and I had to buy another vehicle. My husband and I looked at several used cars, and picked out a Chevy Venture van that was just a few months old and had only been used for demo purposes. Getting a minivan launched me into the Soccer Mom category. It doesn’t matter that I got the van when my son wasn’t old enough to walk, let alone kick a ball. If you’re a mom and you have a minivan, you are a Soccer Mom.

We still have the Soccer Mom van, and it  has seen us through ten years of family life. Since getting it, the size of our family has grown by one. Kids have graduated from infant carriers to baby seats to high-back boosters to bum-only boosters to no boosters. We have driven our children to daycare, to Kindergarten and to grade school. We have taken business trips and gone on vacations, and covered many, many miles.

The Soccer Mom van is now a Soccer Mom rust bucket. One of the doors sticks when you open it, and neither of the front windows will open. Bits and pieces keep having to be replaced to keep the thing going, and the time is coming when we will have no choice but to replace the entire car. We will have to start seeing who has a good – and cheap – car for sale.

Our next car will the the Fraught Mom-Of-Teens car. Whatever make, model and colour we get, it will see us through more of the exciting journey of family life.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy. Photo credit to the author.


2013: Memorable Moments

With just a few days left in 2013, this seems like a good time for me to take a look at some highlights of the last twelve months. The word “highlights” is a bit of a misnomer, though – a large portion of the year was filled with the most mind-bending stress. To be completely honest, I am ready for the year to be done. I am ready to wake up on January 1, 2014 looking forward to a year of new beginnings.

Not a lot happened in the first three months of the year. I was working overtime on a massive project, so for a while I didn’t really have a life. From time to time I went running, and that was going great until the day I gave myself an injury by doing a long run at race pace on icy sidewalks. As far as common sense goes, that was not one of my shining moments. I had to pull out of a half-marathon that I had registered for – not the greatest start to my season.

In April I ran a ten-mile race that can only be described as my worst race ever. It took place on a golf course, which was very scenic but had a scary number of hills. If the weather had been nice it might not have been so bad, but it was cold and windy, and it was raining. Instead of feeling down about my dismal finishing time, though, I was surprisingly upbeat. I had run this brutally hard race in terrible weather, and I had crossed the finish line. It was a testament to my determination. The hard-earned finisher’s medal I got that day is one of my favourites, just because of how hard I had to work to earn it.


In May, my life kind of spiralled out of control a little. Things were going reasonably well at the time: my running was back on track and my big project was a whisker away from being closed after a successful implementation. A few days from the end of that month, I got the shock of my life when I was called into a little office in the HR department and informed that I no longer had a job. I had seen it coming – much change was afoot at my place of work and they had been downsizing people for a while.

Something else happened in May that shook my foundations quite badly. One of my best friends, who I had known for seventeen years, passed away after a lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis. Fran was just shy of her 41st birthday when she died, and years of knowing that I would in all likelihood lose her did not make it easier when it happened. I have so memories that include Fran, including her first race and my wedding. Seven months on, I’m still having trouble adapting to a world that she no longer inhabits.


In June, my family and I went away to Niagara Falls for a few days. It was a break I desperately needed, and it included the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon. I had a fantastic race – although it was not my best-ever performance, my finishing time was respectable enough. The race was a perfect opportunity for me to run off a bit of stress.

July kind of passed without me noticing. I was worn out from stress and grief, and I was fighting what felt like a losing battle with depression. I applied for jobs without getting any responses, and my spirits sank lower and lower with each passing day. Ultimately, what got me through was running.

August started off on a note of terrible tragedy, when a friend’s seven-year-old son drowned in a river. He hung on in hospital for a couple of days, but in the end, his mother had to make the heartbreaking decision to let him go. I felt the kind of sadness that threatens to engulf you, like a heavy blanket that suffocates. I started worrying a lot – about my kids, about the twists and turns of fate that we have no control over, about friendship and whether I was doing enough for the people in my life, including the bereaved mother.



In September, I was supposed to travel to Ottawa to take part in the Army Run, a majestic half-marathon in the nation’s capital city. Due to illness and circumstance, the trip had to be canceled at the last minute. The disappointment was excruciating. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal, especially when looked at beside all of the other stuff that had been going on, but at that point my coping skills had been eroded to the point of nothingness. I turned to my trusty method of stress relief and threw myself into my running.

A month later, my training paid off when I ran my main race of the season: the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half-marathon. For the fifth consecutive year, I ran the race to raise funds for the Geneva Centre for Autism. Inspired by my son George, I ran my way to a personal best time. It was a truly fantastic race, and that day marks the point at which I finally started to claw my way back from the terrible depression that I had been going through.


In November I signed up for a novel-writing challenge called NaNoWriMo. I decided that what I really needed was a goal, and writing a book in thirty days seemed like a reasonable one. Every day when I woke up, I sat at my laptop and hammered out two thousand words, and by the time the end of November rolled around, I had a completed manuscript of almost 60,000 words. It was a first draft, meaning I would need to do a whole lot of work to make it fit for public consumption, but I had done it. That achievement did wonders for my confidence.

December has, for the most part, been kind to me. Yes, we had a pesky ice storm that cut out power for a few days and left a mess of fallen trees and broken branches all over the neighbourhood, but we got through it. Although there was the obligatory family drama, we enjoyed Christmas. We even got a picture of Santa that involved a lot of fun and no autism meltdowns.

SensitiveSanta2013 11865

Over the next few days, I will be setting some goals for 2014. I have lofty plans that include running a 30K race and getting my book published. For now, though, I am enjoying time with my family, and in spite of the more stressful things that have happened this year, I am feeling grateful for what I have.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-marathon picture: Photo credit for all other images: Kirsten Doyle.



Holiday Season Survival Tips For Autism Families

2012-12-24 11.58.18

We have reached the time of year when Christmas decorations come out and people start talking about how much Christmas shopping they have left to do. In my case, I still have to do 100% of my Christmas shopping left to do. That percentage is not likely to change until about a week before Christmas.

Christmas also means spending time with people, going to different events, making sure the Santa picture gets taken – all of that good stuff that gets a little bit overwhelming. If it’s overwhelming for me, I cannot imagine what it must be like for a child who has autism. And so I asked a group of autism parents what measures they take to ensure that they – and their kids – get through the holiday season intact. Here are their responses.

* Schedule everything out. Avoid scheduling too much for one day, and ensure that the schedule includes breaks.

* Do a visual schedule and/or social story for each day that something is happening.

* Tie a knot in the end of the rope and hang on!

* Do what works for your family and don’t compare your celebrations to anyone else’s. Remember that all those Pinterest and Facebook pictures are snapshots of one posed instant and do not mean that everyone else has their act together. Dare to send a Christmas picture of your kids pulling each other’s Santa hats off and poking each other with candy canes.

* Do not let your relatives turn the holiday gathering into an annual progress/lack-of-progress check on your autie. Refuse to be quizzed and just pour another round of drinks.

* Appreciate the fact that your autie doesn’t care about the presents. Know that you’re giving him plenty that can’t be wrapped up — like permission to play Raffi’s Christmas album 24/7 all December. Priceless.

* Go at your kid’s speed. When it’s time to call it quits, call it quits, even if that means it takes three days to open Christmas presents.

* Try to minimize sensory input to avoid meltdowns.

* Have a quiet room your autie can retreat to when everything gets overwhelming.

* Do not insist that your autie open all of his presents at once. Let them set the pace.

* Limit the number of parties you go to with your autie. Make arrangements to leave early if you need to.

* Bring his favorite food with you, so he has something to eat if he can’t tolerate any of the party foods.

* Ask family members to remove all those wire and plastic pieces from the packaging of gifts they are giving to your child. That way, your child can just open the present and take it out.

* Take two cars if possible, so when the autie is ready to go, one parent can stay with the other kids.

* Bring familiar stuff, especially if festivities will be in an unfamiliar place. That could be a toy, or a favourite cup or plate to use.

* Don’t feel guilty about not having a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Have a Christmas your kid will enjoy, not what everyone else thinks it should be. Christmas is for kids including ours.

* Don’t be afraid to stand up for your child “just because it’s the holiday”. You and your child shouldn’t have to put up with someone’s crap just because you only see them on the holidays.

* Ask people to come to you. Other people may not have “autism friendly” houses, so it may be easier to host everything at your house. This works better for small families.

* If you have a large family, it might be easier to let someone else host the festivities. That way, you and your autie can leave if things get overwhelming, which is easier than kicking guests out of your house.

* If you have one of those families that doesn’t get along, don’t feel bad about not spending Christmas with them. Stress is not good for our kids.

If you have any tips of your own, please add them in the comments!

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, which input from some amazing autism parents.


Magical Moments


Yesterday’s post was all about the poor hand that life has been dealing me lately. I feel as if the Universe read my post and decided to make some recompense, because today has been absolutely amazing.

It started with a run early this morning – a run that, funnily enough, I was a hair’s breath away from bailing on. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I woke up feeling – to borrow a wonderful phrase from a book I read – rough as a badger’s arse. I certainly didn’t feel up to running for 18km. But I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it. I would go through the entire day feeling a sense of incompleteness that would only be satisfied by running.

So I dragged my badger’s arse out of bed, blearily had some coffee and peanut butter toast, and hit the road. As soon as I started running, I felt better – helped no doubt by the perfect autumn weather. I decided to just enjoy the run without caring about my pace, and perhaps because of that, I clocked one of my best-ever times for a run of that distance – 1:59:43 for 18.23km. My legs were killing me, but I felt absolutely fantastic. I’d lost quite a bit of confidence in my running in recent weeks, and this run was just what I needed to restore some of that.

Later on, when I was showered and fed, I lay on my bed with my husband watching TV. Usually this doesn’t last for very long: I tend to be all antsy and wanting to get up and get things done, but today I was content to just relax. My husband and I sat there for ages, drinking cups of coffee and chatting about the contestants on The Voice, which we both enjoy watching. Neither of us was in any rush to go anywhere or do anything. We were content to just be with each other. With all the stress that’s been going on lately, there has been some inevitable discord, but today our frames of mind were in perfect harmony.

Eventually, we got up because the kids wanted us to put up their bouncy castle in the backyard. This involved first finding the bouncy castle, which hadn’t been used since March. After some rooting around in the garage and the garden shed, we located it. Miraculously, we found the motor in the same box, and then we were in business. For the next hour or so, the kids happily bounced around, and I basked in the sound of their laughter.

It’s the best sound in the entire world. How could I not be happy?

Since this morning, there has been a series of magical moments strung together to make a perfect day. It is impossible to dwell on the negative on days like this. Instead, I find it very easy to feel truly grateful for all of the richness in my life.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Ali Smiles 🙂. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


The First Decade

Today my son George is ten years old. There are no words to say how I feel, so I made this video instead.

A Decade Of George

This is an original video created by Kirsten Doyle. Music written and produced by Eric VonHunnius.



Part Of The Family


When my father-in-law died a little more than ten years ago, things were a little overwhelming. I was almost four months pregnant with my older son and my brain was in a fog. On top of that, I found myself meeting most of my husband’s extended family for the first time, en masse, at the funeral.

In most families, this would mean a few cousins, uncles and aunts, and maybe the odd niece or nephew. But while my husband’s immediate family is small (he is one of two boys), there are several aunts and uncles, and dozens of first, second and third cousins, plus their respective husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. There are so many of them that it took several weddings, funerals and christenings before I could remember all of their names.

At this particular gathering – my father-in-law’s funeral – it was all too much. Don’t get me wrong, my husband’s family are lovely people, as are their families. But in my pregnant, emotional state, it was overwhelming to meet so many new people at an already stressful event, and to try and fit in as the newest member-by-marriage of the family.

This was exacerbated by the fact that we also announced my pregnancy to most of the family that day.

You know how it goes. “Hi, I’m Kirsten. By the way, I’m popping out a baby a few months from now.”

OK, it wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the picture.

At the post-funeral shindig at my mother-in-law’s house, the alcohol flowed freely. This is an Irish family, after all. You can’t give a beloved Irish patriarch a decent send-off without drinking a few toasts in celebration of his life. I so badly wanted to grab a bottle of red and retreat to the nearest corner, but I didn’t think my unborn child would appreciate that. I halfheartedly drank some orange juice and then wandered through the crowds to the dining room, where the food had been laid out. I might not have been able to drink, but I could sure as hell eat. As soon as the morning sickness wore off, there was no end to my appetite.

The food looked lovely. My mother-in-law and her sisters had made some appetizers and heated up lasagna, and there was food that looked as if it had come straight from the catalog for Subway sandwich platters – which wouldn’t have been a bad idea, given the number of people there.

Sadly though, I couldn’t eat it. In spite of the variety, the beautiful presentation, and the fact that the table was virtually collapsing under the weight of all the platters and salad bowls and casserole dishes, there was absolutely nothing there that I wanted to eat. Contrarily, all I wanted was Taco Bell, which was strange because when I was in a non-pregnant state, Taco Bell food had always made me gag.

In spite of the snow, I went outside. There was nothing else for me to do. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat, and I was all peopled out. Standing by myself in the snow was just what I needed.

The crisp cold air must have done something to clear my head, because after a few minutes, I suddenly felt OK. I went back inside, ate some of the food that just minutes before had turned my stomach, and spent time with the family, my family, the village who would become a part of raising my child.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy.

Photo credit to ellieward90. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


The Challenges Of Autism Family Vacations


It’s a word that brings smiles of anticipation to most families, but strikes fear into the hearts of autism parents everywhere.


For your average garden-variety family, a vacation is a chance to get away from the stresses of work and school, to travel to a scenic place, and to do things that are exciting and different. For your average autism family, a vacation is a chance to get away from the comforting familiarity of work and school, to travel to an unfamiliar place full of strangers, and to try desperately to do the same things you do at home, while cramming your entire family into a single hotel room.

For autism families, vacations are not vacations. Vacations are stressful ordeals that leave parents more worn out than if they had simply stayed at home.

But still, we do it. We put ourselves and our kids through the angst of disrupted routines, unknown places and new experiences, because we feel that it is good for our kids. We recognize that we will never be able to enjoy a vacation away if we don’t at least try. And for some of us, it gets easier. Maybe our kids gradually get used to the idea of going away, or maybe us parents get better at figuring out ways to make it work.

The key to what I very loosely call my own “success” is in the planning. Am I packing enough shirts with horizontal stripes? Do I have an extra hat just in case my son loses the one he has? Do we have the right Lego pieces and Mr. Potato Head parts? Spare batteries for the Leap Pad? The pillow and comforter? The DVDs and something to play them on? Am I catering to the needs of my typical son as well as my son with autism?

Then there’s the logistics of the trip itself. We plan what to bring in the car for the drive. We call the hotel to arrange special check-in arrangements so my son doesn’t have to spend too much time in a loud, brightly lit lobby in an unfamiliar place. We call a gazillion restaurants to get a sense of whether they are suitable environments for a child with autism who is already overwhelmed.

By the time we actually get there, we’re all exhausted and cranky, and not really in a vacation kind of mindset.

My dream is to have a family vacation that actually feels like a vacation, and I am starting to think in terms of all-inclusive vacation deals like the ones offered by Club Med. It wouldn’t take all the vacation stress away, but it would at least mean that some of the planning was taken care of.

And if that means that we can truly enjoy a vacation together as a family, and come home feeling refreshed and relaxed, I’ll take it.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy. Photo credit to the author.


When Moms Take Flight


When I became first became a mother, I had the same experience that almost all first-time moms go through: all sense of self went completely out of the window. I was no longer a person in my own right, I was Somebody’s Mom, and I had to devote every waking hour – and pretty much all of my sleeping hours – to the care and well-being of that Somebody.

Two years later, I was Mom to not just one, but two Somebodies. A year after that, my firstborn was diagnosed with autism, and I joined the exclusive club of special needs parents.

As I became more and more immersed in my role as a parent, my world started to get smaller and smaller. I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for my job and the friends I made on the Internet, I would have gone completely around the bend.

My world started to expand a little when I started running. That at least gave me some time to myself, even though a nagging sense of guilt always went running with me. For a short period of time, I even got some running friends, but that didn’t work out. It wasn’t because of them – they were absolutely lovely people – but I was never able to go running at the same time as them. So that was that.

A couple of years ago, someone – possibly a co-worker – asked me what my idea of ultimate luxury was. With no hesitation, I replied, “24 hours by myself in a hotel room with wine, a good book, a hot tub and a TV.” I had this dream of watching whatever shows I wanted, spending time in the hot tub with wine and a book, and then drifting into a deep contented sleep. I fantasized about sleeping through the night and staying in bed for as long as I wanted to in the morning.

I felt terrible about actually wanting this. I mean, my wildest dreams involved being away  from my family. What kind of mother was I? Of course, the idea of going away without my kids was out of the question. I did go on two solo trips to South Africa, but since they were both for deaths in the family, they didn’t really count as “me time”.

About five months ago, something really strange happened. I left my husband and kids at home and went away for a weekend. There was no emergency. No-one had died. I didn’t have to work. I went away for the bizarre reason that I wanted to.

For the whole weekend, I waited for the guilt to kick in. I expected a sudden onslaught of angst. I resigned myself to the fact that sooner or later, I was going to feel like the worst mother in the world for abandoning my family.

Except that this didn’t happen.

To put it bluntly, my weekend was bloody fabulous. It involved nice dinners, parties, and wine-tasting in Niagara. I didn’t catch up on my sleep deficit, because I was too busy meeting new friends and partying harder than I have in at least 20 years. I checked in with the home base a couple of times, and knowing that everyone was still alive and the house was still standing, I didn’t worry about a thing.

I  am not too sure exactly why I felt such freedom to just enjoy myself, but I suspect that I had reached a point of severe burnout. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, taking some time out for myself became a matter of survival. For several years, I had been burning the candle at both ends, working long hours at work, taking care of the family, helping my husband with his business, making sure the bills were paid. I was getting up at five in the morning because that was the only time I could go running. Frequently, I had to choose between sleep and exercise.

And I got to a point of critical mass, where I just couldn’t take any more without a break.

Here’s the incredible thing: the world kept on turning. When I got home at the end of the weekend, the kids were fed and happy and reasonably clean. The house was only marginally untidier than usual. Most importantly, everybody was happy. In retrospect, there is every possibility that my family had needed a break from me as much as I had needed a break from them. After all, when life starts to overwhelm me, I can get a little intense and difficult to live with.

Being away for that weekend gave me some much-needed perspective. I realized that yes, my husband and kids do need me and love me, but they can also survive without me from time to time. I came back with renewed energy, and frankly, my husband and kids benefited from having time together without me. This experience was good for all of us.

My next break is coming up in about a month, when I head out of town to go on a retreat for special needs moms. I cannot wait to go. And I cannot wait to come back, better and stronger for my family.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)