I think that parenting has a certain element of doubt inherent in it no matter what; there’s always a niggling “Was this the right decision?” undertone to everything, because being tasked with the care and feeding of another human being is heavy business. So you live with doubt, from the very first cry, the very first decision. No matter what.
Having a kid with special needs has, for me, taken the “Is this right?” undertone and magnified it into a booming daily soundtrack. I feel less sure of my decisions, but more certain of their capacity to do damage if and when I get them wrong. Whether this is reality or just my perception, it doesn’t really even matter—it just feels like dangerous, uncharted waters. Always. Is THIS the decision that changes everything, for better or for worse? Will THIS be the thing I look back on, point at, and say “I should’ve done it differently?”
It’s maddening. I’m used to it, mostly. But it doesn’t go away.
So that’s the preface to this: I live with doubt, when it comes to Monkey. I know it, I know there’s not a lot of help for it, and I deal with it.
Furthermore: I’m not the sort of person who believes in One Right Answer or who generally feels that experts and/or celebrities know what’s right for my family.
All of that said, yesterday, I found myself rocked.
A dear friend of mine was in NYC, recently, hobnobbing at An Event. I sat in her living room yesterday and listened to her stories of things like running into Julianna Marguiles in the bathroom. And chatting with Spike Lee. Stuff like that.
“But what I want to tell you about is meeting Temple Grandin,” she said, scooting forward in her seat. Apparently it was clear that Temple was not so much into the smalltalk that this particular event was bustling with, and my friend took this as her opportunity to walk up, introduce herself, and say, “I would really like to talk to you about my friend’s son who has Asperger’s.”
According to my friend, there was instant engagement, and Temple asked her a series of questions. And then, with absolute certainty, the advice:
“Tell your friend she needs to take him out of school. If she doesn’t want to homeschool, she can hire a tutor. But tell her to get him out of there before it gets any worse.”
She also asked my friend to email her and let her know how Monkey is doing.
Now. That my friend thought to take this opportunity to put herself in front of Temple Grandin to ask for advice on my behalf, on my kid’s behalf, touches me deeply. That she was thinking of us is a testament to what a kind and generous friend she is, and I am incredibly grateful.
That Temple Grandin was willing to talk to a stranger about my kid, that she engaged and displayed real concern, I’m grateful for that, too. She didn’t have to. She’s an incredible human being and such an advocate for people on the spectrum, but she still didn’t have to care specifically about one kid she’s never met.
But the doubt. Not that I didn’t already worry, of course. Not that I hadn’t agonized over the decision to send Monkey to the middle school. Not that I think that just because Temple Grandin said so, it’s now the wrong decision. It’s just that creeping doubt. And here’s someone I admire, someone who likely understands my kid in ways I never will, even having never met him, who says no, don’t do it, it will be bad, don’t risk it.
I tell myself that everyone is different. That our decision to send him is predicated upon HIS desire to be with other kids. He wants to go. He is, perhaps, a more social creature than many on the spectrum. He has never been a loner, despite his difficulties. This is the right decision for him, for us. Because of what he wants and who he is, and we’ve fought for the supports he’ll need and if it all goes horribly wrong, we can still change plans, pull him and do something else.
But the doubt. Who in this situation gets advice from Temple Grandin and then disregards it? I do, apparently. I mean, probably. August is a long way off.
Maybe I’m the expert here, because I’m his mom. Or maybe she is, because she knows what it’s like to grow up autistic. The only problem is that there’s no definitive way to know which of us is right. It’s a gamble either way, and the chips I’m laying down are my kid.
So, yeah. Doubts. Always. Especially now.