By Shannon Des Roches Rosa, senior editor at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.
Every Thursday afternoon I have a panic attack.
My three children, including my autistic son, have tightly scheduled appointments, practices and playdates in various, far-flung locations. Their drop-off times leave little room for error much less the occasional traffic-blocking train. If my sixth-grade son’s bus is late, if my high school daughter forgets her soccer cleats, if my fourth-grade daughter’s best friend’s mother cannot make our five-minute pick up window, it all falls apart.
Sometimes I hate Thursdays.
But I also love Thursdays.
If my clockwork schedule clicks into place–and it nearly always does–all three of my children are delivered to people and places that make them radiantly happy. My high-schooler gets focused soccer coaching that channels her rule-based intensity into skills, success and pride. My autistic son spends time with his favorite person in the world: a former linebacker of a therapist whose workout takes advantage of my son's physical strength, builds his stamina and plays to his excellent ability to understand spoken language while not requiring him to perform the more arduous task of producing it. My eight-year-old girl and her soul mate friend-who-is-a-boy tap into each other’s wild creativity to build countless fantasy worlds both on paper and in the Lego-unleashed universe of Minecraft.
My children spend Thursday afternoons as contented beings which fulfills one of my primary goals as a parent. But what I love most about Thursdays, selfishly, are the windows this tricky schedule creates. Three windows, to be exact, that give me precious time alone with each of my children.
Thursday is an early pick-up day at school for my youngest, which means we get to share library or ice cream time before I pick up the other kids. Sometimes she allows me a sneak peek into a new story or world that will form fully later that afternoon when her play date starts and her fiery, magical partnership re-commences.
My son and I get a long drive home with just each other after dropping off his sisters. We sing together while I marvel at his perfect pitch and the ever-longer songs he sings independently. I often wonder what his increasing ability to string melodic words together might mean for his long-term spoken language abilities.
And I particularly savor the final hauling leg of the afternoon, when it's just me and the coltish, deeply thoughtful young woman who is my eldest. She still sits in the spot behind the passenger seat (where her child self sat) and chats with me about her cares, worries and obsessions. At times, I wonder if on a future Thursday, she may decide that I don’t understand her and may not want to be alone with me at all. She embodies how fleeting my time with my children is—and how precious as well. I sometimes am asked how I manage to balance my attention between my children. The implication is generally that, due to my son’s autism, the girls are getting short-changed. And I can see how schedules like our Thursdays might be perceived as a bit of overcompensation. But autism doesn’t change my fundamental connections with my children—different as all three of them are. It certainly doesn't change how much I love my son and want to spend time with him. And it doesn’t change how much I love and want to spend time with his sisters.
Have you had trouble juggling your kids’ needs? Post a comment and tell us about it here!
A self-described writer/editor/parent/geek, Shannon Des Roches Rosa pens a personal blog, Squidalicious, and is a contributing editor at BlogHer.com. She also co-edited Thinking Person’s Guide To Autism, available on amazon.com.