This is NOT humblebragging. Not, not not.
It is a genuine outpouring of distress over the state of parenting in this world that anyone - ANYONE - would tell me, "Oh my gosh, you're such a hero!" because they found out I have a kid with autism. Yet this weekend, while transacting some business with a local vendor, that's exactly what happened. Its not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last, but its damn awkward. I have found that constantly saying "Oh, not, that's not true," just results in more fervent assertions regarding my possible elevation to sainthood, so as a general rule now I just redirect the conversation. "Say, did you hear about the kid in Kyrgyzstan that got bubonic plague?"
Here's a little newsflash for you, folks: Parenting a kid with autism doesn't make me a hero to anyone except perhaps my kid -- but only in the way that every parent is a hero to their kids. My ex is their hero. My husband is their hero. We are the adults they look up to and depend on. But that's really as far as the hero title goes.
In the grand scheme of Things We May Have to Deal With in Life, Race Car Man's fairly-high-functioning autism falls way down there with ingrown toenails, years when I have to send a check in with my 1040 instead of checking the IRS site daily for my refund status and the inconvenience of needing to pick up after three dogs everytime we want to play in the yard. It isn't what I planned, but it isn't really all that bad.
What was really under my skin about the incident that prompted this post is that the person who was dishing all the praise was doing so because we were talking about school and I described the program my son attends and mentioned communicating with his teacher daily via a notebook that comes home. He thought it was just amazing that I was actually engaged with my son's teacher.
Hardly. Its what parents DO - or at least, its one of the commonly accepted responsibilities of parenting.
And this is really why I am upset, and where I become really judgemental.
There are parents who do not care how their child is doing in school. There are parents who do not attend parent-teacher conferences or back-to-school nights. There are parents of children with special needs that drop their kids off at school in the morning and feel that everything that happens beyond that point is the school's job & problem.
When my daughter started kindergarten she had already been evaluated for an IEP and thus was placed in a special program in our district - an intervention classroom, for kids who have behavioral issues. Open house night arrives and my ex and I arrive fifteen minutes early, with bells on, excited to see where our precious girl is going to be attending school for the first time, eager to meet her teacher and classroom assistants, eager to be a part of the education of our child.
We walked into the door of the portable to find the teacher and her aide staring at us with shocked expressions. "PARENTS! We have PARENTS!" the teacher exclaimed.
"You mean...we're first?"
"No, you're the first parents I can remember having in a long time."
Pause a moment and let that sink in.
A classroom for children with special needs. And no parent interested enough in the well-being of their son or daughter to bother meeting the teacher, seeing the classroom, hearing about curriculum and what methods will be used to address behavioral issues.
Our being there didn't make us good parents. It made us ordinary parents, with ordinary care and concern about our baby girl. The parents who were not there, they are NOT, I hope, ordinary. I hope they are the smallest percentage of a minute fringe...and I fear they are not.
When people speak of "heroic" parenting, my thoughts go to parents who have it far more difficult than I. Parents of children who will never be able to care for themselves. Parents who have lived through devastating illnesses, terrible losses. Parents who have dealt with extremes I cannot imagine. And I suspect that most of those parents would very firmly deny any sense of their own lives as being heroic.
The thought that I inhabit a world where the simple act of caring for my children and placing importance on their needs constitutes anything other than the expected acts of a loving parent is more than disturbing. It is heartbreaking.