One thing that parents of special needs kids are told over and over again is to focus on self care. If we do not care for ourselves we cannot adequately care for our children. You know the directions they give you when you are flying, to put the air mask on yourself first and then on your child? Right, the same idea applies in real life. Yet, it doesn’t. When you have a child with special needs self care usually goes right out the window. We can go for days without taking a shower or find ourselves reheating the same cup of coffee over and over again because we never get a chance to drink it when it is hot. Our houses are usually sensory friendly and would make an OT proud, but they often look like a bomb has just gone off.
Robert and I staggered zombie like through the first few years of Boo’s life. He did not sleep and had to be watched constantly. He had a newborn baby sister that needed our care. It was not uncommon for me to doze off while sitting a stop signs only to jerk awake again when the traffic began to move. I am amazed neither of us had an accident during those years. We got through it, but I am not really certain how.
There are few things that have sustained me over the years. I have been a long distance runner since the mid 1980s. I run marathons and ultra marathons. This means that I train at crazy times of the day and night, or often while Boo is in class or therapy. I may be flat out exhausted at the start of a run but I always feel better when I am finished. Another helpful thing is piano. I have been playing the piano since I was a kid. A few years ago my daughter began taking lessons. I really liked her teacher so I began taking lessons again, too. It was glorious. I can take all of the good, the bad and the ugly emotions I have and pour them into my music. It is a perfect release. Not long after I began taking lessons Robert started, too. He had no musical background but fell in love with it as quickly as I had. Though neither of us has as much time to practice as we like, it is a wonderful release from the tensions of the day.
My latest foray into self care was going to the movies. I probably go the movies about 3 times every 5 or 6 years. I don’t sit still well, it can be hard to find care for Boo Bear, and movies are expensive. Then, Wonder Woman came to the theaters. Action movies are really not my genre, but I was intrigued by a movie that was made by a woman and starred strong, powerful females. Besides, all of my girl friends were flocking to see it. So, I did something completely out of character; I called up my friend Amanda and asked her to go see the movie with me. She readily agreed and off we went. Hands down, we loved it. Afterwards, we went out to dinner (also very unusual for me) and spent 2 hours talking about the movie. We decided we had to go back the next weekend and take Mouse and her girlfriend. When I got home I told Robert I could not remember the last time I had had so much fun, or had gone out for movie and a dinner. He gave me a blank look and said, “You never go out for out for a movie and dinner.” Point well taken, he was right. So, the very next weekend Amanda and I took the girls out to dinner and to the movie. There was only one very intense scene where Mouse ended up in my lap but other than that, the girls thought the movie was “epic”.
Honestly, when Boo was little I could not imagine getting away for 4 hours to enjoy a movie and dinner with a friend. I simply did not have the time or the resources. Now that he is 15, I am beginning to get a glimmer of what people in the outside world like to do. These are ordinary things, like meeting a friend for coffee, or catching dinner and a show. But, these are things I could not dreamed of doing a few years ago.
So, self care is important and something we are guilty of shoving to the back burner. We push and fight and scramble to help our kids have the best resources and the happiest most productive lives possible and in this rush we forget our spouses and we forget ourselves. In another post I will talk about spouses and how to keep a marriage afloat in the midst of ASD, but not today. Today, I just want you to think of something that you would like to do for yourself. It could be something as simple as painting your nails or taking a bubble bath. It could be going to see a new movie with a friend. It could be a lot of things. But, think of something that you can do that is just for you. This is not selfish, this is necessary. By doing this you will be a happier person and a better parent.