I am constantly asked this question: Kristi, just how do you do it?
My gut reaction is to snap back with something like Do what? You following me? I swear that wasn’t me who let her shopping cart roll off and dent the side of that Range Rover. Second, I fear the is person quizzing me about my parenting and is doing so in an attempt to note what NOT to do. I imagine her wishing she had a giant invisible scratchpad to utilize, and I can’t say I can blame her. If you haven’t witnessed me threatening my kids with a hose, you honestly haven’t lived, nor truly appreciated your own behavior management skills.
Once I realize I may be receiving a compliment, I offer my staple answer. How do I do “it”? I just do. I wake up every morning and pull on my Daisy Dukes one ashy leg at a time, just like everyone else. I experience great days and horrific moments but really, who doesn’t? And if by now you are thinking I am a complete airhead, I totally understand that I often get this question due to the fact that I am raising a child with autism.
I’ve been told that I make things look easy and even look good while making things look easy. I so totally appreciate the glowing endorsements, but what I really want people to really know is that there is NOTHING special about me or my ability to dress myself (most days) simply because I am raising a special needs child. I’m just like you, really! Don’t ask me the last time I vacuumed or cooked (or bathed or brushed for that matter). Okay if this doesn’t describe you, do me a favor and keep it to yourself. In all seriousness, there is no magic formula to “succeeding” as a special needs mom. I wouldn’t even venture to say that moms like me appreciate the “little things” more than moms of neurotypical kids. Why? Because every mom, every family for that matter, experiences hurdles they must tackle. As I crawl under some of those hurdles, I know I am in the company of every mom.
Make no mistake. I am not at all suggesting that my job is a walk in the park, nor will I gloss over the horrific situations that too many special needs parents are put in on daily basis. I for one stopped reading newspaper headlines that contain the words “autism” adjacent to “parent” because the stories too often end tragically. I think my point is that I don’t want to be treated like I deserve a prize. I just want to be thought of as any other mom would be.
This being said, can you believe I find myself asking the same exact Just how? question of other moms living my same autism “dream”? How exactly do they balance parenting a child with autism (or six) while attempting to do anything else? Like peeing. Do they know something I don’t? Like the address to a closer liquor store?
Darlene Giol, a great friend of mine who also has a child on the spectrum, is worth any mom’s admiration. She is parenting a 7 year old daughter with autism and 4 year old neurotypical son. To celebrate Special Mother’s Day (yes, Special Mother’s Day!), we decided to interview one another and share it on our respective blogs. It was great fun. Enjoy, and remember that we’ll never know if you’re gleaning items for your what not to do list by reading this. We can’t see you.
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Kristi: So I hear that today is Special Mother’s Day. Happy Special Mother’s Day… I think?
Darlene: I should first say that I’m sure whomever came up with this idea had the best intentions. Personally I have mixed feelings about the use of the word special as it is. I mean, all people are special, aren’t they? We all have something about us that makes us uniquely different than anyone else in the world. As a mom of a child with autism, I don’t see myself anymore “special” than the next mom who has challenges. I have a lot of mom friends and I can’t think of one who hasn’t dealt with something that is difficult in their life. So while I appreciate the sentiment, I think I will stick to beIng just a run of the mill mommy who is doing the best job she can to raise her kids. We definitely have the hardest jobs in the world as parents and there’s nothing wrong with having a special day for that. I’m sure the good ‘ol, regular Mother’s Day has us covered.
Kristi: I agree, unless of course Special Mother’s Day suddenly grabs the attention of De Beers or Tiffany & Co. and they agree to corporate sponsorship. Okay question number two: What is the hardest part of your day and how do you deal with it?
Darlene: There’s really not just one part of my day that’s hard. It comes in waves. I would even say that some days it all seems like a breeze and I’m all “you got this girl.” I have this moment of relief like autism just left the building or something. Then a bad night of sleep and a change in teachers for the day causes your child to throw herself on the floor constantly, scream so loud the glass break alarm goes off, and repeat herself incessantly for the rest of the day. Now your anxiety level has been kicked up several notches, you have a pretty good idea of what the rest of the day has planned and you are just trying to survive until wine o’clock. Where do you struggle the most during the day, Kristi?
Kristi: You mean besides in the potty? Kidding! I really do need to hydrate better. Ok seriously, the second my kids get into the car after school my stress levels are through the roof. My “you got this girl” mood instantly turns into a “I wanna be a gone girl” one. On the other hand, I often find the hardest part to be the times they aren’t with me. This is when you’ll find me fumbling through my day trying to fit it* all in so that when they do come home, I can focus on them. Translation = go potty between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., or else.
*it = exercising (I lie), cleaning, laundry-ing, food shopping, cleaning, volunteering, writing, helping out friends, cleaning, and of course, the dreaded cleaning.
Kristi: Do you feel ever feel like you are neglecting your (other) loved ones trying to balance it all? Please say yes.
Darlene: I definitely feel like I have neglected a lot of people and a lot things that I used to love to do. I live so much in the future and worrying about what it holds for my daughter. It’s hard to be present when you are in that place so much. My husband and I don’t get a lot of time alone and when we do we are exhausted. Our son spent a lot of time when he was really little being shuffled back and forth to therapies and even participating in them to help his sister. I wish things could be different for all of them, especially our daughter. I feel like I do the best I can to make sure everyone knows how much I love them, but I wonder the impact it will have down the line. I’m so focused on getting my kid all that she needs and being the best mom I can be, that everything else seems insignificant. I’ve gotten so much better about being intentional and present. That sometimes means letting things go and not everyone can appreciate that. We have a great life together and try to make a lot of great memories together. It’s just different and sometimes a bit more complicated than people realize, but whose life isn’t, really? How are you juggling your family, friends and everything else on your plate?
Kristi: It’s a constant struggle. My real secret is that I don’t sleep. Don’t hate. At the very least, I am rarely still. Oh and I don’t watch T.V. either, with the exception of a little HGTV or Access Hollywood on the DVR (but rarely a full show). Sad, right? The truth is that I would probably be bored if I had less on my plate. I do make it a priority to carve out time for friends, which is the best recharge.
Kristi: Please tell me that you too love to hate social media.
Darlene: Some parts of social media have become necessary for my business, but aside from my obsession with photography it is a love/hate relationship. I know that we’re just watching the highlights of a life and that everyone has their struggles they aren’t posting there, but some people’s lives just look like a walk in the park. It almost feels like they have more freedom to go wherever they want and do whatever they want. There is definitely a loss of that in so many aspects of your life, when you go through what we and so many others have. Sometimes social media is a constant reminder of that, but in the real world, there are so many people dealing with way harder stuff than this.
We find ways to have a lot of fun and sometimes in comes in the form of road trips with our kids in our minivan, making PB&Js, singing songs and playing travel bingo. It’s not luxurious, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world. I do post those pictures on IG and send them through to FB, so take that highlight reel! All joking aside, I really love Instagram and all the beautiful photography I get to indulge in there. I’m just an amateur photog, but taking pictures really puts me in my happy place and gives me a creative outlet. I did one of those photo a day challenges for two years and I have to say, I really enjoyed it and it was a huge stress relief for me. What’s your beef with social media? P.S. We need to get better about taking pictures. Some crazy selfies are in order.
Kristi: Selfies- yes! Is that done on #Sundays or is that day reserved for #funday? Help! I really have no “beef,” other than the fact that I’ve realized that keeping up with social media (not to be confused with Keeping Up With The Kardashians) can be a full time job. Shit, I can’t even commit to waxing! I rely heavily on local support for my charity, so I work hard (and maybe not smart) to build Facebook engagement. Instagram has become my evening treat, because I sometimes participate in Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day. I have you to thank for turning me on to FMS, and I challenge everyone to try it! Twitter gives me a #headache, although I get that its power is immeasurable. I don’t anticipate anything I have to say will demand a worldwide audience anytime soon so I am in no huge hurry to build a Twitter following. J.R. is though. LOL!
I’m not a fan either of how social media can make one feel, but for a more ridiculous reason. We all can see what friends/followers like, share, retweet, etc. and doesn’t sit well with me when certain ones “selectively” do so. In other words if a person doesn’t note certain posts, my mind races. Did this person not approve of my “fun” or “fortune” or who I am having said fun with? I mean seriously, I have a kid with autism. Please “like” the fact that I applied mascara today! It’s not a competition, I swear! And I often don’t know who I am embarrassed for more- the person who knows everything I am up to but pretends not to, or for myself and the fact that I am even giving this a second thought. In the end, I think both parties need to understand that posts are (like you said) mere snapshots, and rarely ever reflect real life. And let’s not forget the fact that I am uber-sensitive person to begin with. Speaking of real life, what is your go to stress reliever?
Darlene: Who’s stressed? Lol! I would say my go-to stress reliever would be a good book and a coffee or a glass of wine. If I have lots of time, I love taking photographs and writing. These days anxiety has caused me to cut out my favorite beverages so I’m left to read, write, take pictures and drink lots of water. You?
Kristi: Sometimes just getting fresh air helps. On weekends that we don’t have many plans and I start to feel cooped up, I simply sit outside. And sip a simple vodka tonic. Or four. My final and BURNING QUESTION for you Darlene is this: How do you have time to do all of those amazing crafts with your kids? The mere thought of trolling Pinterest for ideas for crafts makes me lightheaded.
Darlene: Pinterest is overwhelming, but every now and then I find something easy the kids and I can make together. It’s really nice when it can be something we create that becomes a part of our home. I follow a lot of blogs and I sometimes get inspiration from all those fab DIYers out there. When you are the one woman mommy summer camp, you will search high and low for projects that you can make last several days. I feel like I need to come over there with my glue gun and glitter and get you rolling. I make a mean set of glitter pumpkins. It’s practically Thanksgiving. You up for it? I’ll pour the wine and watch you drink.
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Darlene Giol lives in South Florida and is a mom of a four-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. She mentors and leads a team of business owners across the country. When she can, she shares her stories of finding peace through raising a daughter with autism on her blog The Peace To My Puzzle.
Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages seven and ten, and also lives in South Florida. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her ten-year-old son with autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a charity that raises money to send children with autism to summer camp.