If you haven’t seen Bad Moms, please stop reading this and RUN to your nearest theater. If you have to arrange a sitter (adding a side of guilt), great! You’ll relate to the characters’ plight even more. This story of three stressed out moms produces one belly laugh after another, so much that I’ll need to see the movie again in order to catch all of the jokes. Twist my arm. Mila Kunis is beyond adorable as Amy- she is practically edible. Kristen Bell as Kiki is so much a reflection of who I was when my kids were babies, I had to look away in shame just to snicker. And what can I say about Kathryn Hahn as Carla? She’ll happily bring out the whore you know you have in you. Just watch.
Even though I am raising a child on the autism spectrum, I can still relate to these “bad” moms of neurotypical kids. Believe it or not, a quiet competition exists amongst parents living in my shoes too. And so far, I’m losing it (pun intended). As your write in candidate for baddest bad autism mom, I present just a couple of my platform slogans. Vote for me or I’ll plant weed in your kid’s school locker. Or maybe I’ll just hold onto it.
1. Gluten Free Is Not For Me. Yup, I said it AND am wholly aware that I made this one all about me. Would you like me to supply references to this claim that the gluten free diet may not work for every child with autism? Sorry, no can do. Why? Because so few parents own up to it. Uh huh, I said that too. Maybe it’s because moms would feel defeat admitting having to spend $9 for a box of cookies gets old, fast. It could also have something to do with the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find an online post that doesn’t preface the GF diet discussion with “A GLUTEN FREE DIET IS 150,000% EFFECTIVE FOR EVERY CHILD ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM.” Shit! What mom new to the autism scene wouldn’t feel pressured by that statement?
New to the autism scene, feeling pressured by the above statement regarding the superpowers of glutenfreeness (glutenfreedom?), I dove in. J.R. was four. To this day, part of me believes we would have had a fighting chance if our local Christina Applegate of autism moms hadn’t whispered IF EVEN ONE GLUTEN MOLECULE COMES WITHIN 1,000 YARDS OF YOUR CHILD, YOU have FAILED and must START OVER. Months or years of progress down the toilet? Jesus! Needless to say, I was a wreck. Rock bottom came nearly a year to the day we started the diet. With the little money we had left after paying for groceries, we flew J.R. to a hospital in Denver seeking treatment for his childhood eczema. Flying with a little one on the spectrum was scary enough, but I was hardly prepared for the horrors to come. Mid flight, I turned to my husband to ask if he had researched the restaurants of our layover airport. I needed to know where it would be “safe” for our son to eat. When he turned and looked at me like I had three heads, as any sane person should have, I panicked. To calm myself, I scarfed down what was left of J.R.’s gluten free snacks. Screwed. Just when I thought I was going to go into cardiac arrest from the stress of encountering the devil I called gluten at Gate B, my husband disappears to fetch my son a box of Wheat Thins and me a double vodka tonic. I don’t remember the rest of the plane ride.
We had booked the one hotel room equipped with a kitchen and equidistant from both Whole Foods Market and Fresh Market, conveniently located nowhere near the free Ronald McDonald House. We commuted to the hospital daily, in a snowstorm, uphill both ways, to avoid gluten. The treatement J.R. received at National Jewish put his eczema in remission. And that is a good thing, because we probably won’t be allowed back. In a parent education session on pediatric dietary needs, sporting bloodshot eyes and a balding scalp, I told the Harvard educated doctor “IF EVEN ONE GLUTEN MOLECULE COMES WITHIN 1,000 YARDS OF A CHILD, one has FAILED and must START OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” He looked at me with the saddest eyes. And it wasn’t because I attended FIU.
We quit the diet for good within that minute. I cried while J.R. enjoyed a hotdog in a bun.
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So who’s behind me on point 1?! Okay, nobody. I get it. For the record, the Vannattas became GF diet dropouts because at the end of the day, J.R. showed little improvement from being on it. And certainly no measured improvement worth the sanity of my family, especially the one member who keeps her crew afloat. The point of my long-winded campaign speech intro? To each “bad” mom, her own. Are you imperfect? Perfect!
Bad autism moms like me must make difficult decisions, unrelated to wheat, all of the time. Teletubbies or tantrums? Car payments or a pricey therapy? The dreaded haircut or white boy afro? “Painful” toothbrushing or cavity creeps? Freeballing or sensory meltdown? United front or divorce? Original or Extra Crispy? No matter what type of child you are raising, or fight you’re facing, admitting that sometimes you have NO idea what you’re doing is refreshing, healthy, and the right thing to do. So if you’re with me, compliment another mom by telling her what a “bad” job she’s doing. Then laugh with her. If she’s an autism mom, for fuck’s sake offer to help. In the meantime, I’ll be working on a few more campaign platforms. Word to the moms, I came to drop bombs:
2. Bad autism moms shall be exempt from Mommy and Me classes. Because they scar us.
3. All monies allocated for social skills groups shall be redirected to the Bad Autism Moms Night Out (BAM!-NO!) Fund. Our kids will always be socially awkward; we just may have a chance.
4. Due to the trauma a nameless bad autism mom endured at a Soccer Buddies program, all organized/assisted sports will be banned. The kids shall run around like mad (as they should), while the moms chat it up with the young, buff volunteers. Time will be allotted to get organized and prepare to add many, many more activities to our kids’ I HATE THIS ORGANIZED ACTIVITY list. Why all the hate? Because they have autism!
5. Holiday card photography session fallout will be covered under insurance for all autism families. The mother’s Post Traumatic Sitting Disorder usually lasts for a period of 6-9 months, or until it’s time to prepare for the next holiday photo. Photographers may apply for combat pay.
Consider the mike dropped. Word to your bad mother.
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Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages nine and twelve. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her twelve-year-old son who has 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.