Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Climbing up to the surface

As soon as I saw her, she reminded me of my mom. She looked mature, yet youthful. I liked everything she said, her experience, her presence at my house, and the best sign of all: Joaquin seemed to be ok with her. He ate his dinner peacefully, even with a “stranger” at the table. Then he played tossing balls at daddy, even with her around. He knew she was there, but he never signaled his typical discomfort when strangers come to our house. Then, at her request, he threw one ball at her, and when she offered her hand for a high–five, he touched her!… I was ready to hire her as our nanny right then, but because of a few logistical issues, we had to say goodbye without a deal.

This was the week before we went to Texas on a family vacation. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the wedding of one of Joey’s best friends, but because we’re so afraid of Joaquin’s separation anxiety, we planned to travel a whole week earlier, so Joaquin could have some time becoming familiar with his family, so we could leave Joey’s mom babysitting him for the two wedding events we planned to attend.

What happened on those days is the subject of a whole new other blog post I really want to write, not only because it explains a lot this one, and because it’s full of cute Joaquin facts deserving of being documented on his baby story, but also because in some way, the way how Joaquin coped with these separations, reminded me of a very old story which has come to be known as My Childhood Trauma. I believe I’ve talked enough about it (in therapy, and with my mom) and I hope I’m finally over it, but it’s interesting to realize how the fact that I suffered it may have made me more sensitive to Joaquin’s (tiny in comparison) trauma of being “left” by his parents so they could go out two nights like most parents do.

I’m not sure of what happened on this past vacation… Maybe it was seeing Joaquin’s experience… Maybe it was a conversation I had with Joey about his career prospects… Maybe it was the interruption on my daily routine… The point is that I came back home completely depleted of creative energy, with my spirit covered with buds of a blooming depression I’ve pruned and pruned, and tried to put dormant for almost two weeks. And when Joey asked me what my next steps where for the nanny search, my answer was I will not be hiring a nanny.

Trapped again.

Trapped, and in complete denial and shutting my eyes to myself, plunging in a desperate attempt to just be a stay–at–home mom. It’s been relatively easy since I have zero inspiration to make anything new, or to care about what’s going on with my shop, or to care about what’s going to be of me when pre-school ends these weeks and weeks of the same limited number of simple repetitive tasks — clean food mess off the floor, read boardbook, wipe nose, change diaper. Everyone does it. Everyone I know who’s currently the mother of a toddler cruises through this without major complaints, without blooming depressions on their horizons, and without any days off. They do the same things I do for my child, and also cook almost every day, grocery shop, and even go shopping for themselves — with baby on board, and I have no indication that this life of “just being a mom” is difficult for them in any way.

So I guess I’ve told myself that I can do it too. I’ve spent these days just being Joaquin’s mom. I didn’t claim my day off this weekend. Joey gave it to me anyway, but I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t expecting it, and that I didn’t expect it anymore. See, that’s the primary reason why I’m looking for a nanny… I’m trying to replace the day Joey gives me off every weekend, with a weekday day off provided by a nanny, so Joey can get some true rest on the weekends too. The guy works all week, and then takes care of my child on Sundays, and some times on Saturdays too. But he’s stressed that some times he feels he needs to work on weekends, and although he hasn’t asked for it, I think that he needs some “me” time as well. Nobody I know has the privilege of such helpful husband, and that has made me feel guilty for having it.

So no nanny. That was my verdict. And with that decision, I’ve been just a mom for almost two weeks. I’ve done it. I have been ok these days. I haven’t gotten sad or depressed. I haven’t wanted to do anything else… And today I realized that I may have done it, but in order to go through it, something inside me must have died.

I may be cruising through days of no depression or sadness with a couple sprinkles of nice maternal moments to make each one count, but do I feel joyful? No… Do I remember anything particular over the last few days? No… In fact, if I’m really honest to myself, when I think back of this week, I have to say that I’ve been asleep. I’ve been a zombie unable to remember these weeks in color. And that made me think that such will be the memory of my baby’s childhood if I continue to deny my shortcomings.

Maybe I’m flawed. Maybe I’m terrible. Maybe I should be able to just be a mom and want more kids like everyone else. But fighting this is not going to help me. Today I thought that I probably should acknowledge who I am and stop beating myself up for it. So I’m selfish. I have this ridiculous hope that something extraordinary could happen in my life if I worked for it. I’m needy, and I have a great partner. Maybe I don’t deserve him. Maybe other women cook every night for their husbands. Maybe I won’t be able to make anything extraordinary happen in my life. Maybe I won’t be able to justify my free time with money and a new business. Maybe Joaquin will react even worse than he did a few days ago. I’ve been afraid of how this may scar him. Been afraid of having a stranger in my home. Been afraid that something terrible could happen to Joaquin while I’m not around. Been afraid of failing. I’ve felt guilty to admit that I need somebody to give me a rest from motherhood. But today I think I need to suck all that up, because if I look ahead, I’m more afraid that my memories of this time will be fuzzy, black and white, with nothing memorable to remember because I’ve numbed myself in order to go through it.

Not sad, not depressed, is not enough. I can’t be great at everything, and I need to accept that I do need help. So I’m calling the nanny. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to justify her with a budding crafting business; perhaps that won’t happen. So in order to move forward, I need to see this as a step towards keeping my mental health. Maybe getting the help I have admitted I need will make me feel better. And hopefully one day I won’t feel so flawed for needing this.

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  1. On , Petie wrote:

    Good, I’m still glad y’all are getting a nanny. I think it will be good for you, Joaquin and Joey. Cheers all around! ;) I think I’ve said this before, but it never hurts to hammer it in. Poppy once told me (when I called him in tears over some mommie guilt about something), “Petie, if the mommie ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

    ps. I get lots of breaks. Thanks to Nana/Poppy, Honey/Grandpa AND MDUMC. You deserve it, too.

  2. On , Devra wrote:

    Embrace the guilt and do it anyway! Just because we become moms doesn’t mean we stop being human, with our own wants/needs/desires that deserve attention. And you’re absolutely right: you need to start now because in a few years, who will you be then when you do suddenly have kid-free time again? I know lots of women who are completely self-satisfied being SAHMs. But I know a lot who are happy being a mom AND working from part-time to full-time. Everyone’s different; don’t judge your own feelings by what you see around you. And remember, too: sometimes those other people may feel the same way YOU do and you just don’t know it. ;)

  3. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you so much for the support and for your words, ladies.

    Today, right after writing this one, Joaquin and I went for our weekly playgroup date. Just like earlier this week at the Little Gym, Joaquin acted horribly. He was needy as he’s never been. He wanted my constant attention and whined and moaned and yelled and cried the whole time we were there. I came back exhausted, feeling trapped and validated on my need to bring someone in for help.

    I started researching the web for “high-maintenance toddlers” and found articles about “high-needs” children, and a book about “spirited” children. I’m not sure that Joaquin fits all the characteristics of these special spirited kids, but he surely is a high-needs one compared to all other children his age that I know. And the idea of finding a book or something that may give me a new perspective into how to manage this neediness and crazy attachment of my baby gives me a little bit of hope.

  4. On , ksr wrote:

    Thank goodness you are astute enough to recognize the signs and embrace the frustrations…….that is nothing to feel guilty about. Feel guilty if you are not satisfied and then do nothing…….And the fact that you share is immensely helpful to many who can’t find the voice…..There is no ONE model of what the perfect mom is nor the perfect angel child……Destiny throws us together and one has to believe that there is reason behind it in some greater plan. The key is for each of us to steer our way through while maximizing benefit to all……Happiness isn’t everything rosy everyday…happiness is peace of knowing you can navigate what comes your way and end up in a good place.
    You go girl! I promise you he won’t still be clinging at 21………;-(….

  5. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you Kim :)

    Sometimes I debate if I should write publicly about these kind of “not totally positive” feelings… I’m afraid to come across as a spoiled brat, whining and complaining so much about something so many women have done throughout history. But something tells me that even if I don’t know them, there must be women like me out there, desperately looking to feel validated and less lonely on their problems.

    Just a few days ago I was down on the hole again, because since our last vacation, Joaquin has started to become very polarized between Joey and I. On weekdays, he loves me, and initially rejects Joey when he comes home. He warms up pretty quickly for him though. But on weekends, or vacations, or any events where the three of us begin our day together, Joaquin loves his daddy and I become one stranger more. He cries for daddy, clings to him, and pushes me away if I come too close… Although I get that daddy is special because he’s the parent that is away most of the time, the whole thing feels like rejection, and my brain — as hard as he tries to understand it — processes it badly, mixing it with who knows what childhood traumas, and I feel rejected, jealous, and insecure that I may have done something to provoke it.

    So my Mother’s Day was crappy feeling awful all day, and I finally looked up the problem on the Internet. Oh thank God!!! I’m not alone there. In fact, some other stay–at–home moms have it even worse than me. Knowing that this is normal, that we’re not to blame, and that other people are going through the same feelings, changes my perspective immediately and gives me the energy to ignore it, knowing that it will pass, and what’s more important: That I shouldn’t beat myself up over this also.

    So that’s why I write about my crap. So other moms suffering through something similar find the validation they so desperately need. Not to mention, I hear from wise veterans like you, and that gives me tons of support.