Because I tend to want to look good myself, I often find myself expecting my kids to do what makes me look good to others. Sit still, be quiet, don’t talk too loud, smile nicely, fold you napkin in your lap, get good grades in school, and excel in your sport. This list goes on and on and on. When my second child was born, I quickly realized that it was going to be impossible for me to continue parenting in this way.
Lizzie was diagnosed with autism shortly after her second birthday. At this time, I had begun learning what made her different and what her needs were. The only problem was that this often conflicted with the social norm.
One day I decided to meet my husband for lunch with Lizzie. We ordered at the counter and then quickly sat at an open table as we waited for our food. Lizzie hadn’t been out of the house in weeks. Between her rigid therapy schedule and the fact that it was difficult to keep her from wandering, it was easier to just stay home.
Shortly after we got to our table, Lizzie stood up in the booth, gripped the edge and started jumping. At first it was just harmless little bounces. Then it turned into huge jumps where she appeared to be using all her strength to slam her feet as hard as she could down on that booth.
Table by table, the people around us took notice. First, they looked quizzingly at Lizzie, then their faces turned to a scowl as their eyes shifted to me. It was as if they had words written across their foreheads telling me exactly what they thought. “I can’t believe that child is jumping in such a distracting manner….and in a restaurant!” “What is wrong with that kid….no, what is wrong with that mother? When is she going to make that little girl sit down?!”
Before long, I could feel all eyes on me, burning into my skull. I appeared to be the careless mother that was ignoring her poorly behaved child, but really I was deciding how to handle this uncomfortable situation. I knew that Lizzie needed the pressure the jumping provided to regulate herself. I knew all the anxiety from going out of the house and the unpredictability of her new surroundings was getting to her. She would not understand why if I asked her to sit down, and if I physically forced her, it could bring on a massive tantrum.
But, manners in a restaurant, even a causal, order-at-the-counter one, were expected. It was somewhat distracting to others, and I didn’t like what I knew they were thinking about me. I had a choice to make. Was I going to parent what was best for my daughter or was I going to parent for others around me, so that I could appear as a “good mom” in their eyes?
I turned to Lizzie, and with a proud, confident voice, I said, “Good jumping Lizzie!”
I could see mouths drop, and the judging eyes of disbelief around me. I thought I would be embarrassed. I thought I would want to block it all out, eat quickly and return to the safe haven of my home.
Instead a peace passed through me, and I felt joy. It was ok that the people around me, with their stares and their jaws gaping open didn’t get it. The rules and expectations of parenting the world created no longer applied to me, and I could have some serious fun with this!
Julie Hornok has been married to her wonderful husband, Greg, for 14 years and is the mother of three children, Andrew, Lizzie and Noah. Lizzie was diagnosed with moderate autism at 2 years old and now, at age 9, is mainstreamed in school and enthusiastically enjoys relationships with friends and family. Julie feels blessed that her daughter has come so far and enjoys spending her free time helping moms with a new autism diagnosis and sharing the small bits of wisdom she has learned along the way. Julie also loves to give back to the community by putting together special needs events. Feel free to see Lizzie’s progress on video on her blog www.lizziehornok.blogspot.com.