My friend who wrote a book.
Actually, it’s more than that. My friend shared her story; she took a risk and bared her soul.
In A Life Suspended, Nicole Donovan “describes the path to her son’s autism diagnosis and her journey to acceptance and unconditional love, not only for Jack, but for herself.” (back cover) She tells their story with a simple intensity and raw emotion. She pulls you in immediately as you learn how she and her husband become fierce advocates for Jack’s education; they put together a team of professionals, work at an intricate behavior plan, and learn a lot along the way.
I found myself relating on an intimate level with this memoir, not as the parent of a child with autism, but as a mom and a writer.
She puts into plain words what moms feel and are afraid to say, either out loud or even to ourselves, that some days are just filled with fear and doubt.
Should I have given in? Should I have held my ground? Should I have said yes? Should I have said no? What if I had said yes? What if I’d handled that differently? Second guessing oneself just seems to be another hallmark of parenting.
We are constantly asking ourselves these questions, among many others. We structure, we plan, we (try to) put consistent boundaries in place. (Did I over schedule? Should I check up on the homework situation? Should I let her go to that party if I don’t know the family? Did he remember there’s a change in practice schedule next week? Is he spending too much time on a screen?)
Maybe at the root of the questions is fear and control. We want to control things to some degree to protect our kids, even though we know the end goal is trust and independence. We seek to control what we fear, and fear makes us controlling. Put simply, we seek control because we are afraid of losing it. Nicole aptly describes this “push-pull relationship with trust and fear” (p. 236) that I found myself easily relating to. I’d be willing to be that many other parents can identify with it as well.
Parenting is joyful and difficult, sticky and messy; it’s warm fuzzies and cold shoulders. It is amazing and all-consuming. You can lose yourself without even realizing it’s happened. And when you find yourself having one too many silent ugly cries behind the locked bathroom door, then you might realize how deeply you’ve lost yourself in this whole lovely and messy parenting thing. And that it might be time for some self-care. Rest, relax, recharge… do whatever it takes to get you back to “center.”
You can’t keep filling everyone else’s bucket when yours is empty. Something’s gotta give. Parents can tend to shut down their own personal growth and healing in response to our kids’ behaviors and needs. We let our personal care take a way-back seat, sometimes with very detrimental consequences. As Nicole put it, “…It was self-preservation. There was no room to feel.” (p. 235)
And if your “inner voice” speaks to you, it might be a good idea to listen. Nicole’s told her “Acceptance is the answer to all your problems today.” (p. 200) In the middle of messy team meetings and miscommunications, she wondered aloud to her therapist how she could accept unacceptable behavior, especially on the part of adults who were supposed to be working with her and for Jack. Her therapist responded simply, “Acceptance of things we cannot change can be very freeing… Part of accepting what is, is letting go…” (p. 200-1)
The Serenity Prayer…
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Sometimes being an effective parent means letting go of things you cannot change. It doesn’t mean you have to accept unacceptable behavior, from anyone, but you certainly can control how you respond to it. You have control over how it affects your attitude and what you will do about it. It’s not easy, but as a philosophy, it can be that simple. (p. 201) But there’s certainly work to do in getting to that mind space.
Nicole’s self-care began with journaling. I find there’s a therapeutic release that comes with journaling- knowing you can dump your darkest thoughts- put them out of your head, name them and let them go. Those thoughts can run on a continuous loop in your head, taking up precious space. If you can allow yourself to let them go, you can acknowledge your control, rather than having them control you. The simple act of pen to paper forces your thought process to slow down- to deliberately decide which words and in which order to put them down. The writing is a multi-sensory experience- (touch) pen to paper; motor skills and spatial awareness; (visual) reading as you write, and rereading.
I connected with this memoir as a writer because, like Nicole, I see the value in sharing stories. Sharing stories is powerful, it’s important, it’s what makes us human. It’s risky, and it makes us vulnerable, but it’s how we connect with each other. And connection is everything.
“Victory is best when shared.” (p.239) Nicole’s story of Jack’s victory, of adaptability and transformation, is also her victory story. She learned to confront her fears, learned to let go of a control she’d fought for, but realized she no longer needed. She went through an inspirational adaptation and transformation as well; it was a privilege to read and a precious reminder of how resilient a mom can be.
Thanks for sharing your story and your victory with all of us.
You can read Nicole’s blog at nhdwrites.com
Her book is available at Titcomb’s Bookshop and on Amazon.