Because these voices need to be heard.
My experience in being an Âûtistic advocate is short lived thus far. I have not been in this game all that long yet. I am learning some big lessons pretty quickly at the moment, they are not necessarily easy to lear but they are important ones. There are a few unwritten laws that I am trying to get my head around. It’s not an easy thing for an Âû
tistic to get right this business of comprehending the unwritten rules, the unspoken things. It is in fact quite a challenge.
The first and possibly the most potent and easy to actually learn, but also possibly one that is not all that obvious at the start. This one is pretty simple but also pretty sad and heart wrenching. The lesson is that there is not one Âûtism community. There are multiple Âûtism communities and it seems they are far from…
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I hope the following letter reaches the person it was intended for… both literally (in that he sees it somewhere) and figuratively (in that he takes it to heart).
“Please re-post the following freely on the internet:
An Open Letter to the Biological Father of my God-Son:
You seem to be completely, utterly, amazingly unaware of what being a parent entails. I know becoming a father was a surprise to you, and perhaps not something you had planned on, or at least not at this point in your life. I’m sure it was a shock to you when you moved back to this state and, upon reconnecting with old contacts, discovered that you had an 18-month-old child. I know you and your son’s mother did not part on the best of terms.
And frankly, at this point, I don’t give a rodent’s right butt-cheek. Even if your son’s mother spat in your face, mocked the size of your manhood, and denied you sex for a year, I still expect you to recognize and acknowledge the full impact of the following statement: every good thing that your son has ever had in his short life, EVERY SINGLE THING, is due entirely to the devotion, dedication, hard work, struggle, and sacrifices of this one woman. You owe her his life.
You have given reasons why you cannot be more involved in your’s child’s life at this time– disability, personal struggles, the fact that you are attending college (and, to your credit, taking child development classes). You have stated that you are not in a position to provide financial support, that your current home is not child-proof. You are not ready. Neither was she. You didn’t choose to have this turn of events in your life. Neither did she.
(But, you may think– the woman always has choices! Abortion? Adoption? She looked into both. Neither worked out, for reasons far too personal and complex for me to share. She may tell you some day. Or she may not.)
You drag your feet, and life goes on. Your son grows. He has taken his first steps, and spoken his first words. He has outgrown many sets of clothing, many pairs of shoes. I know, because I was there. I have watched as your son wakes and sleeps. I have fed him and bathed him and changed his diapers and made him laugh and held him while he cries. He has needs, and those needs do not wait for you to get your life together and learn to be an adult at your own pace.
You want visitations– but in your own time, on your schedule. Your son’s mother has no choice in her schedule. Every morning, every single day of his life, your son’s mother has to wake whenever he does (and babies wake early!). No matter if she is exhausted or sick, whether she’s shaking with fever or spent the night puking her guts up, even on Saturday, even if she is hungover (assuming she ever gets time to drink with friends!), no matter how bad a mood she is in, she has to wake up between 5 and 7 AM, and feed and change and lift your child. That is how every single day of her life has started, for nearly two years.
I saw her do this less than a week after major surgery. And I saw the blood blisters bubbling up through her stitches because she wasn’t supposed to lift more than ten pounds during her recovery, and her baby– your baby– weighed twice that and had to be lifted multiple times a day to be fed and clothed and rocked to sleep. I have seen her collapse to the floor and have trouble getting up, and I have seen her turn her face away so that your son does not see how hard she is crying. I have held her hand in the ER while she screamed in pain, and I have rocked your son to sleep in hospital halls while he sobbed to the sound of beeping machines.
You don’t want to hand money over to your child’s mother without a court order, or at least a paternity test (which you refuse to pay for). But you have resources that your son’s mother does not, resources your child desperately needs. You have a family who cares, and who probably helps you financially at times. You have a stable living situation. You receive money for being disabled– which your son’s mother does not, in spite of the fact that she has been through two major surgeries in two years and requires multiple medications daily.
Your son’s mother asked for for cash to cover a co-pay for his doctor’s visit– after she had arranged for you to visit with him. You accused her of making the situation about money. Then she asked, not for money, but for things he needed– clothing, shoes, diapers, food. You bought him a single package of diapers. He goes through one of those every week, and has done so for the past 90-or-so weeks of his life.
You bought him a toy. It was a very nice toy, and developmentally appropriate. He enjoys it. But it’s easy for us to get him cheap toys at the dollar store and thrift stores– he doesn’t know the difference. I, who am no blood relation of your son, took him to Payless and Walmart and shopped for cheap sneakers and flip-flops when he had outgrown his previous pairs. (His current sneakers have pink sparkles and hearts on them. Your son has excellent taste).
And when your son’s mother was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition, and had no money and no way to pay her phone bill and no family to help her, I– a woman with disabilities and debts of my own, who works part time for less than a living wage– I took your child into my home, which is also not child-proof. And because I had no other place for him to sleep, I put your son in my own bed, between me and the wall, and slept with a hand on his tiny arm so I would wake as soon as he did.
And when he woke (before it was light out!), I– nauseous and exhausted and foggy-brained– carried him downstairs and fixed him a bottle and took him outside where he could play (and never mind the morning joggers raising their eyebrows at a woman and toddler both still in their pajamas at the park).
And when I was too weak and sick to care for him, a friend of mine, who attends college and works and has two children of her own, took your son into her house for the night, although she had never met him or his mother.
And another couple, dear friends of mine, also took him for several days, and because their house isn’t baby-proof either, they used their sofa to block off part of the living-room to keep him safe.
And when your son’s mother was broke and sick and staying up all night applying for jobs online and between rentals and desperate to find a safe place to live, a friend of mine offered to have them stay at his apartment for a few weeks. And then my housemate stayed with her boyfriend and let them sleep in her room.
And when your son’s mother swallowed her pride and begged support groups and charities and facebook for help, a woman we have never even met used her amazon account to send him diapers and a playpen that doubles as a crib.
All of these people– and others– have done more for your child than you have. It wasn’t easy for any of us. We did these things because they needed doing, and because this is what caring, responsible, grown-up people do. And still, it is not enough. Raising a child is hard, and it is expensive, and it is a more-than-full-time job, and it is not something any woman, much less one who has been through so much, should have to do alone and on an income that barely keeps a roof over their heads.
I have never used the term “man up” seriously before, but I’m using it now. You need to man up and provide support for your child. Not in exchange for getting to see him, not because a law demands it, not to make yourself feel more mature, but because your child needs it. And his mother is happy to give you visitation rights– if you treat her with courtesy and respect as a human being, and awareness of the incredible burden she bears trying to keep your son healthy and safe and happy, at the expense of her own education and career goals and well-being.
And if you do pull yourself together and handle this like an adult– without making it about You, or about Her, but honestly trying to do what is best for HIM, for your own child… If you show that you can set your own feelings aside and dedicate yourself to making his life better…. If you are willing to struggle and sacrifice and spend sleepless nights as your son’s mother has done… Then, and only then, will I respect you as a person and call you by the honorable title of “parent.”