I grew up expecting to be somebody special…someday. This is both wonderful and terrible, hopeful and sad. Mostly, it just gets in the way of being somebody now. Looking for the arrival of an idealized self, you can’t see the greatness in everyday heroics because there is no spangled outfit or magic amulet to show you how great you are. I blame my childhood.
As an overly imaginative little girl, I envisioned all sorts of futures. I was the conduit for every character I read or saw on television. I would adopt a persona and play dramatic roles for an audience of one. I was Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie long before Elizabeth Gilbert stole the role I was destined to play. (I wanted the blue hair ribbons, darn it.) Life is rarely kind to such dreamers.*
I had a giant, wall-sized mirror in my childhood bedroom—it covered a massive hole in the brickwork. After dark, mice would crawl up behind the giant glass pane and scratch at the edges trying to get into my room.** I was both terrified and mesmerized by that mirror; it held all my hopes and fears.
Unlike the magic mirror in Snow White—my looking glass never made dire predictions. It was more like the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter lore. It was a stage for my heart’s desire: a place where I could be the hero of my own epic adventures. What you don’t realize as a child? Most superheroes have a tragic back story that propels them to become super in the first place.***
I marched back and forth in front of that mirror transforming into whatever television character I was enchanted with at the time. One of my earliest superhero flashbacks is wanting to be Wonder Woman. Maybe it was because, as Diana Prince, she had dark hair and glasses, like me. I made tinfoil bracelets to ward off bullets—making “pi-too pi-too” noises as I deflected imaginary attacks. I would spin in circles until I fell over dizzy and giggling.
Linda Carter marched onto the tv screen as Wonder Woman from 1975-1979—finally representing everything the 1970’s said a woman could be. Wonder Woman was strong and sexy—a woman who had all the power and could whip men until they cowered at her shiny red boots. An excellent role model for a prepubescent girl. Um…uh…yeah. Anyway...
At the time, I didn’t question wearing a skimpy outfit and go-go boots as the appropriate wardrobe for a crime fighter. In my defense, I was eight at the time. I desperately wanted to be the heroine who saves the day. Honestly, I’ve never really outgrown those early impulses.
As television programming changed, so did the sophistication of my dreams. Since I couldn’t be reborn as an Amazon, perhaps I could become super via technology? From 1976 to 1978, Lindsey Wagner followed on the celebrity that was the Six Million Dollar Man—who, in today’s currency, would barely register as any level of super being.
The Bionic Woman was my first taste of a regular person who became super-human through the advancement of cybernetics. Looking back, the sound effects and ‘action’ sequences of speeded up film look laughable, but back then, I ran everywhere emitting “da…da…da…da…da…” for high-speed sound effects or making “SprooooooIIiiiing” noises while jumping off the couch. (My brother and I owe my mother apologies for what we did to her furniture.) My hero complex would not be complete if I did not include a certain spectacular trio who entered our homes as black silhouettes surrounded by flames.
Charlie’s Angels dominated the airwaves from 1976-1981 finally exhibiting *cough, cough* attainable qualities of superhero-dom: athleticism, skill, and wit. That they looked good in a bikini and frequently wore one to fight crime is only more impressive now when I know how hard it is to find a swimsuit you can swim in none less run and tackle bad guys wearing one! (The heroine is wearing the bikini in the preceding analogy…but now that I think of it…it would be much funnier the other way around.)
I asked the internet to find “Bad Guys in Heels” but it gave this instead:
Sorry, got distracted there for a minute. What were we talking about? Right. Becoming super.
Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, and Charlie’s Angels were the quintessence of female power and prominent pulchritude—women I so badly wanted to grow up to be. There is just one, tiny problem with this, as it turns out.
Being a superhero in the 70’s required that a woman be multi-talented, super intelligent or powerful, and it helped that you were *ahem* well-endowed with superspeed, a lasso of truth, surgical enhancements or have an invisible billionaire backer with a voice to melt butter. No biggie. One thing all of these super women have in common though is only obvious by its absence. None of them are mothers.
Apparently, one can either be a superhero—strong, confident, and kicking ass in man-devouring footwear—or you can be a mom. I tried, but I couldn’t think of a single superhero of my generation where that was possible. This is a big problem when it comes to finding your inner super qualities.
Being any kind of mother is incredibly hard work. It is mostly filled with endless, thankless, and unrewarding tasks and—unless you are some kind of Stepford Saint-of-the-Year with built-in lack of aspirations—parenting kind of sucks. Anyone who has ever changed a diarrhea diaper will tell you how un-fun it can be! But, it is particularly hard to feel that you are living up your super-mom potential when the son or daughter you are raising has autism. Don’t get me wrong, autism is not the bad guy here. It’s the character-building plot twist that makes you want to be a super mom in the first place!
No, the evil villain in this story is the irrational effing voice in your head telling you that every action or inaction has the power to make the difference for your changeling child. I call my villain ‘The Heckler’ and its voice is particularly shrill and nasal. (Think Fran Drescher on helium wielding a chain saw.) You search for therapies, solutions, answers to meet your child in a maelstrom of unknown and unseen terrors. No matter how far you come, you can only see how far you have yet to go, or worse, how far you’ve fallen short of your ideal. It’s Sisyphean motherhood at best.
I don’t want to whine about the challenges of parenting on the spectrum. What I am talking about is being able to look at my actions through a kinder mirror. One where I see that, though my accomplishments may not be as death-defying as stopping bullets with a bracelet, they are equally amazing and wonder-worthy. But how?
One of my favorite Curly Girl designs by the artist Leigh Standley, says this so much better than I can:
Seriously, Autism parenting would be so much easier if I had super powers!
This got me to thinking.
What if…I drew my character on paper? Give her magical gadgets and abilities…and a cool catch phrase? That’s it! What I need to do is…become super! But what super powers would I give her to make me believe in her heroism? What would make the perfect Autism Mom?
Super Autism Mom Checklist
Autism Mom needs…
Emo Vaulting—the ability to leap toward compassion in a single bound. (Or maybe a lasso of empathy to throttle idiots who lack any?)
Psychic Powers to know why in the world her kid is doing ‘X’ repeatedly so she can stop going crazy and let him be. (I’m looking at you Exit 59.)
HyperSonicSensitive Precognition—the ability to detect and avoid sensory overload meltdowns!
Rx Defensive Measures—an emergency bandolier of psychiatric medication on hand at all times—for herself or her kid, as needed. These prescriptions would magically fill themselves before running out and would be totally covered by insurance.
Supercomputer Implants that would remember all the I.E.P. goals, meetings, and doctors’ appointments. Now before you can say ‘iPhone’…it is also a time machine to be able to go back and attend anything accidentally scheduled for the same day. Plus it survives a bath in the toilet and a trip down the laundry chute!
Guards Against Humanity Cloaking Device—an invisible shield of imperviousness so narrowed-eyed onlookers and snide remarks would slip right past her when she takes her child out in public.
A Cone of Silence would descend so that screaming fits would calm to a dull roar and wrap the sufferer in a soothing cocoon of sensory deprivation so outbursts would subside in half the time. This will work for the child too.
What else? Oh, I know, let’s add:
Telekinetic Magic Belt that would dispense a flare gun, a fire extinguisher, a tourniquet, you know—the usual ‘whatever’—needed on a given day in Autism Parenting. It would miraculously produce whatever special item your autism adventure demands—like Dora’s backpack, but less creepy.
Our super heroine is almost complete. Almost fully armed for the battle of her life. All she needs is one…more…thing…
The Unbreakable Mirror of Truth.
Autism Mom would carry a magic mirror so that, whenever the evil inner demons start chanting her failures, she can hold it up and it will reveal the super mom she truly is. Instead of unwashed hair and sweatpants camouflage, she will shine for all the world to see.
[Note: The Mirror of Truth will also show her as several pounds lighter because, come on, don’t we all really want that super power!?]
Anyway, she is the me I want to see when I look in the mirror.
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot.
Every Autism Mom deserves a nice tiara.
I recently re-watched the pilot episode of Wonder Woman and was struck by the advice Queen Hippolyta gives Diana before sending her out into the world. Words we autism moms should all live by:
“Go in peace, my daughter. And remember, that, in the world of ordinary mortals, you are a wonder woman!”
We truly are.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Dreams, by their nature, only exist if one suspends all disbelief and evidence to the contrary. This is why they rarely survive waking.
**Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. What the [bleep] doth creep and crawl?
***Again with the blessing and the curse analogies. Man, am I heavy-handed today. My bucket of overwrought symbolism overfloweth.