A few days ago I heard a woman who works as a paraprofessional in an elementary school special ed classroom totally dis the mother of two boys with special needs. It went something like this: There’s nothing wrong with those boys, it’s just bad parenting. Mom wants them to have a mini-trampoline, a plastic seat on their chairs, and to be allowed to chew gum. She says they have “sensory issues.” It’s all a load of crap. They’re just spoiled. Mom lets them get away with anything.
I felt like crying.
Do the staff at Natalie’s school talk about her like that? I wondered. Do they talk about me like that?
I could be that very mom. I’ve taken a wiggly seat to school for Nat to use. In fact, over the years, I’ve taken in any number of gizmos and gadgets—a variety of fidget toys, a weighted vest (this one from Fun & Function is awesome, by the way), a MotivAider, a b-Calm unit, a sensory sock that Natalie calls her “green monster.” I keep her stocked with gum, hard candy, and tons of ADHD-friendly snacks. Just a few weeks ago I offered to provide the school with a mini tramp, if they could find room for it. I use her sensory issues as an “excuse” to get her out of things—like watching videos—that I know will overstimulate her.
Am I the topic of conversation in the teachers’ break room? In whispered conferences between two teachers in the hallway? On Friday nights, when a member of the school staff lets off steam while she’s out to dinner with her husband? Do the speakers’ voices hold as much derision as the voice I heard? How many people out there still believe that our kids are the way they are simply because we’re terrible parents?
My pain over this incident led me to email my mama friends, Penny and Adrienne, to do my own Friday night venting. I said we should do a burning ritual at the upcoming mom’s retreat, and throw symbols of meaness and stupidity into a bonfire. I was really just letting off steam when I said that, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
I believe that rituals have some kind of power. I don’t know if it comes from a higher power, some other unknown force in the universe, or if rituals simply facilitate a change in one’s attitude or perspective, and I don’t care—as long as they help.
Here’s my personal story of the power of ritual.
I was still single when I turned thirty. For the most part, I was okay with that. I owned my own home, had a job I was committed to. I had friends. I’d never really pictured myself married, or having a family, and I figured that was part of the reason it hadn’t happened. But, with the advent of that milestone birthday, my attitude was changing, and I didn’t want any old baggage that might be clunking around in the back of my mind to keep me from being open to whatever my future held.
On my thirtieth birthday I performed a “letting go” ritual, inspired by something a friend had told me she saw on Oprah. On a cold, snowy December day, I stood in my back yard, and burned a buttload of old diaries, letters, and pictures in my charcoal grill. (Getting stuff like that to burn is harder than it sounds!) I was a little bit embarrassed when my roommate, Dave, came home and “caught” me.
“Barbequing?” he asked, looking somewhat puzzled.
That ritual must have changed something, somewhere, somehow, because ten days later I met my husband. (Awww. I love that story.)
I haven’t done another burning ritual, or anything like it, in the nearly 20 years that have passed since I turned 30. But now that the idea of symbolically letting go of the negative aspects of parenting a child with special needs has been planted in my mind, I really want to do something about it, whether it’s at the mama retreat, or in the fireplace in my own backyard.
Hmm, how to do it? I know (and Kirk Martin’s status updates on Facebook often remind me) that I can’t change others, I can only change myself—my own thoughts, attitudes, actions, and reactions. So I could burn a symbol of my worries about what others think of my parenting skills. I could symbolically let go of my own self-doubts and self-recriminations about being an imperfect parent. I could burn away my anger at people who say and do mean things, out of ignorance or intolerance. Wouldn’t that feel good? It would make room in my heart and mind, and free up emotional energy, for more love, patience, forgiveness.
Yes, I think I should do this; it’s time to do this. Who wants to do it with me? And how exactly should we do it?
(photo from www.mota.ru)