I hold what is probably an unpopular opinion that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses that logically lead to different skills and roles. When speaking in generalizations; however, there are always exceptions to the rule. In general though if I’m trapped in a burning building I want to see a 6’3″ burly man coming up the ladder to rescue me… not a 125-lbs woman. I do not subscribe to the notion that just because men can do something that women should too. Can she? Sure. But, be required to? No. Before you get all huffy, let me explain. I think most women are more suited to raise children, organize a household, and give a manicure to name a few. Can a man do all of these things? Of course. I think most men are better suited for ambitiously climbing corporate ladders, carrying out military missions, and farting. Can a woman do all of these things? Of course. Can some women do these things better than some men? Without question.
This idea is one of the supporting pillars for our successful marriage. For years I have been told by the media, tv, movies, teachers and other assorted women (read man-haters) around me that for me to be happy I needed to be a strong, independent woman who didn’t “need” a man. I should play games. I should play hard to get. I should be the boss. I should be a b-word. The women giving me this advice were not happy.. they were very often miserable so I could not see where following their advice would land me in any better position. I chose my husband carefully, I knew that above all I needed a man I could respect. He needed to share my values, my parenting style and also my view of gender roles. I did not want to feel guilty or inadequate for my desire to stay home with our kids. I am still currently working full-time, but our goal is for me to be able to stay home, run our business and homeschool our Aspie if needed. Does any of this mean I do not get to follow my dreams or do what I want? Unequivocally no.
Perhaps being the mother of boys is also part of the reason. It has in any case made these feelings stronger. I fear the trend that demonizes manly gifts and virtues rather than valuing them. My boys should not have to apologize for being born male any more than a girl should have to feel bad for being born a woman. If we teach our children to follow their dreams, while at the same time setting realistic goals for what they can achieve I believe they will be happier in the long run. And this leads me to the main reason for this post.
I came across this article “Autism awareness: Leading others by example” several weeks ago, and it has been rolling around in my brain since then. The author is recounting an experience she had at a Target. Her autistic son was in full meltdown when another shopper “paused long enough to stare at him with disgust and roll her eyes at him, this ungodly little boy infiltrating her space, her day, her life with his shrill shrieks.” The mother, calmly and politely, asked the woman if she could help her with something. Followed by, “”This is autism. It can be really hard, so please keep your staring and eye rolling to yourself.” The story goes on through the meltdown to the calm down, and it ends with the woman coming back to find the mother to apologize for judging her! This story touched me. Not just because I have been in the mother’s shoes, but because I have been in the other woman’s shoes as well.
I admit that if I make it through a shopping excursion meltdown free that I get irritated when I hear a child screaming relentlessly about not getting some toy. I judge that parent. I judge them when I don’t hear them trying to stop the screaming. I judge them when they give in and buy the toy (thereby enforcing the idea if the kid screams long enough they get what they want). I shouldn’t judge. I should be thankful that even though parenting is a struggle for me, my children know that no means no. I shouldn’t assume that other parents have it easy. When I am on the other end, I try not to look around me or make eye contact with other shoppers. On the other hand I do not just let him scream. I do what this mother did, try to calm my child. If leaving the store is the means for achieving that, then I can always come back another time; or quickly beeline for the checkout. Thankfully, the public meltdowns are happening less frequently.
With our Aspie we have learned that successful learning happens in small steps. Repeated over and over and over again. Being out in public at a restaurant, in a store, at school is stressful and overwhelming for him. Many times it results in angry outbursts, rude behavior, hyperactivity or in the extreme case.. meltdowns. We try to minimize the stress as much as possible. Schedules, lists and clear expectations of behavior all help. When we go out to eat we will sometimes allow Cullen to bring his Kindle Fire and headphones, which he can use to listen to music or watch Netflix. He cannot use it when he is eating; only until the food arrives. Mike and I usually use this time to recap our day and have “grown-up” conversation. One day after a particularly exhausting week of work and fighting with Cullen, Mike took us out to breakfast at Corner Bakery. We were chatting at our table while Cullen was watching something on Netflix. A table full of women nearby started making snarky comments about what was happening at our table. I wanted to tell them why we chose to allow it, but I didn’t. Why bother telling them that allowing him an electronic device helped make their breakfast experience more enjoyable; or that it gave my husband and I much-needed together time. Cullen turned it off when the food arrived and happily ate his breakfast. I couldn’t help throwing a dirty look at the table when we left.
I think this is where my struggle with special needs vs. special treatment comes in. I have a really hard time with giving our Aspie special treatment. Yes, he does have special needs, but that doesn’t mean he gets off the hook for his behavior. It just means he has to work harder, and it means I have to work harder to teach him. We allow him special privileges (like electronics at a restaurant), but he doesn’t get to skip out on consequences or chores or responsibilities just because his brain is wired differently. I expect his teacher to find appropriate consequences for him in class, but I also expect him to be the most distracting kid in the class most days. I have a hard time with letting him slide on things that our other boys don’t get away with. I don’t expect him to grow up “normal,” but I hope he will be able to be on his own, make friends, start his own family and above all follow his dreams.