Old me, new me, changed me

Like most teen girls, I tried on different personal styles and borrowed cool things to say from books and television. Some just felt right and I kept them while others seemed jarring, even to me.  I learned what fit and even more, what made me feel more confident and easy in myself.  I looked around for role models too.  I was drawn to my best friend’s mother, an artist who was tall and slender, gracious and thoughtful.  She had created a home that was filled with unique and beautiful things.  Their family dinners were plated in a way that we see on Instagram today, not for effect, but because she found beauty in it.  I wanted to absorb all of it through my pores, taking it in, making it mine.

Over the years, I borrowed from many other women, learning through re-creation.  Sometimes it was personal (clothing, hairstyles) but more often it was learning a new way of moving through life.  I thought I was pretty happy with that version of me.  Then I had my son.

My son needed an advocate, a persistent, smart, untiring mom who knew how to collaborate but hold the line.  He needed a different version of me.  Not the gracious, trusting one but one that could take the bull by the horns for him.

I found myself doing what I had done as a teen girl:  grabbing a turn of phrase here, an emotional or intellectual approach there.  I had an uphill learning curve to reach a better understanding of mental health issues in children, what care was available (or not) and how to access it.  But more than that, I knew I needed to appear confident, determined and strong.

I soaked up the language I heard from national leaders like Barbara Huff on how important families were to the healing and success of their children.  I listened to parent leaders giving workshops on special education or finding resources and noted how they emphasized the importance of smart, savvy parents (and modeled it).  I absorbed stories of IEP successes and insurance showdowns, where the parent simply didn’t care how many people were naysayers and plowed ahead.

I also had a friend, whose son had Asperger’s, who was famous for not taking any hooey.  Once, when she brought her son to his first meeting with a therapist, the therapist took her aside for a private word.  He said, “I am a mandated reporter.  If your son tells me anything during our session that worries me, I will be required to report it.”  Without blinking an eye, she replied, “Likewise, if my son reports anything to me on the ride home that worries me, I too will be required to report it.” When she told me this story, I burst out laughing.  After I was done, I made a mental note not to placate my son’s team ever again.  Instead, I would be direct and clear.  By the way, my friend went on to have a strong relationship with her son’s therapist.

It wasn’t easy work.  I didn’t start out not caring what others thought of me and it was uncomfortable challenging people I often liked and respected.  But going along and believing that things would work out didn’t lead to the care, school services or service slots my son needed.  While I always knew that squeaky wheels get more attention, I really didn’t plan to become loud and squeaky. But advocacy demands it sometimes.

When I was a few years into the strategic-warrior version of me, I found that other parents, especially other mothers, were grabbing my phrases and approaches and running with them.  I would talk about what I said at a team meeting or how I politely but adamantly disagreed with a therapist and someone would remark, “I didn’t think you could say that out loud. I’ve always bitten my tongue.”  Once, when my son, then a teen, was hospitalized (temporarily, they said) on an adult unit, I called my insurer and ask for him to be transferred.  I pointed out that when he was in group therapy on the unit floor, the next youngest person was 41.  My insurer hemmed and hawed and I insisted.  They said that approval would take time.  I insisted.  They pulled out a series of reasons why this wasn’t doable.  I insisted and they found him a new bed on an adolescent unit.  I’d tell this story and other parents would say, “How did you phrase that?”  Then they would try it out for themselves.

At the start of my son’s mental health problems, I would jokingly ask his therapist for a handbook, so I could look on page 57 and figure out how to handle school refusal or on page 123 and follow the instructions for a meltdown.  What I didn’t say was that a I also needed a handbook to reconfigure myself, so I could learn to take the hits, roll with the punches and come up with a brilliant move or two.  Of course, neither handbook exists but I had living, breathing examples in other parents who had forged their way before me.  I will always be grateful to them.

We all know that life happens and it changes us.  But we change ourselves, too.  I thought I was done when I was a teen and young adult, drawing on the examples of other women.  Then I thought that I was creating the almost-final version of me when I needed to become an uber-advocate for my son.  However, I keep finding wonderful traits and points of view that intrigue and amaze me.  I muse to myself, “What if I tried that out?”  And sometimes I still do.

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7 thoughts on “Old me, new me, changed me

  1. Lisa, Where would my world be without you and strong parents like you? I never thought about it quite the way you wrote about but I definitely “tried on phrases” and borrowed personas too. Even when it was awkward and uncomfortable I wore those skins until they became my own. My family is grateful for the road-work that had been completed before we got there and I hope I have helped pave the road a bit for others coming after me. Rock on PPAL moms, and thank you. ~valerie

    1. I have a son who is 38 with varied issues ( CP Add and maybe autism spectrum )and I’m at the point in life that I can’t cope anymore. What can I do?

  2. Great job articulating what we continue to expereince. The power of community. The opportunity to do better today, then we did yesterday. always and forever grateful for the widom shared bron out of pain and fueled by passion.

  3. Lisa,
    Saw a lot of truth in what you wrote. I’ve always said I learned so much more from the Moms in waiting rooms than from anyone else.

    I’d just like to add that the changes in ourselves don’t always feel good. I’ve had others call me angry, that my expectations were too high. Sometimes now, I take much of life as a challenge and that is not always good. It’s never ending advocacy and sometimes I get tired but… I have moved a few bureaucratic mountains and I hope that helps those that follow too!

  4. Thankfully Lisa and a few others got legislation passed so our kids would never see an adult
    ward again until they were adults.
    Having provided educational advocacy longer than my son has been alive, when old enough he
    would attend trainings I gave or from an attorney I often use. One day I got a call from his school Out of District Coordinator. She asked me to ask him to stop giving his fellow classmates advice
    about their rights being violated! I inquired if he was lying or being truthful. Her respinse was no
    he is spot on with the information. I said then I am sorry, but I won’t tell him to stop. You are lucky that
    I turn down his requests to help his fellow students and advocate for them. Her response was I told the school that you would probably say no and if they were not following the regulations at some point they would be seeing me. The school representative stated we see her enough already and it’s not on her son’s friends. Your child will pick up on your abilities once they start attending their IEP Mtgs. Being true to yourself like Lisa always has been the world is a better place. It’s not perfect but one child at a time can create it.

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