How do you label a child who, before kindergarten, has the vocabulary of a seventh grader but can’t cut with scissors? In 2002, nobody knew. Where do you put her? In a regular classroom, where she is alternately bored by the basic reading and writing instruction, and frustrated by cut and paste time.
By first grade, we realized that even the schools that claimed to work with all of a child’s abilities – including Montessori and Waldorf schools – were doing more harm than good. At this point, the Warrior Mother would have started scheduling meetings at the public school and engaging advocates and lawyers to ensure that her child gets what she needs. She would have created a gifted program for first graders in her school system, brought in a cut and paste advisor for her child. I was no mother warrior.
“I won’t put my energy into fighting,” I told my husband. We took our child out of school and I began homeschooling.
A few years later, our second child “graduated” from the amazing autism program where he’d been thriving for three years. He no longer belonged in the specialized autism classroom. He spent his kindergarten year putting in a full day, half of it in a regular classroom (no aide) and half in a room for cognitively impaired kids. That was the best the school would offer, though he is not cognitively impaired. I knew that what worked in kindergarten would not work in first grade. There would be more verbal instructions and more demands for independent work. If I wanted an aide in the classroom for first grade, I’d have to fight for it. I had not developed any warrior skills in those years. I started homeschooling two children.
This worked for me and for my children. Another family, another child might need a Mother Warrior. My children got a different kind of mother, one that works for them.
Though I am not nor do I desire to be a Mother Warrior, I have great respect for most Mother Warriors. They do what they need to do for their children. I do what I need to do for mine. There is a place for warriors, and a place for peacemakers.
Curbies on Autism
I learned the term “curbie” reading Kim Stagliano’s memoir All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa. Kim is the mother of three girls with autism and “a curebie. That’s an autism parent who believes that, in our lifetime, we will be able to bring these kids to point where they blend in with their peers and can live full, independent lives – through a combination of medical treatment, therapy, schooling, and a rosary that stretches from Connecticut to California.” Stagliano adds, “Call it recovery. Call it cure. Call it remission. Call it pasta e fagioli. I don’t give a crap what it’s called… I just want Mia to be able to live a garden-variety, normal live without needing an adult to keep her safe… I want a cure for her, damn right. What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t?” (p. 19)
The Neurodivergent Camp
I am not a curebie. I excelled at blending in and doing garden-variety my whole life. When I heard the terms neuroatypical – and later, neurodivergent – I fell in love and embraced the concept with my mind, heart, and soul. The idea that it was okay for my children to be themselves was freeing and exhilarating. (Could this liberating idea mean it was okay for me to be myself too?)
Many Flavors of Autism, Many Flavors of Mothers
My experience of autism is not the same as Kim’s. In one of my favorite passages, she says that autism is like Bertie’s Every Flavor Beans from the Harry Potter books. She points out that some autistics got raspberry cream or root beer flavor. “They can speak eloquently, write blogs, move out on their own…” “Others with autism, like my three girls, got the ear wax/vomit/dog poop flavor. They need help 24/7 to navigate the world. When I talk about autism, I mean the version that my three girls have.” Obviously, that is simplified, but it makes the point that if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
I hear and understand what Kim wants. Though we use different words, and I do not want my children to be indistinguishable from normal (whatever that is), Kim and I mostly want the same things for our children. We want our children to live comfortably in the world, to enjoy life. Kim wants that through recovering her children. I want it through transforming the world into a place where we all live in harmony.
Getting to this place of acceptance has been a journey. I wrote about it in my book, Swan Mothers: Discovering Our True Selves by Parenting Uniquely Magnificent Children.