After Ben was born, I took a long hard look at my educational experience and decided rather than a future where I asked people if they would prefer fries or a salad with that, I’d change my career path entirely. To a field I knew I didn’t like, but would provide me with a real income: nursing.
Nursing school, for those not in the know, requires a schedule that between the hospital hours and the classroom hours, you barely have a chance to wipe your own ass. Both living 45 minutes away from school and any hospital I might be stationed in meant that I was out of the house for an additional hour and a half (at the very least).
Ben’s father also lost his job around this time, and refusing to get another one in his field, he waited for over a year to find a new job. Which meant that insurance for Baby Ben needed to be purchased. So I went back to work as a waitress (where I did ask if people would like fries with that) for the few remaining hours left once nursing school took it’s share.
I’d moved Ben and I back in with my parents once I realized that my future with Nat was going to be measured in the minutes rather than years category, and I relied heavily on my mother to help me out with taking care of Ben.
It was an ideal arrangement in many regards: it was free, easy, and didn’t involve being verbally abused most days. But in terms of drawbacks, there were many. First and foremost, my parents didn’t seem to believe that I had the capacity to take care of a baby myself, and questioned most of the decisions I made by issuing massive ultimatums.
To give you an example for contexts sake, I’ll tell you of how at about 2 months of age, I took Ben to the doctor to get his shots. Typical, right? Well, that evening, I decided to take Ben (who had kept me up most of the night thanks to the reversal of his days and nights) to Nat’s parents house, where I could get some rest alone. My mother, telling me how selfish and horrid I was for taking Ben out when his immune system was “delicate,” (apparently, in her world, shots = immunosuppression) informed me that if I did this, she would not watch him for me for a week.
Not exactly the sort of decisions I would expect to lose me babysitting privileges or anything. It wasn’t like I was deciding which bar to take him to or which bong hit to blow in his face. I may have been young, but I wasn’t stupid.
But I learned pretty quickly that in order to both keep the peace and prevent my mother from having a breakdown of sorts and thus losing my only babysitting option (I was broke as a joke after buying diapers, formula, and insurance for Ben), I kept my mouth shut. It seemed easier that way.
When I was feeling especially bad about the whole situation, I’d imagine a time when I would no longer live with them and I could parent as freely as I chose.
Being gone approximately 23 hours a day had the unfortunate side effect of not being able to spend much time with my bizarre young son. He wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until he was 2, so I spent those two years feeling pretty miserable about myself each and every time I was ignored or screamed at by him when I’d go in for a hug. Even as a baby, he preferred to play alone on the floor rather than be held by me.
Time marched on and his eccentricities grew. And in addition, something I’d never really expected to happen occurred: he formed his only attachment to my mother. It made sense, I mean, I was gone all the time, I couldn’t exactly imagine how dropping out of school to be his full time caregiver would help us in the long run, so I comforted myself by remembering how plenty of kids went to daycare every day. And they still (presumably) loved their parents.
I graduated school a year after Ben’s autistic diagnosis, and a couple months after that, I married Dave. We moved out together officially after school was done, and I was finally able to parent my strange child without someone critiquing my every move.
I hoped that with each passing day, with each thoughtful art project he screamed at, with every plate of food he wept into, with all of the things I did for him, that his attachment to my mother would lessen somewhat. I didn’t want to replace her, and even in my anger and disgust with her, I never would have taken Ben away from her (or vice versa) for good, but I wanted to be okay, too. I wanted him to care for me, too.
It’s been 3 and a half years since then, and I wish I had some glowing report, like “and now he loves me, too!” but I don’t. Or if I did, it would be a lie. It’s like he’s a Siamese cat or something and can only bond to one person, and one person only. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, how much I try, how terrible and guilty I feel, I can’t even compare to her in his mind.
I try my best to imagine any sort of scenario in which he doesn’t break down into tears when she leaves or when he’s forced to do something with his parents, I try to come up with any solution that would not diminish who she is to him, but highlight the fact that I’m okay too, but I can’t. There’s no good way to rectify the damage that was done to him by my perpetual absence (no matter how necessary it was at the time) in those obviously critical months.
And there’s no way to rectify the damage that’s been done to me, either. I want nothing more than to have a normal relationship with Ben, but it just doesn’t seem to come to us, no matter what I do. I want to not care when he cries for her. I want to smile knowingly when he tells me how much he wishes he were with her. I want it to not feel like my heart is being cut out of my chest cavity and thrown onto the floor whenever I’m reminded of this.
But I can’t seem to make any of this happen, no matter how hard I try. And I don’t know what to do.