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Posts Tagged ‘Motherhood’

The first time I ever spent my very own hard-earned money for something special, I was eight. Having pretty much never paid for anything in my life, I’d saved up quite a few dimes from my weekly 20-cent allowance (earned through such thoroughly backbreaking activities as feeding the dog and setting the dinner table). I spent an evening counting the disgorged contents of my yellow ceramic ducky bank, stacking until I had 17 neat little towers of ten dimes apiece. I was feeling fairly full of myself for having saved such a fortune, quite adult and responsible, and then I begged, badgered, and bugged my mom until she agreed to take me to Toys ‘R Us.

When we finally arrived at that Nirvana of Plastic Kids’ Stuff, I rushed to the Barbie section where I found her: a “Loving You” Barbie Doll. She was the most magnificent Barbie I’d ever seen. Lavishly shod in the equivalent of 6-inch white Stripper Heels, Barbie wore a puff-sleeved, heart-dotted, ankle-length white chiffon gown with a breath-defyingly tight red velvet bodice. She was bedecked in gigantic fake ruby earrings and a matching ring that was, in reality, a plastic red dot on a stick that went through a hole in her hand and got lost in my brown shag carpet within the week. She was a living Valentine with Barbie’s trademark blonde hair in an I-Dream-of-Jeannie ponytail. She was gorgeous and perfect and completely inappropriate for playtime. I absolutely had to have that doll. (more…)

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I remember the first time I “came out” to a stranger. I was at Target (as usual), and a woman said “hello” to Will and waited for him to respond. I said “hello” back for him, smiling and telling her, “Will isn’t being rude to you, ma’am. He has autism, so he doesn’t speak.” That night, I told my husband Marty about the exchange. I was incredibly proud of having publicly stated, to someone who didn’t need to know, that Will had autism. Doing so was a big step for me.

See, the thing about autism is that Will looks like everyone else (although, and I could be a teensy bit biased here, I do think he’s maybe a little cuter than the average kid). He “passes” for “normal” the way some of my gay friends used to “pass” for straight before coming out. People cannot look at Will and tell that he’s any different. And so I think it comes as even more of a surprise to people when I tell them he has autism.

At first, I didn’t want to tell people Will had autism because it was too painful. I would cry just thinking about autism, so I tried not to talk about it in front of Will. And I knew I didn’t have to tell people, given how Will blended in. So, in those first few months A.D. (that’s “After Diagnosis” in our house), I stuck to telling family and close friends. I even asked them to keep the news to themselves, not out of shame, but out of fear. I was petrified that a girlfriend would mention Will’s autism to another mom, and that I’d then run into that mom, say, at the park. I knew if I had a random acquaintance come up and give me her condolences (because that’s how it felt in the beginning; no one knew what to say except how sorry they were), I would completely break down on the spot.

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As a little girl, I kept a diary. I entrusted my deepest secrets to this silent confidante, my safe haven. My diary was a mute therapist, a free space where I could speak my mind without shame or fear or reprisal. My diary was a little hidden piece of me, tucked away in the dark recess beneath my headboard.

My childhood passed into adolescence, and the stack of flowery little diaries gave way to a neat pile of black-and-white Composition Books straight out of a 1950s high school movie. My diaries had become journals. My journals had become a project. And along the way, I had become a writer.

Today my old diaries and journals are stored away, rarely opened but always held onto, tied in bundles with red satin ribbons, living in perpetual safekeeping like so many baby photos and pressed flowers. I doubt I’ll ever let them go. They are little, written portraits of me. And, when, on rare occasions, I look back at them, I notice one overwhelming trend that holds true from my 4th-grade, Holly Hobby, lock-and-key, 40-page mini-diary to my leather-bound traveler’s journal from my senior year of college: They’re all incomplete. Every single volume has at least one big, huge time gap.
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By Tara Cohen
When I was in fourth grade, I already needed braces. Badly. My overbite was pushing beaver-esque proportions (man, I wish I were exaggerating), and the kids at day-camp referred to me not-so-affectionately as “Chipmunk.” The orthodontist was concerned that if I had any kind of accident involving my face, those two disproportionately large front choppers would be history. But, he told us, before he could even start shifting those pearly marbles around, some of them would have to be sacrificed to the tooth fairy in order for the rest to fit properly. “You,” he informed me, “have a very small mouth.” And thus began one of the longest-running jokes in my family’s history. “Tara?? A small mouth? I really don’t think so,” they joked. “The child who speaks at such lengths she seems to take breaths only once every five minutes? The one who, at age 4, told her great-grandmother and every other grey-haired person she met that they were old and surely going to die soon does not have a small mouth. No. This kid hands off wrapped birthday presents and says, ‘It’s a sweater! I hope you like it!’ Surely you’ve mixed her X-rays up with someone else’s. This child has the biggest mouth of all time. Call the folks at that Guinness Book place. They’ll back us up. Seriously. Add some teeth. There’s room. We swear.”

Turns out they were both right. The ortho-sadist knocked me out and pulled four adult and four baby teeth from my disproportionately small jaw, and then, when I woke up, I told anyone and everyone all about it. Considering it was 25 years ago and I’m still talking about it, I’d say my family had a fair point. Considering I’m talking about it with a very straight set of healthy teeth, I gotta give the doc a little credit too.

While surgical extractions and four years of braces did resolve my “small mouth” issue and alleviate my “chipmunk” status, it did nothing to improve my “big mouth” reputation, something I continue to perpetuate even now in my 30s. While I am finally capable of shutting up long enough to let people be pleasantly surprised while opening their gifts, I’ve never quite mastered the art of keeping a strong opinion to myself. As I have no current aspirations to politics or mafia life, I try to think of it as an asset. Being loquacious (sounds better than “more-talkative-than-a-teenage-cheerleader-on-speed”) often leads to interesting conversations with people in the most random settings. Just a few months back I had the most fascinating two-hour chat with this dead-ringer-for-Obama-atheistic-democrat-with-two-goddaughters-and-a-flat-in-Soho on a flight to New York. He was the most fascinating single-serving friend I’ve ever met (If you didn’t catch that little pop-culture reference, go rent “Fight Club,” seriously.), and being unwilling to talk politics or religion, or to talk to strangers in general, would certainly not have led to anywhere near as interesting a flight.

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By Tara Cohen

The next person who tells me that God chooses special parents for special-needs children is getting smacked upside the head. That’s it. I’m done being polite. Without question, that is one of the least helpful, most aggravating platitudes with which I, as a special-needs parent, am assaulted on a regular basis. There is an endless list of them, including, “Isn’t he so lucky God gave him such a wonderful mother?” and, one of my favorites, “Oh, God has a special, special plan for those children, I just know it.”

Let me offer one caveat here: I am a Jew. I am also an atheist. And no, I don’t consider the two mutually exclusive. It all really depends on definition and semantics, but the upshot is that I don’t believe in God or Christ, nor am I into being Saved or Blessed or Reborn. It also means I am not big on having other peoples’ religiosity poured on me like so much boysenberry syrup on my perfectly unsullied blueberry pancakes. Cultural religion and atheism can blend for me. But having a special-needs child and having God in my life, those cannot exist in tandem. And since the kid is here to stay, God is out.

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