Think about your friends for a minute. Your true friends..the ones who you can be completely real with. What would you say about them? That they’re kind? Maybe they make you laugh, are loyal, are always there when you need them? What about that you’ve never met them in person? Would that matter? Should it?
While I’m a very outgoing, social person, I’m also the parent of an autistic young adult. Raising a kid like mine can be many things. Terrifying. Elating. Heartbreaking. Joyous. But the word that I never expected to be such a big part of raising my daughter is “isolating”.
Parenting a special needs child, especially as a single parent, which I was, means that there is very little time or money to spend on outings. My days existed of hours worth of doctors appointments, therapy appointments, school meetings and working with her at home. Your world shrinks ever smaller..the places your kiddo likes to go and feels safe are limited. Friendships drift apart, becoming awkward as the differences between your kid and theirs become more and more apparent. It’s so lonely, you guys.
I’m blessed to have a large and loving family, but they all live out of state. Those years alone with my girls were just that…alone. It’s a very fishbowl existence, living a safe, small, repetitive, routine-driven life while the big, exciting world spins around you, full of color and noise. A half-remembered dream.
Even after Mark and I got together, it was tough finding someone who was walking the same path I was. The worries, the questions, the concerns. And then I found, quite by accident, an online group of mothers of autistic kids like mine. I’ve seen dozens of these groups over the years, but I just never felt connected to any of them.
This group, though..it was something I’d never experienced before. They were dead honest, worn down, exhausted, crazy, funny, supportive, fierce and wonderful. And it felt like coming home. These ladies are all over the world, different nationalities, cultures, religions and skin colors and we’re all mothers to autistic kids that we’d do anything in the world for.
I’ve made some very real, very lasting friendships and found one soul sister that I couldn’t do without. And these ladies? My sister-from-another-mother over in the UK? Never laid eyes on them, except for pictures and shared videos. But they get it. The late nights walking the floor crying with worry. The doctors appointments, medications, the therapies that did and didn’t work. The schools and teachers that try for our kids and the ones that don’t. The “one step forward, two steps back” lifestyle…they GET it, because it’s their reality, too.
So does my connection with these moms mean less? Is it less real? No, actually, it’s not. We know each other’s families (Nadia, Steve, Emmie, Jack & Ted) Dogs (Victor) and cats. Grandkids (Baby Elliot), parents and divorce stories. We cheer each other along, pick each other up and drag each other through the bad days. We share holiday pictures, report cards, doctors reports, martial arts belts and hospital stays. I’ve never once had a health question or parenting concern go unanswered and never once shared a little victory for Hallee that wasn’t soundly and fully celebrated by them as well.
So there you have it. Some of my dearest friends are women I’ve never met, and very likely won’t ever get to. But they’re there. In their different time-zones, waiting for a chance in their busy day to connect, share, laugh, vent, rant and support. Because that’s what real friends do.