Lessons From My Mother

Finding What Matters
May 11, 2018
When You Don’t Know What to Say
June 8, 2018

Lessons From My Mother

Growing up I knew without a doubt that my mother loved me. I also knew that my mother was easily agitated, had high anxiety and suffered from debilitating migraines that could last days, even weeks. I learned early on how to take care of her, to try to keep stress to a minimum. I can’t say my brother and I always succeeded, we were children after all, but I think I did a fair amount of care giving at a very young age.

It was difficult for my mother to go into social situations. She would worry obsessively in the days leading up to any event, even those she genuinely was excited to attend (such as a family gathering). Once there (if she didn’t get sidetracked beforehand with a migraine from the stress) she would settle herself in and talk and talk and talk and talk. To an outsider it would look as though she was an extrovert, quite comfortable in her surroundings. But if you were to listen in you would overhear her saying things that others wouldn’t have said. Sharing deep personal information with virtual strangers. Making a blunt observation about someone – a comment that others might think but would not have uttered. We joked often about her not having a filter between her brain and mouth.

She also had strong likes and dislikes. She HATED the colour green. She HATED the coffee from McDonald’s. Don’t even get her started on Rich’s creamer. Crowds were overwhelming for her so she stayed home many times while my dad would take us to the Toronto Santa Claus parade and other exhausting but exciting venues as children.

It wasn’t until I became a mother to a son who exhibited many of the same characteristics that I began to see my mother in a new light. I began to understand and appreciate the lengths my mother went to try to overcome the challenges she faced in her life. It was important to her that I not feel as socially awkward and isolated as she had as a child. She signed me up for Brownies and when I began to balk at going, getting migraines from working myself up with worry, she put aside her own anxieties and became a Brownie leader. Of course I didn’t understand then how hard that must have been for her. To this day, those Girl Guide outings and camps are some of my best memories. I became so comfortable going that I moved on to Guides and my mother was able to fade into the distance.

During first grade I began to experience stomach aches and frequent headaches. My parents took me to the doctor, had my eyes checked and it was determined that these symptoms were due to stress. I was stressed – I remember being worried all the time that I was doing something wrong or was going to get in to trouble. I had this free floating anxiety for much of my life – not really being able to pinpoint what I was worried about. I told my mother I was afraid of failing. She spoke with my teacher and nothing could have been further from the truth but through that discussion it was decided it might help me if my mother had more of a presence at the school. So once again my mother offered to volunteer and she began to help out in the school library. It must have helped having her close by because all of the “symptoms” began to fade away.

How hard that must have been for my mother to put herself out there. But how devoted she was to me. That makes me tear up today. We are pretty sure, having gone through the assessment process for Corbin that my mother likely has Asperger’s as well. To think that she repeatedly pushed through her anxiety and other difficulties in her attempts to help me is an amazing testament to her devotion. I know she often berates herself for not being a better mother. But when I am faced with the most difficult times for Corbin I think back to the sacrifices my mother made for me. When I feel like I cannot possibly fight one more fight for Corbin I am bolstered by all that my mother did for me. He deserves no less – a lesson my mother taught me.

Update 8 years later – In 2013 my mother was indeed diagnosed with Asperger’s. While it doesn’t change who she is it certainly answered a lot of questions that everyone had, in particular hers.  I am re-posting this here to reaffirm for her that I do understand and appreciate the mother that she has been to me. 

Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak is a 40-something mom and wife with two spirited boys. She has worked in early intervention and as an advocate resource for families with a loved one with a disability. Now she also writes a blog about raising children with complex needs, trying not to lose your sense of self as you parent, and her struggles with mental health.

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