Feeling 'Invisible' as a Special Needs Mom on Super Tuesday
I checked the clock: 8:07 a.m. I have roughly 20 minutes to get the little girl who lives in my house dressed, hair done and out the door. Will I make it? Heaven only knows. I have everything laid out next to me on the couch: lotion, underwear, outfit, shoes and socks, hair bows, brush, comb, spray bottle. My oh my, this little girl has a glam squad getting her ready for kindergarten. It’s a good thing her mommy is a stylist because this level of suitin’ and bootin’ is usually reserved for those who regularly walk a red carpet. You couldn’t tell her that, though. The world is her stage, and she rips the runway with much ‘tude.
The television is on and Scooby Doo is helping solve the latest mystery along with his meddlesome compadres while DD, my little girl, finishes her breakfast. As I maneuvered behind her, I could hear another television just behind the wall. The presidential candidates are in a fierce war of words, trying desperately to outdo each other with clever witticisms. Pundits are all so eager to opine and sip on airtime. “Humph,” I thought to myself. “The campaign trail has nothing on our household. Forget the race to the White House. The real race is getting out of my house.” I checked the time again: 8:15 a.m.
I picked up the spray bottle and aimed it at her hair. A few quick sprays of water and like magic her curls reform. I pick up a brush and smooth one puff, then two, then one double-ponytail, then two. A few twists and barrettes on the ends and we are done. 8:23 a.m. I tap her on the shoulder and she turns to look at me. “Let’s go, Toot,” I say. She picked up the remaining bacon on her orange sectioned plate and heads to the kitchen with plate in hand as I headed to that place behind the wall where I hear the candidates’ voices. I glance at the television as I put on my shoes and shake my head again. I can still hear them as I walk away from the room and toward the front door.
I picked up the previous night’s homework from the cubicle by the door along with the backpack she refused to acknowledge this morning: 8:30 a.m. I am now officially running late.
“Time to go to school, Toot.”
“No,” she said as she dances with her shadow outside the SUV, oblivious that the clock is ticking and her mother is, too.
“Toot, let’s go!” I shout as I walk toward her. She spins on a dime, hand on her hips as she bops toward the SUV and stops again at the open door.
“Get in, Sweet. We’re late for school,” I say.
Once we’re both finally buckled in, I look at the clock: 8:36 a.m. The morning bell rings at 8:45 a.m. Late isn’t even the word. As a matter of fact, this is what can be called “normal” on any given day in our household.
A short mile later, I stop at a stop sign and hear, “ding ding ding!”
I look at the digital dashboard. Fuel Level Low.
At this point all I can do is laugh. I chuckled to myself and thought about all the things I needed to do after I dropped DD at school that did not include a trip to the gas station. Nonetheless, a quick jaunt around the next corner and the entrance gate was in full view. Following the circular road, I bypassed the parking lot and pulled up to the curb right near the yellow “no parking” line. I checked the time again: 8:42 a.m. I’ve got three minutes to make it happen. I helped her arms through her backpack. I handed her the homework and grabbed my phone. We headed toward the gate.
A short walk past two opened doors and we were at her classroom. She walked in and looked around. After a quick greeting from one of her classmates, she took her backpack off and hung it on the hook under her personal cubby. The teacher walked towards me as I watched DD.
“Good morning,” I said. “She’s having quite a day.”
The teacher replied with a smile saying, “It’s OK. We all have those mornings.”
DD had joined her classmates on the carpet for morning story time. I looked at her smiling face as she found her assigned space and sat between the children who were already seated. It makes me proud to see her assimilate herself into the classroom culture. With all of the problems we have had to get to this point, seeing her happy in this space makes me feel confident about keeping her in public school. It’s a daily struggle, though. For as much as I am happy about her school days, the reservations I have are just as numerous. I took a deep breath in and waved goodbye as I exhaled and turned to walk away.
I checked my phone as I sat in the drivers’ seat and turned on the engine. The radio station has gone to commercial break and the morning anchor is urging all who listen to exercise their right to vote. I listen and reply to the voice I hear through those Bose speakers, “I’m already with ya, sister.”
Today is Super Tuesday. It is 8:50 a.m. and this super mom is already super tired. At least I didn’t have to travel far to cast my ballot. Let’s get this show on the road… if I don’t run out of gas first.
I headed to the church in my neighborhood where I had voted before. There were no sign-wielding, flag-waving, honk-your-horn-for-us volunteers on the road. If I didn’t already know it was an election day, I wouldn’t have even realized it.
I entered the polling place, which also doubled as the main sanctuary, and walked over to the poller who took my driver license and proceeded to search for me in the system. The poll worker quietly gave me my license back and directed me to another worker who gave me a ballot and directions to enter it to be counted. I did so. As I exited I could feel their eyes on me as I walked away with my “I Voted” sticker.
I am the primary caregiver to a child with special needs. I listen to the candidates degrade each other. I watch the candidates’ actions toward each other. I watch the candidates exploit each other’s differences. They throw rocks and hide their hands. They craft words to puff themselves up even at the expense of someone who they campaign to govern. I hear them in the morning. I see them at noon. I see them at night. I see them, but they do not see me.
I belong to a specific subset of the population you rarely see on the campaign trail. They don’t see the hurt these words cause daily in our lives. They don’t see the fight we undertake just to be included. They can’t possibly understand the effect the programs they cut have on families who depend on them to give our disabled loved ones a decent quality of life. They talk about education but likely cannot fathom the struggle we face in getting an individualized education program (IEP) written effectively to give our children the support they need. And they talk about “No Child Left Behind.” They bicker over submitting tax returns and how much someone was paid to speak at a convention. I wish they could see my tax returns, or those of any other mom who had to end her career to take care of a child with special needs. Our children aren’t left behind for sure — but they aren’t readily seen.
You may not see us, but we are here. We are not lazy by any means. We are strong beyond measure. We are advocates and caregivers and tired and frustrated and courageous and invisible. We are not on any stage behind a mic. We are not included in campaign slogans. We are not in memes circulated on social media. We are not a superset of any platform. We may not be primary monetary contributors. It’s Super Tuesday, and I haven’t heard one super word that would help our population. I watch the commercials. I search the Internet. I have found nothing that will make me favor any candidate over another as it concerns my family. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Yet in some respect, everything they say affects my family in some way.
If I could have, I would have voted “Kindness” for president. It wasn’t on the ballot. Perhaps it should have been. I wonder if it would get the nomination uncontested. We’ll never know.
I’m a Mighty mom. I’m a super mom. It’s Super Tuesday, and if you look real hard you’ll see my cape blowing in the wind.
Image via Thinkstock.
A version of this post originally appeared in LaTaasha’s book, “Inclusion Is for the Included.”
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