There are two types of people in this world. There are kind and charitable people, who dedicate their lives to working in a field like special education, and who bear the weight of the world on their shoulders. There is another kind – the tax lawyers, publicists, finance, Silicon Valley types who think about how great they are and how asking them to pay a slightly higher tax rate on their six figure salaries is totally unreasonable. They lead meaningless lives full of 4WDs, private schools, and walk in wardrobes.
All my life I have fully intended to be the second type. The daughter of poor immigrants (well, they were pretty poor, I still had private tutors but everyone has one of those), I purged my soul of any kindness while attending an elite private school and honed my shark-like legal instincts at Sydney Uni Law School. I then got into one of the most lucrative and useless professions I could think of – tax law. My way to the million dollar bonus was clear. All I had to do was not burn out or develop a drug addiction in the ten years prior to making name partner at some top four accounting firm.
I also planned a few other things while studying, working at a law firm, volunteering at a legal centre and occasionally leaving my house for the purpose of drinking alcohol. I planned to get married by 25. I planned to then get pregnant, have a baby, drop him/her off with a grandparent/daycare/nanny and be right back at my full time job doing my soul crushingly useless but well paid thing.
One of the more surprising things about this is that most of these plans actually happened. In that exact order. I got married to a wonderful man just before my 25th birthday. I then got pregnant within a month on our honeymoon, had a baby nine months later, and started planning the daycare I would drop him off at on the day he turned 11 months old. I also signed him up for Sydney Grammar, and deliberately didn’t put him on the waiting list for any other school. When my doctor suggested that a two month old was a bit young to be pressured to get into a selective school I just stared at her. Were there kids that couldn’t get into a selective school? I always thought they must do this on purpose, to free up time for getting pregnant at 13 or whatever it is those kinds of people did. Yes, this is how I thought. No, this thinking did not end well for me.
It was then that it started to unravel. First, I could not make myself go back to work when my baby turned 11 months. My friends suggested I loved my baby too much and was enjoying staying at home with him much more than my job delving into capital gains tax and taxation of trusts. I told them that while I definitely was quite attached to the kid, the only people that could say ‘enjoy’ and ‘staying at home’ in the same sentence were people that had never had kids and had never been near a small child for more than an hour of their life. I may have also muttered something about how some people have all the luck.
See despite what I have said earlier I loved my job, and although it might crush the souls of others it made me really happy every morning to know I would get to go to work, and analyse transactions. It’s true, I was certifiably insane at the time, but that was me. I loved numbers, I loved tax, I loved how it worked and what it represented – a society trying to decide democratically who deserved help and who could do some heavy lifting. I used to rant at my husband about capital gains tax and stamp duty (poor thing) and I missed it so much I actually did a large chunk of my masters while I was home with Mikie. It was not because of work or finding meaning in life that I decided to stay with him.
The truth was that I couldn’t imagine leaving my little boy at daycare because there just seemed to be something…unusual about him. First, he cried a lot. I don’t mean a lot like babies do in sitcoms, where they cry for about fifteen minutes at night sometimes but don’t stop their parents from going to a bar the next day after giving birth (Yes Modern Family I’m looking at you). I mean he cried at EVERYTHING. At a small beam of sun accidentally creeping up to his face. A sound. A movement. The lack of sound or movement. He was allergic to egg, dairy, lentils and almonds which meant I spent most of the day cooking and reading ingredients lists for snacks. He also seemed to be quite delayed. He didn’t roll over until he was 10 months old. He couldn’t crawl or walk, and barely played with toys. Over the next eight or nine months I took him desperately to Gymbaroo, Playgroup, got him enriching toys and dance classes. He didn’t talk or point. I still dreamed of the useless corporate life with the salary (oh how I missed having a salary) but decided to take six months to bring my son up to speed. I also put him on waiting lists for some non selective elite private schools, just in case.
Eight months later, he was being diagnosed with autism and all the plans I had built for his future (I was up to third year uni, don’t judge me) and of course my plans of well-paid service to the corporate overlords, were gone. I became acquainted with special needs terminology. I learned how hard he would have to work to learn how to do the simplest things, like pay attention to a book for ten seconds. I started getting nervous about the possibly unpleasant boys at elite private schools who would judge him exclusively on his sports or academic ability (I know I know). I became an ABA therapist, doing about half of my son’s 30 hours per week of therapy and got intimately acquainted with special schools.
Life is really weird. Many of my friends from uni who started out wanting to change the world and volunteered for domestic violence service centers are now corporate lawyers with the aforementioned soulless jobs and large salaries. And I have, despite all the early signs, become a housewife, mother of a special needs child, and my existence actually helps the people around me. I have probably become a better person, if only because the only qualities I used to value in someone else were their education levels and their IQ. This self improvement was, as I have mentioned previously, not entirely voluntary. But to continue this trend I have decided to write about my experiences with my little boy in the hope that it helps another parent just as lost as I was.