It takes a village to raise a child.
When I first heard this proverb as a child, I was perplexed by the idea. After all, I was raised by a single mother and my father rarely came around, let alone helped out. Now, as a parent, I’ve come to realize the truth behind it. What I didn’t see as a child was that part of my “village” included my teachers, my babysitters, and my grandmother. Despite having to work hard to support us, my mother was not entirely alone in her pursuit to raise me. Of course, things fell through the cracks. I learned about sex and even the changes young girls go through from other sources (other children, books, etc.) But I know now, that she did the best she could and regardless of how flawed our relationship is, I am grateful for everything she did do.
I write this, because I find myself troubled. Completely lost as to how to continue caring for my own son. I’ve always hated that one of the first things I have to explain about Cameron is that he is autistic. When I see my son, I see so many wonderful things before I see the autism. He’s smart, funny, loving, and creative. He’s a wonderful little boy who deserves all of the best things life can offer, much like any other child. But unfortunately, his autism touches every facet of our lives. Every part of our lives is ruled by his condition. The local day cares are unwilling to care for him because of it. Not even a day care that specializes in special needs children. The local public school system basically labeled him as a bad child and refused to work with him. Even his own therapists decided he was too difficult to work with and refused to continue seeing him.
It’s sad to realize that so many people have already given up on your child. Especially for things that he can’t be held responsible for. Things that aren’t truly his fault. It breaks my heart to know that a child like him, a child who truly needs a village to help raise him, is stuck with just me. My son deserves so much better than to be stuck with just me. Despite my best efforts, I can’t manage to keep a job. Each time it’s because another link in our flimsy support chain fails. Which only goes to show you’re only as good as your weakest link.
I am not a lazy woman, despite what most people may think. I do not like the idea of being unemployed. I’m ashamed that we have to get government assistance to keep food on the table or a roof over our heads. Heck, I’d gladly take a job scrubbing toilets with my own toothbrush if I could. But as I walk into each interview, my stomach clenches as I know that there are two questions they will ask which will surely seal my fate and leave my resume in the ‘no’ stack.
Why did you move to Ohio?
You wouldn’t think this is such a loaded question and for the most part it usually isn’t. However the truth is, we had no where else to go. I was about to lose yet another job in Louisiana because I had no one who could care for my son. I had tried to find jobs that would allow me to work while he was in school, but no one wants to hire you to work from 8 – 2 Monday through Friday. No employer wants to hear that you can’t work nights or you can’t work weekends or holidays. So my choices fell to two options: Tennessee, where at least Cam could sleep at my grandmother’s house while I worked nights or Ohio, where there are better job opportunities, day cares that stay open until midnight, easier access to resources to help with his condition, and my son’s father. Looking back now, I wish I had chosen differently. I may have never made anything with my life in Tennessee, trapped in a low paying, over-night stocking job at Walmart, but at least I would have a job.
Foolishly, I reached for the stars and chose Ohio. After all, I didn’t know that my ex would absolutely refuse to help with Cameron. I couldn’t predict that those same day cares would turn my child away. Which leads into the next question I fear during each interview..
Why did you have to leave your last few jobs?
This question always has me lowering my head in shame. After all, how do you explain that even though your son’s father lives only a mile away, he can’t be bothered to help out with your son? Or that you lost one job because your son was kicked out of daycare and another because the school kept sending him home two to three times a week? How do you explain that even the public school system failed to help your son, to the point where you were forced to home school him for an entire semester?
Of course, explaining these things are simple enough. Many employers are really sympathetic to the struggles I’ve worked to overcome. But the issue is, you cannot undo the skepticism they’ve now developed at your ability to maintain a long-term position with their company. You are labeled as unreliable and virtually unemployable.
I know, I know. Why don’t I go get a fast food job. They usually hire anyone, right? Wrong. If you can’t work nights and weekends, if you are unable to be flexible with your work schedule, you are not useful to even these minimum wage jobs.
I suppose I’m lucky. I’ve managed to snag a freelance writing gig. It’s temporary and I barely make $20-$40 week for about 30 hours of work. But it’s something, right? Also, I’ve begun regularly donating plasma twice a week. I know that sounds lazy and most people probably think it’s not a big deal. But it truly is a miserable experience. For one, I’m deathly afraid of needles. I have been ever since I was a little girl. Also, it’s confining. I can’t lose a lot of weight too quickly. I can’t run a fever or get sick. I can’t even go see the doctor or go to the dentist or else I will be turned away from donating. The worst part of it is the physical toll it takes on me. Some days, I can barely make it up the stairs to my apartment before I pass out. Most of the time it leave me physically ill for several days and I have to be careful around Cam. I can no longer pick him up for a hug most days, because my arm is too sore or because I feel too weak to pick him up.
Of course, most people don’t realize how difficult it is on me. I may not be the most cheerful person and lord knows I can be fairly negative, but I generally try to focus on the good points in our lives. Reading new books from the library, free Zumba classes at the local Y and Cam’s love for his swimming classes. But as yet another chain of our support begins to crumble, I find myself wondering how I will be able to continue on. How I will be able to afford to heat our apartment this winter? How will I be able to keep searching for jobs if I do not have a phone for them to contact me on? How will I ensure Cameron has everything he needs?
I write this all, not for pity or sympathy. Merely for a place to put my thoughts. A way to ponder how I will be able to overcome all of this to give my son a better life. A way to figure out what else I have left to give up. For I fear I have given all I have to give and that it is yet, still not good enough. Because as the proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child and this is a village of one.