Children: Marcus (8)
Occupation: Administrative and Program Support, National Institutes of Health; writer, blogger, speaker and advocate
How did you first become involved in nationwide LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER (LTYM) show?
LTYM is a live 90-minute show featuring readings by local writers on all facets of motherhood. Each production holds auditions and is directed, produced and performed by local communities, for local communities. I became involved because of the solid push of a dear, dear friend who forced me to audition for the D.C. show just seven months after the death of my husband. Once I performed, I knew that I needed to remain connected to the show and thought that Baltimore should have a voice in this amazing project. I convinced one of my best friends, Arlene Jackson, to co-produce and co-direct the project with me. We worked hard over the last four years to make the Baltimore production unique and inclusive of the many faces and stories of the region.
How has raising an autistic child differed from the way you imagined it at the time of your son’s diagnosis?
It’s hard to express what it feels like to receive an autism diagnosis for your child. The flurry of emotions ranges from shock, sadness, rage, disappointment, regret, denial, fear, anxiety and hopefully you eventually you settle in acceptance, hope and optimism. We were blessed to have our son diagnosed one week after his second birthday. I can’t say enough about Kennedy Krieger Institute and how important they have been in our lives for the last six and a half years.
What is the most common misconception about autism that you routinely hear, and how do you work to diffuse that false outlook?
There is still a great misconception that autism is one thing and that every person with autism is the same. This is so very untrue, thus the reason for calling it Autism Spectrum Disorder. Every single person with ASD is different than the next.
As a widow and single parent, how have your circumstances shaped your role as a parent?
I don’t see myself as a single parent at all and I actually have a deep and visceral reaction when I’m called one. I’m a widowed mother who parents alone. Perhaps semantics to some, but not to me. I won’t allow his father to be erased. I’ve tried, with the help of my family and inner circle of friends, to give Marcus as much love as he can handle. Based on the child he is, I believe we are succeeding. He has a spirit that embodies the best parts of his father’s personality, as well as his affinity for all things musical and technological.
What is your favorite way to spend time with Marcus and why?
My favorite thing to do with my son is simply talk. It’s amazing to remember a time just before my husband died that we often were saddened and would lament, “What if he never talks? Some kids on the spectrum never talk.” We wasted a lot of energy on those worries because Marcus rarely STOPS talking. I love listening to the rhythm, lilt and cadence of his voice mixed with the mature word choices that he uses.
What is your best practical advice for balancing work and motherhood?
Without the support of my mother and stepmother, I would not be able to survive. I’m a firm believer in a support system. You can always accomplish more on a team than you can alone, but often as women and moms, we are hesitant to reach out for help for fear that we will seem weak, unprepared or ill-equipped.
What projects are you working on that you hope to complete within the next year or so?
As a result of the Listen to Your Mother project, I’ve quite naturally slid into the role of workshop facilitator and teacher. Beginning with the nonprofits that we have partnered with, I’ve been teaching classes on authentic storytelling for healing and creative storytelling, as well as helping young people to identify and pursue their passions. Over the next year, I hope to continue speaking to groups and organizations on overcoming adversity, embracing grief and allowing it to heal you, parenting a child with special needs, living as an LGBTQ ally and pursuing your passion. I recently signed with a wonderful agent, Ms. Monica Odom with the Bradford Literary Agency, and we are working together to craft my first book, which will be a memoir.