August 8, 2011
In the Company of Women
(written on the flight home from BlogHer '11 in San Diego)
The sun is setting over the Pacific as my plane takes off for home. For the past four days, I haven't hated that sun. The San Diego sun has been pleasant, after all. The Texas sun that I'll see again tomorrow? It wants to kill us all. And it might just succeed.
I'm not going to write about the Special Needs Mini-Conference itself just yet. Those of us who participated in the panel and those who attended have been asked to post something next week, on the 15th, so I'll gather my thoughts and post a more comprehensive something something then.
But I did want to say a few words about the women I met at the conference. Given that it was BlogHer, it was almost entirely women I met, after all. (I walked into the conference center's men's room on several occasions and had it all to my princely self.) There were a few educators at the conference, but mostly, I met mothers.
I met extraordinary mothers.
I see how hard Julie works for Schuyler; I know as well as anyone the rocky pathways these mothers tread. As I met them and heard their stories, I found once again that some of them face monsters that make Schuyler's look like Cookie Monster. I met mothers who face daunting obstacles, mothers who spend their waking hours tending to and sustaining and comforting their beautiful, broken children. Some of them do this work alone, far too many of them, I suspect. I met mothers who have no time, and yet make time, mothers who struggle not just to save their children, but also to hang onto their own humanity, their own sense of self. I met mothers fighting to avoid being swallowed by their children's monsters.
These mothers have every right to be tired, to be ragged and sad and bitter. They've earned that right with their tireless advocacy and their unending work. They fear the future like I do, and that fear can be consuming as well. These mothers have a right to lose their faith.
But here's the thing. I didn't meet ragged, defeated mothers. I met strong women, charming and funny and positive, mothers who recognize not just the extraordinary challenges that their children present, but the enriched lives and unshakable loves that they enjoy for having those kids in their worlds. I spent the day of the conference with a continuous lump in my throat, listening to their stories and their hope and their unflagging overbelief in their kids.
If I were to try to list everyone I met, I would leave someone off and that would be wildly unfair. I do want to recognize my extraordinary fellow panelists, Shannon des Roches Rosa and Aurelia Cotta, as well as Julia "Not that Julia Roberts" Roberts from Support for Special Needs, who organized the event and ran it like Swiss clockwork. Thanks also to the unstoppable Jen Lee Reeves for all your help and amazing energy.
Mostly, I want to thank everyone I met and everyone who attended the session. I felt like something real got started, something significant set in motion. For myself, I can only say that I feel inspired to do better, to be a better parent and a stronger advocate. And that's probably the very best I could ever hope for.