I've never really sat back and thought about the similarities of being the wife of an officer and the mother of a special needs child, but for whatever reason on that day, I had this chicken or the egg moment of realization, and I finally came to the conclusion, it didn't matter which came first, both have made me a better wife and mother.
Newer law enforcement spouses and parents of newly diagnosed special needs children both have the element of surprise and both have the weight of the unknown upon their shoulders. Regardless of how much you read, research, listen to others who have been there, done that...until you have your own experiences you cannot truly understand and learn from them. I don't really know how many years into my marriage it was before I felt like a "veteran" police wife - I just remember at some point I knew this was how it was, certain things would never change and I could wallow in the negatives or make the most of the positives. It just seems like one day things clicked and I thought "Life is what you make of it, even on sucky days". I remember feeling the exact same way about a year or so into the journey of autism.
People judge me and my husband before they ever get to know us, simply because he's a police officer.
People judge me and my son before they ever get to know us, simply because he is accompanied by a service dog.
Perfect strangers will stop us when my husband is in uniform to ask all kinds of questions about that wreck on the highway last week (in a different city) or what to do about a neighbor who won't turn their music down.
Perfect strangers will stop my son and I and begin asking questions about his "seeing eye dog" and his medical history and how to get a service dog for an issue completely unrelated to our own.
My life as an officer's wife revolves around constant compromise due to changing schedules, last minute extra jobs, sudden late shifts due to unexpected drunks, arrests, etc.. My life as a special needs mom revolves around constant compromise due to the ever changing moods and physical wellbeing of my son. Plans one minute are instantly changed due to GI issues, meltdowns, sensory challenges which disrupt our day and never predictable moods.
Being an officer's wife has taught me my pride in my husband will rarely be understood by others outside of law enforcement. There's no making anyone understand why I consider my husband my hero, when they have no understanding or respect for those who put their lives on the line daily to protect innocents. To some, my husband will always represent their wasted tax dollars. I've learned to wear my pride in my heart, where it matters most anyway. Likewise, those outside of the ASD/SPD community will most likely not understand why I am instantly brought to tears when my son makes it though a new experience without a meltdown. Or why one grape eaten is so huge, or why my son is my hero when he makes it through a regular movie. I've learned that because he doesn't "look" disabled that many will never truly understand how amazing he really is.
Being an officer's wife has led me to be extremely independent. I cannot depend on my husband to be there whenever I need him and I cannot resent him for choosing a path as a servant and protector to others, even when a snake in a toilet is keeping him from me and not an abused mother in need of a protector. I must always remember his duty is to answer the calls, he doesn't have the pleasure of hand picking what he must respond to. Likewise I have become very independent as a mother. Special needs child or not, this would be the case as the wife of an officer, however, adding special needs to the mix is just another layer. It is mostly on me to get our son to therapies and specialist appointments and procedures and evals. It is mostly upon me to deal with the constant day in, day out challenges of sensory overload, feeding disorders, seizures and meltdowns. It is mostly upon me to have the patience of hearing from sun up to sun down about the latest obsession, in great detail with much patience. And, it is mostly up to me to understand what my son is experiencing and remember it is not within my power to change him or his feelings, nor is it right to resent him for that which he cannot control. I must always remember he didn't choose to have autism, dysphagia, seizures and speech problems, but as his mother I must make the choice to help him learn to cope with those things which are not in his control.
Being an officer's wife has taught me to be patient. He's rarely home when he should be home, dinners go uneaten quite often, I can't get a response when I need one. It may take weeks or longer for plans to work out without something ruining them. Birthday parties, holidays and such are often a controlled disaster. Last minute cancellations are the norm. Family and friends tend to not understand. I don't have to change a thing about that being applicable to being a special needs mom.
Being an officer's wife has taught me to let things roll off my back and consider the source. From cop haters to internet experts on how officers should handle themselves to those who will never even try to open their minds to your truth and knowledge about the man you married, as they have their mind made up as to why cops are the way they are and nothing said could ever change that. From many - my husband will never get credit for being a loving father or husband because he made the choice to become an oppressor of human rights and I will never get respect because I chose to marry him. Being an autism mom has taught me to realize that there will always be those who don't believe in autism, who believe my poor parenting skills are to blame and who have an opinion on everything from GMO's to food coloring to time spent in front of a tablet as reasons for my son's issues. Regardless of me trying to educate some, they will always state I should discipline more, he will eat good foods if he's hungry enough, he will wear socks if you give him no other choice and nothing I say will change the fact that in their mind, I'm simply making excuses. After all....there wasn't autism back in the day, there was spankings. Same judgment, two different subjects....like water rolling off a duck's back.
Being an officer's wife has prepared me for the mommy wars. This was an unexpected benefit (if you can call this ridiculousness a benefit). There's a whole world of instantly offended and defensive law enforcement wives out there who will jump your shit before you even knew you needed a bathroom. I have to walk away from the internet daily just reading the comments from what is supposed to be a sisterhood of police spouses (ohh...just said sisterhood, must be leaving out the men on purpose there). I see prayer requests from a wife stating something as simple as "please send some prayers up for my husband, he's worked over 60 hours this week and is dealing with protestors". This will be followed with droves of one-up's "My LEO hasn't been home in four days, has had bottles thrown at him and is working with a stress fracture". "My LEO was in a fight on the side of the highway while trying to deliver a baby with one hand tied behind his back and blindfolded" OKAY.....YOU WIN!!! I see the same thing with special needs moms. "Been a rough week. I just wish I could get him to try a fruit". "Your kid eats more than two carbs, be grateful. I would do anything to get my kid to eat what your kid already eats". "Be grateful your child doesn't have cancer or some other deadly illness. I wish fruit was all we had to worry about". Yes.....because I'm not grateful my child doesn't have cancer?
My most used and least listened to line of all time...... "THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF ONE IS NOT THE EQUIVILENT OF THE DIMINISHING OF ANOTHER".
I'll never understand the spouses who all about the drama and I'll never understand the mom's who feel the need to diminish each other. However, I have learned much from both, and on days when I catch myself feeling judgmental or rolling my eyes, I stop myself and remind myself that everyone is dealing with something legitimate to them, and who am I to judge?
I suppose at the end of the day one thing remains the same....it's really about how you choose to roll with the hand you're given. I don't look at my life as the wife of an officer as some hand I've been dealt, I look at my life with the man I was blessed enough to marry, who happens to be an officer. I choose to remember what he can and cannot control about what is thrown his way each shift and I make the choice to not allow resentment and petty anger come between us as the time we have together is not guaranteed. Knowing an officer doesn't make it home alive every 53 hours will (or should) make you keep your priorities in check. God forbid something happens to him, I never want our last moments to be regrettable. Likewise, there are no do over's in parenting. I've got one chance to give it all I have as Izzy's mom. I'll never look at autism as the hand I've been dealt. I'll always remember it is my job to help a little boy who has no choice but to live with the hand he's been dealt, and I will do everything in my power to help him learn to appreciate all the positives about being autistic, rather than focus on the challenges.
There are days I will fail miserably at both, wife and mother. But I'll do my best to be my best and when I suck at it, I'll try again. One thing I can honestly say - I'm a better person today than I was before either of those incredible beings entered my life. It is because of that I know, things are just as they should be. As it's said -
Life is a journey - enjoy the ride.