We traveled to New Orleans last weekend for a family wedding. Nothing about a crowded, loud celebration appeals to Sam, and I fully expected a difficult evening. Fortuitously, the affair took place in the Louisiana State Museum! Refreshments were interspersed with exhibits. Sam found a room devoted to Mardi Gras costumes throughout the twentieth century and basically skipped the rest of the wedding. She was in heaven. She is now researching one of the designers. She didn’t merely survive the night; she loved it!
But this is all a preface. In my own wanderings I happened upon a 30s-ish woman sitting aside a display, crocheting. I glanced at her a couple of times, and when she looked up I explained that I was wishing my daughter had brought her knitting. (I’d lost Sam by that point and did not realize how contentedly occupied she was.) The woman informed me that she was a member of the other family and needed some quiet time and space after hours of posing for pictures. I replied that I understood that need because my daughter, who is autistic, also needs these breaks. Then, as I’d expected, the woman told me she has Asperger’s even though I probably couldn’t tell. No point in challenging her on that one, I thought. I sat down and we talked about her very large family and her crocheting. She is a smart, funny woman and to most people would probably “pass” as neurotypical. She crochets squares, then rolls and ties them into the shape of bunny heads. She hopes to build a business.
More than anything, I wanted to ask her what happened after school. Where does she work? Where does she live? What is the happy trajectory of her life that I can use to reassure myself? But I was afraid to ask. Instead I promised to buy some bunnies.
The next morning I queried my cousin about her. He was still getting to know his new relatives, but his sense was that the woman had finished college, still lived with her parents, and did not hold down a job. He said the family was very tight-lipped about it.
At the wedding she had given me her email address and encouraged me to pass it on to Sam. She thought Sam might benefit from the connection. To my own surprise, I’ve realized that I will never put Sam in touch with her. This is a correspondence that I do not want to facilitate.
I’ve always maintained that I want for Sam whatever she wants for herself. Now I think I may have been lying. Living at home and hoping to earn $500 before she reaches age 35 is not what I want. Of course Sam may not want that either; and if she does, perhaps I’ll learn to accept it. Maybe. As parents we adjust and move on with life. That’s part of maturity and it’s part of sanity. Certainly my love will not diminish, regardless of her choices, but this woman’s life is a choice I would struggle to embrace. It is not what I want.
Part of me, the non-judgmental part, wonders if I should feel ashamed for passing judgment. After all, what is wrong with doing something enjoyable in a comfortable space? Sam participates in knitting club after school twice a week. She says she does not interact much with the other students, because she prefers to focus on her project. I’m thrilled that the club exists. I’m thrilled that crocheting exists. I love to crochet! I love to watch skilled crafters work their magic with yarn. I don’t even have qualms (I’m pretty sure) about the idea that Sam might continue living under my roof for the rest of our lives. (Um, maybe some qualms.) And, I remind myself, Walden was one of my favorite books. Thoreau’s decision to remove himself from society for a year always seemed like an endeavor worthy of emulation. Learn and know thyself. Now I find myself wondering if teenaged me would have admired him, had I known that Thoreau was probably on the spectrum. Removing yourself from human contact because you are a transcendentalist/proto-environmentalist sounds so much nobler than removing yourself because you're socially impaired.
But I digress. This is not about whether or not I endorse needlecrafts and/or solitude. It is really about work, about the purpose and structure that work provides. I want my daughter to have a job. She doesn’t need to have a paying job necessarily—I’m not paid to be a mother or the treasurer of my community garden—but I want her to have a job. I want her to be responsible to others, to believe her contribution is important, and to know that her contribution is valued. I want her to believe her life has a purpose for herself and for others. I want her to wake up in the morning and, on most days, have something she needs to accomplish.
It’s true that Sam is happiest when she is sitting on her bed petting her cats. I do want her to be happy, and I want her to pet the cats. But when I envision her spending her days in her room with the cats? I see failure. Mostly I see my own failure. The role models I want for Sam have jobs. They may not always enjoy their jobs, but nobody enjoys every aspect of a job. The alternative, though, is never being challenged to grow, never being challenged and supported to accomplish something meaningful, never connecting to a broader world. I will not pass on the crocheter's address. There, the judgmental part of me has spoken.