"No man is an island."
But this girl is.
It’s 1992 and I’m an eager college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology out in the much anticipated real world. Tanned and rested and still smelling faintly of Old Bay seasoning from a summer waiting tables at a crab house in Ocean City Maryland, I have $86.00 in my bank account, a bike for transportation, and about 200 cassette tapes of which Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana are played most frequently on my canary yellow, waterproof walkman.
As a Clinical Assistant on the Neurobehavioral Unit at Kennedy Kreiger Institute, I work as direct care staff on an inpatient hospital unit for multiply disabled children and adolescents with very severe behavioral challenges to include self-injury, extreme aggression and severe property destruction. Few of these children are verbal or able to care for their basic needs.
I am proud of my first real, salaried “big girl job” that doesn’t involve waiting tables, serving alcohol or sliding donuts, coffee or frozen yogurt across a counter. Instead of sitting in a cubicle, typing, telemarketing, wearing control top pantyhose and sensible heels like the majority of my friends, I am changing diapers, bathing, dressing and feeding children and adolescents, getting peed on, thrown up on, bitten and beat up. The work is low paying and certainly no picnic, but while it is one of the most difficult jobs I ever had, it is also one of the most life-altering and rewarding. It is impossible to work with these amazing kids and not be transformed at your core. Furthermore, a practical byproduct of working on this unit is that it will fully prepare me for the grunt work of motherhood. At least at Kennedy Kreiger, I am getting paid to do it and only worked a 40 hour week.
I am standing at the back nurse’s station on the Neurobehavioral Unit, talking to a co-worker about whether we could handle a child with these types of extensive disabilities when we become parents ourselves one day.
“Oh, I can totally handle anything,” I say with complete confidence and an open heart. Of course, there is one small exception. I have singled out one diagnosis that just seems beyond my capacities. One I have had immense experience with while working at Kennedy Kreiger. One I know I don’t have the constitution for because you have to be a whole different breed of parent than I know myself capable of being.
“When I have kids, there’s nothing I couldn’t handle,” I say to my colleague. “Except Autism. Of all the things that could happen, Autism would be the one thing I just couldn’t manage.”
I’m not sure whether it was God having a sense of humor, the Universe being ironic, or just a weird, random coincidence. Perhaps I didn’t knock on wood. Perhaps, what you breathe into the world, you breathe into existence. Perhaps it was pre-destined. Perhaps it was a total and complete fluke.
It’s funny how when you get exactly what you never wished for, and your life resembles nothing of what you imagined, it somehow turns out to be exactly what you always wanted.