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Saint Judy

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My mother is the only person in the world besides Putin and Anna Wintour who intimidates me. Why? Because she is always truthful. And sometimes the truth can hurt. Judy doesn't mince her words. She is loving but ascerbic, soft of heart but hard as nails. My mother is my best friend, my soul mate, my companion, my foil. She is also my greatest advocate. As she herself often proclaims (usually apologetically to my husband), "every woman needs a wife!" She has truly been a phenomenal wife over the past sixteen years, since my son was born. Every special needs mother deserves a Judy.

The first thing my mother does when she arrives in Wimbledon for one of her three-week visits is clean the kitchen sink. Then she goes to the wine store. There is nothing in Judy's opinion that a good glass of Merlot cannot cure. These two tasks, the sink-cleaning and wine-imbibing, reflect my mother in a nutshell: she is pragmatic yet fun-loving.

Raising a child with special needs has been challenging to say the least. Convincing the medical community that my concerns about my son were valid, and then attaining a proper diagnosis, was a gruesome battle. My mother has been right there in the trenches with me from day one. My gorgeous and successful Asperger's son would not be where he is today without Judy's belief and support. From the day he was born, I struggled to understand why this tiny baby was clearly in pain. Family members judged me as a parent and judged my child. Mothers at the playground whispered and pointed at the non-functional displays of behavior. Throughout it all, Judy's belief in me and in my son never swerved. She insisted that together we would find answers, and always asserted that she could see in his eyes that my son was a genius.

I will never forget my first mommy baby group in San Francisco, when my son was six-weeks-old. Each mother had to introduce herself and her newborn, a dozen yawning, bed-headed mothers clutching burping bundles. Each mom waxed lyrical about her baby. "Sophie is SO SWEET!" cooed Generic Mommy Number One. "Maxwell is so EASY!" Generic Mommy Number Two proclaimed. I sat there, listening to this round robin of self-adulation. Why was my own experience so different? I had a newborn who woke up each morning crying and vomiting, and who finally fell asleep (after four straight hours of continual burping/singing/rocking/pacing) screaming. I had clearly been invited to the wrong party!

When I brought up my concerns about my newborn to my GP, he rolled his eyes and called me an overanxious mother. I was referred to a psychologist who took copious notes while gazing at me with eyes full of pity. I hated her hairy kneecaps and greying Birkenstocks. Call me shallow, but ever the aesthete, I would have preferred a therapist who was at least clean-shaven and well-accessorized. This cat and dog game went on for nearly two years, until finally my son and I were referred to the Early Intervention team in Boston. In retrospect, all of the obvious signs of Autistic Spectrum Disorder were there -- delayed speech, lack of imaginative play, repetitive behaviors --but not a single professional had picked up on it.

We all, as vulnerable mothers of special needs children, need an advocate. Your advocate can be a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a charity worker. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Do not feel ashamed.

My mother gave me the will to fight when I felt downtrodden. I am so proud to be her daughter, and hope that my children are eager to forge as strong a bond with me as I have with her. She has been my pillar, my anchor, my flicker of hope and encouragement. Her laughter has gotten me through a thousand bleak days, and her belief has given my son the confidence to blossom.

My husband and I gave a dinner party several years ago. My mother was visiting and mingled with the guests. My husband sweetly introduced my mother, explaining to one guest, "this is my mother-in-law, Judy. She is like my second wife."

"Yeah," my mom retorted with a twinkle in her eye. "I am wife number two." She pointed to me; "I clean. She f***s!" I told you she doesn't mince her words.