I’ve mentioned on here before that I freelance as I have the time. My work pattern – if you can call it that – seems to be settling on nine weeks of frenzied work while the J-Man is at school and three weeks (5 1/2 at Christmas…) of getting behind while he’s on break, all thanks to the patterns created by year-round school calendars. Of course, this will all get blown to bits when the baby comes, but let’s pretend for a while longer.
I freelance in some combination of web design (more programming and interfaces than graphic design), most every conceivable form of writing, business and marketing, and really most anything related to electronic and print communication. Anyway, I had my first face-to-face client meeting in eons yesterday. I work from home and do most everything by phone and e-mail. I honestly can’t remember the last time I pitched a proposal in person.
A graphic designer friend of mine had a prospective client and wanted to farm out a lot of the programming and writing components of this project to me while she did the design and various artwork needed for it. It was a win-win since we complement each other’s skills (or lack thereof in some areas) well and probably never would have gotten the job without combining our strengths.
The proposal was for no small chunk of change, so we worked pretty hard on it. The meeting and the lead-up to it was an interesting experience for me on many levels. After living almost solely in a world of the J-Man and all of his therapists and teachers for three years, it was a nice benchmark for me to see how my personality and social tendencies have evolved over that time.
Here are a few things I noticed that are now either different or much more pronounced:
* I have way less anticipation anxiety about meeting with people. When I worked in the ‘real world’, I would prepare and obsess about presentations and dread all the possible things that could go wrong. If the event didn’t go absolutely perfectly, I would chew and stew on it obsessively afterwards. It wasn’t a fun way to work. I still put a lot of preparation into these things, but more at the level a professional, small business owner should put into a proposal he knows a lot about in a way that shows he understands the clients’ needs. Plus, I put in the work because I enjoy what I do.
Any obsessive anticipation anymore? Um, no. Even though we should, we often don’t think more than a couple of hours ahead around here. I don’t have time or energy to worry about whatever is going on tomorrow. What a huge right turn from the way I used to do things, but we live so much in the immediate now that having time to dwell and obsess on things would be a luxury.
* I really like talking in complete sentences with other adults from time to time! I used to be very, very introverted.
* It’s nice to be able to show that I’ve still ‘got it’, that I do know a lot beyond what goes on within the four walls of our house. I used to be very ambivalent about work and self-driven learning. Even excluding everything I’ve learned about autism and parenting, I’m rather pleased with myself about how many other skills I’ve amassed, like web, writing, technical, and business skills, even while being a full-time parent of a child who obviously needs assistance with a lot of things.
* I really don’t give a rat’s butt about what people think anymore. Well, that’s not completely true. If people pay me money to do something, I want them to feel like they got great value for their money and that I exceeded their expectations. So I care that I do a good job and that they are happy, but if I make honest mistakes or flub up something in a presentation, big hairy deal.
These little things have become utterly trivial in my world where much bigger issues are present. This happens with other parents who don’t have autistic kids, of course, but I think for me, I needed the J-Man to teach me to take these little things a lot less seriously.
* Going (back) into a world where you take potential clients out for coffee and talk turkey feels a little like pretending to be an adult for me. Like now when the J-Man and I wander into a coffee place or see people eating out dressed in business attire and talking about important-sounding stuff while I wear my t-shirt-stained-with-applesauce and jeans and deteriorating tennis shoes pushing a stimming kid around in a jogging stroller, I snicker and think, man that’s so not my world. But there I was yesterday in that world again. It felt kind of nice. I realized I actually do miss it.
Going to this meeting felt like stepping outside my world for a few hours and then going back again. I got to drive a car with no one else with me. I wore ‘big people’ clothes. (button-up shirt, slacks, and dress shoes!) Instead of talking about stinky diapers and slowly sounding out every syllable of The Napping House with the J-Man, I was talking in whole paragraphs about content management systems and Google Analytics and intellectual property laws and static vs. dynamic web content and so on.
And perhaps even better, I realized I can still switch between the two.
* And an insight that isn’t new to me but that was clear yesterday – I need a vocational life outside of being a parent. I used to dream of a life where I could work when I felt like it and roam free when I didn’t. While working and being a parent of an autistic kid has been an immense and rewarding challenge, without having at least a small work life, I would lose my mind. As poorly as I manage it sometimes, it’s still like food to me. Without it, I’d start to wither.
But that said, by his side and facing all of these challenges is exactly where I belong. My dreams are much different than they used to be, but also now look a whole lot more like the life I already have.
Though this leaves me with no small amount of concern about how all this is going to work out with a second child. I fear being able to meet the exponentially more complex needs of everyone in the house, including me, while finding creative ways of expressing myself through work and writing and whatever else. But, of course, I said something very similar to that when I was trying to imagine maintaining some sort of a life – let alone a work life – with a child who had just been diagnosed with autism, and that’s slowly but surely been working itself out just fine. So while I can’t imagine yet how it will work out, I feel confident that it will.
And to give the story a nice ending, the clients took the whole package of services! I now have a bunch of work lined up for when the J-Man goes back to school at the end of this month – this and a bunch of other projects – so hopefully between that and what I think will be a big tax refund, we’ll finally be able to pay down a bunch of our ‘revolving’ (more like ‘accumulating’) debt of medical bills, therapies, equipment, and other expenses. The numbers have been starting to get big and depressing, so maybe there’s light at the end of this particular tunnel.
This is a hard balance we all have to strike, straddling these different worlds. Most no one outside of our experiences with our autistic children really understands what our lives are like. And it seems like over time, I understand less and less of what that other world is like. But it felt like at that meeting that certain parts of it are like riding a bike – there are a lot of things that just come back to you when you need them.
So, I get a great kid, a rewarding life as a parent, the chance to learn about all of you amazing children and parents out there, plus I can sneak back into the ‘old world’ sometimes and still do a pretty good job? Not a bad deal if you ask me.