Last week’s post about things I’d like to take a break from has me thinking about excuses. Excuse used to mean a reason. Like an excused absence in school meant that you had a verified reason for being gone, usually that you were sick. It seems to me that it’s become something else entirely in today’s vernacular. Now I feel like it means an illegitimate reason; a way to get out of something you should do, but you just don’t want to. A justification.
It’s really always been both. I know that. I guess I’m saying it feels like the latter has overtaken the former.
Last summer, I got a summons to serve on a jury at the end of August. I had served on two juries in the previous 18-months, the first county and the second federal, so I could legally be called for county jury duty again. I could have served, as I’d done before, by arranging after-school care for the boys and canceling their therapy appointments I wouldn’t be available to drive them to. But I knew that Zookeeper would need all the support we could muster to make this a good school year from the first moment and convince him things would be completely different from the horrors of last year.
So, there was a legitimate reason I couldn’t serve at the end of August. I could defer my service, as I’d done when I was called for service in December last year, starting on the first day of winter vacation, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be excused. While it’s true that I didn’t know how the year would go or when I could expect things to settle down enough to leave Zookeeper in after-school care and skip therapy sessions, it didn’t feel like a legitimate excuse not to serve. It still doesn’t, though that may be due to the fact that this school year has gone so much better than anticipated.
Still, I went online and asked to be excused because my autistic son was recovering from a traumatic school year and I didn’t feel it would be healthy for him to miss a single session with his psychotherapist, the only person he’s completely comfortable being honest about his feelings with, because I couldn’t take him. I felt like they would tell me to get real; that everybody has problems and I would just have to figure it out.
But they didn’t. I was excused almost immediately, without any follow-up questions. And I feel as if I’ve gotten away with something.
On the other hand…
When I first started talking about my own autism diagnosis, a friend made a comment about probably also being on the spectrum, but refusing confirmation for fear of using it as an excuse not to go to the gym. Presumably due to sensory issues and coordination. That really got to me and I became adamant that autism is not an excuse. You may need accommodations to go to the gym, but that’s not an excuse. It’s a need. And it’s okay to have needs. It’s imperative to have needs and seek to have them met. Every living thing in the universe has needs. It’s the nature of life. But I find it embarrassing. I don’t want to have needs. I’m happy meeting the needs of others, I just don’t want to have any myself. And I think that’s somehow selfish.
That paragraph went somewhere I wasn’t expecting. My intent was to point out that autism is not an illegitimate reason; that it’s okay to accept that something is outside your capabilities or that you need help to achieve it. But I went inside my own psyche instead. I went to one of my deepest fears: to have a need I cannot fill on my own.
The final example I planned to share involves a conversation with my mother-in-law. She visited us the summer before she passed away. She and I were sitting at the kitchen table together one afternoon talking about the boys. She complimented them on something and I immediately began my “yes, but…” refrain. My intent, as I discussed in the Break post, was to be open about the struggles we’ve been through to achieve whatever it was she was praising the boys for and about how far we still have to go. Well, to be honest, my intent was probably more to make sure she understood than to be open about it. I have a need for people to know that. I also have a need for people to know how wonderful our boys are. Which version of things you get depends on where I think you’re coming from. Since she hadn’t born witness to the struggles, I assumed my mother-in-law was coming from the “look how easy it is” camp.
Her reaction surprised me. She said, “Well, I think my grandchildren are perfect,” and walked away from the conversation.
I think they’re perfect, too. I resented her rejection of my need to show the struggle for a long time. Until after her death, really.
But now I think that maybe she understood that there was struggle and that there was nothing she could do about it, so she wanted to focus on the good. Maybe she feared for them because I seemed not to see their beauty. Maybe we were saying the same thing, but approaching it from opposite directions.
I like to think we understand each other now; that we both see their beauty and love them unconditionally, no excuses necessary.