Forget Who you Were on this Special Needs Journey

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I know, I know, I just told you (in the previous post)  to remember who you were but there is definitely a balance to be had. Remembering who I was really helped me to connect to interests, parts of me, that I erroneously thought needed to be automatically sacrificed to make a life with my husband and children; art, music, going out with friends, these did not need to be sacrificed. However, other aspects of my life needed to change in order to make way for a new reality with my kids.

Before kids, I was on a fast track to becoming the next Latin American curator (at least in my head). I graduated with a BA in art history and Latin American studies and landed in the best spot I could be, El Museo del Barrio, the only Latin American museum in New York City. I was already an intern there and when I graduated, I was quickly hired. I subsequently worked in an art college, various other museums, and became an art teacher in a public middle school. All of this to say, that I had amassed a vast art book collection ranging in subjects such as art history, art education, and art making. I also accumulated art journals and various catalogue raissones.

When I decided to take my sewing business seriously, I opened a shop on Etsy.com and rapidly began building my fashion, craft and sewing book collection. At the same time, book collections belonging to my husband and sons were also rapidly growing. Our small two-bedroom Bronx apartment could hardly contain all the bookshelves, toys, and special equipment that filled our house. My home was becoming cluttered, overcrowded, and disorganized. There were times that I just didn’t want to be in the house because it was so overwhelming with the piles of stuff we had all around; the art books, the piles of unread New York Times, fashion magazines, art supplies, etc. Dan, who has impulse control issues, would knock down the piles, crumble papers, and break books, and I would constantly, over and over again, pick these items back up, try to fix them, and move them elsewhere. Then it dawned on me. These items no longer spoke to who I have become and the point that I am in my life right now. Dan was giving me a sure fire sign, in his non-verbalness, to get the hell rid of all this stuff cluttering the home that has nothing to do with the mother I am, the mother I have become.

It was a big wake up call and I decided to make the very difficult decision to sell part of my art book collection. As I prepared the list, I cried. Perhaps, I was mourning my life pre-kids, pre-autism, pre special-needs, pre-tantrums, when I could lay around and read art history books at will without fear of them being destroyed. I tearfully typed each title of the book knowing that it was the best thing to do for our family. Maybe if I had a bigger home, it would not have been an issue, but for us, in our tiny Bronx apartment, it was the right thing to do for our kids. They needed space. We shouldn’t clutter the house with our dreams deferred when there are new dreams to be made, new memories to store. I found comfort in knowing that there was another door opening for me, only me. This de-cluttering wasn’t only about the kids. I was embarking on an exciting journey starting Nelesc Designs (now Nelarte), a screen printed/ reconstructed clothing line of unique garments.

I didn’t sell all my books, though. I kept some of my favorite art books, some slides, and my old-fashioned slide projector. Occasionally, I gave my oldest a mini art history lesson, or worked on a craft project with him. Although I wasn’t practicing at that time, art history was very much a part of my life and I still cracked a book open for enjoyment once in while.

*I am glad I didn’t sell all my art books because seven years later, I returned to my museum practice and am once again building my art history book collection in a bigger home.

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Remember Who You Were On This Special-Needs Motherhood Journey

REMEMBER WHO YOU WERE

I am currently working on a book on self-care, a series of lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) on my special-needs motherhood journey. I’ll be offering some of them here, on this blog. Feel free to let me know your thoughts here, or on my Facebook/Instagram pages.   Here’s the first one…

Remember Who you Were

Any type of motherhood, special needs or typical, causes women to feel like they’re losing themselves. It’s the perennial question of balance that women face between identity (work) and family. The constant work of caring, and ultimately being responsible for another human being, leads us to question, and then adjust our identity to this new life. This takes on a whole different meaning when you have special needs children. The care can be daunting. I feel like I am still adjusting, my GPS constantly on recalculating … I once wondered if I even wanted children at all and what I got was children that required more care than I would ever imagine.

What helped me in daunting and overwhelming moments was to remember who I was. My circumstances had changed drastically but I was still me at the core and I needed to reaffirm that. In the midst of such drastic change, I needed consistency.

I went to things that reminded me of myself, pre-kids. I got out my old cassettes of Sting, my all time favorite musician, and started listening again. I also started reading his autobiography and it really helped me to reconnect with Nellie pre-kids. It also reminded me of the time I went to see him in concert with my friend Maxine back in the 90s.

After my oldest was diagnosed, I went back to museum work. I needed a semblance of normal life again. I was coming to terms with the diagnosis and needed to tap into the part of me that was untouched by it. My life before the diagnosis… museum work. Other opportunities that fed into the pre-kids Nellie also began to surge. I taught a class on Puerto Rican art and lectured on Latin American art in various libraries in the New York Public Library system. All of this helped me reconnect with what I still continue to love: art and art history. I felt like my old self again and this fed my soul and helped me be a better mother to my oldest.

After Dan was diagnosed, I went further back and started screen printing and sewing again, passions from high school and college. I even opened my own shop online and started selling my screen-printed and reconstructed clothing. This further solidified my identity and in turn helped me be a better, more at peace, happy mom. I was drawing from my past and taking inventory of the things that made me really happy.

In the midst of the loss I was feeling, this reconnection to my old self, offered me joy.

What can you tap into from your “old self”, your “pre-kids self”, that can positively ignite you as you live in your present circumstances?

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