Noun: A reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.
Despite the above definition, I often use the word “excuse” interchangeably with “reason.” I think of myriad events, activities, invitations that I turn down because of Ben’s autism, always offering some version of the following excuses:
I’m sorry; I won’t be able to make the PTO meeting. I need to be home with my son.
I’m afraid we won’t be able to come to your BBQ. Those environments are just too hard for my son.
Oh, I wish we could. But our son has autism and doesn’t do well with big crowds.
Except, if I hew really strictly to Webster’s, these aren’t excuses. They don’t justify an offence. They explain our absence. They are reasons. I don’t have to feel guilty about them.
And yet, the explanations, as legitimate as they are, have done a disservice to the rest of the family. We have shied away from so many things. And in doing so, the other kids have missed out on the kind of “normal” experiences that other families get to have. Not wanting to have just one parent take the two younger kids on adventures while the other parent stayed back with Ben, we have simply opted out of everything.
So our reason for not doing fun things was because fun was too hard. But Warren and I made it hard, because we weren’t willing to shift our paradigm of two parents and three kids out for adventure. Our younger kids have been denied fun opportunities, not to mention life lessons such as waiting in line and delayed gratification, because of our own rigidity and unrealistic expectations.
Which is why, the day after Ben left for camp, we departed on a week-long road trip. Visiting family; taking crazy factory tours; discovering different parts of the country. We ate at unfamiliar restaurants – something that would be nearly impossible with Ben. It was an opportunity to spend time focusing on our other children. This doesn’t happen often enough, due to Ben’s needs.
Our memories of family summer trips, for the time being, will not include him. Though that might change in future years as Ben continues to mature, my pangs of guilt are soothed by the knowledge that, like any parent, I am doing the best that I can for my kids at this very moment.
So from now on, I will hold within myself this tension: the reasons why we sometimes don’t do things are exactly that. But at the same time, Warren and I will try more and harder to participate. If an opportunity arises that is in the best interests of the kids, we will take the plunge when we can. Warren and I will divide and conquer, or the entire family will get get out there together.
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and Kveller.com as well as a variety of other websites. Writing at This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr