I have always loved tennis. I watched John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg as a kid. I roomed with tennis players at Le Moyne College and was their most vocal and consistent fan. I encouraged my children to learn the sport. So it made sense a few years ago when I told the pro at Drumlins Tennis Club I wanted to give lessons a try.
After all, my children, Amanda, who has Down syndrome, and Jason, were in school all day. Amanda’s type 1 diabetes and celiac disease were being managed. I had a few spare hours a week. My husband, Brian, would be happy I was taking up a sport. We, as a family, had the funds.
I remembered a piece Erma Bombeck penned years ago called “God Chooses a Mom for a Disabled Child.” Midway through the column, as God explains his choice to an angel, he says, “‘She has just enough selfishness.’ The angel gasps, ‘Selfishness? Is that a virtue?’ God nods. ‘If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she’ll never survive.’”
But spending money on something just for me seemed extravagant. Taking up an activity with no “kid factor” seemed self-indulgent. Balancing typical and special needs motherhood felt all-encompassing. Medical challenges, school program meetings, therapy appointments, sports practices, volunteer efforts and homework left me exhausted. Did I want to do something just for me?
Yes. It was time. And here are three other moms who felt the same way.
Angela Knittel lives with her husband, Karl, son, Michael, 22, and 14-year-old twins Marie, who is typical, and Mandy, who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.
Angela started scrapbooking when her twins were 3. A friend from her daughter’s preschool invited her to a Creative Memories party. With her new tools she started her first project, a book commemorating her nieces’ senior year. A scrapper was born.
Since then she has continued to collect supplies and attend scrapbooking weekends and evenings. A single project begun on a whim has grown into a passion.
“My husband, Karl, has sports,” Angela says. “This is my thing.”
She attends National Scrapbooking Weekends and evenings out when she can. They are like mini-retreats.
“No husband, no kids, and a room full of women. You can get a massage, win prizes, listen to music and drink wine. We stay up all night in our PJs, share ideas, laugh and scrap.”
Angela finds pleasure in watching her family looking through the books she has created. She knows they will be cherished while providing faces, names and a history with every page.
“It is a stress reliever. As a typical mother and mother of a child with special needs, when you are focusing on pictures, you are focusing on happy times. I am doing this for my kids as well as myself. It is a keepsake for them so they have memories of their childhood. They will know family that is no longer here.”
Tina Cosentino lives with her husband, Jamie, and sons, Matthew, 30, Darius, 15, who has Down syndrome, Sam, 13, and Lucas, 11.
A few years back she started tinkering in the kitchen. She knew she wanted to make food from her home and local growers. She read how preservatives and packaged foods affect allergies, weight, skin and attention span. She researched how to can, pickle and freeze. She started gardening.
She saw the impact the changes had on her family. “I try as much as I humanly can to buy local food and cook all meals from scratch. You take a few ingredients and put them together to make a meal that everybody loves and appreciates. It validates me as a person and a mom.”
What started out as a healthy hobby has become a way of life. Tina spends at least two hours a day with food. She finds her time in the kitchen therapeutic.
“Life is demanding, with three sons at home. I also work as a home nurse. Cooking lowers my blood pressure and raises my endorphins. The repetitive motions required bring a sense of calm. I can turn off my brain and just cook.”
Tina co-hosts a monthly food swap where people come together with homemade dishes to share. She enjoys what everyone brings to the table in both food and conversation.
Cheri Iannotti lives with her husband, Lee, and children Gabriella, 17, who has Down syndrome, Dante, 13, and Tori, 8.
She started cycling after a hip injury prevented her from participating in high-impact activities like running, zumba or even walking. A friend recruited her to join a ride for missing and exploited children. She started by taking a few classes. Last June she bought a road bike and has not looked back.
“I prefer riding outside with a number of friends I have met over the course of the last year. These folks have been my encouragement, voice of reason, and the break I need from the day-to-day life of being a mother—not to mention a mother of a child with Down syndrome.”
Cheri used to run for exercise as it was a quick way to get a workout. She felt funny taking two hours a day to go to a gym and take a class. She now realizes that taking care of her health is teaching her children the importance of doing the same for themselves. In addition, it is OK to take time for the things you enjoy in life.
“As I have gotten older I have decided that it is all right for me to give myself permission to do something I want to do. This is like therapy. It is my quiet time, my chance to reflect on events in my life without interruptions. I have a social life away from the kids when I ride with my group of friends.”
I have been taking tennis lessons for three years now. The women I play with understand family challenges, and they offer insight and support. They also know sometimes you just need to bash a ball around the court to feel better. My family now all own racquets. We play doubles together during the summer. They like to hear about my matches and come watch me play.
Each one of us mothers looked initially to do something for ourselves. By separating from our families, we have brought them closer together. And isn’t that what all mothers strive for?
Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs and publishes the blog www.momofmanyneeds.com.
Photo above: © Val Thoermer | Dreamstime.com