This wardrobe malfunction not only scandalized my co-workers, but caused me to reassess my priorities
I was under intense pressure at work. I was one of the few art directors to survive recent layoffs, and I suspected that I had made the cut merely because the creative director felt she could bully me into submission. She knew how hungry I was for a job with flexible hours — that had been our deal from the beginning. I needed to be available for my children, especially my son who is on the autism spectrum.
But, the way I saw it, the layoffs changed everything. I was no longer part-time, and flexible hours were out of the question. The deal was off: My only option now was to work week after week of overtime. And so, as I began to plan an important magazine cover shoot for a feature article about 10 overachieving teens, I was determined to effect a change. This shoot was an opportunity not only to prove myself to new colleagues but also to escape from the control of my manipulative creative director, and I hoped to make the most of it.
As it happened, my husband was going away on business that week, leaving me as a single parent for five days leading up to the photo shoot. Even though he traveled frequently, our household could never adjust to his absence. Any upset in my son’s routine would result in behavioral problems: He’d cling to me, he’d become cranky and he’d sometimes wet his bed on nights his dad was away.
Of course, at 7, he was long past the typical age for diapers. But for a child with autism, wearing pull-ups well past toddler years is something that could be expected … by parents of children with autism. It’s hard for other people to imagine the battles we face potty-training our children, even those who are considered high-functioning like my son. Mind you, my son was doing relatively well. He was out of pull-ups and was waking up dry more times than not. After seven years of diapers, we were almost in the clear. And this development gave me the unrealistic idea that I would now be able to juggle motherhood and a career the way I’d always expected to.
The week leading up to the shoot quickly extinguished any hope that mine would be a typical juggling act. Each day, I left work and raced to my children’s after-school program pleading I wouldn’t be the last parent to pick up because that upset my son terribly and he’d scream the minute I entered the room; I made dinner, actually two dinners, since my daughter now refused to eat according to my son’s restricted diet (like many autistic children, he has severe food intolerances); I helped the kids with their homework; I didn’t have time to walk the dog — an Australian shepherd that was getting crazier with every unwalked day; and then I pushed them through bedtime routines in a sprint to make a rigid 8:30 p.m. bedtime. But despite my vigilant adherence to diet and routine, the disruption of Dad being away combined with my increased anxiety meant my son was wetting his bed every night.
Four times already, I had to remake his bed at night with fresh sheets only to strip them in the morning after he had soaked it. After two nights, I was unable to keep up the laundry routine. After three, I was out of waterproof pads. I realized how premature my elation of not having to buy diapers was — I still needed a package handy. But there wasn’t a pull-up in the house and no time in our strict schedule that would allow me to run and get some.
Day of the shoot, 4 a.m.: My stark naked son crawled into bed with me, a clear sign that he’d wet his bed, again. Despite how exhausted I was from a week of solo parenting, I got up and stripped his mattress immediately because without a waterproof pad, I would have to soak it up with towels the best I could. After four nights of similar accidents, there was already a pile of clothes and sheets in front of the washing machine, so I dumped this latest set on top of my hamper.
By 6 a.m., I was already running late. I made my son’s lunch; I bathed him and helped him dress, trying to stay calm with him and stick to his routine, all the while barking impatiently at my daughter.
So I could leave earlier than usual, I had arranged to drop the children off at a neighbor’s, a disruption in my son’s routine that was causing more than the usual anxiety. He clung to me as I made breakfast. He wailed and pleaded and cried in frustration. I typed off an email to his teacher to let her know she might expect trouble today. And when I finally turned to get myself ready, I realized I didn’t have any clean pants. Even before I ended up devoting the whole week’s laundry cycle to nothing but sheets and blankets, I had few clothing choices. And so, I dug around my dirty clothes for the jeans I wore the day before. I looked in my hamper — the one under the pile of drenched sheets from earlier that morning.
I arrived, a little flustered, but still on time for the shoot. And then, as the photographer was unpacking his equipment after we’d finally decided on a location, I realized that the slight stench in the room, the one everyone was just beginning to notice and comment on, was coming from me. I quite honestly reeked of stale piss.
The sheets, the jeans … I realized the horrible mistake I had made but what could I do at that point? I had no choice but to accept mortification.
I went about my job and did the best I could. Thankfully the cover shot turned out beautifully as did the four other smaller group shots we took at different locations. From an art directing standpoint, my work was a success. But that reputation I had hoped to boost was destroyed.
I look back now at that moment as an important turning point. I realized what sort of abuse I was willing to accept and what I wasn’t. Later that same month, despite the pressure of a failing economy and without another salaried job to turn to, I quit.
Now, I’m available to my children full-time. I’ve also disclosed my son’s autism diagnosis to the world. I labeled him, something almost everyone warned me not to do. And I understand why they counseled me not to: because, by labeling him, I would be accepting the marginalization such a diagnosis threatens to inflict.
Well, we had already lived through all sorts of public embarrassments only autism can bring. His meltdowns in public places, his grabbing women’s boobs, his attempt to smell a man’s butt, my nervous sweats at the social snubs we faced — all this would kill any normal person’s self-esteem, but we weren’t a typical family.
Now, to anyone who’d ridicule me or him, I think piss off and smile at the pivotal moment I pissed everyone off, literally. That was the freedom that mortification gave me: to choose my children over just about everything.
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Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
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When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
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It's been said that all great autobiography contains at least one mortifying disclosure. Inspired by that notion, this essay series focuses not on personal triumph or tragedy but, rather, embarrassment. Each week, writers will share the secrets they've tried to hide, in the hopes that readers might find a bit
of comfort with their own. Send your mortifying disclosures to email@example.com.