The phone is on speaker, his knees bounce high up into his chest, his hands are clenched into fists, his face lights up with delight and excitement. The college of choice just announced his acceptance and welcomed him to this next stage of his life. Without hesitation, he exclaimed, ‘Thank you, I’ll start in January’. I was beaming with pride, the butterflies were fluttering in my stomach, I too was excited. For 17 years any sign of his happiness filled my heart with so much joy. This is what we have been preparing for, this is what we all want, this is his time. A time to be, a time to fit in, a time to spread his wings and soar.
The months leading up to his departure were filled with moments of anxiety, excitement and a lot of preparation. Both mentally and physically. The checklist was long. We needed to prepare him with some comforts to ensure a successful start. We packed; a fan, favorite healthy foods, colorful pants, favorite socks, weighted blanket, a fish and fish bowl, his guitar, and the list goes on.
As he starts to walk out the door to embark on the next chapter, I am left questioning; Did I do my job? Did I teach him all the lessons that I needed to? Did I raise him to be confident enough to handle what life may throw at him? Will he remember to be passionate and live in the moment? Did I emote enough love and did he recognize it? Will he be a kind and considerate gentleman? Will he live with appreciation for the little things? Will he remember that he is capable, independent and strong? I know he can do it, does he? Personally, the moment when he exited the house and shut the door was the exact time I fell to pieces. I totally know I am not alone in my feelings, but man, no one prepared me for just how hard this next chapter would be.
My beautiful baby boy is grown up and it sucks. I felt like complete crap for days. I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to vomit. My heart ached and I’d cry at the drop of a dime. He has always been my sidekick. My walking buddy, my grocery companion, my gym partner, my sous chef. I’m pretty sure our love for one another’s company is mutual. It’s funny, I’m the one who always encouraged him to get outside the box, try new things, get uncomfortable, explore and see places, overcome challenges and figure ways to adapt and here I’m am drowning in my own sorrow, a slobbery mess. Enough said about me, I’ll be fine.
A Letter to My Son,
Right from the moment you were born I knew you were special. I was mesmerized by you, driven by you and so in love with you. You shook up our world (our honeymoon baby) and taught us the true meaning of unconditional love. I am totally biased when it comes to my feelings, but we are the luckiest parents ever. You are one of my favorite human beings. You were perfectly handpicked for your dad and me. We had no idea the amount of joy we would experience having you in our lives. The parenthood journey had just begun.
From very early on we witnessed some jaw dropping, unbelievable moments. You were fascinating. Bright eyed, happy, always hungry and you never slept. We realized very early on that you didn’t need naps. Naps were the enemy. If you had any extra sleep throughout the day you wouldn’t sleep a wink at night. I threatened daycare that if they let you nap; I would be dropping you off at their house in the evening. I’m sure they loved me and loved the fact that you were awake during their quiet- nap time. Your very busy brain would just keep going and going like the energizer bunny. On a bright note, not being allowed to nap gave you the perfect opportunity to bite your nemesis Lily, while she was sleeping. We were so proud of you for finally seeking revenge on the girl who bit you frequently (even if it she was asleep).
Never have I met someone with the drive and passion to learn like you. At 6 months you were twirling your arms and feet in rhythmic motions while literally vibrating to the sights and sounds of Baby Einstein. Your eyes would pop out of your head in captivation and you couldn’t’ get enough. At 10 months you would sit in front of the cabinet with a set of keys to unlock, open and lock and repeat for hours at a time. This was one of your favorite things to do and honestly, it kept you busy, so I went with it. Never did you take to traditional toys. It had to be an activity, a project, a challenge. Anything to do with puzzles and patterns would become an obsession. By age 2 you were a puzzle master. Repeating the same puzzle over and over and over, yet every time you completed it was just as exciting as the first. The puzzling phenomenon was probably around the same time we started to notice your jumping. First, you would tap your next piece, and for every piece you laid in the correct spot you would swing your arms and jump 5 times. Now, this jumping was unlike anything we had ever seen. You fully committed to it, it was exciting, exhilarating and seemed euphoric. Your dad and I got used to this jumping during the years to follow. In fact, we loved it. If we saw you jumping, we knew you were happy, feeling satisfied or challenged. Jumping = Happy. Eventually controlled during school hours, I looked forward to your release after a day of stimulation. If I could sneak a peak or feel the bounce of your bedroom floors vibrate, I too felt happy. We could feel your delight and at the same time witness an amazing form of stimulation release.
At 2, you had a repertoire of song lyrics memorized. You became our party trick, our gift to others. Adorably, with your R’s missing you would perform on-demand, without skipping a beat or missing a line, some of your dad’s favorites songs that he sang to you at bedtime. We’re not talking, ‘Patty Cake,’ or, ‘When You’re Happy and You Know It.’ We’re talking, The Ballad of Curtis Lowe, Southern Cross, Me and Bobby McGee, Father and Son, Piano Man, Memory Motel, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, Bridge Over Troubled Water. We recognized very early on, your memory was your superpower. Ellen DeGeneres would have loved you! Years later you would explain it to us. Your brain could easily store data. Once inputted it was in there forever. This ability helped you achieve greatness academically over the years. Not once did I see you study or review your notes in preparation for a test or exam. If a lesson was taught and you were paying attention you understood it and stored it into your beautiful mind.
I mustn’t forget your love for Blue’s Clues and your all-time favorite idol, ‘Steve’. When asked what your favorite colour was at 3 you would respond with, ‘Chartreuse & Fuchsia.’ Talking recently about your fanship, you noted that when you were much younger you loved any show that followed a predictable, pattern like storyline. You knew what to expect, it followed a routine structure and there were no surprises. You were heartbroken when Steve left the show. Blue’s Clues just wasn’t the same without him. If anyone out there is connected to ‘Steve,’ please let us know.
It was also around this time that you discovered Lego. I feel that Lego was your first true love. The hours, the days, the years you’ve invested. I thought you might become a Lego Master Builder one day. Your structures were magnificent, but the hours you spent sorting each piece seemed to be your favorite. Lego time was obviously very therapeutic, it allowed you to self-regulate and relax. For years I’d see you sitting there in your special place just looking at and feeling all the different pieces.
As time went on, we saw more and more signs of your brilliance. Now, we didn’t say that out loud to anyone but immediate family, because you know how people are and it would sound like bragging, but your dad and I knew you were very bright from a very early age. It was your piano teacher who recognized your ability to memorize patterns and suggested we have an academic assessment done. I would just have to persuade your junior kindergarten teacher that an academic assessment was a great idea. Now, keep in mind this is the same teacher who called home in regards to you head locking another kid and the same teacher who spoke to me because you refused to put your art work away when it was time for the next lesson. I’ll get back to those concerns shortly. I managed to persuade her and no, I didn’t say, ’I’m pretty sure I have a genius on my hands,’ but I wanted to. Don’t we all think that of our own children? The assessment was completed and we were left to wait for the results. I recall nodding yes, to the teacher as she explained to me that all parents think their kids are smart. Inside, I was thinking, ‘Yeah, but how smart? Do they cry when its bedtime and we have to turn off the grade 4 math problems on the computer?’ When we received the assessment results, your dad and I pretended to be surprised. We weren’t, but it was now confirmed. It wasn’t just puzzles and patterns, it was memory, advanced reading and math. In Junior Kindergarten, you had the ability to comprehend grade 9 math. Numbers, formulas, and problem solving brought on a whole new level of jumping.
Misunderstood, is how I would explain it. You took everything literally and with such innocence. You would listen with your beautiful widened blue eyes whole heartedly and try to interpret what we were saying. Often, you would misinterpret the instructions and take it literally. We had many moments when we had to reexplain the objective of an action or game. You thought that when you hug someone the objective was to squeeze the person as hard as you can. This is where the confusion came in with the headlock, you took the phrase, ‘love as hard as you can,’ to a new level. With regards to the art class incident, you just wanted to finish what you started before moving on to the next activity. To you, it was mentally difficult and ridiculous that you couldn’t complete the task at hand. Another example of misunderstanding; your dad tried so hard to be that dad. The dad who plays catch in the yard with his son. The problem was you would continuously throw the ball in the opposite direction of your dad. You explained to me recently that when you were young you thought the objective of the game was to ensure the person couldn’t get the ball. With many tireless attempts your dad gave up. I must also mention that your hand and eye coordination was way below average. Riding your bike into parked cars became a daily occurrence. Watching you awkwardly eat a cookie or any food for that matter with two hands was quite entertaining.
Still to this day we chuckle together as we laugh at each other’s idiosyncrasies. You have always been funny and witty. Dad and I have always appreciated your humour. I absolutely love the fact that you are true to yourself in every possible way. You honestly don’t give a shit what others think. It’s not in your make up, it’s not even a thought. You are who you are. We worked endlessly teaching you to be able to laugh at yourself, embrace your uniqueness and be proud. Seriously, how many people can confidently wear pink and purple pants like you? Your walk, your bouncy walk, fists clenched, arms straight became your signature. An avid runner who bounces with every step. You find it relaxing when your body is tense, stiff like a board. Relaxed is uncomfortable, and a gentle touch is painful. I remember the years when dad and I would have to relocate you to your bed when you fell asleep early. We would laugh to each other as we would elevate your stiff as a stick body into the air. Sometimes, we miscalculated the perimeter, banging your rigid body parts as we entered your room, but it’s ok, you never woke up or got seriously injured. With all your tenseness and jumping you’ve had a 6 pack from the time you were 6 years old.
As a young boy you were the most affectionate little man ever. You would often quietly slip your hand behind my back to cuddle me when we were watching television. Over the years your longing for human contact dissipated. We have loved you from an arm’s reach as we recognized and respected your dislike for touch, hugs and simple pats. This was heartbreaking and tough for me as a mother, but I learned how to express my love to you in other ways. You see, I am a very emotional, affectionate person. I am touchy- feely. I had to rethink my ways and come up with a new strategy to show my love for you. My plan was, to give you my time, my patience, my ear, my heart.
Open and honest has always been our family’s philosophy. For anyone who understands Autism, then you know we really didn’t have an option. Majority of our conversations resemble a comedy show. We made a promise to you years ago. We promised to answer your questions honestly, no matter what the topic may be. If you didn’t want to know the answers you didn’t ask. At age 8 you wanted to know the truth about how babies are created. You stated you no longer believed it was just magic. Actually, it kind of is however, with a straight face your dad took you outside and gave you the run down. Disgusted by the truth, you came inside looked at me and said, ‘that was not age appropriate, do not tell my sister until she is much older.’ Me, ‘Ok, got it.’ Sometimes, it felt like you were parenting us.
As a young boy you had a huge desire to correct the behaviours of other children. Whether it be at school or out of school. Your dad and I could see this quickly becoming a problem, so we enrolled you in Jujitsu for your protection. Quite a few times while out and about I found you telling other parents to watch their children or to correct their kid’s poor behavior. At 4 you told a friend of ours that his child was rude, obnoxious and to get him under control. Even though these kids were roughly the same age you were so much more invested in rule following. I remember talking to you about chemicals and dangerous products wanting to ensure you would never ingest them. You looked at me like I was nuts and reassured me by saying why would I do that, that would be stupid. Your dad and I were forced to reduce the rules at home in hopes that it would save you from getting beat up. As you got older it was apparent that making friends did not come easy. You, my son, couldn’t recognize it if someone was trying to friend you. You simply couldn’t read the ques, the interest, or their efforts.
You have always enjoyed a good debate, a conversation of intellect. You were often disappointed with school and the lack of challenge. You corrected teachers perhaps a little too often and always fought for what was right. Whether it be a disagreement with the education curriculum or a specific teacher, boy you were passionate. In grade 1 you refused to colour your math sheet because you didn’t see a connection. In grade 2 you were adamant that you created a pattern even though it didn’t involve colours like the others. When provided with a ‘find the difference’ work sheet you would always see something no one else did. In grade 8 you wouldn’t do an assignment it if seemed stupid (if you could afford to lose the marks you were fine with it.)
Following many attempts of enrolling you in a variety of organized sports, we realized that you were best suited for individual sports. Games that threw away the rules and manners of everyday life baffled and frustrated you. It was sports like jujitsu, archery and running that you excelled in. I would say running became your therapy. It makes you happy and less anxious. The release of endorphins helped you through some tough times. Witnessing you race made my heart smile. Amongst thousands of runners, you were just another runner. No disability, no label, no judgement, you just kicked some serious ass!
Your dad and I never felt it was necessary for you to have an autism assessment. We discussed this with you throughout the years and made it clear that it would be your decision should you ever want to. You, dad and I just knew. You had anxious moments, and bouts of obsessive behaviour, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t work through as a family. It was in your mid-teens that you brought your concerns to the table. You wanted to advocate for yourself at school and felt an assessment would help you do so. Having a diagnosis did provide you with easier access to proper support and services. It immediately improved your daily life. Asking for help and advice has always been a strength of yours, it’s something I truly admire.
I could easily go on and on. At the end of the day I just want you to know you are loved. Continue to learn, strive and jump. Be proud of the man you have become, and all the challenges you have faced and conquered. You’ve got this! We get to share you with the rest of the world now, I can no longer keep you to myself. My beautiful baby boy, your dad and I couldn’t be prouder.
PS- Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. The tears have dried, my stomachache has subsided. Oh, and I gave your bedroom to your sister… Ha, Ha- just kidding.
Lots of Love,