I feel like I should note that I have been trying to write this post for over a week now. I write, reflect, erase, shut the computer, come back, repeat. I have been trying to convey just how emotional, how special a quick moment was for me, and I keep missing the mark. So I am just going to write and not worry and just try to get this down on
A few Fridays ago, I saw the future. Kind of.
I had been having a rough week, so when my dear friend Michelle said she was free for coffee while PJ was at school, I jumped at the chance. A good chat with a great friend at our favorite hangout seemed like a recipe for a better mood. We sipped our coffee and talked about our babies and laughed over gossip and I felt my soul easing up a bit and my mood lifting.
When our coffee was done, we gathered up our things to leave. As we walked to the door, I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye, someone I could tell was tall even though she was sitting down, and I turned to see an acquaintance I knew through a family member.
Jennifer is one of those women who truly seems to do it all. She is tall, willowy, and lovely. She is brilliant, a professor at a local college. She has a handsome husband and gorgeous sons, and together they are outdoorsy, intelligent, and giving. I know, right? But we don't hate her. Jennifer is incredibly gracious and nice. I don't see her very often so this was a pleasant surprise.
As she sat with her oldest son, we did the usual life-update chat- this is what I've been up to, here's a picture of PJ, "He's so big!", etc. Her son was either just finishing up or had just finished his degree in film, and later that day had an interview for a coveted internship position at a local television production company. We talked about handshakes, about PJ, about his studies and his hopes for the future. When he got up to go to the counter, I turned to Jennifer.
"He's so self-assured...and tall!" Seriously. This is a tall family. I have to look straight up to speak with Jennifer when we are standing, and her son is even taller. Either way, it was time to go, and we walked out of the shop. I wished him well at his interview, promised to keep all of my fingers crossed, and got into my car, where I promptly burst into tears.
PJ is just about to turn four. I am, really, just starting my adventure of being the mother of a son with Autism. And in just four short years, everything I thought would be was rewritten. I find myself living day-to-day, and not able to see into the future. It's sometimes difficult to envision PJ in high school when we are struggling to put together his IEP, or deep-breathing our way through a tantrum. Life with my son is beautiful and amazing and brings every joy I imagined, but it's something we often take a few moments at a time. Maybe it's because I don't know too many young men in their late teens/early twenties. But suddenly, meeting Jennifer's son, I saw the potential for what PJ's future could be as a self-assured young man pursuing something that has meaning to him and makes him happy.
Why such a sudden, emotional feeling of what PJ's future could be like? It's because Jennifer's tall, bright, self-assured son also has Autism.
It's not so much that I have such specific goals for PJ in terms of what I want him to be when he grows up (a hockey player) and/or how well he will do at school (three-time valedictorian with a Ph. D in something awesome). Well, maybe I had a few ideas, but one of the first lessons I had to face when PJ was diagnosed was the lesson that PJ's goals, the things that make him happy, and how he relates to others maybe different then what is considered "normal". But what struck me about Jennifer's son was how amazingly self-assured he seemed. He gave the impression that he is happy about who he is, and that's enough of a struggle for any young adult, much less one who might have had some challenges to face.
Oh, my lord. I am crying. Because that is the crux of that I am trying to get at. We can guide PJ through school, try to encourage him to be a good person, make sure that we fill his body with nutritious food to help him grow from the inside out. He may or may not be traditionally successful academically, he may or may not have a lot of friends. He may grow into an adult who lives on his own or he may live with us forever. He's still in clothing sizes that end in "T", so it's still too far out to even know which of those scenarios I think he will be capable of. I can hope that he has something that he has a passion for, and I can just hope that he will be happy, with who he is and what his world has to offer.
And Jennifer and I...we are miles apart in so many ways- in faith, in ambition, in sheer brain power, and in height. Are you getting that she's tall? Anyway...at some point, Jennifer had to have a young child who was just so clearly different. Possibly, most days were amazing but some days...some days were so damn hard, and a little confusing. Days where you just don't have any idea what you're doing and if you're doing it right. There are times when things get difficult and I have no idea if we'll all make it out unscathed. But I can look ahead and see Jennifer and her beautiful family, her grown-up, happy, confident, engaged son and know that it's possible to get there.
PJ's path doesn't have to be exactly the same. He may or may not complete high school, go to college, have a career choice in his sights. I hope he does, but it's okay if he doesn't. Whatever his journey is, I hope that I can guide him along in a way that lets him know that he is happy, loved, and confident in who he is.
It's a big challenge, but now I can say that I've seen it be done.