Milestones

I like to joke around a lot.  Most of my posts have been and will continue to be lighthearted and humorous.  I come from a family where everyone’s more comfortable making a joke than acknowledging a real emotion.  When I was growing up, no one ever cried out of happiness, and milestones were considered nothing more than a step along the way to bigger things.   We’re a family of cynics, and we roll our eyes when the music turns mushy at the end of a movie.

To put it simply: no one in my family is the slightest bit sentimental.

So . . . I attended my oldest son’s high school graduation yesterday.

Pretty much anyone reading this–fan or friend–knows something of my son’s history.  He was a healthy beautiful baby boy who turned into a gorgeous toddler with big blue eyes and curly blond hair and an inability to acquire language or make eye contact.  At 2 1/2 he was diagnosed with autism and we were thrown headlong into a world we never expected to know, a world filled with phrases like “behavioral interventions,” “self-management,” “language processing issues,” and “occupational therapy.”  No one could give us a prognosis.  No one knew what the future held for the little boy we adored.

We were lucky.  And not just because our son did well with the program of behavioral interventions we implemented (see, I learned to talk the lingo).   We were lucky because at every step of the way, he was a kid who was easy to love: goodhearted, sweet, affectionate, gentle, hardworking . . .  We were lucky because our three other kids respected, admired, and loved their big brother.  We were lucky because we could afford to do what needed to be done.  We were lucky.   Which didn’t mean things weren’t hard.  It just means things gradually got a lot better.

So there I was this weekend, watching my son graduate from the “regular” high school he’s attended for the last four years. He’s had his struggles there, but he survived them all, made friends, kept his head above water academically, and got into the college of his choice.  At the end of the summer, he’ll move into a dorm over 2000 miles away from us.

As the director of the school called the kids, one by one, in alphabetical order, to come get their diplomas, each row stood up in turn.  My son stood up with his row.  I saw him there waiting patiently and happily for his name to be called–

And suddenly I felt a huge, racking sob rip through my chest.  The kind we cynical, unsentimental people aren’t supposed to get.  It was like an alien had invaded my body.  One second I was sitting there and the next I was sobbing like a baby.

I’m tearing up again just writing this.  Silly, I know.

Turns out I’m kind of sentimental.   Please don’t tell my family.

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20 Comments

Filed under autism, family

20 responses to “Milestones

  1. Dawn

    Well, now I’m whimpering too. This is just the perfect way to feel about your dear boy. He is the perfect child for you..you are the perfect mother for him. How proud and amazed you must feel. I know this feeling. I am also the mother of a recent grad too, as you know. I know our experiences have been very different, but I was always very aware of the many things we had in common with our sons. We had similar fears, hopes, maybe some different challenges but we both knew we would do what had to be done and give our boys whatever we could, whatever they needed, or thought they needed. We both had high expectations and look at us now..proud, and whimpering like babies. Good for us.

  2. If it makes you feel any better, I cried just reading this. Of course, if you ask your kids, they’ll tell you I cry at just about anything. But that’s not the point.

  3. Miriam

    We’re not there yet. My Alex is in 7th grade. He passed Algebra this year and it was cause for much celebration. I didn’t get a single phone call telling me he’d hit someone or in some other way behaved inappropriately. Well, except for flinging himself down in the middle of the hallway to cry about a grade he got on a test. That was no big deal to me. Anyway, when Alex graduates, I expect, given that I can’t even listen to the Star Spangled Banner being sung by ANYONE without crying. I always felt a bit emotional over it after I spent a year living in England. Then last year my son played baseball on a team for kids who have disabilities and one of his teammates always sang the Star Spangled Banner at games. She’s autistic. Now it completely rips me up. Oh and THEN my daughter sang it in chorus for a hockey game. I have always cried easily so it’s no surprise. I expect I will be a puddle of tears at graduations.

  4. I teared up reading about you tearing up. Of course, sentimentality has never been a problem for me or my mother.

    I’m really happy for you and your son! Congrats to him. Tell him to cherish every second of college life- even the ones where he wants to come home so badly he’ll feel like he’ll explode if he doesn’t. Because it’s gone too quickly. You can go to college later in life, but it won’t be the same as being there when you’re young.

  5. Claire

    Thanks for all the wonderful support! I guess I might as well accept my sogginess. I think it’s here to stay.

  6. Katherine

    Thanks for writing about this. I was wondering how hard you cried but wasn’t going to ask. I don’t know if this makes you sentimental, we’ll see when you next kid graduates. But I do know that this journey some of us get to go on as a family changes most of us in many ways and brings up emotions, strengths and energy (it also exposes our weaknesses) that we never knew we had. Think back to those feelings you had about “Andrew” at 2 1/2, OF COURSE YOUR GONNA CRY at 18 when he is graduating! I did when you mentioned it in one of your previous posts.

    Congratulations to all of you, but mostly to your son who has had to do the real work.

  7. Katherine

    oops, I meant to write YOU’RE GONNA CRY.

  8. annie

    This is such a wonderful post. I think crying is healthy…don’t let them tell you it’s sappy.

  9. I don’t cry, either. I’m a big tough guy. …

    I just got something in my eye is all…

    Probably pollen.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  10. Claire

    You’re all so wonderful!

  11. grace

    As one who grew up in a stoic, WASPy home where tears were never shed, I have come to embrace my sappy side. I met my now husband, who isn’t afraid to cry at movies or happy events. WHAT?? … Unheard of in my “make a joke” home. But I have to admit, I’ve gone to the dark (wet) side. Now, I cry at Coke commercials, don’t let me near a dog movie (one day i’ll reveal my embarrassing plane trip where some darn dog movie was playing…), and well-up at school performances … and yes Claire, i welled up reading your blog. Welcome to the teary clan. We’re a nice family, fun to be around, just a little soggy at times! xoxo

  12. Claire

    I will embrace my inner wet child!

  13. Peter Murrieta

    I remember on Common Law, when Rob and I met, and he told me/us about Max. I can’t believe how the time has flown by, and when I saw Max at the Schneider Bar Mitzvah, I was incredibly impressed with the young man he has become. You and Rob are amazing parents and Max is an amazing kid…..

    Peter

  14. Eleanor

    Claire, what a beautiful post. I think Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock just called and want the rights to your story. I was the caretaker and executor for an autistic cousin, who was left as a ward of the state of SC after her parents died. She had been institutionalized her whole life and basically lived as a zombie until she died at age 60. How different it would have been if she had been part of the mainstream world from childhood.

  15. Cathryn Michon

    Damn you, you owe me a tube of Clarin’s eye gel.

    My therapist always congratulates me when I “feel my feelings.” Apparently you two are in this together.

    She also says I’m paranoid. There, a small joke. Now I feel more like me.

    Truthfully, you and Rob are the best parents we know. Bruce says so too, and he’s a parent. You all are a world class family, and we are so proud to know all of you. And we’re proud of Max for being a regular old high school grad, like the other kids we’re proud of this year at this time.

  16. Claire

    Again, thanks to everyone. Eleanor, no one will ever want the movie rights because our story is just so damn unsexy: cut to Sandra driving her child to speech therapy, or saying, “orange juice” ten thousand times, or writing notes in a journal to the school one-on-one aide? Not a thrilling ride by any means, but I’ll take what we’ve got over a movie deal any day!

  17. chez

    moving, sweet, sentimental, brought a tear to my eye…..You can be so proud of your son and of yourself…I am sure it was a hard row to hoe…….

  18. Claire

    Still had a moment of thinking, “Wait, she called me sentimental! What an insult!” and then I remembered this is all about embracing that and it’s a GOOD thing.

  19. George

    A couple of months ago, our soon to be 3yr old boy got an official diagnosis for ASD (delayed speech, echolalia, stimming, etc)… we had our suspicions before, but now two different doctors confirmed it… In any case, he started intervention at a center whose owner has been a student of Dr Lynn Koegel and practicing PRT. Anyway, she suggested we look up Dr Koegel so I begun reading Overcoming Autism. I must say your son’s story and progress is giving us strength and a glimpse of a potential “normal” future for our little boy as well! So thank you very much for sharing your story. Though the road ahead is still quite rocky, between yours and Priscilla Gilman’s book, we have found some much needed optimism.

  20. Claire

    I’m so glad!

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