Yesterday my autistic son and my adopted African daughter graduated from high school. Both of these graduations were important milestones for each, for very different reasons.
When my son was little, I mean very little…a toddler…and in I would say the worst of his “autism” days…I wasn’t at all sure what I was dealing with. He did not sleep for the first three years of his life. That is not an exaggeration. He screamed all the time, and attacked us, clawing and biting us, like a thing possessed. He banged his head so hard on the floor he caused himself to have “goose egg” type injuries. It’s still difficult for me to talk about as I was so despondent. I did not know how to help him. The doctors and any body and everybody I tried to ask for help…just looked at me, convinced it couldn’t be that bad. It was.
When he started school, we worked on his reading and writing. We pushed the school to push our son. We said he could learn to read and to write. And we were correct. His handwriting is still primitive, but he can tap out words on the computer and Google his favorite animals or Batman villain without any difficulty. He loves to listen to Bruce Springsteen and loves the song “Because the Night” by Patti Smith.
He has accomplished so very much.
There was a time we didn’t think he would ever learn to tie his shoes. And now he can tell you the difference between Old World and New World monkeys.
I still do mourn the loss of what could have been. I can’t help it–I’m only human. I do wonder if he would have become a veterinarian, or a nurse like me, or a doctor, like his father…I wonder if he would have been a mouthy kid or if he would have been a thoughtful child…I just wonder about all the possibilities that could have been…
And now I focus on his future. I focus on transitioning him to the program he will start this fall and go to until age 26. It is part school, part job training. I wonder what kind of job he will be able to have as he needs constant supervision and prompting. I will continue to pursue my own health, to be able to care for him as long as possible. And I will continue to snuggle with him, when he crawls into bed with me, and throws his arm over me and breathes morning breath into my face on weekend mornings. My son, my cuddle bunny.
My daughter…this is her milestone, her accomplishment, for an entirely different set of reasons. She has only been in this country for four and a half years. It took us a little over six years to bring the kids home from Africa–yes, you read that correctly. That is the subject of another blog. When she finally landed on American soil, she was 14, emotionally and intellectually stunted. It wasn’t her fault–she had lived in an orphanage for the last seven years.
Trying to fast forward her into the 21st century was rough. Trying to fast forward her education and English…even rougher. Trying to break through the emotional baggage and teach love and acceptance, while helping her to mature to her chronological age…tougher still.
It was a very bumpy ride.
She graduated with high honors, on the National Honor Society, with an award for community service. She has won a scholarship to a nearby university, where she will attend classes this fall.
I am terrified of her going away to school yet I understand that she needs to do this…for her. She needs to learn to be self-sufficient. She needs to learn some important lessons on trust, on responsibility, and she needs to continue her personal growth. It’s important that I stand ready to help…when she is ready to ask for it. She has to learn to love and accept herself for the wonderful person she is, and that happiness does not come from things, but from within. These are things I can say to her…but until she is ready to learn those lessons on her own, my words whistle thru the air, past her ears, and out into the atmosphere.
She has to learn life’s lessons on her own.
Both of my children fought battles to graduate yesterday. Both have futures stretched out in front of them..far different paths lay in front of each. I hope each of them finds their way. I wish them health, peace, and happiness.
If you’ve done the math…you know that means that three of my children have now graduated..which still leaves one…the count down is on…
Health, peace, and happiness to all of you, gentle readers.