It’s August now.
The days are still long and warm, but there’s a slight chill in the evening.
Autumn is coming. Soon, the leaves will turn from a gentle green into brilliant red and orange.
And in just a few short weeks, we’ll move you into college.
My firstborn, my oldest child, my son.
Once upon a time I sat beside you in the yellow morning sun, spooning cereal into your mouth.
I pushed your stroller through the neighborhood, and waited at the bottom of the slide.
I watched you steer small trains down a wooden track and fit shapes inside a plastic ball.
Thirteen months after you were born, along came your brother Jack.
Long, sleepless nights.
I was so tired back then. I had so little to give. Tapped out by autism’s demands, at times it felt like I didn’t have much left over for you.
And now, as we stand on the precipice of a new season, I can’t help but feel I didn’t do enough.
I should have read to you more, or rocked you longer before bed.
I should have quizzed you on math facts, or .
Maybe we should have taken bigger trips, or hiked more mountains.
I always wanted to be better for you. I just didn’t know how.
Most of your stuff has been boxed and sitting in my office for almost a week now. Every time I look up from my desk, I feel a lump rising in my throat.
A new season. One where childhood comes to a close. And something else begins.
I’m not ready to let you go just yet.
Every time I see at your face, I still see you as a newborn, a toddler, a middle-schooler.
I see you tottering around on unsteady legs, reaching for anything that would help you balance.
I see you standing on the stage during the spelling bee, and walking down the stairs to find Easter eggs.
I would give anything to hear your little voice again, or to feel your small hand in mine.
How is it you are going to college? How can this be? It feels impossible.
It all went by so fast. This is the universal mantra of motherhood, and it’s true.
I want it all back again, if only for a moment.
I’ve made so many mistakes.
I yelled about things that didn’t really matter.
Crumbs on the counter, bikes left in the driveway, cups of water after bedtime.
And there are Forever Mothers—the women who will spend the rest of their life taking care of her child’s day-to-day financial and health care needs.
Then there is the Forever Brother.
A Forever Brother watches, and waits. He leaves the movie because the sound is too loud. He explains autism in the line for the rollercoaster, and listens quietly while his parents argue about medication.
He is the boy whose identity is deeply woven into the diagnosis of another.
No one knows him the way you do.
No one knows how to reach out a hand so slowly, it’s like time standing still. And in the pause between shriek and breath, how to rest your fingers as gently as air itself.
You grew up too fast.
You gave up so much.
Yet you have shaped the person he is today, and this, my son, is no small thing.
And now, your world is growing. You are cleaving from us. This is right, and good.
It is also profoundly sad.
Please, on the day I leave you in a new city nearly hundreds of miles away, let me make your bed.
Let me smooth the sheets and pull the blanket tight.
Let me straighten the comforter and arrange the pillows.
I know, I know. When we went shopping, you said you didn’t care what kind of comforter we bought.
You didn’t care about mattress covers, or desk lamps, or a wastebasket.
I do, though. I care.
You’re ready. I know you are.
I’m not ready for your absence at the dinner table, or your empty room.
And yet, I know it is time.
It is time for you to stretch your wings and start to fly.
And when the day arrives, and we open all the boxes, please.
Let me ruffle your wild hair and take a picture and hold you tight.
Let me make your bed.
The truth is, life’s tapestry is in the details—the smallest brushstrokes of color and light.
Singing in the car, mismatched birthday candles on a homemade cake, running through the airport to catch the plane, burgers right off the grill, Scattergories at the kitchen table, waiting for the bus in the morning, driving home after practice.
Cannonballs off the diving board, nighttime worries, Scooby Doo in the playroom.
This is what I remember. These are the memories I hold dear.
And as you start to shed your childhood the way a caterpillar outgrows its safe cocoon, I hope you do too.
The thing is, I’ll never know if I did enough.
I only know I tried my very hardest.
My firstborn, my oldest child, my son.
I love you.
I will miss you the way winter trees miss the fiery autumn leaves.
You are going to do great things.