Every time we go to the movies, my son Jack reminds me to remember the credits.
He says, “For Mom. Remember the credits.”
It’s his way of reminding me he likes to stay for the end. He likes to see the name scroll up the screen—Costume Director, Music Composer, Supporting Cast.
From the moment Jack was first diagnosed with autism, I’ve felt like I had a clock strapped to my back. I felt like we were in a race against time.
We were in a race to teach him to speak, point, ask, sleep, eat.
He’s seventeen now. I still have the same clock on my back, albeit for different reasons.
Jack was accepted into a college program. It begins in July.
In five short months this boy will pack up his things and move two hours away, to a residential space with forty other students like him. He’ll have five roommates. They will share a suite and a kitchen. He will audit classes at the nearby community college.
I don’t think about it. That’s the truth. I don’t let myself consider living in this house without him.
Instead, I slog through March’s gray days. I watch him pull out the Easter decorations—large wooden rabbits and plastic eggs—and I shield my eyes from the imminent summer sun.
At the very same time, I live inside the realm of the coming year.
I see the green pancake batter he carefully mixed the night before St. Patrick’s Day, and hot tears prick my eyelids.
I lean against the refrigerator door, and I wonder who I am without him here.
I wonder who he is without us.
For his 7th birthday we got him a porch swing. It was wicker with a yellow cushion.
After he went to bed we snuck into the garage and pulled out the box. We set it up overlooking the front yard.
He never liked traditional gifts, that’s the thing. He always wanted something just out of the bounds of ordinary—a new frying pan, popcorn seasoning, a Chia pet shaped like Yoda.
Do you remember when you wished for what you have now?
I remember when I wished for kids who could buckle themselves into the car, rinse the shampoo from their hair, fry an egg,
I wished for a boy who could sit at the table, enjoy a good meal, walk through the mall, look in my eyes, tell me a joke, sleep past dawn.
I have this now. I have all of this.
We did the work. And the work landed us here—on the cusp of something bigger than we ever imagined.
And I am terrified.
I think about crosswalks, mean people, loneliness, homesickness, sexual predators, cyberbullies, cold nights when the wind chill dips.
I think about the demands of academics at a college level and wonder if we didn’t aim too high.
I think perhaps this is a big mistake.
When you raise a neurotypical child, there is often a familiar trajectory. High school, college, girlfriend, wedding, career, family. These are good things. They are whole, and good, and ordinary, and right.
When you raise a diagnosed child, you are forced to acknowledge a different narrative.
Guardianship, power of attorney, residential facilities, full-time support.
When a neurotypical child leaves the proverbial nest, you hope you prepared him enough for the world.
You hope he can do laundry, keep up with classes, make new friends.
With a diagnosed child, you hope you prepared the world enough for him.
I thought it would last forever. Their childhood. My motherhood.
Wrapping Christmas presents in the basement, buying ice cream sandwiches, packing towels for the beach.
Of course, they will always be my children. And I, their mother.
I root for them.
I root for him.
I always did.
That’s time for you. One moment, it’s slippery like water through an open hand, abundant and plentiful the next.
I want a do-over.
I want to taste ice cream sandwiches in waxy wrappers.
I want to take back all the times I yelled about stupid stuff.
I want to nestle my face against a toddler’s cheek and feel their soft skin against mine.
I want to buy extra popcorn and watch his smile in the soft glow of the theater light. I wouldn’t rush him out when the movie was done. I would sit until every last credit scrolls by and the screen goes dark.
I don’t know how to be in this house without him.
What do I wish for next?
More importantly, what does he?
He is whole, and good, and ordinary, and right.
The clock, this autism clock, it never stops ticking for a moment.
He does his own laundry.
He has no friends.