For as long as I can remember, I wanted a crystal ball to see into your future.
Once you walked, I wanted you to run.
When you said your first word, I wished for a sentence.
When you were in second grade, I worried about fourth grade.
And today, I watched you wear a cap and gown, and accept your high school diploma.
From the time you were little, we did the hard things.
We insisted you wear a shirt even when you were in your no-shirt phase.
We chased you through the mall so you would learn to hold our hands.
We played a game to show you how to climb the stairs one step at a time. We named it after those brightly colored plastic bricks: one Lego, two Lego, three Lego.
It is easy to assume our story is a story about an autism diagnosis, when in fact it is much, much more.
It is the story of a tender father, coming to terms with the foreverness that is raising a complicated child—a child who may never earn for himself, or understand a mortgage, or raise a family of his own.
It is the story of a world so seemingly narrow, there is no choice but to pull it apart cloud by cloud.
It is a story of learning to reach for the stars, even as autism insists we live in the shadows.
In six short weeks you will pack up your things and move two hours away, to a residential/college program with forty other students.
I don’t think about it. I don’t let myself consider living in this house without you.
Instead, I fold laundry. I buy your favorite cereal. I listen to you talk about the desserts you want to make for Fourth of July. 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 your favorite DVD’s sorted by run time, and hot tears prick my eyelids.
Frozen, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Wizard of Oz.
I wonder who you are without us.
Who am I without you?
You see, autism is a riddle of contradictions.
It is a push-pull not unlike the ocean’s tide, or how the evening sun draws toward dusk.
I wanted this so badly for you. Yet now that it’s upon us, I’m not sure how to let you go.
What if someone hurts you, takes advantage of you, preys on you, steals your money, hits you in the crosswalk, bullies you?
We’ve taught you how to change a lightbulb, hang Christmas lights, shake hands, order a cheeseburger, call your grandparents, fold towels, pick out gifts, answer the front door.
I don’t know how to teach you how to be suspicious, or wary, or watchful.
This is why I tell our story, Jack.
It’s why I tell about autism and the work and the fear and the worry.
I had to share our small triumphs, our moments of light, our gentle intentions, our radical grace, our reckless mercy, our tender, tender resilience.
Because if compassion is a house we build, then storytelling is the key to the front door.
It is the entrance to our messy kitchens and our lopsided picture frames and our wildly unguarded hearts.
It is the only way to throw open the windows and bring in the sun.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if you can sit through a college class or learn to budget money or ever lease an apartment on your own.
So we’ll do what we always do. We’ll try.
After all, a wave returns over and over again to kiss the shore, no matter how many times it’s turned away.
At the same time, I wish I could have it all back again.
The nights around the television watching the Tin Man, cupcakes covered in sprinkles, a staircase made of color.
With all my heart, I want it back. Yet I know it is time for you to try to fly.
I believe in you. I always have.
My wizard. My lion. My box full of stars.
My wild-child, my game-changer, my Sunday son.
In your own way, in your own time, I know you will set the world alight.
Mom. I can’t believe I did it. I graduated.