The clock reads 6:12.
You and I stand together in the kitchen, as we’ve done thousands of times before.
Yet this morning feels different.
It is our last tender meeting in the early yellow light.
The car is packed. Your new comforter, carefully chosen at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. A duffel bag full of shorts and t-shirts.
For weeks, you’ve been organizing and re-organizing—the pots and pans for the kitchen you’ll share, the popcorn maker, the pancake griddle.
The car is packed. Once there, we will unpack it.
We’ll carefully unload all that is meaningful to you.
I’ll make your bed, like I’ve done thousands of times before. We’ll fold the new towels. We’ll slide your newshirts into the drawer.
There is a barbecue lunch.
We’ll meet the people who will take this autism journey from here—the baton carriers of life skills and academic support and dorm life.
At some point, you will walk one way.
And we will walk the other.
People ask if I am ready.
The truth is a mother is never ready.
She is never ready to alter the familial landscape upon which she has built her life.
Yet I know it is time.
See, my son, readiness and time rarely share the same clock.
I keep thinking how brave you are.
To leave behind all that is good and familiar, in hopes that the unknown may offer something better.
In many ways, this is the end of your childhood.
I used to joke that the umbilical cord once connecting us has merely stretched over time. You and I have always been bound together—our nervous systems intertwined like kite strings.
Wherever I am, you are—reciting the latest movie review, reminding me we’re low on paper towels, musing about the number of spiders found in Brazil.
Your first word was ball.
Mom wasn’t second or even third.
Now, it is the tympani of my background—the perpetual vibration through out my day.
For Mom. I am home.
But Mom. We need to buy eggs.
I wish people could see how far you’ve come.
How once upon a time, you were crushed by an indelible anxiety.
How you raged and suffered through puberty and early adolescence.
The way you held my hand in the parking lot, and you couldn’t sit through your brother’s basketball game without shrieking, and how chicken fingers were all you wanted for dinner.
Yet beneath it all you had a quiet resilience, and a tender spirit. We chose to focus on that. We decided to develop who you are, instead of who we thought you should be.
See, raising children is a little like growing wildflowers.
Some need more water than others. Some need extra fertilizer, or a certain kind of soil. Some tilt their silky blossoms to the bright orange sun and soak in as much heat as possible, while others curl inward toward the cool, dark shade.
But in time, they all bloom. They all open their petals and offer their brilliant color to the world.
I guess what I’m saying is it’s not about where you go, but how you got there in first place.
I hope one day you look back on this time fondly. I hope you remember there were more good days than bad—more laughter than tears. I hope it was more than social stories, occupational therapy, speech, and autism.
After all, how do you measure childhood?
How do you measure thousands of moments strung together like brightly colored beads on a string?
Sandcastles, jellybeans, snowstorms, stomach bugs, faded beach towels, pillow forts, milk for Santa.
Burnt cookies, arguments over hats in winter, bikes left out in the rain.
Lullabies, and quick goodbyes, and smiles off the bus.
Messy conversations, late-night confessions.
Heartache, heartbreak, heartbeat.
Every time I look at you, I see your toddler face, your newborn gaze, your sixth-grade grin.
It will be an adjustment for all of us. The days ahead are both bitter and sweet.
And in your darkest moments—when you are homesick or overwhelmed or anxious—remember.
You are not alone.
Behind you stands a family.
A family full of inside jokes and funny memories and sad times and mostly good stuff.
One girl, three brothers, a devoted father.
It went too fast.
I want it back.
With all my heart, I want it back again.
My little boy.
Reach for the sky.
I can’t wait to see what you do with this one and only life you call yours.