My severely autistic teenager is rocking out to Baby Einstein on his DVD player as I make the phone call that I’m hoping will make big changes to his life, and to his family’s. I’m put on hold for the briefest of moments to find out that my son has been accepted to summer camp, which is great, but not the whole story. The exciting part is that there’s the possibility he can sleep there too, which is both wonderful and scary simultaneously for his always-worrying mother.
As he continues to eat his pretzel, he has no idea something potentially momentous has occurred.
You may be thinking that sleepaway camp does not sound like such a big deal, but for this kid and his family, it is. Justin started having trouble at my mother’s, the only relative who can take him overnight, about ten years ago. Since then he’s only been out of his bed on our every other year trips to Disney, a total of twelve nights. Generally Jeff and I are able to get away for a few days once a year, but some years not. If this works out, it means I could have time with my husband. If this works out, it means we could take his brother away somewhere where Justin would have no interest in going. If this works out, Justin will have some much-needed practice sleeping in a bed other than his own. Because someday, for at least forty years, he’ll be leaving his childhood bedroom to sleep in a place that will one day become his new home, without his parents.
And somehow I need to get him prepared for that eventuality.
He’s only fifteen, and in theory we are many, many years away from this happening, but the truth is none of us knows what the future holds. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t try to figure out what would be kindest for Justin. Is it keeping him with us until we can’t take care of him anymore? Is it trying to give him a semblance of independent living as early as possible in his adulthood so he gets used to it when he’s younger? Is it splitting the difference?
Will I even have a choice?
That last one is the biggest question of all.
The truth is I’ve always been a “What if” girl, tried to look at many possible outcomes for different situations and be prepared for all (this made me a good Girl Scout and was an invaluable tool as an educator). It’s hitting me that he’ll be sixteen in mere months, a time when most boys his age are starting to think about colleges and driving and dating (that’s probably been happening for years) I am actually thinking about how best to get him acclimated to his adult life, which will bring about big changes.
The problem with that is, Justin is not so big on change.
We all face huge life changes, and my son will be no exception. Learning to live somewhere else will be the biggest one he faces other than leaving his beloved school, which I immaturely refuse to think about because it’s his second home (I will be a blubbering mess at his graduation, wait and see). The whole “sleep somewhere else thing” has been on my back burner for years because the thought of it is anxiety producing. Will the staff carry out his bedtime routine as much as they humanly can? Will he actually sleep or keep the other kids up? Will one of the other kids keep him awake? Will he enjoy it at all?
Will he understand I’m coming back for him?
I think, however, it’s time we give big changes a try. For all I know, he won’t even make it through day camp this summer and sleepovers will be off the table, but it’s time to give it an attempt.
It’s time for me to recognize that my kid who still likes Eric Carle books and Barney (God help us) is growing up.
It’s time for me to loosen those reins a little, if he’ll allow it.
It’s time for me to let go a little bit while he can still come back to me.
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