A few months ago, my husband and I took our almost sixteen-year-old high school sophomore to look at colleges.
This idea was not met with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Apparently none of his friends from his very competitive high school were looking at schools over November break (categorically not true), I was making him lose his entire vacation (half, again not true), and he would never remember the schools because he was too young.
Clearly he was forgetting his mother is a scrapbooker extraordinaire.
It ended up working out. By the end of the first day he exclaimed exuberantly that this had been a “great idea” (for the love of God teenagers, your parents are not Jon Snow, we do know something), and as the only student in roomfuls of mostly stressed-out seniors he told us after the trip he had had a great time
One of the reasons we took him was mostly for him to get a feel for whether he wanted a big school or small school, rural or urban, far from home or close by. We knew we had accomplished this when we visited a great school in a fabulous city and were definitively told “no way.” Such strong feelings were shared when contemplating seeing another school in the same city, with an almost-refusal to attend the tour I’d killed myself to book (technology not being my forte, and uploading Covid cards, OMG!) until I looked at him and told him it was “Hogwarts on a hill”, and was subsequently met with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Yes, my son’s criteria for attending college is that it looks liked Hogwarts. Not mature enough to grasp the nuances of why we attend certain schools? Nope, pretty sure it’s just because he really liked Harry Potter back in the day.
As we continue along our college search journey I found out through his counselor at school that apparently it is a “thing” for kids to attend summer camps at colleges or universities during high school, a fact I’d frankly forgotten as my only friend who I can remember who did this with her daughter sent her fifteen years ago, and my brain no longer functions that far back. The list she sent was excellent and comprehensive, and we found a few schools that fit the bill, one of them one of the best universities in the country.
I explained to Zach this would be his “reach camp.”
The school resides fairly far away, in a city he has never been to. I cautioned him the likelihood of getting in was small as it is competitive, but we should try anyway because you never know.
Damn if he didn’t get in.
As I went gleefully to share the news with my son who was ensconced in his room, I got him to open his door (another victory!) and told him about his acceptance. He said “that’s great!” and promptly shut the door again.
Give me patience.
I knocked again, looked him in the eye, and said “Zach, it’s a Hogwarts school” after which I was treated to a victory dance and much more fanfare.
People, know your audience.
The dichotomy between my two sons’ life trajectories is something that has never left my consciousness, even after almost twenty years of our eldest son’s profound, non-verbal autism. They are four years apart, and as I watched Zach develop, particularly later on in his childhood, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the fact that my youngest had friends, could be left alone for five minutes, and had a stream of words so voluminous he sometimes exhausted me. The contrast between the two was a chasm so great I knew it would never be crossed.
And I’ve mostly made my peace with that.
Back in the day, it hurt. When it became apparent that Zach would have the more typical trappings of life, a partner if he wanted one, college, a career (I am determined that one of my children will eventually leave my house so I have more time on the couch watching SATC reruns) and friends, I longed for the same for my eldest son Justin.
Eventually I accepted that he not only doesn’t want these things, he doesn’t know they exist. His is a world of juice (the most hydrated kid on the planet), DVDs, movies on Netflix, and driving around Monmouth County on the Hertz rent-a-car site.
Simple pleasures for a complex dude.
He is not sad about his life. And most of the time, I’m not either.
But I will tell you this. As I watch my youngest hit major milestones, and I hope he will continue, there is always a twinge of regret for the other half of my heart, and after two decades I am pretty certain it will never permanently go away.
And that my friends, despite whatever anyone may tell you, is okay.
My theme for 2023 (I like to have themes) is self-care, and this message is for all parents out there struggling to reconcile their feelings about autism. My advice is this. Feel them. Feel them all. Don’t admonish yourself if those feelings aren’t “social-media worthy”. Reconcile them when you can, and move on if possible. Acknowledge that they may always be there. Know that the strength of them, the “overwhelmingness” of them, will probably fade over time, which will help you function.
Know you are not alone in these feelings, and you never will be.
Do whatever it takes to be the best, sane, healthiest version of you.
And never underestimate the power of Harry Potter.
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