Boy oh boy, was ten fantastic. I want to say it was J.R.’s best year. He blossomed socially, trudged through academically, and held it together mentally. Professionals (okay, his teachers, who I bribe) even threw around the terms perseverant and scientific to describe J.R.’s attitude toward his studies. At home, his independence is emerging; I am hopeful, for the first time in my life, that he may not die of heart failure once I am gone and can’t be here to operate Netflix for him. However, it doesn’t take much for my confidence to wane when it comes to my son’s future. Just follow us (chase him) around the grocery store and you’ll understand why. Ugh.
Call me crazy but today, on J.R.’s eleventh birthday, I fear my son has reached middle age. In autism years, that is. Forget the fact that he will be entering middle school. That is crisis inducing enough. If you think about it, though, J.R. will “age out” of the security blanket of special schools, special summer camps, and Thomas the Train in ten more years. Then what? And let’s not even talk about how deep my frown lines will have become.
Just as I jonesed to run out and buy a Porsche when I recently turned 35, I suddenly feel compelled to expose J.R. to all of those shiny things autism could not afford him when he was younger. With turbo speed (of the S Cabriolet to be specific). Before we run out of time. Before he really looks ridiculous melting down in the middle of the mall-although I can relate on those days I leave my coupons at home. Before Spongebob attire is no longer available in his size. Before I die.
In anticipation of my wacky emotion, I organized Camp Life Skills. CLS is a summer outreach program under the umbrella of Camp Mommy with a focus on relying less on moi and more on deep breaths. We’ve shopped, we’ve cooked, and we’ve tidied our rooms over and over all with a similar result: hatred. Sigh. I should have thrown in the towel when J.R.’s response to receiving his change at The Disney Store was “Thanks, woman. I hope your day turns out better than mine,” with a nod toward me! Still, I endeavor to persevere. My going on strike from preparing microwave SuperPretzels has lit somewhat of a fire under him.
What is keeping me from trading my eleven year-old kid in for two five and a half year-olds? For one, you can’t pay me enough to go back to that age. Everyone in Kindergarten is cute except the one who proclaims lunch is his favorite subject, and everyone else can go shit in his or her hat. Secondly, I’ve been in J.R.’s lane. I’ve sped past actual middle age and I am surviving. With help from Excedrin. In fact, I am thriving. How, you ask, as you seriously question that last statement? Because older does mean wiser. I attribute much of J.R.’s progress to simple aging and his resolving that certain behaviors work for him while others work against him. Just as I owe my current level of horse sense to those few life experiences I haven’t had to block out.
In all seriousness, when I reached a certain age I decided I’d start to feel comfortable in my own sun damaged skin. I concluded that I am uniquely and perfectly imperfect. And that’s more than okay. I am who I am. I’d like to think I can add the caveat “without apologies” but I’m not totally there yet. We’re all evolving, all of the time- right? What makes my son any different? He is who he is, although I completely understand the controversy within that statement. There is a fine line separating the “autism is a gift” train of thought from the “how do I fix him, pronto” one. I know J.R’s quirks make him an original. Part of me loves and wouldn’t change that. However, my ultimate desire is for him to hold down a job. I digress. Where was I? Oh right, “J.R. is who he is.” And Lord knows hell would freeze over before he made any apologies for it. I’d file that trait under wisdom. If he can keep it in check.
Just as I continue to religiously color my hair and crave clothing from the Juniors department, a part of me will attempt to defy autism’s middle age. This feat will become tougher and tougher as my son is expected to grow taller than six feet within the next few years. Typical moms long for the days their kids needed them more and ignored them less. In my case, if I don’t strive for the opposite, I will be doing J.R. a disservice. I. Must. Find. Balance. And remember that Rome wasn’t built in one sweltering summer.
My wish is to raise a child who embraces who he is without shooting others the bird, or getting relentlessly victimized like a scene from The Birds. I promise to carry on, chasing my sensory seeking son, even as my middle age reveals itself around my middle. The world is a cruel, gravity filled place and J.R. continues to inquire about a career in Orca petting. So what’s a mom to do but shift her imaginary Porsche into high gear? I plan to- after we watch Teen Titans Go, together, followed by The Amazing World of Gumball. So mature, we know.
Happy Birthday J.R. I love you so much buddy!