As moms, it’s hard to imagine when our child reaches the next stage of life when you’re in the thick of one stage. When you’re changing diapers, it’s difficult to picture them getting on a school bus. Or when you’re chauffeuring them from one activity to another, it’s hard to imagine them driving themselves. Recently, two of my friends— both of whom have 16-year-olds—shared their experiences with me during their child’s milestone year. Their stories are remarkably different and made me pause, reflect, and envision what my family’s life may look like six short years from now.
Sixteen is a milestone year. Sweet Sixteen parties. The last scene of Sixteen Candles–need I say more? There are so many coming-of-age series on Netflix to even count (thank you, Jenny Han). My friend from law school, Ivana, is reveling in having a bit of her own newfound freedom as her son begins to drive. Ivana is a heavy metal fan, and when a bunch of heavy metal bands from the ’80s decided to tour, she arranged for a group of friends to go—with her son as the chauffeur. When she told her son her idea, he resisted.
“Sorry,” she said with a smile, “this is payback for all those years I drove you around.”
Both mother and son are enjoying their newfound freedom and independence at this particular season in their lives.
Another friend, Anne, is feeling left behind. Anne’s two daughters have Down syndrome, and they’re not learning to drive. She’s watching her friends’ children learn to drive and seeing their adventures posted on social media. The posts are fast and furious: a video of someone’s son pulling out of a driveway, successful deliveries from Starbucks and the drug store, and pictures of kids smiling triumphantly with their learner’s permit.
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There are also posts of a different variety. Parents are asking other parents, “When can we get together?” Suggestions for happy hours, dinners, and couples’ nights out are plentiful now that the kids can take themselves where they want or need to go. Family get-togethers have evolved into couples’ and moms’ nights out, and Anne is feeling left out because she is a package deal.
What does this mean for me and my son who is autistic?
Accepting, living, and pursuing a different timeline or path for moms of children with disabilities is not new. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
At first, it’s the basics, like talking and walking. Then it progresses to social thinking and relationships, participation (or lack of participation) in playdates, team sports, and family hobbies, interests, and traditions. And then just like that, they’re ready to drive . . . that is, unless they aren’t.
I’ve often felt that one season of life would last forever, but they inevitably change. I suppose it’s easy to think this way when your child’s hand still fits perfectly in your own. Along my journey, I’ve come to appreciate the candor and insight from people willing to share the difficult or emotionally unexpected moments in their season of life so I can perhaps be more intentional in my own and arrive at a different destination.
Shared insight into the future is a rare gift I’ve learned to embrace.
As Anne said, “I’ve worked so hard to be sure my daughters were always included with their peers that I didn’t realize until now that it was me being left behind from my peers.”
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As a mom of an autistic child, I’m going to stay the course and continue doing what I’ve learned over the past decade with a welcome addition from Anne in italics: focus on growth. Look into the alternatives. Laugh and cry. Sing in the car. Nurture friendships. Be prepared (as much as you can) for someday which will come sooner than you think. And most importantly, take the time to enjoy, at a minimum, a bit of every day.