My son took me out for a Coke on Friday. He’s gotten his learner’s permit, so he drove and navigated the order at the drive-thru window, the payment, the pickup, the parking under a shady tree. It sounds like a small thing, but it felt huge. I sat in the passenger seat and fought back tears.
Since the pandemic began and Miles graduated from high school in 2020 and started college at home, we’ve gone out most weeks for a Coke and a chat. I found that though we were in the house together all the time, we rarely communicated, and I was determined to stay connected. Turns out we both love these outings, whether we get fries with the Cokes or not. Even when we are both feeling low or arguing a lot at home, Friday afternoon provides a welcome break and reconnection.
Sometimes we sit quietly and feel the sun and breeze through the open windows and sigh. Sometimes we talk about hard stuff: how the pandemic quashed his launching into adulthood and shut off his burgeoning social life; how my breast cancer, the death of my mother, and his twin brother going to college all the way across the country have been a kick in the gut. Sometimes we laugh at memes and chat about movies and books. Sometimes we share our creative pursuits: my writing, his music.
During our time together, I try not to pry into his personal life or check up on his responsibilities.
Sometimes I get to pat myself on the back afterward, and sometimes I want to slap myself. It is so hard to stop acting like the one in charge—to stop fixing him after trying for so many years to do just that.
Miles has ASD (autism spectrum disorder)—the trip along the road to independence has been rocky, our vehicle sputtering, with plenty of detours and flat tires along the way. I wondered often if he would ever be independent and truly connected. Will he create a family, hold down a job, handle his finances? I have pushed and cajoled and worried him through his childhood.
But along with his challenges come gifts. My son is a realist. He accepts COVID’s ongoing terms. He is grateful for small things. His high school friend group continues to meet on Zoom, largely through his efforts, and he sees his girlfriend regularly. Most of all, he is an independent thinker—he knows what he likes and what he wants, and he doesn’t much care if others like or want it.
In earlier years going to the store was overwhelming, every social interaction was full of pitfalls and missed cues. He said he’d never want to drive, and he thought no girl would ever want him. Now, he initiates conversations and friendships with others. He’s beginning to see possible professional paths. He takes care of his own food, laundry, and routines.
I see an adult emerging.
It is hard to fathom how far we have come. There have been moments when I cried in despair, my heart breaking for him and for myself, believing that I would be taking care of him forever. And last year he—like many others—was lonesome for connection. He spent too much time alone in his room.
This year I’m more aware of growth. The same way he learned to tie his shoes, to tolerate a noisy classroom, to make a phone call—painstaking as those processes were—is the way he will learn to hold a job, to develop a loving partnership, to manage a full life: one small step at a time.
As usual, it’s time to readjust my view of Miles. It’s clear that all of us are always transforming under the surface even when it seems like we’re stuck. This sweet spot is in fact a brief chapter of my life with Miles. There will come a time when we won’t have Friday afternoons to hang out under a tree and sip Cokes together. He’ll have less time for me, a fuller calendar, and eventually a bed somewhere besides down the hall.
It takes my breath away. I’m thrilled.
And I will grieve when he finally takes his own road, not just on Fridays, but every day.
Meanwhile, I tell myself to slow down. The son I thought I might always need to be responsible for is coming into his own, and I don’t want to miss a thing. Savoring the sweetness of the Coke and the sweetness of his presence, I try to take it all in. I am grateful that I get to sit shotgun, Miles’s lanky legs bumping the steering wheel, as we reach, at the same moment, for the last of the shared fries.