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My oldest son is an adult as of June 3rd

My oldest son, who is the partial subject of so many of the posts about Aspergers and school, is now eighteen years old. By the standards of Canada, he is a legal adult. (I refer to this age as "the age at which we can legally kick you out of the house", which he finds amusing. Mostly.)

This is, in part, an open letter to my son.

You are eighteen years old. While you will only be eighteen once, you were also only fifteen once; you are only a day older than you were before legality descended upon you, and nothing magically occurred between that day and this one. You did not grow appreciably, you did not change appreciably.

Between birth and now, you have; you've changed enormously. You don't remember your early years as clearly as I do, and what you do remember, what you do reminisce about, will be different. You don't remember the sleepless nights of your first nine months, for instance, whereas I remember them exceedingly well. You don't remember your first smile (I do, because it was offered to a box that held a toy. You always liked that box). It occurred on the day you were three months old, and a day which your father and I were keenly aware of, because we'd read so many books about normal infant developmental signs.

You don't remember that your teeth grew in in the wrong order. I do; I phoned a dentist's son to ask if this was normal. You looked like a little vampire when you smiled.

You don't remember your first word. You don't remember your first step. You don't remember so many of the things I despaired and fretted over. This is, on the other hand, probably a good thing.

But the point is our memories are different. Our memories of the same events are entirely different, because we experience events through the filter of past experiences and our own personal contexts. But they're also different because as you grew older, the events themselves were different. I know that you found your first girlfriend at fifteen, on-line; I have no memory of what you said to each other because I wasn't there. I remember some of your concerns because you came to me to talk about them; I know why you liked -- and continue to like -- this girl I've never met, because you were willing to share that with me. I don't remember what happened when you first met her, because I wasn't there; you went to visit her, across one country boundary, on your own.

It's impossible to watch you head into the adult world without some concerns.

So I sit here, with those concerns, and I remember my mother, my uncles, my aunts. I remember their advice and their frustration with me and my view of the world. I clearly remember them telling me that I didn't understand how the real world worked. According to them, I had lived in a protected bubble for my childhood -- as if all pain, all struggle, all hope and all fear amounted to nothing -- but I was ready to embark upon a new course. I would meet people, and I would discover how dismissive, how contemptuous, how difficult the world really was. I remember their words, but now, I understand that they weren't being unkind because they wanted to hurt me or inhibit me; they were simply afraid. For me.

Thirty years later, when the future seems darker and more uncertain, I hear the echoes of those words. In part, I'm writing this letter to remind myself of all the things I should not say. But also, of the things I should.

So: It is true that you don't know what the adult world is like. How could you? You've only barely become one. You don't know what it's like to have a mortgage, to have children, to fear their ability to survive, even though you've survived reasonably well until now. You can't know how much I want to protect you from pain and loss -- because, of course, it's impossible. It's a child's dream, and if I've been an adult for three decades and I still have childish dreams, what does that say about me? I can't think that you've never known pain. I can't believe that you've never known fear. I can't believe that you've never felt isolated. I do understand that I don't know all of it.

Do we love you? Yes, of course. But parental love is never enough -- nor should it be. What we give, we give in part because you are our child. What the world gives, what you earn in the world, will not be influenced by that.

We understand this, because we're adults, and we've struggled with the ups and downs of that responsibility.

But we don't know what your adult life will be like. We don't know what your adult peers will be like; nor do we fully appreciate the ways in which the social workplace will change for you. We know what we experienced -- but our experiences are the result of what we learned as we grew up. Our social context isn't your social context. Some of what I personally experienced as one of four Asian school children in my school, you've never experienced, although you are, in fact, a visible minority. Some of the things I had to accept and move past, you don't have to accept. Nor should you.

Those experiences shaped me. Different experiences shaped you. I believe that some of the difficulties I've faced will be relevant to your life - but I also believe that some of them won't. The problem here is that I'm not completely sure which are which. I therefore have no solid advice to offer you.

So instead:

I was proud of you, in grade 7, when you interrupted a grade 8 child who was mocking and deriding grade one children for their stupidity. I was proud of you when you realized that one of your classmates, in a physical huddle of boys, was no longer laughing at the increasingly physical 'joke' and you intervened. Yes, your intervention was physical, and yes, the teachers and the principal got involved -- but still. You realized he was upset; you realized he wanted help. You offered help.

I was proud of you for telling a group of girls in your grade -- the alpha group -- that you thought they were being incredible bitches for picking on visiting girls at the school. It's not perhaps socially the wisest thing to do, but the thing is: those girls didn't realize how they came across; I'm certain of it. Telling them was an early warning sign, and it probably caused them all to step back and consider what their behaviour actually looks like to someone who isn't one of their group.

I am constantly delighted by your ability to play with and entertain younger children.

Will these things serve you well in the Real World? I don't know. They are not obvious, employable skills. They are not a path to certain success - and I think every parent wants that for their children - even if they didn't, themselves, have that solid, obvious path beneath their own feet. Why? Because we know what our decisions cost us. We know how much harder -- or easier -- they made our own lives. We don't want you to make the same mistakes that we did; we do want you to conversely make the same good decisions, even if what was smart for us might no longer apply to your generation. But when I'm rational, I know it's impossible for you to make exactly the same mistakes, and if I'm honest, the mistakes I did make didn't prevent me from reaching the life I now have, and I wouldn't trade that life for the mythically easier one.

If you never fail at anything, it means you've never tried anything. Yes, you can repeat that by rote, and have been able to do so since you were six years old. I'm sorry about that; I hope the fact that you can doesn't mean the words lose power.

My mother always said "Sometimes it's hard to like your children, but you never stop loving them." I can honestly say that I like you. That I love you is never in doubt. (At least, not to me.)

I know you don't know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Your father was fairly clear when he was your age; I wasn't. I want you to find the thing that you love to do -- whatever it is -- that will sustain you as you get older. For me, it was writing (never a smart economic choice). For your father, it was computer programming. I don't know what it will be for you. When I'm worried, I want to tell you what choices you should make to make your life easier. When I'm not insanely worried, I realize that I didn't live your life, and can't. I don't know for certain what will make your life easier, and even if I did, who am I to say that the difficulties won't teach you something you need to learn and experience?

I know you will change as you experience that life; what you learn about yourself from your experiences will make a difference to how you perceive the world you live in. But I hope that the boy who intervened to help his brother, his friends, and total strangers, survives all of those experiences.

ETA: in case it's not obvious from context, the long anonymous post is from my son :D


Sep. 23rd, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
letter to son
Happy Birthday, Oldest Son.
Michelle it's a beautiful, unforgetable letter. I have written similar letters, none as good as yours. My children are now in their forties and thirties. You will write them again.