Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Congratulations, You've Created An Individual!

I just got back from Joey's annual IEP meeting, which has to be held at the end of each school year to determine what services the system is going to provide for next year.  And every year, I am completely amazed at how far we have come and the potential that is being unlocked in this little being that my husband and I created about 13 years ago. 

Isn't it amazing that out of an act of love comes an actual person?  How mind blowing is it that I made a person?  Hey, I made three people.  As they grow older, they become individuals with their own thoughts, ideas, beliefs, aspirations.  They are no longer extensions of myself and my husband as they were when they were babies.  They are interesting people all in their own right.

My oldest son is currently finishing his freshman year in college and is planning on being a high school history teacher.  We created a person who wants to educate other people.  I wonder how many lives my son will touch and how many students he will inspire.  That wouldn't be possible if we hadn't created him.  I know he doesn't appreciate that now, but someday he will.  He's an amazing person, with a personality very like his father's.  He's quiet and independent.  He doesn't want my input, although occasionally, he will ask what I think.  But he goes his own way and knows what he wants.  I like that he is his own person.  We did something right.

My middle son is 14 and okay, he's a teenager.  But he's still an amazing kid.  He wants to go into the military and is always asking questions about what he would need to do to be in this branch or that division.  He doesn't like school, but is grudgingly getting the required grades because he knows it's required.  He's respectful, but does what he wants behind my back.  I know it and tacitly accept it because he's a teenager and, if you don't allow for some rebellion, things could go horribly wrong.  You have to pick your battles.  I don't have a "favorite" kid, but I would say that I am closer to my middle child than I am to the other two, simply because he allows me into his world just a bit more and is more willing to have a conversation.  He's still figuring out who he wants to be, but I can see the world shaping his beliefs.  And I've told him it's okay if he doesn't believe what we believe, because he's his own person and has a right to think whatever he wants, as long as he's not hurting anyone when he does it.  I have to hope I have instilled the values he will need to survive in a cutthroat world and I think that I have.  Teenagers are hard, but it can be done.

I came home from the 12 year old's IEP meeting shaking my head in amazement at what he has accomplished.  As I sat in the meeting this morning, I counted up how many of these meetings I have attended over the years and realized that it's more than 9, since he went into the school system after his autism diagnosis when he was three.  And I realized just how far he has come in the last six years after the field trip Justin chaperoned last week when they went to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles.  He went to that same museum when he was three and I heard later that it was so overwhelming for him in a sensory way that he kind of laid on the floor the entire time they were there, screaming with his hands over his ears.  Last week, he ate McDonald's with the other kids, enjoyed being in the group, and came home full of stories of the day he had at the museum.  Like a totally normal kid.  How did we go from thinking he might not ever live on his own to this honor roll student who looks forward to field trips and can't wait for the pool to open?  I'm in awe of what he has accomplished.  But when I think about it, I have to remember too that not only did I create this little personality, I have been pushing him out of his autism for years, insisting that he "can" do it when he doesn't think that he can.

I put a lot more pressure on Joey because of his autism to accomplish more.  His grades have to be A's and B's because I know he's smart enough and he needs to work around whatever limitations he has.  We make accommodations for his autism, but not as much as we used to.  We are molding him to live in the real world and deal with the people he will be forced to deal with.  And those people are not always nice or accommodating.

I had a lot of doubts about how middle school would be for Joey because he is different from the other kids.  What I forget every year though is that even though Joey is different, he is also likable and the other kids are almost protective of him.  I think I wrote about the meltdown he had recently at school when the chair he wanted was not available in the lunch room and how four of the girls from his class followed him down to the autism room to ask how he was and make sure he was okay.

What hit me as I drove home from the IEP meeting today was that I have created these three human beings.  Twenty years ago, all I wanted was to be a parent and I certainly got that in spades.  It has been both exactly what I wanted and not anything that I expected and that's fantastic.  It comes with its share of irritations and breakdowns and yelling, because I want kids who people like to have around.  I want kids who are respectful.  Who, when they go home, the other parents don't say, "Oh my God, what a brat!"  Because I've done that myself and I don't want it for my kids.

I think for the most part, I have succeeded in my parenting attempts.  We have succeeded, because parenting has been a joint effort.  I cannot discount how much Justin has been a part of this whole parenting process, frustration, joy, and, on days like today, big payoffs. 

Every year, the list of things that Joey needs help with gets smaller and that used to scare me.  But what I realize is that my son with autism is making such great strides that maybe he doesn't need the help he used to need.  He is becoming a person, coming out of his shell, understanding emotion now, and learning how to respond to other people, looking to them for guidance on how he is supposed to react.  He recently ate a cheeseburger and french fries.  This is enormous, as Joey has never eaten meat.  Ever.  But he ate it on the field trip because that's what the other kids were doing and he wanted to be like the other kids.

How amazing is it that we can create people?  What an amazing, awe inspiring responsibility this parenting thing has turned out to be.  I didn't realize going into it what a long term commitment it was going to be, although I should have realized it when I got started.  But it's hard to think 20 years ahead when you're worrying about how to pay for the diapers and formula and get to work after being up all night with a sick baby.  Now, as my children get older, I stand back in awe as they show me how they are developing into actual people and I can't believe that I did this.  If I do nothing else in my life, I have created, we have created three human beings who will have untold influence on others.  They will create human beings of their own and those people would not be if I had not been.  That's absolutely astounding and stops me in my tracks.

Joey's teachers love him.  Actually, all my kids' teachers have pretty much loved all of them and that's quite an accomplishment.  Whether it's their accomplishment or mine, I'm not exactly sure.  But whatever, because we have put three amazing human beings on this earth and we are molding them to hopefully be incredible contributors to society.  Hopefully.

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