I don’t fall asleep as easily as I used to. Who does? (Oh to return to February 2020!) Last night I drifted off reading a new mystery novel I’ve only just started. Only to be jolted awake at midnight by my eighteen year old tripping over a box of books and hand weights on the floor of my room.
I groggily shouted “this better be an emergency!” Lest you think me harsh, dear reader, please understand this is approximately the 2000th or so time he’s woken me like this and it was, in fact, an emergency worth waking me up for approximately five or six times.
“Well,” he said, “it’s just that. Just that—“
“Just that what?!” I screamed
“I can’t stop thinking about where did all the dark chocolate peanut butter cups go?” He said this with a bit of a whine.
“Your brother ate them,” I bellowed and then “good night.” He went to talk more when I said “good night” over him several times until he left.
If you’re still thinking I’m harsh, okay, you’re right. He didn’t deserve to be yelled at like that.
What I find myself wrestling with is my special needs son becoming an adult who will likely live with me the rest of my life. The vast expanse of adulthood before us, an endless succession of very similar presents.
As kids grow up, they go through stages where they pull away from us and then come back. Toddlerhood, kindergarten, adolescence, going off to college. It’s bittersweet as a parent. But I’ve always found it much sweeter than bitter. The idea of taking someone from 2 cells to a fully launched adult is the most incredible thing a person could ever do.
Watching your relationship with your child come to an end as it’s replaced with an entirely new one. Less purely dependent, but with new needs that are more complex. And knowing that, with each successive stage, it becomes more and more of a choice for them. Will they let you in now that they have a world you’re not always a part of, an ever increasing level of privacy, a greater internal world and sense of who they are? If they don’t choose you, what will you do? And so, when they do, you’re grateful they’ve chosen you. Because they didn’t have to. And maybe you did something right as a parent after all.
So, what then, do you do with a child who will never launch? Who remains at a particular level of dependency indefinitely. I know I’ll figure this out. But it’s hard. His younger brother is almost 17 now. PSATs and drivers permits and what colleges should he apply to and all of that.
I felt bad for yelling at him. I texted his dad and told him about it and said I don’t know how to stop resenting this situation. And I need to. And as we were typing about it I found myself typing that every time 17 hits a milestone I know 18 never will, it’s hard.
For who, he asked
For me, I replied. Maybe it is for 17 too. I don’t know.
I remember the day 17 passed 18 up developmentally. I remember that it hurt. And I remember that is confused 17. For years.
They were both potty trained on the same day. 17 could have been a year before that but he held off until his older brother was ready. That’s how I remember it anyway. Maybe it’s just a story I tell myself so that this all makes sense.
18 loved cars and trucks when he was little. And it broke my heart to tell him he’d never get to drive. But it didn’t bother him. Now 17 is old enough to drive and doesn’t seem particularly interested. I told him he has to get his permit by October 31st. He’s dragging his feet. It’s important he take that step, become that much more independent. So I push. But the truth is, I am sure I will cry when he starts to drive. Because 18 never will. 18 doesn’t care. He has no desire to drive. So why can’t I let these feelings go?
When our kids pull away at these different stages, it’s scary but exciting for them, and we need to be there, letting them know they’re safe, that we’ll still be there when they come back. It’s scary and exciting for us too, though. Will they come back? Who will they be when they return to us? And isn’t that at the core of all our relationships? With children, with partners, with friends, with God? Life is growth.
And maybe that’s what bothers me, my narrow view of what growth is and how it should look. Feeling our relationship will stagnate. But there is no one right way to grow. 18 won’t grow and change in a lot of the ways his siblings will, that I did, but he will grow and change in his own way. He will still depend on me, he doesn’t really have the choice to leave and come back to me physically. But he will still have the choice, emotionally, spiritually.
And if I keep screaming at him, he very well might not choose to return to me.
And so we’ll have to work it out. Maybe I’ll put a lock on my bedroom door. Maybe he really will eventually learn what an emergency is. Or maybe I’ll learn to get myself to sleep earlier so I’m not so angry when I’m woken up for 30 seconds to answer a simple question from a man who’s grown me more than anyone else. And who keeps on growing me, even at midnight, half-asleep.