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To My Autistic Son on His 18th Birthday

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Happy 18th birthday T.J.!

My sweet boy, you have been counting down the days to your 18th birthday since January 1st and it’s finally here! In honor of your big day, I wanted to make sure you know a few things about how I feel raising such an amazing kid.

You made us parents. Your dad and I are so proud of you. I know we tell you that all the time, and even typing it now I hear your response of: “I know, Mom” in my head. I hope you really do know, T.J.

When I went to college, and after, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. Except a mom. That’s been the only thing I knew I was meant to do. When you were born, we were filled with a new kind of love and joy that we hardly knew how to contain ourselves. Every day, even the frustrating ones that all new parents have, was filled with wonder and love at watching you grow. So much so that we decided to give you a brother before you were a year and a half old! And even though you didn’t want much to do with Peter when he was little, your dad and I are so happy with the relationship you two have now. There is a bond between you that cannot be broken, and that is completely separate from anything your dad and I can understand. We always say the best thing we ever did for both of you was to give you each other. May that bond of love and protection continue throughout your lives together as you share all of life’s ups and downs. Even if life takes you far away from each other, I know that you and Peter will always be together.

When you were diagnosed with autism at 2 years old, T.J., I was scared. I thought I had this parenting thing all figured out (ha!) and this threw a major wrench into our plans. I wanted you to have every chance and opportunity that every other kid had, and I didn’t want you to miss out on anything. But what you have taught me over these 18 years is that it is not my right or place to have any expectations over anything you do or become. Yes, it is my job to raise you to be kind and loving and open and strong and confident. That, I can do — I have done, and am doing. But the rest of it is up to you. It is your right to show the world who you are at your core. It is your right to be the best T.J. you can be, exploring your interests and deciding how you want to live your adult life. I want you to find your joy, your heart and your soul, and I will support you in any direction that takes you. This I promise wholeheartedly.

How silly for me to have thought I had any say in who you are to become! True, we have had many “zig zags” along the way. We had to figure out how to handle your anxiety issues and sensory issues. We had to figure out what your biggest weaknesses are and how to help you accommodate those into your every day life. But we also got to witness you come into your own as a happy, funny, young man who loves to make people laugh. Who loves art and makes the most beautiful pieces with the most glorious colors. Who loves animals and wants to find someone to talk to him about his sadness over the rhino poachers. Who finds such happiness in drawing Power Rangers, cutting them out, and using the cut out for hours re-enacting movies. I watch you in awe of your beautiful brain and beautiful heart. You have so many incredible gifts, and I am so excited to see where these desires and interests lead you. I will do everything I can, T.J., to help you get where you want to be. That is a forever promise.

T.J., you have taught me that hard work really does pay off. Over these 18 years this has been one of the things I have seen you work on time and time again. Remember when you started high school, and any homework that you had to do created so much turmoil? You worked so hard to handle those feelings bit by bit. I know you still hate homework, but you have learned that if you want the good grade, the homework and studying must be done. Your continued work on doing things that you don’t want to do, and your patience with this process, amazes and inspires me. You went through a lot of really uncomfortable times, knowing that the hard work would pay off. It really has, T.J.! I am so proud of what you have accomplished in high school! And whatever comes next, I am so excited to see the results of your hard work.

You have surprised me time and time again at your resilience and flexibility. You have been an amazing example to me of what it means to truly enjoy a moment. Sometimes that is all we have. You have shown me how to slow down, breathe and truly be present in the “right now.” When I get caught up in the busyness of my everyday life, I try to think of you at an aquarium or a zoo — quietly studying the natural state of things right before your eyes, filled with a contentment that so many struggle to gain. Me included. You are a wonderful example to all who know you to be where you are. Such a valuable lesson, even for an old lady like me!

I think the most important thing you have taught me is to not be afraid. This is a tough one for me, my sweetie. As your mom, I have been on guard, ready to be anything you need me to be. Your protector. Your advocate. Your voice. Your strength. Your teacher. Well, now that you are 18, my job in these roles has greatly lessened. I am your mom, and will always be at the ready to jump into any of these roles at any time, but the need for me to do so is so much less than it used to be. This scares the crap out of me. Not because you are not capable, but because sometimes, I let fear decide how I am going to feel. You don’t. Well, not as much anymore, anyway. You have a confidence that I wish I had at your age — heck, at my age! You have worked so hard at being the best T.J. you can be for so long, that you really have an admirable understanding of yourself I haven’t seen before. You are who you are and you like what you like, and you don’t care what anyone thinks about it. If you could bottle that attribute, you’d be a gazillionaire! Leaving high school, you are about to begin a new phase of your life, one where you will be faced with so many changes. I am scared. But I am scared in the same way I was scared when I watched you walk down the hall to Kindergarten for the first time. I have watched you tackle obstacle after obstacle, with an open mind and an open heart.

I know there are a lot of new challenges coming up, but I also know that you will face these with a strength and confidence that inspires me to do the same. I know you will be fine, one way or another, and that obstacles are just another opportunity for me to learn something about myself. You taught me that.

Finally, my dear T.J., I want you to know you are so, so loved. You have a way of making people smile everywhere you go. I am so lucky that I get to be your mom. Being your and Peter’s mom is my biggest honor and my greatest joy. Thank you for being you and for opening my world up to so much more than I ever could have imagined. I love you, T.J., so very much.

Happy birthday!

Love forever, Mom

Originally published: April 23, 2018
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