I stuffed the tissue in my pocket knowing that the inevitable was about to happen. As much as I wanted to create a stalling tactic and pause time, I only had a few more minutes with my 19 year old son until I had to tell him goodbye. He was leaving us for a nine week summer job that was five hours away from home. I asked him to find a summer job, and he did. I should have said to find a summer job closer to home!
This is his first time living away from home, and what makes this farewell different than others is we weren’t sure if this day would ever happen. When my son was three years old, he was diagnosed with autism, and all of our hopes and dreams for him were suddenly up in the air.
Sixteen years have now passed us by and here we are. This day feels like the hardest days of our lives. Our lives are tightly intertwined with our son’s because when you have a young child with autism, you do everything for them. You think for them. You communicate for them. You try to untangle what is confusing for them. You advocate for them. You fight the school system for them. And if necessary, you stand up to bullies for them.
When you have a child with special needs or chronic health issues, you don’t know what the future holds for them.
Will they be independent?
Will they have to live with you as adults?
Will they have the ability to drive, or attend college, or get a job?
Will they ever marry?
You hope for the best while preparing for the worst. With with my son, we spent many years in this “not knowing” limbo.
Not knowing if he could go to college.
Unsure if he could ever safely drive a car.
Uncertain if he would have close friends or be interested in girls.
Having no clue if he could ever live on his own.
Many years ago I made peace with the possibility that he would always live with us, depending upon our support for his well-being. I envisioned converting our FROG into a bedroom and he could just live happily upstairs in our protected upper room.
Now, I am making peace with him leaving home for 9 weeks as a camp counselor. All of those things I wasn’t sure that he could do? He can! He drives, goes to college, has a job, and concerning girls, he is like all other teenage boys!
His summer job as a camp counselor is at an overnight camp for children and adults with special needs. My son has always loved children. It’s not surprising, since autism can impair social interactions, that he feels more comfortable with those younger than him. And children love him!
He will spend five days a week, for eight camp weeks, taking care of people with disabilities. And he’ll do his own laundry and drive around a big city and decide what to do on his days off all by himself. Without my help.
As I drive behind him preparing to tell him goodbye, I think of all of the obstacles that he has overcome…special education, occupational therapy, learning to drive. I think of evaluations and doctor’s offices and hospital visits. I think of the hurdles that he’s jumped over. And I’m thankful for the grace that he had with this mama that often was impatient with him, expecting too much from him, and sometimes forgetting that he learns differently than everyone else.
His persistence and fearlessness make me proud. And if I’m honest, his fearlessness makes me a little scared, too. So I pray. I ask God to fiercely protect my young man since I will no longer there.
God was watching over him from that first day that we were told “Autism.” As his parents, God gave us the wisdom to know how to raise this boy who did not fit any mold. God gave this young man a humble and obedient spirit. God gifted this young man with a love for children and a strong work ethic. God made him amazing and a blessing to all who know him.
God, you gave Him to me, so now I, with a heavy heart, give Him back to You, entrusting Him into Your faithful hands. Please don’t let me down.
What happened next was Greg grabbed his suitcases, gave us a farewell hug, and walked through the parking lot to the camp facilities. Alone.
I grabbed my Kleenex, wiped my eyes, and we headed back home, knowing that I just left a little piece of my heart with my boy who, against all odds, became a man.
See you soon, bud.
Update: Greg has been at camp for four weeks and is doing great! He has had many campers who have autism and he’s made some great friends. And yesterday, he made a day trip to Georgia to have lunch with friends. We thank God for it all!