Last Monday, my son wrote a post about what I’ve taught him regarding finances and his future. It’s hard to express how proud it made me to see him come up with such a mature, articulate view of how to use money responsibly. Today, I decided I would share with you just a few of the life lessons he has taught me.
As most of you know, I haven’t always been the most responsible person on the planet. I got pregnant when I was still in high school. I’ve made horrible choices when it comes to money. (See here, here, and here. And here. And lots of other places, too.) And then, of course, there are all the stories I haven’t gotten around to telling yet. Overall, I’ve spent most of my adult life recovering from mistakes.
That said, one thing I will never describe as a mistake is my 13 year-old son, Jayden. I didn’t set out to get pregnant, but that doesn’t mean the life that resulted wasn’t meant to be. From the day he was born, Jayden has been my universe. I don’t think I could ever love another human as much as I love him and, through some miracle, I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.
One of the astounding things about parenthood is discovering that you’re a student FAR more often than you’re the teacher. While Jay posted about some great lessons he has learned from my (less than fabulous) example, there’s no contest when it comes to who has learned the most. This is a mere glimpse into thousands of experiences, all of which educated me beyond what I thought possible.
Everything Has a Price
When Jayden was born, he was one of the most easy-going babies I’d ever encountered. Content to watch the ceiling fan turn for hours at a time, he demanded very little other than knowing I was nearby. He didn’t cry on car trips or need to be held constantly. Everyone who spent time with him agreed that he was “such a good baby.”
As he grew older, I began to sense that something was… off. The way he lined up his toys instead of playing with them. The crackers he pushed away because a corner was broken off. The obsession with certain parts of Blue’s Clues that had me rewinding VHS tapes until I was sure they’d fall apart. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew there was something going on with my son.
At age 6, during my last weeks of graduate school, Jayden was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. In those first panicked moments, my brain torn between denial and relief, I remember thinking back to all the times I read a book or watched TV while he focused intently on the ceiling fan or light filtering through the window. Was this my fault? Did I take for granted that he was “a good baby” and cause this to happen to him? Am I a horrible mother?
There Are Two Sides to Every Story
As Jayden has grown older, his deficits have become more apparent. He has difficulty with critical thinking and processing verbal instructions. As a result, he despises school more than any kid I’ve ever seen (and frustrates his teachers more than any kid I’ve ever seen). He doesn’t grasp social cues like most people do, causing him to miss out on things that are essential in middle school – body language, facial expressions, and sarcasm. He can’t handle the give and take of conversation, preferring to “monologue” at length on the topics that interest him.
Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t all bad, though. I have been blessed with a child who is nearly incapable of lying, who is incredibly smart, and who doesn’t follow the “sheep” mentality typical of most adolescents. He may miss out on the intricacies of friendship, but I have never known him to be intentionally cruel to another person. He has strong feelings about fairness and social inequality. While some kids his age are experimenting with drugs and who knows what else, he’s happiest when he’s at home playing video games or reading.
Often, people don’t realize there’s anything “wrong” with Jayden. The uninitiated simply see a smart kid with a huge vocabulary – maybe a little immature, but overall a good kid who just isn’t motivated. This has caused me more frustration than anything else in my life as I fight to get services for him at school. I have a good relationship with the guidance counselor and many of his teachers, but we face a difficult paradox: The older he gets, the more support he needs. Yet the older he gets, the less support the school system is designed to provide.
You Can’t Predict the Future No Matter How Hard You Try
Looking forward into Jayden’s adulthood means giving up many of those silly dreams parents have about what their children will do and become. The story of his life isn’t completely written yet, but I can formulate some guesses about what’s in store versus the future I imagined when he was just an infant.
Unless something changes drastically, Jayden has no plans to go to college. After 9 years of feeling like a square peg in a round hole, his mounting stress about further education was more than either of us could stand. Last fall, 3 hours into a homework assignment that should have taken 30 minutes, I lost it.
“You know what?” I snarled. “I don’t even care anymore. Just finish high school. That’s all I ask!”
I watched the relief spread across his face. With the removal of his anxiety about every assignment and whether it could prevent him from getting into a good college, he was able to complete the homework quickly. And after he went to sleep, I cried alone in my bed, mourning the loss of something I didn’t even know I could lose.
I don’t know if Jayden will ever have a real friendship, let alone a romantic relationship, due to his numerous quirks and inability (or is it refusal?) to adhere to social norms. I may never have grandchildren. He may never hold a steady job or move out on his own. Or he may do all of those things and more. As his mother, I have to be prepared for every possibility. And that means letting go of what I think he should be and allowing myself to appreciate what he becomes.
It’s Not What Happens That Counts, But How We React to What Happens
Raising Jayden has been a complete rewrite of everything I thought I knew about life. He has never been typical or followed the “expected” timeline, and I doubt he ever will. Despite being extremely close with him, I have never been able to guess what comes next. And honestly, that is the perfect metaphor for my own life.
My path has always been a little rockier than most; sometimes by chance, but often by choice. While I have regrets like anyone else, I also recognize the strength I’ve gained from living on my own terms and finding my own way. As Jayden’s mother, I get to watch that dynamic play out all over again, but this time with hope that I’ll have the chance to right some of my many wrongs along the way.