It was bound to happen. Adolescence. How did he get here so fast?
Just the other day my son Liam was on his way home from the hospital wrapped in a blue blanket. In a world crammed with autism -- chock full of therapy, treatments, doctor visits, specialists, learning how to cook without wheat or milk when you are Southern, caretakers, schedules, arguments with the school district, a fight to get resources, insurance coverage, raising money for research, endless questions with no answers, advocating -- his childhood just flew.
I blinked and my baby boy became a young man.
Revealing more of his intentions with each passing day, his life is clearly mapped out. At 16, he's going to work at McDonald's to save money for a royal blue Ford Mustang with two white racing stripes. He wants to go to college and travel to Paris to see Notre Dame. When he is all grown up, he wants to work in a slow food restaurant as a chef.
Somewhere over the course of the last year, just like plenty of other boys his age, he fell deeply under the spell of a girl. Her name is Kathryn.
She pursued him and he is twitterpated beyond belief.
Despite all the coaching I constantly provide him, this new situation took me by surprise. His first love -- a present that I couldn't wait for him to get but wasn't sure he would have the opportunity to open.
Her interest in Liam is genuine. Why wouldn't it be? He is handsome and sweet. They have been officially, and faithfully, going steady since last fall right after he broke things off with Mrs. Fuller, his beautiful, blond math teacher. Sitting on a bench at recess, he told Mrs. Fuller that she was great but he needed to be with a girl his own age.
She took it well.
Kathryn's influence on Liam is something to treasure. As a mother you soon learn your limits, hoping eventually another woman will have a stronger influence on your boy. No need to nag about hygiene anymore because he wants to look nice for her -- wants his haircut a certain way and uses hair gel, flosses and brushes his teeth, applies deodorant without prompting -- somewhere around mid-December he begged me to take him to Wal-Mart to get some A-X-E, which he spelled out during the request. She makes him reach outside of himself and in the process, more considerate. He has given her a present for every special occasion since Halloween -- presents that he picked out himself with significant planning to be sure and find that something special that she would like.
To help him anticipate the wild pitches girls can throw, every day when I dropped him off at school, I would say, "What are you going to tell Kathryn today?"
I threw out rote conversation starters. He repeated them until they flowed naturally.
"Kathryn, your hair looks pretty today."
"Kathryn, I like your blue eyes."
"Kathryn, your smile is beautiful."
As the year wore on, I paused -- giving him a chance to come up with his own daily ice breaker. Sometimes he would succeed. Other times, he would say things like, "Kathryn, you have really nice knees." Smile. While I am certain Kathryn does have really nice knees, I explained that girls smile bigger and brighter when you compliment their hair, eyes and clothes rather than their joints.
This new issue shines a light on how much I have left to teach him about social navigation in the mere five years before he is officially an adult.
This past Thursday, he reported to summer school to take Louisiana's LEAP test for the fourth time as part of George Bush's 20/20 vision to make sure no child is left behind, not one. We have battled for the last 18 months with our school system which requires all children, regardless of their special education classification, to pass a standardized test to move to the next grade.
Upon finding out that he failed for a third time back in May, Liam accepted defeat and the fact that he would once again be relegated to elementary school -- not progressing to the sixth grade by Kathryn's side as he had hoped. The whole process has been demoralizing for him. He has challenges but his educational level should not prevent him from having an opportunity to be in a class with his peers.
There is a huge difference between a child that is 13 and a child that is 8 -- physically and socially.
Phrases like "I'm a loser" and "I wish I weren't stupid" re-entered his vocabulary. He gave up his fight. We were about to give up with him -- caught in the crosshairs of a world of wanting him to succeed and move on with his peers and a world of protecting him from the bullies that inevitably come with his entry into middle school.
I expected him to be downhearted when I pulled into school to pick him up after a long, hot day of summer testing. Instead, he jumped in the car with a huge smile on his face.
"Mom, that's it. I don't want to come back here in the fall. I do want to go to sixth grade. Can I call Kathryn when I get home?"
WHAT? MY BOY WANTS TO CALL A GIRL... help, hyperventilating. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
As soon as we pulled into the driveway he grabbed the phone, ran inside and independently dialed her number.
"Hi. My name is Liam. Can I talk to my girlfriend Kathryn?" He looked at me and winked his "watch this" wink, then leaned back against the kitchen counter and stuck his hand in his left pocket. His foot tapped nervously on the tile floor.
"Hi Kathryn! It's me, Liam, your boyfriend! Do you know where you are going to go to middle school? (pause) Uh-huh. Ok. Say it again? Can you spell it for me -- I don't know what you are saying? (pause) Mom can you give me a pencil?" (pause, pencil in hand -- shoots me another wink, then carefully repeats the spelling back to her).
"Cool. How is your summer? Are you going on vacation? We went to New York City and Dauphin Island. "
Long pause as he listened to Kathryn explain her summer activities.
"Nope, no camps this year."
The conversation continued on the other end of the phone.
"Hey...next week do you want to go see Ice Age with me, my sister and my mom or go to our pool to swim?"
Oh My God. He just asked her out. I feel like Fred Sanford grabbing my chest. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Do not cry.
"Ok. I gotta go now. Catch you later."
Slapped the phone into my hand, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "I need to go to the sixth grade."
I love watching his eyes light up when he talks about a future that medical professionals had no faith in when they diagnosed him eleven years ago. We never let anyone steal our hope but we were about to let the system get us down. We never let him believe he would be anything other than the very best he could be. He doesn't want to be anything less than the very best he can be either.
When I tucked him in that night, because I intend to still tuck him in as long as he will let me, he said, "Mom, when I grow up I am going to marry Kathryn. I will go live in a different house and you will be sad. We will have two boys named Ben and Steve and one girl. Then one day, I will have a barbecue on my Happy Father's Day. You can come over, bring us a cake and you will be happy!"
I hope so baby boy.
Hopefully one day, because of someone as wonderful as Kathryn the Great, we will be able to have that cake -- and eat it, too.