My son was away at school four days when the phone call came. It was his counselor, and she wanted me to know that he wanted to go home. Me too, I thought, flashing on my mom's house and her full fridge and how I can put on ten pounds just peeking inside.
"Mrs. McCorkindale," she continued, "he's insisting."
He's insisting? My older son is high functioning autistic and developmentally delayed which is a nice way of saying he's a thirteen-year-old trapped in the body of a twenty-year-old. He's at your particular school to be taught how to manage his money and his medication, do his own laundry, learn a trade, read a pay stub and, please God, get his driver's license so someday he can take a girl out without his mom having to come along, and you're listening to him?
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think anyone who's basically an adolescent should be calling the shots.
"I'm sure he is," I said. My son would much rather be home, lying on his bed and listening to his iPod or eating crap and playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for six hours at a clip than go to class. Heck, I don't know a single one of his friends who wouldn't. But you have to be kidding if you think I'm going to cave and come get him.
"Mrs. McCorkindale," she whispered, "I'm really concerned about him."
"I appreciate that," I replied. "My guess is he's sitting there, across your desk, telling you he can't eat, can't sleep, and has a headache, right? He's hunched over, head in hand, sniffling, and frankly he looks like his dog just up and died, his best friend ditched him or, worse yet, his cell phone fell in the toilet. That sound about right?"
"A hundred percent."
He's not away a week, and already my kid's at Def-Con 4 on the drama king scale. Clearly there are no delays in his mastery of manipulation.
"Might I speak with him for a moment?" I asked.
I heard some shuffling and then my gentle giant's sweet, flat monotone. "Mom," he sobbed, "I want to come home. Everyone here is weird."
I hate it when my kid cries, particularly now that it's just me, alone, making all the decisions. His voice breaks, and my resolve starts to crack. I've yet to get my sea legs for this single parenting stuff, and I spend most days feeling like I'm trying to keep my balance in a moon bounce.
"There are weird people everywhere, Casey, normal people, too. Only you won't get to meet any of them if you don't get a driver's license."
"But I want to come home."
"And I want Robert Downey, Jr. to show up at the door."
"Mom," he said softly, "you're being silly."
"No, you're being silly. You want to come home? Start walking."
"But mom, please-"
I cut him off. "Not a chance, dude. You want out? Lace up your sneakers, grab your backpack and a couple of bottles of water. I figure it should take you three days, two if your cell dies and you can't text me every ten seconds begging and pleading for me to pick you up. And don't forget, hitchhiking is illegal."
"But mom, that's dangerous!"
"Double the reason you should stay put and do what you promised Dad."
Silence. A really long silence during which I could tell he'd stopped crying. I hate to play the Dad card but sometimes you've got to invoke the dead to guilt the living into submission.
"Ok," he finally said. "I'll stay."
Funny thing is, I expected the call to come much sooner. You know, like within the first twenty-four hours and frankly, I was proud of him for lasting as long as he did. "Hey Case," I said, as we were hanging up, "I love you. You're going to be fine."
And I'll be fine, too. As long as those sea legs get here soon.