Doug gets an earlobe to earlobe grin on his face and proudly announces that “Tommy is about to graduate and he is going to LMU,” whenever we see people we know in the off-line world. I wear the smile of an exhausted warrior and with tear-filled eyes, calmly say, “Tommy is going to graduate in three weeks with a real diploma.” If pushed for more information, I whisper that Tommy wants to attend LMU in the fall. Several years ago, when things were particularly difficult and I was in a very dark place emotionally, I took a psychological inventory. I decided that at the very moment in time, things were not terrible. In fact, they were much better than they could be. That became my bar and every step forward or upward was unexpected progress. A bonus gift. In the past two years, that “this is as good as it gets” attitude has made life feel like one giant celebration.
Graduation is so real now that we can all taste it. All of Tommy’s teachers have commented on his severe case of ‘senior-itis’ that has him slacking. After a lifetime of struggle, Tommy deserves to relax and enjoy. He was never invited to other children’s houses or parties. He had to earn the privileges that other children are given automatically. He had to learn the things which others intuitively know. Graduating from high school is a milestone that a large number of his Aspie peers couldn’t reach. We need a partyathon to celebrate. Instead, I am frozen like a deer in the headlights of the new start line that is post high school.
The very few peers that have graduated and are attempting college are in way, way over their heads. Teenagers are expected to turn 18, graduate high school and venture out on their own. Aspies are so emotionally immature that this expectation is completely unrealistic. I feel like we setting Tommy up for failure by even considering sending him away to college. At the same time, there really are not a lot of other options. This is what Tommy wants. Maybe it’s just a one semester experiment. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I am already planning a farrier apprenticeship for Tommy to try next. Not because I want to predetermine his failure at college, but because I am afraid. I am afraid of Tommy getting hurt. I am afraid of Tommy giving up. I am afraid of what happens next. So, I fall back into the survival mode of Tommy’s childhood. Trying everything, but always prepared to move on to something new instead of wallowing in each failure. When (not if) Tommy succeeds, it will be a gift. An unexpected triumph that we will celebrate.