Now that I’m pushing 50, many of my friends are doing likewise. That means that many of them are parents of kids that are teenagers and/or pre-teens. That means that in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of first-day-of-school photos of kids, often annotated by, or commented upon, with the words (or words to the effect of) “How did that happen?”
Real talk: ohhhh, do I ever envy that implied lack of intentionality.
Let me back this up a scootch. I realize there’s something crazy about suggesting that the most overscheduled generation in history was somehow raised unintentionally. I very well know that all my friends have put an immeasurable amount of thought and effort into raising their kids. And frankly, I don’t envy this generation growing up in the shadow of climate change and Trump and the growing possibility that America’s best days are behind it.
I also know that “How did that happen?” may be a polite way to acknowledge a friend you haven’t seen in a while. I’m human. I see a kid I haven’t seen for a few years, the kid looks to have grown a foot or two, I’ll probably also gush some kind of incredulity.
Maybe “how did that happen?” is a social-media sentiment that only regards physical changes. In that case I can really relate, because Dar’s physical maturation is like a constant hurricane in our house, always requiring confrontation and adjustment. But it sure ain’t as fun as the sentiment sounds. As Dar approaches puberty and his physicality gets to be more and more of an issue, I have to become less and less of the dad I had hoped to be. I have to restrain Dar or yell at him, chipping away at my soul a little bit each time.
But when people post “Here’s my 9thgrader. How did that happen?!” it doesn’t feel only physical. It’s more like “How did this person become almost an adult?” with all that implies.
“How did that happen?” may be pure sarcasm. The subtext may be “I know exactly how this happened, but let’s pretend it was easy.” I get that.
Still. If it is sarcasm, it’s the kind I can’t even fake for a minute. Everything about Dar’s life is as meticulously planned as…let’s say, a feature film. Imagine saying to Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino about their latest film, “wow, how on earth did that possibly come together?” They’re not exactly gonna whimsically agree that making the film was on auto-pilot for a year or so.
What I wouldn’t give for even a week of auto-pilot.
I think many of my friends are invoking the sentiment of one of my favorite-ever humans, John Lennon, when he sang “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Oh, believe me, we HAD other plans. After Dar’s autism diagnosis, however, all other plans were suspended.
I’ve given up on being in the room when it happens. I just want it to happen. I want this Pinocchio here to be a real boy.
I should perhaps say as an aside: maybe my friends’ kids’ ages and Dar’s status as a not-yet-ten-year-old are related? Maybe we waited too long to have kids? I refuse to think along those lines. We have a younger kid who’s neurotypical. Plus, I’ve seen moms in my autism groups who weren’t even 30 when their kid was born. So, meh.
If you’ve been writing “How did that happen?”, to be clear, I’m not saying “Hey, I’m triggered!!” No. It’s not that. I want my friends to be happy. The truth is, I need them, you, to remind me what happiness sometimes looks like. I need that reminder as part of Dar’s planning.
Because as intentional as we are, the plans are clearly subject to revision. Imagine Spielberg or Tarantino were working on some kind of multi-year multi-film project (like Richard Linklater or Michael Apted; look them up, non-nerds) and were open to friends’ ideas about the next installment. In Dar’s case, our carefully updated plans are clearly not working as well as we’d like. Sure, Dar has made some progress. But when you hear as much screaming as we do, when you see as much self-abuse as we do (Dar is slapping his leg as I type this, to the point of it getting hot), you remain very, very open to suggestions. I can read a tweet thread like this one that went viral yesterday (400,000+ likes) and I may even show it to his ABA therapist who has spent three hours with him almost every day for the last two years. In fact, I did show it to her.
Maybe today’s revision in the plan should be: “just roll with ‘How did that happen?’” And you know, I should, and sometimes I do.
But when I do, I know exactly how that happens.