Despite how painful emotionally the past couple of weeks have been, or how exhausting the past several months have proven to be, there have been many wonderful things to celebrate, and oh-so-many sweet and tender moments.
|Matt with his special request birthday dinner of fajitas and I surprised him with my first attempt ever at homemade refried beans.|
We celebrated Matt's 19th birthday early this weekend, as he was headed off to the Air Force Academy to help lead the Encampment being held there for Civil Air Patrol. Sorry, but it is so hard to believe he is 19 years old!! The years have passed so swiftly, and he is really all man now, with few signs of boy left. Yet I was privileged to get to experience that sweet combination of both on our long drive over the Rockies.
Many people never see the Matt we see at home, for in public he is fairly reserved and quiet, a true introvert who is not at all shy but doesn't care much for small talk. Rarely do those outside the family get to see the kid who is a total crack up, whose sharp mind leads to a perfectly placed quote or joke. It is only when he is supremely comfortable that the real Matt shines through, the total teaser, the one whose comic relief eases a tense moment. We also have a couple of extroverted talkers, and in order for there to be space for Matt to share, getting him alone is the best bet.
My first-home and I have a very special relationship, but far more so than I realized until this week. Having been old enough to be aware of all the adjustments and emotional work that has gone into helping each of his siblings settle into their new family, and seeing first hand daily the hard, hard work that goes into special needs kids, Matt has in some ways been my closest partner, for he has been there every moment of every school day alongside me, and sometimes offers insights and catches things that help me find new ways of working with them. His patience has been extraordinary through the years, a gift of time and grace as he sat through conversations that were painfully slower than he needed them to be to allow space for his siblings to learn, develop logic, and gradually accept realities.
So it was with great glee that I looked forward to our 5 hours alone together as we drove in the early morning hours Tuesday morning. It is a time when he and I can both have conversations of great depth without interruption, without further explanation, without misplaced jokes from others or inane chatter or confusing and disconnected statements being made that one has to work overtime to figure out. He had joked about leaving even earlier, before sunup, so we could "escape" the madness earlier and have more time to visit, and it was the first time I really saw that it was not only I who eagerly anticipated the time alone together!!
We got in the well packed car, started the engine, looked at each other, and grinned. We were off!!! And oh, the topics we explored! We talked about him for a change, about his future and possible directions, about his desire to learn more about Artificial Intelligence and how he now has a hugely expensive graphics card that can handle the mathematical computations for that learning. We talked about his "bread and butter" income eventually hopefully coming from web site design. We discussed current events and the many layers to all that is happening in the world around us. Summer church camp counseling was also part of the conversation, and how one day he might like to be a camp Director, and would need a "spiritual counterpart" to his organizational skills, and that might just be Kenny. And, of course, we talked about the family, about ideas for his siblings as they move out into the world, about his "take" on all that is going on for Angie and Kenny right now.
Matt has such a deep respect for, in particular, Kenny's intellect. He speaks often of how sad it is that Kenny has FASD for he sees how truly exceptionally bright he is, and yet as Matt puts it, how "scrambled" Kenny's brain can be. On many occasions lately he has spoken of how Kenny is actually smarter than he is, and how he hopes he finds the perfect way to use his gifts over time. He then asked me, "So what is up with Olesya's thinking lately? That girl is so off right now!!" and we laughed as only two intimates can, who love the person being spoken of, and sometimes suffer right along with her. The developmental delays and highs and lows of FASD are so obvious, and so frustrating for everyone. I wish he had been here last night to laugh afterward as it took me over 10 minutes to get out of her with constant questioning exactly how badly her injured wrist was hurting her. Seems like a simple question until you get into the kind of circular discussions that occur on a daily basis here! Hahaha! All you can do is laugh, but it is beyond exasperating sometimes.
Touchingly, as we were at lunch before dropping him off, he realized that due to his and my travels, it was going to be over a month before we would see each other again, and that hadn't really hit him until that moment. For the rest of my life, I will never forget how that truly seemed to disturb him, how my most independent and adult of five kids looked at me and said how much he will really miss me, all joking aside. I think in that moment we both realized we have truly crossed over from child and parent, to dear and close friends who deeply enjoy one another's company, and miss one another when not around...even if sometimes we are merely ships that pass one another throughout our day. In the midst of loving craziness, we are each others' touchpoint, he offers me affirmation that indeed, I am not nuts when I see something odd going on, he is my encourager and comic relief, he is my mature and present voice when brain dysfunction all around me tries to drag me off.
We authentically not only love one another, we are at the point where we have an abiding friendship, and appreciation for what the other brings. I will always be mom, but in this moment, I realized I will have the great blessing of always being among his closest friends...and now it is appropriate.
Multiple times he spoke of how that may be the longest time we have been apart and how weird that would be, and I teased him that he could reach out anytime with a text that was longer than the word "ok" ;-) He said he just might have to, as that was simply too long for us not to connect, and my heartstrings were tightened just a bit more. At the drop off there at the Academy, he hugged me more tightly, he grinned a bit more, and he said once again just how much he was going to miss me...and I think that new awareness was a delightful surprise to him, too. Funny how at 19 years old, THIS drop off felt for both of us a lot like his first church camp drop off when he was 8. So many drop offs in between were more casual, more routine, but this was different in such a special way. With a complete lack of embarrassment, he told me how much he loved and appreciated me, and would miss me. Once again I was grateful that our teens have never, not once, reflected any awkwardness or shame over public displays of affection with their parents...a special little gift I have always thanked God for as I have seen the pain of others who are often treated with great disdain by their teens who are struggling to find independence. I have been spared that one, thankfully. And I also have a pretty independent set of teens, at least in the ways they can be. Josh, at 15, is incredibly independent, and yet yells back unabashedly in front of his gang of friends, "Love you mom!" anytime I drop him off.
The goodness that is always in the midst of hard emotional work has been present in all kinds of ways, aside from deep conversation and long drives. Joshua has had quite a week! How proud of him we are, our far more "typical teen" who is the youngest, and yet in most ways is honestly the only one who is experiencing a more traditional teen life. He saved up and purchased his first REALLY big item, a dirt bike he has been saving for. He has relentlessly been checking Craig's List for 6 months, took a safety course before even having a bike, and the very hard earned money he has been saving since he was 10 years old or so was spent on this beauty:
He was so excited, and we were for him as well! Dominick drove him a couple hours away to check it out, and Josh even negotiated a lower price on his own :-) A chip off the old block and fearless when it comes to things like that. He paid for his own registration, and is purchasing a new helmet today.
Our family can not afford such extras for our kids, and over and over again I find I am so happy about that, as they have all learned the value of hard work, how hard it is to earn a buck, and they reflect a very responsible and frugal attitude. They may not be independent yet, but they are all extremely thoughtful in their spending and never, ever ask us for a thing, trying as best they can to provide little luxuries for themselves, and somehow still seeming to offer meaningful gifts for holidays.
Dominick found this out as we celebrated Father's Day early this past weekend, along with Matt's birthday, since our schedule is nuts the next six weeks. Here he is opening his surprise gift:
Josh had another big accomplishment this week as he completed College Algebra in his freshman year of high school! Soon we will schedule a CLEP test with the College Board (CLEP tests are overseen by the same entity that AP classes are, and a CLEP test is another way to get full college credit) and see if he can get college credit for it. This also represents a ton of very hard work!
This past weekend we had another moment to simply let go of all the stress, enjoy ourselves, and let God slip in around us. We so needed a mental break from all the emotional challenges, and brain dysfunction lately! The kids participated in a fund raiser that was a combined one for the two churches, ours and another, that are sending kids off to Houston in two weeks for their enormous denominational Youth Event which will have 30,000 kids in attendance! This was a spaghetti dinner and talent show, and all of us got in on the action and work in some way or another, as we helped set up, the kids served, and we were involved in various acts.
One of our strongest, most certain family phrases is "Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard." but it also is "Love Wins". Another also ought to be, "Laughter and fun ease the struggle." Sitting there at the table, looking around the room as I saw our young adults mingling, there was a beauty that I am sure only I could identify. They will be OK, God reassured me. It won't be easy, and we aren't even close to being "finished" (is ANYONE ever truly "finished" if they are still breathing??), but there is so much goodness here, each of them is deeply kind, warm, caring, and committed. They are diligent workers, care about community, and "see" others in ways some rarely do. I was touched as I saw Matt approach one of the elders of our congregation after hearing from me that she was very nervous about her act telling jokes (she rocked it and was ABSOLUTELY hilarious!). He took it upon himself to immediately go encourage her, and no doubt admit he was nervous about their supposed act, too. I took heart as I saw Olesya playing with the baby, this the girl whose former life has impacted her so much that says she may never want to get married or have children and yet she was utterly delighted and that too, is growth. I saw each of these beautiful souls and was filled with more love than ever before for them, and felt a wave of gratitude for all we have gone through, and all we still have to walk through. As Dominick and I roared over the boys' total lack of talent yet quick wits (a magic act during which homeschooling, being Asian, and Advanced Directives were all mentioned), and we saw others laughing with us...not AT them...we knew we were in the right place, that home is where we all are, that others will join us on the journey to make it all just a little softer. We can be all of who we are and still be OK.
And I fell a little more in love, not just with my own family, but with others all around us, something I didn't think was even possible. I should have known better, our capacity for love is infinite...