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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Secrets That You Hide

One of the neighbors and I were talking the other day about the secrets we keep from our kids. Sometimes, it's the simple stuff like what they got for Christmas or a birthday, or where we're going for vacation this summer. Sometimes it's a little more complicated, like whether or not we had sex in high school or tried drugs or if we ever had secrets from our parents.

And then there are the other secrets. The ones they'll find out someday, but you wish they didn't have to. Secrets like "Your Dad and I are getting a divorce" or "The cancer might come back." Those are the secrets you wish even you didn't know.

In my case, the one big secret I keep from Anna weighs heavily on my mind some days, and there's just no escaping it:

I'm grooming you to be able to take care of your brother for the rest of his life.

Because it might be true.

I hope it won't be true. I work very hard at trying to teach David independent actions and behaviors, and I applaud every bit of growth he has in this area, reinforcing it in concrete so there's no regression. He can dress himself, he can feed himself, he reads, he does math, he counts change, his hygeine is impeccable. There's every reason to think he can be a reasonably independent adult someday, with a job and an apartment and a life all his own.

Except for the days when that seems light-years away. Like last weekend when he was tantruming constantly, striking out at everyone, a million miles away when we talked to him, not paying attention and nearly getting killed when he insisted on stopping right in the middle of the road in front of Wal-Mart to fix his twisted pant-leg, even though he saw the car coming.

Welcome to autism.

He's smart. He's right on level with the kids in his grade as far as book-learning goes. What he doesn't have is impulse control or judgement, and his social skills are an on-again/off-again thing. What this means for the long term is maybe one day he'll have a job, but maybe a week later he won't have it because he says the wrong thing, gets angry and yells at work, priortizes his workload based on how he feels like doing it, or maybe just because his boss or coworkers think he's weird.

And no job means no money, no money means no apartment, no apartment means he has to live with somebody, be fed by somebody, depend on somebody. That somebody will always be me or his Dad. Always.

Except for when we're not here anymore. And then it'll be Anna. She'd do it, of course, without a moment of hesitation. She's a wonderful soul in a hyper-intelligent body.

I just don't want it for her. I know that the long-term caretaking of a human being can completely and utterly alter the course of your life. She deserves to have a life all her own, without that kind of obligation weighing her down until parenthood.

I've got a 50/50 chance of David being totally self-sufficient. God knows I've underestimated him time and again, and he grows so far emotionally, socially and developmentally every year. David at eighteen will be a far cry from David at eight. I have time, for now, to let him unfold.

Until then, it's work, work, work to make sure that secret stays with me, never to be spoken or held to truth.

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