It was our last day of vacation, and the kids and I were walking back from an excellent pancake breakfast at a diner down the road from the beach house we were staying at. David was walking a bit ahead, and doing one of his favorite things: looking in the windows of parked cars. It mortifies Anna, and I've tried to discourage it myself because it's only going to get him in trouble someday.
The problem is that he has a serious fascination with gearshifts. Floor mounted, steering wheel mounted, he doesn't care. He loves them all and talks about them endlessly. I joked to Anna, as we walked along, that if I could just get him a job testing gearshifts someday, he'd be set for life.
"What do you think he'll be doing, when he's older? Really?" She asked.
"Who knows with David? Right now he's got an even chance of living with me or going to college. We'll just have to see how he blooms." I shrugged. It's true, though. David could go any one of a dozen ways with his life at this point. It all depends on what he learns and how he uses it.
"And what if he's living with you? Will he work?" She persisted.
"Oh, I imagine he'll work at something. He'd be a good custodian, don't you think?" David loves to clean. He vaccuums for me all the time.
"Yeah, he'd be great till they changed the way they wanted him to do something. Then he wouldn't do it and he'd get fired." She pointed out.
"Well, maybe I'll start a housecleaning business, and he can work with me. Then someday when I'm too old to work, he can take over. Then he can work at his own pace, and he'll do fine." Actually, that's not a bad idea. I'll have to file that one away.
We walked a bit more, and there was a long pause. And then, the question.
"And what happens to David after you and Dad are gone? I'm going to have to take care of him, aren't I?"
I started to immediately reassure her that we're talking about years from now, and who knows how David will be and there are programs and surely, since more people know about autism, there will be more progams for people like David.
But I couldn't deny the truth. Someday, she may have to take care of David, in some fashion or another.
And as glad as I am that David has her, and as sure as I am that she will always do the best she can for her brother, my heart aches that she has this on her shoulders. I know, firsthand, what a heavy mantle that is to bear. How it colors every major life decision you have to make. How it weighs on you some days and curtails you in many others. I wouldn't trade my life with David for the world, but I cannot deny that my world is not what it could have been because of how he is.
I want Anna's life to be all it can be. Unfettered, free and full of promise and a million destinations she can propel herself to.
The hard truth is, the most I may be able to do for her, or her father may be able to do for her, is stay alive as long as we can, so that she can do a lot of that before the mantle falls on her shoulders and her life is altered.
And we can work with David, tirelessly and endlessly, because we want him to have a full and rich life as well - one with meaningful work and a home of his own and friends and family and hobbies and enrichment on whatever level he can have it.
I have two children, who will most likely have very different lives. I want them in each other's lives in a loving and supportive fashion forever. What parent doesn't? But I want it to be easy. Maybe that's selfish, but it's what I want.
So I said to Anna the only truth I know.
"Anna, I don't know what the future holds for David. He'll always need you because you're his sister. We'll keep working with him, and I know David will never stop learning and growing. It just might take him a little bit longer to find his place in the world. You and I need to learn to be patient and stop worrying about it so much, I think."
Her brow creased, and I knew she'd still worry.
So will I.
But it'll all work out anyway. David has a way of working things out, over time, if you back off and just let him do it.
"It'll work out," she said, as if reading my mind. "Hey, how much money does a gear shift tester make, anyway?"
Then she ran to catch up to her brother, throwing an arm around his shoulders.
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