To Be Happy

Shelby: “Whenever any of us asked you what you wanted for us when we grew up, what did you say?”
M’Lynn: “Shelby, I’m not in the mood to play games.”
Shelby: “Just tell me what you said, Mama. What did you say?”
M’Lynn: “The only thing I have ever said to you, ever, is that I want you to be happy.”
-Steel Magnolias

Recently, a woman posted a status on Facebook expressing her fear and sadness concerning her daughter’s future. Her daughter, who was diagnosed with severe autism, may never move out. She may never live independently. She may never get married.

I’ve thought about these things before. When I see friends post cute little memes about how they’re not just raising men, but they’re raising someone’s future husband and father, too, I think about my son and wonder if he’ll ever be a husband or a father.

But honestly? Those things don’t seem to mean as much to be as they mean to other people. And I’ll tell you why.

I know people my age who are happily married. I know people my age who have already experienced divorce. I know people my age who have had their hearts broken once, twice, three times. I know people my age who are complacently stuck in relationships that may never progress. I know people my age who are single and enjoy it, and who are single and miserable about it. I know people my age who are in committed gay partnerships, some who are even married now (yay 2016, amirite?), and some who raise children together—natural, artificially inseminated, fostered, adopted. I know white, Hispanic, black, Asian dating and married couples, and I know mixed race couples. I know people my age who are single parents. Some who tragically lost the loves of their lives through natural causes or freak accidents.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will. And let’s face it: everyone’s future is different and unpredictable.

Let’s take autism out of the picture and pretend just for a second that my son is a neurotypical (this IS a word—damn you, autocorrect for trying to change it) child who will, with pretty strong certainly, live independently one day. He might plan a white wedding alongside a beautiful bride. He might marry a man instead. He might suffer through an ugly divorce, or quietly sign papers for an amicable one. He might have children, or he might decide parenthood isn’t for him. He might devote himself to a woman and live with her, father her children, but never propose. He might get his heart broken. He might dedicate himself so much to a career that he never has time for relationships. He might promiscuously flit from lover to lover. He might marry his high school sweetheart like his daddy and live happily ever after. He might be attracted to blondes or brunettes or redheads. He might not have a type at all. I might dance with him on his wedding day. Or he might elope. He might, dare I say, stay single for years and years.

Are some of those scenarios more preferable than others? I suppose so. But they’re all possibilities, right? I’m not arrogant enough to believe that just because I raise him in a home with two high school sweethearts who stay together, manage careers, raise him—that he’ll choose the same path we did. That’s not exactly a fair assumption, is it?

So let’s put autism back on the table. Because of William’s developmental delays, communication struggles, and diagnoses, we cannot know with any certainty what he can achieve yet. We believe in him and his ability to learn and progress. We believe that he will do things that will blow our minds. We hope to see him excel in school and select a job or trade of some sort.

But really? We just want him to be happy. What more does any good parent really want for his or her child?

And if he is 18, 19, 20, or even 30, unable to function completely, safely, independently in the big bad “real world,” move out, rent or buy his own place, participate in a relationship of some sort, I suppose I might have sad days. Because it’s the natural progression for a child to move on and start a life of his own as an adult.

But when I read that post on Facebook, I couldn’t help but let one selfish, strange thought cross my mind: If William does not possess the skills to leave my home or to choose someone to marry and spend his life with, how lucky am I that he will belong to me forever?

Grass 2.jpg

How lucky would I be for him to always, always be mine?

It may sound simple. But those little thoughts? They comfort me. Do I hope that his transition into adulthood goes smoothly and he can choose where to live, what to be, who to spend his time with? Of course. Do I hope that he owns a home one day and he can invite me over for the holidays or throw me out when he’s done with his mommy being in his face? Absolutely.

But right now, William is the happiest human being I know. And the only thing I will ever, ever say to him ever is that I want him to be happy. So no matter where he is and what he’s doing, if he’s happy, I’m happy. Simple as that.

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I Get Me.

I remember when all of my relationships were conditional. Not my relationships with my parents or my brother, which were just based on them being my parents and my brother. I’m talking about other relationships outside my home. I remember when I had ulterior motives, hidden agendas. When I pitied others because they didn’t think, act, believe, or perform like I did. When I frowned upon those who didn’t serve God like me, and willed myself to change them. To win them over.

Sometimes, an unforeseen trigger sends those memories rushing to the forefront of my mind, pestering me and reminding me of what I’ve desperately tried to bury. The names of friends I lost and acquaintances I mistakenly and blindly trusted flash before my eyes. And I’m there again. I’m 14. Broken. Needing answers, attention, forgiveness, validation. I’m there again. I’m 15. Yearning. Searching. Seeking. Questioning. Leaving old friends behind. Needing answers, attention, forgiveness, validation. I’m 16. Growing. Avoiding. Isolating. I’m 17. Struggling. I’m 18. Moving forward. I’m 19. In the immortal words of Britney, not a girl, not yet a woman. I’m 20. 21. 22. Stuck in place. 23, 24, 25… Slowly, and finally detaching.

10 years of my life. Devoted. Dedicated. Distorted.

I thought about an old friend tonight. Someone who rarely contacts me (though I know she still loves me) because we no longer see eye to eye. Our lifestyles and beliefs differ. I no longer read the Bible cover to cover or vow to pray a certain number of minutes each day as my New Year’s resolutions. I no longer sing in my church choir or pick out ensembles for Christmas Eve candlelight services with lit up nativities. I no longer attend Hillsong United concerts or read Joel Osteen books (jk—I never read Joel Osteen books). And when I really mulled over our relationship, and the lack of contact, I came to a staggering conclusion: she feels bad for me.

I know she does. Because I used to feel bad, too.

My friends who couldn’t understand what had changed between 8th and 9th grade. Why I wanted to go to church instead of football games. Why I went to my church homecoming with a 6-inch rule between dancing partners instead of my high school homecoming. Why I wouldn’t go to parties, and then eventually, why I wasn’t invited. Those friends? I felt bad for them. I pitied them. Condescendingly, I believed I was better. I knew better. I behaved better. And beyond that, I was taught that it was my job—my duty in serving God—to save them. Or their blood would be on my hands.

Did you hear that?

Blood.

Everyone I spoke to. Every cashier at a grocery store, every shopper at a mall, every fellow student I came in contact with in high school, every professor in college, every extended family member living out of state, every neighbor down the block. Blood. On my hands. I was taught this. Explicitly. From a book and a pulpit I trusted.

So I felt bad for those around me. The ones who couldn’t look up at the sky and quote scripture and know an omnipresent, omnipotent god cared for them and ordained their every step.

But.

I’m different today. I feel like I know myself and understand my own idiosyncracies so much more deeply, which I guess is what should happen as a person goes from 15 to 25… and then almost to 30 (ew—I’m going to be 30). I never knew myself back then that I was wrong to treat people with a catch. How could I have? I was a child. I’ve found myself in many different assets of life and the things I’m still unsure of? I’m okay being unsure. I’m okay not being in control of every single thought, of not knowing absolute truth, of allowing myself to question, of relying on science and on medicine to help me instead of believing that God would fix me if He wanted to. I’ve found myself in reading novels and writing stories and teaching my students and collaborating with colleagues and improving my health and fitness and sitting on the sand at the beach and loving my husband and son.

Now, the me you meet? I’m different. If you carry crystals and find solace in hiking up mountains, I want to see your pictures, hear how those crystals ground you, feel the beauty in the places you’ve been. If you believe in God, I want to smile with you when you experience the positive opportunities you believe are answers to prayer. If you relieve stress by bench pressing and squatting, I’ll do a set with you. If you believe in science, I want to discuss the formation of the earth and our planet’s energy crisis. If you follow a religion I’m not familiar with, tell me about it. I’m open. I don’t want to change you. I don’t want to win you. I just want to get you know you. So many people in my life that I met in college, in my career, through the website I used to write for, via social media and parental support websites–I wouldn’t have made those connections if I hadn’t let go of my ulterior motives. If I hadn’t severed the ties that bound me.

I’m open now.

I was never open. Because I was always right. My old friend, she was always right. She still thinks she is always right. And my openness is probably uncomfortable to her right now. It may always be. And I get it. I truly do. Because I was her. And if she pities me because she cares about me so deeply that she worries about my eternal soul, I love her for that. That’s a burden I don’t carry anymore and I remember the weight of it crushing me day by day. I know she means well. I meant well 15 years ago. At least I want to think I did.

I’ve learned and I want to teach my son, to just accept people. No conditions. No strings. No ulterior motives. No persistence in making them different other than just genuine care for their wellbeing and leading by example.

So here I am, no longer condescending to those who don’t believe as I do, not judgmental of those who believe as I used to, and not offended by anyone who pities me or shies away from me because I’ve changed.

I get you. I really do. And I think I only get you because finally—finally—I get me.