21 years ago I held this guy in my arms for the first time and was paralyzed by the thought of how much my life would change, having no idea that it would change even more than I had thought it could. This guy, who was 6 ½ pounds, would set my life on an uncharted course and lead me to a place completely different from where I thought I would go, from where I had planned to go. (Where was that? Oh, yeah. An editing job in New York.) My career evolved into something I would have never considered, and I couldn’t feel more fulfilled.
Today marks 21 years of this guy leaving his mark on the world, on me, on our family. 21 years of trying to figure him out, wondering what would happen next, what I needed to do. 21 years of keeping up with him – and trying to keep my sanity. 21 years of wanting to “give him back to the circus” (as my grandmother would say). And 21 years of loving him.
Last year he turned 20 (I know that probably didn’t need to be pointed out, but stay with me), and the whole two-decade milestone was cool, but something’s different about 21. For many parents of kids with special needs, it’s when their kids no longer attend a public school transition program. (Nigel refused to attend high school longer than his peers, but when you’re voted by your senior class as Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, high school’s not really on your radar.) Anyway (thanks for staying with me), turning 21 is not always about drinking (because when you have autism, epilepsy, and bipolar – and take meds to treat them – any amount of drinking is ill-advised, with emphasis on ill).
But turning 21 is about adulthood. For the last five years I’ve written on my websites about Nigel’s “transition to adulthood.” And – my God – we’re here. This is what adulthood looks like for my son. Yes, he will continue to grow and evolve as everyone, regardless of abilities or disorders, does. But for right now, I look at this young man who has come into his own, I look at the hurdles he has faced, the mountains, and what he still contends with every day to navigate this world, and I marvel at him. I marvel at his tenacity, evident in infancy, his adventurous spirit, his creativity, his insightful musings and comments, his wit (have you read the Nigelisms?), and his steadfastness as he envisions his dream of having a career in filmmaking.
Twenty-one. I went out to dinner at Red Lobster with my dad and my grandma. I moved to a different state (for the third time). I changed my college major (also, I believe, for the third time). That was 21 for me. For Nigel: dinner at a gourmet burger joint with his family. Later in the year, maybe getting his GED. Maybe working at Home Depot and starting to save for film school. Adulthood on his own terms. Making his way in a world from which he constantly needed relief, but in which he always desperately wanted to be.
Happy 21st Birthday, Nigel. It’s all you.