I looked up “top parenting milestones” online, since with Aidan’s high school graduation this month I’ve made it to what I consider one of the biggest, and the first three pages of the search engine lists milestones for new parents. Baby milestones, like first time sitting up or cutting a tooth, most of which are now in the backs of our minds for those of us with teens and young adults. The only baby milestones that stand out for me are when they started walking and talking. And when you have kids with special needs, those milestones and others may be delayed – or they might not happen at all.
Both of my boys were walking a month before their first birthdays. The talking milestone took a lot longer to achieve and involved some intensive therapy, but it happened. So did toilet training (although also delayed). I would have celebrated the day the word playdate was retired, if I’d ever had to use it. Alas, many of our milestones were different. I have a friend who threw a huge party when her 10-year-old son was finally toilet trained (and I know others who aren’t and may never be). I celebrated Nigel’s first unprompted thank you – which occurred at age 15. So, things like that.
I think, special needs or not, we all have our own parenting milestones that we celebrate. What’s a big deal for me might not be for someone else, and vice versa. Here are mine (those I have reached, in addition to those mentioned above), in order of importance (not chronological):
• Moving into a supported living apartment (way sooner than I thought would be possible! Yes!!)
• Getting haircuts and going into a restaurant or grocery store without a sensory meltdown that involved shrieking, bolting, or writhing on the ground (it took a very, very long time, and I still don’t take it for granted)
• Learning to read and write (one guy had a hard time with reading, the other with writing)
• Graduating from high school (almost didn’t make it)
• Flying on a plane alone (wow!)
• Learning to make their own simple breakfast so I could sleep in on weekends (thank God)
• First time home alone (without setting things on fire – yeah, that happened)
• Taking their own showers (I think all three of us were excited about this)
• Learning to ride a bike (one guy took a lot longer)
• Going to prom (well, one did)
• Me noticing their leg hair growing in (yeah, I’m a mom of boys)
• When they started shaving (one even cuts his own hair now!)
• No longer having to bake/bring treats for class parties or facilitate the signing and addressing of Valentine cards (so glad that was only elementary school)
There will be more down the road, more things to marvel at and celebrate. For now, having both the boys out of high school is huge to me. It hasn’t hit me yet that, as a long-term single parent, I’ve actually made it. Who am I now? Where do I go from here? For the past 21 years my identity has been Mom. Of course, I always will be Mom, and that is a gift I treasure. But what can I now focus on that I couldn’t for the past 21 years? I’m not the person I was; I don’t even remember that young woman. It’s like going to your hometown decades later and not recognizing it. You know you’re in the right place, but everything’s different. My young adult sense of self cannot – and probably should not! – be reclaimed. So, I have the opportunity to reinvent many aspects of myself, and I’m excited about that, but also comtemplative. It’s a welcome change, but it feels odd, and somehow sudden, like being in a monsoon for hours and then all at once it’s over. I’ve still got the new graduate at home for a few more months, but life with him is different now, and although positive, it will take some getting used to. I’m happy though. I’ve waited a long time for this, and I’m finally here. Bring on the empty nest!
[Image credit: Therapies for Kids]