What My Son Taught Me About Life

Last Monday, my son wrote a post about what I’ve taught him regarding finances and his future. It’s hard to express how proud it made me to see him come up with such a mature, articulate view of how to use money responsibly. Today, I decided I would share with you just a few of the life lessons he has taught me.

As most of you know, I haven’t always been the most responsible person on the planet. I got pregnant when I was still in high school. I’ve made horrible choices when it comes to money. (See here, here, and here. And here. And lots of other places, too.) And then, of course, there are all the stories I haven’t gotten around to telling yet. Overall, I’ve spent most of my adult life recovering from mistakes.

That said, one thing I will never describe as a mistake is my 13 year-old son, Jayden. I didn’t set out to get pregnant, but that doesn’t mean the life that resulted wasn’t meant to be. From the day he was born, Jayden has been my universe. I don’t think I could ever love another human as much as I love him and, through some miracle, I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.

One of the astounding things about parenthood is discovering that you’re a student FAR more often than you’re the teacher. While Jay posted about some great lessons he has learned from my (less than fabulous) example, there’s no contest when it comes to who has learned the most. This is a mere glimpse into thousands of experiences, all of which educated me beyond what I thought possible.

Everything Has a Price

When Jayden was born, he was one of the most easy-going babies I’d ever encountered. Content to watch the ceiling fan turn for hours at a time, he demanded very little other than knowing I was nearby. He didn’t cry on car trips or need to be held constantly. Everyone who spent time with him agreed that he was “such a good baby.”

As he grew older, I began to sense that something was… off. The way he lined up his toys instead of playing with them. The crackers he pushed away because a corner was broken off. The obsession with certain parts of Blue’s Clues that had me rewinding VHS tapes until I was sure they’d fall apart. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew there was something going on with my son.

At age 6, during my last weeks of graduate school, Jayden was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. In those first panicked moments, my brain torn between denial and relief, I remember thinking back to all the times I read a book or watched TV while he focused intently on the ceiling fan or light filtering through the window. Was this my fault? Did I take for granted that he was “a good baby” and cause this to happen to him? Am I a horrible mother?

There Are Two Sides to Every Story

As Jayden has grown older, his deficits have become more apparent. He has difficulty with critical thinking and processing verbal instructions. As a result, he despises school more than any kid I’ve ever seen (and frustrates his teachers more than any kid I’ve ever seen). He doesn’t grasp social cues like most people do, causing him to miss out on things that are essential in middle school - body language, facial expressions, and sarcasm. He can’t handle the give and take of conversation, preferring to “monologue” at length on the topics that interest him.

Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t all bad, though. I have been blessed with a child who is nearly incapable of lying, who is incredibly smart, and who doesn’t follow the “sheep” mentality typical of most adolescents. He may miss out on the intricacies of friendship, but I have never known him to be intentionally cruel to another person. He has strong feelings about fairness and social inequality. While some kids his age are experimenting with drugs and who knows what else, he’s happiest when he’s at home playing video games or reading.

Often, people don’t realize there’s anything “wrong” with Jayden. The uninitiated simply see a smart kid with a huge vocabulary - maybe a little immature, but overall a good kid who just isn’t motivated. This has caused me more frustration than anything else in my life as I fight to get services for him at school. I have a good relationship with the guidance counselor and many of his teachers, but we face a difficult paradox: The older he gets, the more support he needs. Yet the older he gets, the less support the school system is designed to provide.

You Can’t Predict the Future No Matter How Hard You Try

Looking forward into Jayden’s adulthood means giving up many of those silly dreams parents have about what their children will do and become. The story of his life isn’t completely written yet, but I can formulate some guesses about what’s in store versus the future I imagined when he was just an infant.

Unless something changes drastically, Jayden has no plans to go to college. After 9 years of feeling like a square peg in a round hole, his mounting stress about further education was more than either of us could stand. Last fall, 3 hours into a homework assignment that should have taken 30 minutes, I lost it.

“You know what?” I snarled. “I don’t even care anymore. Just finish high school. That’s all I ask!”

I watched the relief spread across his face. With the removal of his anxiety about every assignment and whether it could prevent him from getting into a good college, he was able to complete the homework quickly. And after he went to sleep, I cried alone in my bed, mourning the loss of something I didn’t even know I could lose.

I don’t know if Jayden will ever have a real friendship, let alone a romantic relationship, due to his numerous quirks and inability (or is it refusal?) to adhere to social norms. I may never have grandchildren. He may never hold a steady job or move out on his own. Or he may do all of those things and more. As his mother, I have to be prepared for every possibility. And that means letting go of what I think he should be and allowing myself to appreciate what he becomes.

It’s Not What Happens That Counts, But How We React to What Happens

Raising Jayden has been a complete rewrite of everything I thought I knew about life. He has never been typical or followed the “expected” timeline, and I doubt he ever will. Despite being extremely close with him, I have never been able to guess what comes next. And honestly, that is the perfect metaphor for my own life.

My path has always been a little rockier than most; sometimes by chance, but often by choice. While I have regrets like anyone else, I also recognize the strength I’ve gained from living on my own terms and finding my own way. As Jayden’s mother, I get to watch that dynamic play out all over again, but this time with hope that I’ll have the chance to right some of my many wrongs along the way.

  • http://twitter.com/DebtChronicles Travis Pizel

    This post comes on the perfect day, as Vonnie and I’s son, Tristan, turns 13 today. As a fellow parent, especially today, your post brings tears to my eyes. It’s our job as parents to prepare our children to survive in this world, and to generally be the best people they can be. But what I wasn’t prepared for is basis for your post - what our children will teach us.

    When I was growing up, I had that typical “My parents just don’t understand” phase. As I became a new parent, my viewpoint switched to “Of course my parents understood!” As a slightly more experienced parent I realize that we really don’t understand everything they’re going through. We may have gone through similar experiences, but we do NOT understand *exactly* the trials and tribulations of today’s teenagers. The sooner we understand that, and just be there to listen, and provide love, support, and guidance for their decisions, the more successful we’ll be as parents (my opinion).

    You’re a wonderful person, and parent Andrea - continue to let your son teach you, and enjoy him for the wonderful gift he is.

  • http://add-vodka.com/ Daisy

    Andrea, this is a beautiful post. I’m not a parent, but I think it’s so wonderful that Jayden plays to the beat of his own drum. Whether adhering to social norms is a refusal or an inability, it’s a great and amazing thing. He’ll be an amazing adult, because of the lack of unrealistic and ridiculous ideologies that other teenagers adhere to just because they feel they have to. Parenting must be so difficult. When I think of what my mom had to go through (mainly with my brother but also with me), I can’t even imagine!

  • http://carefulcents.com Carrie Smith

    My dad used to quote this to me all the time “We make plans, and God laughs”. I’m a big planner and I used to have this epic idea of what my life was going to be. Let me tell you, that did NOT include being married and divorced by 25.

    We make plans, and God laughs.

    But in the end, I love my life. Just as you love your son and the life you have together with him. It’s a beautiful perspective. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • http://www.momdropbox.com Audrey

    This is such an honest, beautiful piece. Good luck to you both as you navigate the school system & work to advocate for your child.

  • Lily S

    As the partner to an Aspie (I’m 26, he’s 31), I’m amused by how you and I are both still aggravated by the same thing. As his stepmom tells me, if I don’t want to throttle him once a day, something’s probably wrong. (She is, for the record, right. He’s always sick when he’s not driving me crazy). But the less I expect of him, the better he does, so I’m learning the same lesson you are.

    I won’t say that you should hope he’ll be “normal”, because if my partner’s taught me anything, it’s that he’s special /because/ he’s not “normal”. (There is nothing like having your partner do something entirely childish and make your life so much easier just by reminding you of that). But enjoy the ride and finding out who he turns into!

  • http://twitter.com/FrugalBeautiful Shannyn

    I’m at a loss for words…thank you for sharing this. Your relationship with your son and your ability to share insights from your life with him is just phenomenal. I will let the other commenters say something wise!

  • Roguewrld

    As someone who grew up falling in love with TV characters like Spock and
    Data, I was never looking for normal. Neither were any of my friends. We all married men who barely speak in public, hate social situations, play games and have deep obsessions. Some of them have diagnosis, some of them don’t, but in a city like this one with a major technical school, ‘the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” If he wanted to, cites provide more of an opportunity to hide in plain site.

    Don’t count your son out yet, about school or marriage. (We passed on the grandkids, but that was my decision). When we announced our engagement, people said such awful things to my mother-in-law, without even realizing it. People wrote her letters, saying how happy there were for her and how they’d never though her son would get married (We were 25). They assumed I was marrying his sister. It was pretty miserable.

    • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Thanks for sharing your insight. I LOVE “the odds are good, but the goods are odd!” I am going to share that with everyone I know. I think he could find someone eventually, but he has to want to. Right now he isn’t willing to compromise and I don’t see it happening, but of course he’s a 13 year-old boy. Time will probably change a lot of things for him.

  • http://eemusings.wordpress.com/ eemusings

    Amazing post Andrea. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://bogofdebt.wordpress.com/ Bogofdebt

    What a beautiful and moving post.

  • http://twitter.com/hithatsmybike Bridget Gibson

    Very moving post Andrea. You’re such a great mom.

  • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    I’ve had friends and acquaintances with Aspergers. And it’s been suspected about my brother, but he has refused to get tested. The good news even with Aspergers, there is a good chance we will be able to have stable and fulfilling employment and love.

    As far as school goes, there is a chance that high school will be better, as there are more options for classes. The trick is always finding a subject that clicks for you. My brother hated every minute of school, until he got to high school and discovered computers and tv production. Then he only hated 6 hours of it.

  • http://www.earnsavelive.com/ Earn Save Live

    Beautiful post! My son is almost 13 and I am also a young mom. While it’s been hard at times, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

    (Off topic, but has your son read the London Eye Mystery? It’s a great young adult book that features a main character on the autism spectrum. He uses his autism to help him solve a mystery. Both my son and I loved the book!)

  • Anonymous

    You truly have a gift to write and move people. Thanks for sharing this story about Jayden. Without a doubt, you are a wonderful loving mother and Jayden is blessed to have you.

  • Kraig @ YoungCheapLiving.com

    Great post, Andrea. I’m not yet a parent, but am still taking in the wisdom your communicating in this. I can tell that you’ve learned a lot about being a parent and about life in general. Something I’ve figured out is that I tend to thrive during the incredibly challenging times. I think you do too. Keep up the great work. Your son sounds like a great kid.

  • http://onefamilyoneincome.blogspot.com/ OneFamily

    A very well written and moving post, Andrea. You made the right decision to blog for a living

  • afterwishing

    Sometimes, I think that “letting go” moment is the best gift a parent can give their child. Beautiful post.

  • http://grandpermonth.com/ Cash Flow Mantra

    I am just getting back into reading from being gone last week. It sounds as if you and your son have a good relationship and are teaching each other and growing together. That is what family should be about. I enjoyed his post very much.

  • http://money.msn.com/saving-money-tips/ Karen Datko

    That, my friend, was an amazing piece of writing. Thank you.

  • http://mybrokencoin.com/ Aloysa @ My Broken Coin

    Great post! We don’t have children (nor planning on having) but the lessons that you discussed can be applied to everyone. I could not agree more. I was raised by a grandmother who always predicted the future in the darkest colors. It never happened of course the way she predicted (thank god!) but I learned to never even try to predict anything. It never happens the way we expect it. Well, almost never…

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