Today is Robbie’s Graduation/Goodbye Party. In less than three weeks, he’s off to Brazil for a year of Rotary Exchange and, unlike Nate, is well on his way to an independent life. It’s odd to go through oldest child changes with your second kid, and in some selfish ways I’m glad Karen and I have had Nate around. Obviously, in most ways I wish things were different for Nate. There’s always a hint of sadness that accompanies the “normal” happenings like graduating, going to college and embarking on adulthood.
Nate’s graduation party two years ago was wonderful in that we got to see that, while he has no friends to speak of, Nate was beloved by his classmates. The popular kids came, the jocks, the girls, and they all had their own Nate story to share. He, of course, set himself apart from the festivities, but for us it was lovely.
As Rob moves on, and our family unit really comes to the end as we’ve known it, I think about our move to Cooperstown eight years ago. A major reason was so that I could stop commuting to work in the Loop and, in a small town setting, spend more time with all three boys. I’ve never regretted that change in lifestyle, and it means the world to have been with Robbie so much more than I would have had I been schlepping to Chicago five days a week. And we’re close, which, I can tell you, doesn’t have to be the case with an 18-year old boy. As a dad I feel on solid ground; I think I’ve done a damn good job.
Today I was thinking back to a comment my mother made years ago, when Nate was a few years into his hyperlexia diagnosis and Karen and I were working hard to get the most out of him – twice a week session at The Center for Speech and Language Disorders, filling pad after pad with instructions and social stories to provide proper behavioral examples, keeping him on task, regardless of the difficulty, dealing with tantrums while holding firm to goals.
My mother said, “You do things that most parents wouldn’t.” I was taken aback. To me there was never a thought behind dedicating myself to Nate. He was my son. I’ve always been a collector of things: records, baseball cards, books, etc. Since I was a child I’ve prided myself on taking good care of my stuff. Well, Nate was, and is, part of my stuff, and he would be taken good care of. What my mother meant, subliminally, is “You do things that I wouldn’t do.” I know that to be true.
In many ways, Nate has moved past me. He’ll be entering college in the fall his last full-time semester, and then, with any hope, he’ll move into something productive. I’m confident that with the right situation and right mentor, Nate can do great things. For me, I do less work with him on a daily basis, but all the effort over the years has gotten him to this point, a very successful point. And, in that way, he and Robbie are not so different after all.