What genius decided it was a good idea to tell children to put a tooth under their pillow, so that a parent could creep in late at night and try to ease the tooth out, and ease a $5 bill in its place? The other night, with the precision of Indiana Jones swapping a golden idol for a bag of sand, I did just that. Collier pulled a tooth this week and was excited about getting a visit from the old tooth fairy. We put the tooth in a baggy under his pillow, and around 11 pm, I became Indiana on an archeological quest.
Collier turns 12 this month, in less than a week, actually, so is he too old for such fantasies? Last year, we had pondered the idea of telling him the reality of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and of course that winged dental assistant. But we decided to let him have some more time, even if his typical peers would have already found out. The whole ordeal got me thinking, though, about how fast he’s growing up.
Kids grow up fast. Too darned fast.
As we were reflecting on his upcoming birthday, Amye asked me – how had I envisioned Collier at this age prior to our diagnosis and venture into Autism? It was a tough question. And one I’m not sure I can really answer. Is he headed on the path that, when he was born, I wanted for him? More importantly, is he headed on the path that God wants for him?
In preparing this post, I looked back on some thoughts I had written as an introduction for a cookbook we published to raise money for the Autism Society back in 2014, a year after his official diagnosis. Reading that essay reminded me of so many thoughts – good and bad. I remembered the feeling when Amye showed me the pregnancy test, and the elation I felt knowing that I would be a father. Nothing else comes close to that moment. It’s like getting your keys to adulthood, but without the operator’s manual.
There were also some painful reminders there as well. I read my own thoughts about what I wanted for Collier. I wanted to teach him to hit a baseball and imagined going to little league baseball games with him. Teaching him to ride a bike was also mentioned, and how I wanted to ride around the neighborhood with him, and how I wanted to teach him how to shoot a basketball. But the real thing I wanted to teach him was to be a better man than I am. I think that’s every dad’s dream.
I’d love to tell you that 37-year-old me was entirely wrong, and that I was able to do all those things for Collier and more, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. It also wouldn’t be false, either. You see, Autism is a long, rambling story, with lots of little subplots and footnotes, but eventually, the tale gets told, often, with pain.
As I look back on the first twelve chapters of Collier’s life, I have seen many things that I never thought I’d see. I never thought I’d see Collier crying in anxiety at going down a slope in an innertube or trembling at a super slow ride at the beginning of a haunted house. I also never thought I’d see him homeschooled, and struggle so hard with basic concepts that it makes me jealous of typical kids’ parents. But those are all parts of his story.
His story has some triumphs, though. Despite my fears from five years ago, Collier did learn to hit a baseball, as part of a special needs team called the Achiever’s League that we play on in Hueytown. He’s pretty good at hitting now, but learning that skill took lots of practice and coaching from me and other dads on the team. He also learned to ride a bike, but I can’t count how many miles I ran around Tannehill State Park campground holding on to the back of his bike seat, or how many times Amye’s dad practiced with him. He sort of learned how to shoot a basketball, but we more or less gave up on that one. He did learn how to shoot a .22 rifle at Boy Scout camp. That counts, right?
Collier has achieved many of my dreams that I had for him, but it has taken lots of work, and lots of help from others. The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child is true, but even more so for a child on the spectrum. As I reflect on who he is and the help we’ve gotten raising him, I realize that he’s so much more than those skills I wanted him to have, and more than Autism. It’s part of who he is, but it’s only one part.
Five years ago, I had dreamed that Collier would grow up to be a better man than I am, and I think he’s well on his way. He’s a boy who wants to do the right thing. He loves unconditionally, and he cares about how you feel. If your feelings are hurt, he hurts with you. He tries his hardest on things even when they’re difficult. Like many on the spectrum, he doesn’t lie – he’s truthful almost to a fault, and I believe he would give anything to anyone if they needed it.
So as he approaches his birthday, I think about the young man he’s becoming. It’s not a fairy tale, full of roses and all happy times, but it’s also not full of sound and fury. I am proud of the man he’s becoming.
He’s growing up too fast.
I think we’ll hold off on the tooth fairy one more year.