Our daughter, having finished her freshmen year of college, just took off for her first day of a paid internship with the Port of Oakland . This is an internship she researched and applied to on her own. The competition was fairly stiff and yet she landed the job. Suddenly, she’s very grown up — and my heart is at once bursting with pride and confused at the dizzying way adulthood has arrived. I’m swimming in so many thoughts. Just yesterday . . .
I’m probably not alone in the world of parenting wondering where in the world the time went. We bring them home, swaddled and cuddled, and they depend on us for everything. Each moment that we love them is also a moment designed to prepare them to leave and lead their own lives.
Even with all the “how to” books and sage advice from everyone we know, parenting is the surest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. At times, those close to me might have heard my heart beating wildly with anxiety — or seen me shaking in my boots. At others, they probably would have seen me shed alternating tears of frustration and joy. Some of the stories we now tell have me laughing so hard that my sides ache and tears run down my face.
Our sweet girl, like so many, had her challenges growing up. At 16, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism is not just one thing; for her, it means that she sees the world in very concrete ways and reacts with a sensitivity and intensity that is at the same time a challenge and a gift. Truth be told, we weren’t ever sure what the future would hold. No matter what we anticipated, she would surprise us and challenge our way of thinking.
We were warned that for most kids freshman year is a time of fits and starts — a tough transition. For me, her mother, the first semester was a nail-biter. At any moment, I was prepared that we’d have to travel the 15 hours by car to bring her home. Our hope, though, given what we know about our girl, was that being away would provide fertile ground where she would grow. Who knew that she’d be like a field of spring wildflowers after the winter rains? I don’t know any other way to describe the vibrancy and crazy growth she’s experienced.
Honestly, I don’t know which of her gifts she owes to autism and which are just who she is, just as I’m not always sure which challenges stem from ASD and which from being a teen. Does it matter?
Over the last week, I have watched her methodically prepare for this internship. From shopping for “business casual” clothing to researching nutritious lunches, making lists and and then more lists, she is about as ready as I could have imagined. She was up late last night cooking and baking so that she’d have enough to eat throughout the day. She may have packed more than I have in the fridge. Then, all of a sudden, it was a kiss good-bye and she was off.
My feelings are probably not that much different than they were that first day of kindergarten when I released her hand and sent her in to sit with her classmates. I marvel that there has been any significant amount of time in between.
I know there are children who have become so much more independent than mine in a shorter period of time; and I know that there are others for whom independence might be a relative thing. It seems to me that if time is the great equalizer, honoring the beauty and wonder of each of our children is the way forward. Our children teach us so much about parenting, if we only listen. That’s the hardest part of all.