What Are You Going to Do When He Grows Up?

There are times he comes out to tell you "the man helped me." With the sink, with the paper towels, with the door. Never a concern on his face. Never a problem breathed.
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The day before Marcus' graduation, this is the answer that came almost directly from my journal to the question I've heard since the day he was born: "What are you going to do when he grows up?"

That question has been posed to you for the last 20 years. And although you've given one answer or another, time after time, it still feels as if this moment has snuck up on you.

Remember the day you found out you were pregnant? You knew then that this child was going to be the rest of your life. It didn't scare you. Not like it should have. Youth is invincible.

Then when he was born and you tried to figure out what Down syndrome is and what it means, how to prepare you and him for the world and how to find support in the community. So you went to a support group for special needs children. That turned out to be kind of a mistake. You were still smitten with your beautiful boy when you walked into a room full of anger. Bitterness at the schools. Frustration with insurance and government red-tape. Fear filled you. Was this your future? Were you going to brim with rage?

Yes. At times you were. You fought and reasoned and tried to reason and fought with the public schools for his first five years of life. Good teachers, good opportunities turned against you. Sigh. But then you found a private school that nurtured him, really wanted the best for him. They were growing and learning too, that made the match better, stronger. Not mired in predispositions.

So you made it, made it through heart surgery, pneumonia, the H1 Virus. Soon enough he showed a passion for theatre, a love of music and performance and hotels. You love to explore new cities and he loves hotels.

Then, when he got obviously old enough that you could no longer take him to the ladies bathroom with you, you dreaded letting him go alone into the men's room in a strange city, strange airport, strange theater. Each time you wait, and wait and wait -- hoping he will wash his hands, that he can work his pants himself, that no one will harm him.

And yet, there are times he comes out to tell you "the man helped me." With the sink, with the paper towels, with the door. Never a concern on his face. Never a problem breathed. And you sigh. And thank God he has the bladder of a camel so you can plan for bathroom breaks hours apart and arrange for safe places or ways to find "family bathrooms." Which he hates, by the way, but you insist.

Other than the school to some extent, you've kept your family an island. You've worked and he's joined you. You've counted on his youth and innocence to protect you from... what? From the future?

And now, here comes graduation day, barreling down like you never knew it was coming. The two-minute warning bell and you're standing without your homework, without your research paper, without a map to class. Even when Marcus was born, with nine months to prepare, you had exactly two packs of blankets, a bassinette and some newborn pj.'s. You weren't really ready then either, but everything worked out. Tomorrow he is a "grown-up."

What are you going to do?

Well, I guess you'll do the same thing you did yesterday. Ask if he had breakfast and remind him to take his thyroid medicine. Drive him to work and smile when he comes back to the car humming a happy tune. Argue with him over which radio station to play in the car, and how loud. Look into the acting classes you heard about and keep trying to find a voice coach.

You'll try not to panic when you read about early onset Alzheimer's and you'll make sure he takes his vitamins and goes to his workouts at the gym.

You'll smile when he tells the frazzled server at the restaurant, "You're the best," and she stops for a minute, smiles, and says, "Thank you."

You'll laugh every day.

You'll know you are loved.

You'll wonder what you were so worried about.

Originally posted along with several updates since then on Grown Ups & Downs.

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