Friday, May 11, 2012

How Far She's Come; A Look Back

College. A word that drums up so many memories for both my husband and me. We each had fabulous experiences at our respective institutions. For me, my “safety school” turned into an incredible place for growth as my school of choice remained financially out of reach.

College. A place I’ve considered returning to, pursuing a Master’s or a different degree, when life isn’t consuming me.

College. A place that is no longer about me, but my daughter.

This week marked a milestone in my family’s life. I’m not an emotional person by nature. A mix of acrid life experiences and a driven personality allow me to see life objectively more so than most women, which is why shows such as soap operas, reality TV and the Hallmark Channel are as good as “Greek” to me. But in writing this, I’m finding myself pausing, holding back a tear or two as I gaze at a picture of my then three year old Aspergirl sitting askew on our mantel.

My goodness, time does fly. Whisps of blond hair, never to be contained, flowing as she darted from place to place. Knowing she’s about as strong-willed as her mother with a lack of social graces, wondering what on earth life would look like once she hit middle school. But middle school was “so yesterday,” and nothing like we ever pictured it would be. 
Thank goodness it wasn’t as her preschool teacher envisioned it would be. (Juvie my eye!) Staring at the same child, she envisioned a teen in trouble, with a record to make a mom wince. But the record she is acquiring makes her parents proud. Her grades are strong, and college mail confirms so.

Looking at her photo, I can’t believe how far we’ve come. Stimming in the hardware store. Feisty displays of personality in elementary school. Sensory overloaded times that try the most patient while making her life a living hell. Add to that ongoing social exclusion that rips a parent’s heart to pieces.

Now we’re halfway through high school, and she’s become her “group’s” party planner.

“Group” as in “group of friends”. She has friends. Real friends. And she’s had many of them since…middle school. That thought, alone, gives me pause.

This week, we attended an event where several colleges presented information on their respective institutions. It still hasn’t sunk in, which I’m sure is the norm with most parents sitting through the first college program! As much as we want our children to succeed, do we really want them to leave the nest? Regardless, with each month that passes, it becomes increasingly clear that she will be able to go to college, and live on campus.

Living Tree - Life amidst life's rushing waters
This is huge.

Although we never shared the dire tone of Ms. Preschool, we were also realistic in that Kristina had a ways to go before it would even be a consideration. Years passed where she would head to the bus, leaving the door unlocked – and wide open. Sensory concerns had us wondering if she would ever be able to cope in certain settings. Now, she attends movies with friends, and has a plan of action for times when her sensory world is overwhelmed. She’s involved in household chores and volunteers her time in the community.

So now, I sit and type, glancing up at the then lilac dressed child, envisioning someone who is setting herself up for college. No, it wasn’t an easy road. Our family did a ton of hard work to get to this point. Of the three of us, Kristina did the most work of all. It’s paying off.

The story is still being written. Grades and tests are far from set. And then there is continuation of community service and other components to round out her teen years. There remains a lot to be done.

My daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. My daughter has Autism. My daughter is fully capable of contributing more to the global scene than most of her peers. And she will, in her time, in her own way.

Life isn’t often what we picture it to be. The clouds lining today’s sky may not forecast tomorrow. Envision a better life for your child. Know in your heart she will succeed and beat your wildest expectations. Tune out the naysayers while being sure to listen to those whose wise wisdom may pinch in the moment. Be willing to make hard decisions. And, most of all, have hope. These kids are capable of so much more than “they” will ever think possible.

And grab a box of tissues, for when that moment arrives, when she’s whittling down the list of schools to apply to, it’s nothing short of overwhelming.


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