I have written about my autistic son before. Despite grappling with the challenges brought on by Asperger's Syndrome, he remains a bottomless pool of good cheer.
Impressed as I am by his incredible kindness, courage and fortitude, I am heartened by the way in which his presence tends to bring out the best in those around him. It re-ignites my faith in all things good and right in this troubled world, not like a match - more like a blow torch.
A week after graduating from middle school, he joined his older brother and started training with the high school boys' cross-country team. A week after that, he had to go to practice on his own while his brother went off to scout camp and a mission trip.
The thought of Christopher riding his bike alone, to and fro, conjured every negative scenario imaginable - a forgotten water bottle, a stolen bike, stranger danger, taunting, getting lost on a remote trail. Leave it to me to think the worst and hope for the best. It's a wonder I ever let him leave the house.
The team, a great bunch of young men led by an amazing coach, graciously accepted him into their protective fold. By the time his brother resumed the practice schedule, Christopher was just one of the guys and the routine was just that. Routine.
On a couple of balmy Sunday nights, he tagged along to a few sessions with our church's youth group and was happy to see some of his teammates there. My husband and I stepped back and watched as his social network began to take shape.
Yet, as the new school year approached, panic began to bubble to the surface.
What were we thinking, telling the high school he wouldn't need an aid? I must've been out of my mind to push for regular, not self-contained, classes.
Call it denial, but I made a conscious decision to not worry about his future as a high school student. While that plan worked well during the day, my subconscious had other plans, making sure I was wide awake every night at 3am so I could toss and turn until my alarm went off two hours later.
When his schedule arrived in the mail, I wondered if sending him to a private school was a viable option. However, since I didn't want to deplete his college fund, I was left with no choice. I considered, if only for a fleeting moment, the impossible. Home schooling.
Thankfully, the moment passed.
Thankfully, the moment passed.
The next thing I knew, we were dropping him off at his Freshman orientation - a two-hour session in which the new students would be welcomed by the administrators. They'd also get to "walk their schedules" so they could practice the route they'd have to take to get through their school day.
Considering that I still get lost on that sprawling campus - even after attending seven years' worth of curriculum nights, I was certain that I'd be picking up a frustrated, agitated child.
I decided to practice my mantra while I waited in my idling car.
Everything's going to be fine. Everything's going to be fine. Everything's going to be fine.
I spotted him as he approached, twirling the curl on his forehead, frowning. Uh-oh, I thought. Here we go.
He plopped in the front seat and I started to pull away from the curb.
I was afraid to ask, but did anyway. "How'd it go?"
He started, as if I interrupted a deep thought. "Oh. Good." Then without providing any further detail, he continued, "Say, do you think I could go to the dance tonight?"
"The school is having a welcome dance for Freshman only. First of its kind."
Wrestling my over-developed protective instinct to the mat, I smiled and said, "Sure. Absolutely."
As we drove home, I tried to imagine him fitting in. He's a tall, gangly boy with acne and braces who feels awkward around kids he doesn't know. Especially girls.
Then it hit me. He'll blend. For once in his life, he'll be just like everybody else.
On the first day of school, he bounded off with his brother. Looking like happy hermit crab carrying an overstuffed backpack, he had his schedule in one pocket and a map of the school in the other. And I knew, deep down, that everything was going to be just fine.