”A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.”
All of a sudden, Will has left the safety of the family harbor. His ship has launched and he has moved into his own apartment in another city seventy miles away. His job is the beginning of his true career. He worked hard for this chance. All the years of therapy, special services, study and encouragement have resulted in this giant step toward independence, despite the giant challenge of autism.
During the interview with a huge corporation, they told him that if he were hired, he would start on April 16. On April 12, his father and I suggested that he probably wasn’t going to get the job. Whew! We had dodged that bullet, we thought. He would not be moving away from home. The very next day, the human resources department contacted him, offering him a position as an entry-level web developer. He would start on April 25. He was excited and nervous.
We were happy for him and dreadfully nervous. But we had stepped boldly forth into the risk that he might move away. We were the ones who encouraged him to go to the interview, and his dad actually drove him seventy miles for the interview, 140 miles round trip.
Anxiety plagued me. Had I prepared him enough? Had I taught him what he needed to know to live on his own, to navigate life outside the harbor? I wouldn’t have many more chances to teach him what he needed to know.
A week after we moved him, his sister Mary and I went to visit him for the weekend and bring another load of his furniture and possessions. I wanted to see how he was doing on his own. His apartment was still very sparsely furnished, with an air mattress in his bedroom and lawn chairs in the living room. He was camping in his own apartment. He would buy real furniture when he could afford it.
I got another chance to teach Will how to grab his dress clothes out of the dryer so that he would not have to iron them. However the clothes didn’t come out of the apartment dryers as wrinkle free as I had hoped. So we went shopping and he bought an ironing board and an iron.
Then we went back to his apartment and took all of his dress clothes out of the closet. I gave him and Mary ironing lessons. At home, my method of grabbing clothes quickly out of the dryer is an effective wrinkle deterrent, so my ironing lessons in the past were half hearted. But this time, both my children paid close attention. Both Will and Mary picked it up quickly. Will told me he has ironed his clothes every week since.
I am shocked that this is so hard. Letting go is harder than I thought it would be, but other parents, parents of typical kids, tell me that they found it difficult as well. When my kids were little, they had separation anxiety. Now I am feeling that anxiety on the other end of parenthood.
My chances to prepare my son for his future are diminishing quickly. He is learning his own lessons, and he is enjoying it for the most part. I love the John Shedd quote: “A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.” I have this saying in the signature line of my e-mails both at home and at work, to remind myself daily that my kids cannot stay in the harbor. In the end, keeping them in the harbor is not safe.