I think I went into this parenting thing prepared for most of the headaches of living with kids from day to day. What I was not prepared for was the headaches of parenting with an audience of so many people who think they know exactly how I should parent my children. And, in particular, how I should parent Daniel.
His being at this fork in the road has generated interest from all relatives and the advice (and the criticisms) are pouring in from all quadrants. There's my Dad, who is convinced there's nothing wrong with Daniel that Dad couldn't fix if I would just send him to Montana where Dad can "whip him into shape" (*shudder*), to my mother who thinks I should quit expecting him to accomplish anything and set him up to live in a supervised living situation where he can make beaded purses all day (I have to remind myself that she's from a generation of people who lumped all those who were not "normal" into the group then termed as mentally retarded and relegated them to group homes and institutions), and then there's Gary's mother.
To my surprise, this evening, she and Gary had words on the phone about this very thing and he came very close to hanging up on her (for the first time ever--he's a patient, patient man). She blamed us for Daniel's problems (if we'd gone to the right doctors, put him special ed instead of homeschooling him, given him the right medication . . .) he wouldn't have the problems he has (read: he would be "normal"). Gary firmly backed her off two or three times, explained that there were no pills for Aspergers (this is not the first time we've told her this), and that Daniel is fine and will be fine in the future. She pressed it further and he then told her it was none of her business (I was in awe) and changed the subject. We talked after they ended the conversation (amicably enough). I am not as good at shrugging things off as he is and was angry at the intrusion, but he reminded me that she simply loves the kid that much. I stated that she has a funny way of showing it-- remembers the other three boys' birthdays every year, sends them cards and money, and nearly always "forgets" his. It wouldn't bother me if she forgot the other kids regularly as well; they understand that you don't "expect" gifts. But she doesn't--just his--something I've known her to do when she's upset with someone. She's uncomfortable with him, doesn't quite seem to know how to relate (barely speaks to him), and yet she can tell us all the things we did wrong. Remarkably insightful on her part, isn't it?
We've been doing this on our own for eighteen years and, on the whole, he's doing far better than we'd hoped for. Though his life is not uncomplicated, he's clearly thriving and (though you can't tell it to look at him)--he's usually happy enough, enjoys school (he put himself in public high school last year), is a great student, has a handful of friends who know he's different, but include him, though he doesn't quite understand the concept of giving back just yet. He's away at camp this week, something he used to force himself to do, but now loves. He's going on a mission trip at the end of July (again, his choice entirely). He does well away from home and has told us the last two years that he didn't want to come back, which was both disturbing and exciting at the same time. I don't know what his future holds, but for now, he's okay.
I've got to be honest with you. I am running extremely sensitive on this issue and am close to losing my cool. I'm afraid that the next grandparent who offers up unasked for advice is going to lose their head. Where were they when he was having melt downs as a five, eight, and thirteen year old because his art class had been cancelled, his favorite show wasn't on, or he'd lost a video game, or he didn't get what he wanted for dinner? During those years in which it seemed that none of the consequences that we were meting out were helping him understand the limits we were setting for him? How about the hundreds of--seemingly fruitless--reading lessons that left us both exhausted, wondering how to decode each other's languages, until the day the lights suddenly came on? Did they offer to help with the speech therapy sessions we traveled to? Where were they when we were coaching him on how to strike up a conversation, make eye contact, remember names and details about people--even offering him money if he'd just come home from camp with one email address. Were they there when we watched him begin to become cognizant of his own differentness and how incredible it has been to watch him take control of his own image? Did they know or care about all the sleepless nights that went with worrying about him when he was younger? And now that he's past most of that they want to tell me what I did wrong? I don't think so.