One of the wonderful things about raising exceptional children is that you don’t know what sorts of challenges you’re going to face until you come right up to them. I read somewhere when Martin was very young that there’s no use planning for your child’s future more than six months in advance, because the entire situation could change in six months.
I suspect that the author who wrote that was thinking that the child’s situation could change a lot in six months. That is true, but it’s also much more complicated for most of us because that one person is not the only person in the family who’s exceptional. In our family, Martin has been tagged with Bipolar I, but his brother and I have anxiety, and I have depression. Their father swings between thinking he has bipolar and considering a number of other possible diagnoses (he’s not an M.D. but a Ph.D. but that doesn’t stop his hypothesizing). We all feel quite sure he’s something unusual. So the combination of all of us together means that somethings are sure to change in any given six months. I learned early that I could spend a lot of time worrying about what would happen to us next, but even though I like to think I’m creative, my worries seldom matched what turned up. Might as well relax and deal with what actually came. (This is also where it has helped tremendously to be a Quaker).
My sons are both young adults now, and somehow it never occurred to me that neither one of them would be eager to begin college. I had always thought of my years in college as some of the best in my life, and indeed I’ve been very reluctant to let go of them, always looking for a way to get just one more degree. Sitting in a lecture hall and hearing an expert expand on something I don’t yet know is my idea of fun.
Neither Martin nor Pete were entirely convinced that sitting in a room and having someone lecture to them, crowded in with a bunch of other students, was something that appealed to them. Both of them are anxious in crowded places and dislike a lot of noise. Martin went to community college for part of a semester and liked his class but hated the bustle of the campus. Pete enjoyed a night class learning an obscure language along with about ten other people. The thought of being packed into a stuffy room with a large number of strangers makes his pulse race. Both of them have spent years being lectured to by their father, whose style of communication is just one of the reasons we’re no longer together. He’s a brilliant man, but he has no sense of how to talk to people.
So what to do? I do read the statistics about how much less people without a college degree make over a lifetime, and I do feel concerned about how this will impact the two of them. On the other hand, they are both young and yet they are adults. Each of them has grown enough to make his own decisions, though I still get to add in some of my advice, and plenty of my friends have told me stories about how their kids changed their minds about college after making an early decision not to go. So I’m trying my best to sit back and listen, being aware that they’re both getting plenty of feedback from their dad about the potential implications not getting a degree could have.
Pete came to me recently and told me that he feels like he needs some therapy to deal with the anxiety he feels when he thinks about starting college. That sounded like a great idea to me. I’ve thought for years that it must be really hard being the brother of someone with a chronic illness. Now that his brother is better, perhaps Pete can feel like there’s room to ask for attention for his own needs.