”Top 10” was one of my favorite Letterman skits. Mine are typical: finishing college, traveling to Europe, writing, teaching, motherhood and some mundane events not worth the extra words in this blog. It never occurred to me to try to guess the top moments of my autistic son’s life. Since Greg cannot communicate adequately to have this conversation with me, I imagine that his answers look something like this.
#12: Meeting Bert and Ernie at Sesame Place.
#11: Realizing that reading step-by-step instructions could make my life have the order it needs.
#10: Riding GM Test Track at Disney World.
#9: Graduating from high school, the only graduate in the Class of “2008” at Milestone Achievement Center, and having my favorite aide attend. It was a long ride, very “iffy” at times.
#8: Scoring 190 at bowling. (Greg looks at his score sheet every time he visits his “old house,” where he resided for nearly 25 years, so I’m positive about this one!)
#7: Riding a tandem bike, not independently, but skillfully nonetheless.
#6: Being accepted to work fulltime at a workshop for special people.
#5: Driving Go-Karts at Adventure Sport.
#4: Playing Fast & Furious at the arcade.
#3: Eating the best ribs the world at Shakedown Bar B Q, near Penn National race track.
#2: Jumping waves and running my toes through the sand at the beach.
#1: Living independently from my parents.
I’m probably wrong. Second guessing every decision we made in Greg’s life has been a past time that my husband and I fine-tuned. It was agonizing over the years as we chose one therapy over another, one aide over another, one medication over another or one solution over another. Why shouldn’t I second guess myself now?
Perhaps I should remove #11 and change it to, “Opening a Christmas present which contained my favorite book, My Doll is Lost, when I was in elementary school.” I know the original #11 was important to Greg’s teachers, aides, therapists, doctors, family members and everyone else involved in raising him, but my revised #11 changed two lives, Greg’s and his best friend Caralie’s. Caralie was the chosen one who delivered the newfound book to Greg after we spent six months tracking down a copy. She taught Greg the value of true friendship.
Should I relegate #6 to a lower number on the list? It was definitely important to Jay and me that Greg work for a living. The alternative, going to adult day care day in and day out, scared us. Greg is so capable, taking satisfaction in completing a job and feeling normal (we imagine) as a productive worker. We could be wrong though…when Greg received the Employee of the Year award at work awhile ago, he was too worried about the waitress taking his cake away than going up to the podium to accept his plaque! In reality, he works faster than most and loves the attention he receives when he completes a job perfectly. Nevertheless, would a new #6 be, “Getting to have friends while growing up? Certainly the young’uns who befriended Greg in an inclusive educational setting changed Greg’s image of himself to someone capable of having a relationship despite having severe deficits in communication and behavior.
How about #9? Jay and I, Aunt Cathy and my older son, Greg's brother, were so proud, but was that Greg’s proudest moment? When his favorite high school aide surprised him by attending, he was speechless! Literally! Everyone in his school had to strain to hear him because he was unexpectedly quiet as he read his tribute to everyone involved in raising him. Perhaps a better #9 would be to say how much Greg appreciated everyone involved in his education. It sure wasn’t an easy journey to take.
Who is to say that #1 wasn’t only the most influential moment in Greg’s life, but also the most traumatic? Paradox notwithstanding, that a moment could be equally joyous and hellish. Today, Greg is at peace, but he wasn’t the day we told him he would have a new house with new friends, wonderful experiences and memories to make. He screamed when first faced with the challenge of living away from his dad and me. However, with a history of cancer in Jay’s family, we needed to secure Greg’s future, and we pursued the search for a permanent home for Greg who we hope will live a full life even after we are gone…
You can see my dilemma when attempting to guess Greg’s big moments. My own perspective gets mixed into the batter. Greg’s highlights are probably related to the moments of exhilaration that make a young man shake his head and smile with a smirk to beat the band. Mine? I think in the long-term of those events which changed his life forever yet were, perhaps, not as fleeting. I find myself getting more philosophical as I get older, but that’s better left for a different blog, one about my journey, not Greg’s. What is most important is that Greg had those moments.