Rachel is my middle child. My oldest already has a Master’s degree and is on her way to starting her own life, all the while helping take care of her grandmother since my dad passed away almost two years ago. I am so proud of her and she is an amazing human being.
My only son is my youngest. He just graduated and I will be dropping him off at college five hours away in six days. I’ve dropped him off for the last four years. He went to a private boarding school, so dropping him off and saying goodbye will not be a shock to either of our systems. But boarding school was only half an hour away, and we could still see him and he could come home anytime he wanted. Somehow this is different. It’s more final. He’s growing older and he’ll need to come home less and less. Of course, this is exactly what we want for him; that does not, however, make it easier on a mom!
Sometimes I feel guilty, because the decisions we’ve made for him have an ulterior motive. Of course we want him to have the most fulfilled and successful life possible, and we want him to be happy. But at a young age he always knew that as an adult he and his oldest sister would have to take over the decision-making, if not the care-taking, of Rachel when their dad and I aren’t around anymore. People would ask why Anna had to go to college two states away. They ask why we would go into debt to pay for private school for Eric when he could have gone to public school, why we sacrificed so much to give them these opportunities.
Our theory is that the more opportunities we give our “typical” children, the better position they’ll be in to do what they have to to make sure Rachel is taken care of when we’re gone. And Eric, being only 15 months younger than Rachel, had a difficult, complicated, and not very normal childhood. Sending him to boarding school at 15 actually gave him an opportunity to have his own experiences, not the ones he could have fit in between crises with Rachel at home. He took on the challenge to live up to the opportunities others had sacrificed for so well that he paid for college himself through scholarships and work. And when, at 17, he said to me, “Mom, I’ve always known I would have to take care of Rachel when I was older, and I want you to know I accept that,” it made everything worth it. If you are a mother of a child with special needs, you know the biggest gnawing fear in life is what will happen when you’re gone, and you know what that meant to us to hear him say that.
So I will drop my son off, my baby, my only boy, in a week. I will be happy and sad, proud of him and excited for him. My nest will seem emptier, until I see Rachel’s smile again, and she’s got a vice-grip on my apron strings again, and she’s asking a million questions she already knows the answers to, and I will know how fortunate I am to have the best of both worlds!