My son turns 21 today. Twenty-one! Do you mind if I just take a second to process that? Now, I’ve been through the whole “my-child-is-turning-21” thing when my lovely daughter did so four years ago. But there is something about Eli turning 21 that hits me in my core so deeply that when I truly think about it I can’t breathe.
Since Eli is my youngest, I know his birthdays mark me in time. But that isn’t it. I also know that this year I might hear the “I’m 21 and I can do what I want” mantra. Doubtful. Truthfully, as long as my husband and I are “paying his way” that doesn’t hold true.
If I am really honest with myself it’s that I never allowed myself to “see” what 21 would look like on Eli; who he’d be, what his life would be like, even what he would be doing.
I’m sure many of you can relate. Because Eli has ADHD, Executive Function Disorder, and other learning challenges, throughout his early years it was enough just to make it to the next minute or hour or through the day. Projecting to the next 10 or 15 years was a luxury my husband and I didn’t really afford ourselves.
I had very small parenting goals back then. Tiny. “Let’s see if Eli can get dressed for school this morning without Wayne having to sit on him to do so.” “What are the odds that Eli will actually get in the car this week to go to fencing?” “How many minutes of peace will I have before Eli starts yelling at me that he doesn’t want to…?” “How long can I leave Maddie and Eli alone before my phone rings?” And on it went. Sound familiar? Now not every day was like that. Some actually went quite smoothly. But many were rough. Like “Mrs. Josel, we can’t seem to find Eli. We think he might have walked out of the school building when no one was looking,” kind of rough. But I don’t have to go there. You all get it.
How Did We Get Here?
It feels like I turned my back for one second and when I turned back found this tall, handsome, kind, smart, happy, talented love of a son staring down at me.
The son who never looked where he was going and whose driving instructor once kicked him out of the car is now a cautious and responsible driver.
The son whose middle school teachers had us regularly questioning whether any post graduation education would be the right path to follow is a focused college senior who is spending this semester in Los Angeles interning in music and sound production.
The son who constantly tested my patience on a daily basis is now the one reminding me when I get frustrated and want to give up “that anything worth doing is worth working hard for.”
The son who couldn’t see past “right now” to plan his time now juggles classes, interning, freelance audio projects, and social plans effortlessly.
And the son who was told by his elementary school in third grade that they couldn’t “educate” him and he would need to go elsewhere now has college professors who send emails telling us, “You should be very proud of [our] son. He is friendly, intelligent, hard working, fun, and brings tremendous value to the class. I enjoy having him in the course and know that I can always turn to him for insightful commentary on any topic that we are covering.”
It’s all a bit much.
Truth be told, even during all of the tough times, we always saw glimmers of the young man Eli might become. My husband often said, “If we can just freeze dry him and wake him up when he’s eighteen, things would be different.” While I may have thought that was wishful thinking, deep down I was hoping he was right.
But beyond the hope, there was something actually happening that I was certain about. My son worked hard to get here. Heck, my whole family did alongside him. But we didn’t do it alone. There were teachers, guidance counselors, professors, employers, advisors, camp counselors, family, friends, theater coaches, one tough fencing instructor, one even tougher driving instructor and countless other mentors along the way. We called it Team Eli. And still do. People that believed in my son; his strengths, his gifts and most important, his purpose. And that allowed Eli to believe in himself.
So happy 21st birthday my Eli. We can’t wait to see where the next 10 years will lead you.
Leslie Josel is the Principal of Order out of Chaos, an organizing consulting firm specializing in student organizing. She is the author of What’s the Deal with Teens and Time Management and the creator of the award-winning Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management. To learn more, visit www.orderoochaos.com