My son turned 17 recently. Seventeen! Do you mind if I just take a second to process that? Now, I’ve been through the whole “my-child-is-turning-17” thing when my daughter did so four years ago. But there is something about Eli turning 17 that hits me in my core so deeply that when I think about it I can’t breathe.
Since Eli is my youngest, I know his birthdays mark me in time. But that’s not it.
If I am really honest with myself it’s that I never allowed myself to “see” what 17 would look like on him. Who Eli would be; what our lives would be like.
Because Eli has ADHD, Executive Function Disorder and other learning differences, throughout his early years it was enough just to make it to the next minute, hour, or day. Projecting to the next ten years was a luxury I didn’t allow myself.
I had very small goals ten years ago. “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 make it out the door without forgetting something he needs for school?” “How many minutes of peace will I have before Eli starts yelling at me that he doesn’t want to…….?” And on it went. Sound familiar? Now not every day was like that. But many were and many were rough. Really rough. You get it.
How Did We Get Here?
It feels as if I turned my back for one second and when I turned back found this tall, handsome, kind, quirky, happy, talented love of a son staring down at me. The son who would scream for hours now uses that voice to act in a Shakespeare troupe at school. The son who never looked where he was going is now a cautious and responsible driver. And the child who was told by his elementary school in 3rd grade that they couldn’t educate him and he would need to go elsewhere has become a focused junior who just spent a week touring the Northeast looking at colleges. 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 seventeen, things will 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, as did our whole family right alongside him. But we didn’t do it alone. There were teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, camp counselors, family, friends, theater coaches, one tough fencing instructor, one even tougher driving instructor, and countless others 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 birthday, my Eli. We can’t wait to see where the next ten years will lead you.
Leslie Josel is the Principal of Order Out of Chaos, an organizing consulting firm specializing in student organizing and chronic disorganization. She is an ADHD specialist and the author of What’s the Deal with Teens and Time Management.