Monday, March 29, 2010

18 is Not a Magic Number — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

My twins turned 18 last November and are seniors in high school. Since last spring break, my daughter has been researching and visiting colleges, completing applications, filing for financial aid and pacing the floors with worry and excitement over where she'll be going to school in the fall.

My son has been going to high school. He gets up every morning, does his routine and goes to class. He hears and sees his sister whirling dervishly around the house, and spouting words like "deadlines", "recommendations" and "essays". It has had no affect on him. When asked what he plans to do after graduation, his eyes kind of glaze over and he launches into a brief nondenial denial that he has pieced together from things he's overheard.

"I'm not quite sure yet, but I'll probably take a few community college classes, do some volunteer work and get some kind of part time job. I'm just not ready to think beyond that right now."

It's a reasonable statement, I suppose, except that he doesn't really understand what any of that would actually entail, and he has done nothing to find out more information.

I have been a nervous wreck about him, but getting one kid ready for college has taken a lot of energy, so mostly I've been working with the girl, fretting about the boy, and feeling guilty all around. And hyperventilating my way through sleepless nights. And yelling gently hinting things like: "You are not living in my house for the rest of your life," and "Playing video games is not a viable career choice."

Then, one day, I listened - really listened - to my son's press conference statement. Especially the last sound bite. "I'm just not ready to think beyond that right now." And I realized that 18 is not a magic number; it's just a number, just the next birthday in what we hope will be a long line of birthdays to come. And that, in and of itself, is a miracle.

Born at 24 weeks and just 1.5 pounds, we didn't really think he would see any birthdays. Both twins were significantly delayed. Just to put things in perspective, he was born November 17 and came home from the hospital on March 27; he walked at 23 months; he talked at 4.5 years old. He weighed just 27 pounds when he started kindergarten, and 47 pounds when he started middle school.

Now, he's 18. He has finally caught up physically. He is intellectually very bright, but has a short-term memory deficit, a sequencing disorder (part of his learning disabilities) and some ADD issues. He will be graduating with his sister and his peers in June. He is among the kindest people I have ever met.

This spring break, we are visiting Beacon College, the only accredited college offering BA and AA degrees for students with learning disabilities, ADHD and gifted LD. My mom heard about the school and sent him the link. I suggested that we could visit, but he went to the college resource center at school and he made the appointment for us to tour the campus. Will this be the right place for him? Who knows. Will he be ready to go in the fall, or even the spring? I doubt it.

Why I ever thought that 18 would be a magic number, that he would suddenly start to reach milestones on someone else's schedule instead of his own, is only proof that I'm the one still suffering from developmental delays. My son is right on schedule. So, what comes next? I know what we're doing for spring break. I'm just not ready to think beyond that right now.

When Susan isn't worried about developmental delays, student loans and sending her kids to college, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and on her freelance writing Website, This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post.


Susan Bearman said...

Comments originally posted in response to the Chicago Moms Blog post:

Caitlin said...
Great post Susan.

March 29, 2010 at 03:47 PM

Laura Scarborough said...
this actually encourages me.
my son was also born at 24 weeks weighing 1lb 6oz spent 132 days in the NICU, had 10 surgeries, walked at 30 months and was tube fed for 4 years and now, at age 8, is all of 30lbs and head and shoulders smaller than his peers. he is repeating 1st grade and although is still in special ed, his mainstream time spent in the regular 1st grade class has increased which supports the fact that holding him back was the right choice. still sometimes i try to imagine life for him when he is 13 or 16 or 18 or even 23 like his 4 older siblings and, well, i worry...i bet you did too. your post encourages me a lot and in turn i would say from my experiences with my older kids and counseling young adults is it is okay to not know what one wants to be when they grow up when they are in their junior and senior year in high school. good luck to your kids!

March 29, 2010 at 04:39 PM

Susan @ 2KoP said in reply to Laura Scarborough...
And good luck to your son, too. I am always most at ease when I remember that it is his journey, and he is living it well.

March 29, 2010 at 08:23 PM

Melisa with one S said...
This is a great post. I am sending my son off to college this fall and I know what a whirlwind it's been with ONE KID; I can't imagine worrying about two (or more) at the same time and trying to help them figure out (or help them to think about thinking about figuring it out!) what the next step is.

All the best to your son as he starts to investigate his options. I hope that he finds a perfect match, no matter what it is.

(and best wishes for your daughter's future success, too! :) )

March 29, 2010 at 07:54 PM

Susan @ 2KoP said in reply to Melisa with one S...
Melisa, good luck to all of us on this next step. I'm sure it will be interesting.

March 29, 2010 at 08:24 PM said...
Well put, Susan. I've been having the same worries about my son and he's only a junior. And I also have issued the reminder that there are no jobs where xbox skills are the only requirement...
Feeling your pain and enjoying your viewpoint after stepping back. Good reminder:)

March 29, 2010 at 08:40 PM

Sheryl Minnick Bearman said...
Your right. 18 is not the magic number that a young adult must adhere or abide by to fulfill one of many requirements that meet societies grand expectations of an individual. Having 2 children who are so close in age and one who's college bound plans or desires are rather suspect even at the age of 13, I understand. I have found that despite our best intentions as parents, what we often want and dream of for our children’s future does not always fit into their plans. We can see that path so clearly but often a child, especially one that is struggling in school, truly is just not able to deal with their future at the moment we want them to. They struggle with simply maneuvering through the complexities of the here and now let alone dealing with the stress of envisioning what tomorrow or next year will bring.

As with your son, my son is very bright. He is not however, a very good student. He is just a few standard deviations away from the norm when it comes to our one size fits all education system. Some of our young adults need to take a bit longer to see the big picture and we as parents will need to find a balance between giving them the time they need and fending of the potential video playing basement dwelling 30 year old that we fear might be in our future. Good article.

March 30, 2010 at 07:53 AM

Susan Bearman said...

More comments from the original post:

Nicole Pelton said...
I think you are taking a great approach. I was raised to assume you went to college at 18, but my sister and brother and husband ended up with very alternative path, although all started college at 18.

They are all doing okay now, but sometimes I wonder if taking a little more time to decide would have been the right idea. The two people who eventially followed their passion can't make a living, and the others do okay but don't love their jobs.

I think my parents and I now realize there was no need to hurry. I also want to say my nephew was born with cystic fibrosis and deaf, and was not diagnosed until he was about 5. He was always very small, with a lot of special requirements in school, and not expected to live past about 30. He still gets sick, but he's now past 30 and works as an extremely happy and successful stormchaser.

March 30, 2010 at 01:20 PM

Susan @ 2KoP said in reply to Nicole Pelton...
A stormchaser. Wow! That's a pretty exciting career choice.

I think I probably would have done better had I waited a year or gone to a smaller college, but I'm not sure that second guessing decisions we make is all that helpful. I probably learned just as many lessons along the way, just different ones.

March 30, 2010 at 07:38 PM

Unknown said...

Bless You! So many parents simply push and you listened - that is so fabulous!

I say that because at 59, I have finally stopped worrying about my three (yes, THREE!)ADHD sons who also had to deal with Learning Disability issues. My oldest finally got an Associates and is on his way to a degree in Environmental Science - he's 36! He has a fabulous job as the manager for environmental issues for three separate plant sites for a Herman Miller here! My younger two (33, and 29 years respectively.) are beginning to find their place in the world (one has a family and one still a bachelor.).

We push so much for college that we often turn kids off to the possibilities that are out there for them.

Do I like it that it has taken them so long to "find,"themselves? No. They needed more time, and ultimately it is their decision. My second son is at present looking into computers and computer repair, and my youngest is working his way into becoming a part of the food industry.

I am proud of who they are, and like your son, they are all some of the kindest people I know. That seems to be the gift that goes with the difficulties they've had to face.

Susan Bearman said...

Ciss B — thanks for your comment, insight and support. So I guess you're saying I should settle in for the long haul, right? Congratulations on your sons finding their way.