This post is by Liane Kupferberg Carter a mother of two adult sons, one of whom has autism and epilepsy. Liane is a journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in more than 40 publications. As a community activist, she has worked with both national and local organizations.
“I have a girlfriend,” Mickey announced.
“You do?” I said. “Tell me about her.”
“She doesn’t talk much,” he said. “She’s shy.”
I’d heard about her a few weeks earlier, when his teacher Jackie had emailed me about the friendship that was blossoming between Mickey and the girl in the classroom next door.
Caroline goes on a daily walk on the bike path and I have been letting Mickey go with her to offer encouragement—he quite enjoys this … I have to tell you that his mental demeanor is so improved when he gets that physical exercise—and it boosts his self esteem, too, because he thinks he is helping Caroline.
Soon after, Jackie emailed me this news:
Just letting you know that Mickey asked his friend Caroline to the prom today … We will find out what color her dress is in case Mickey wants to get her a corsage.
“Oh my. I think I need a tissue,” I told my friend Beth.
“Are you kidding? I’d need a whole box,” she said. “This is a monumental milestone moment.”
I phoned the florist. The afternoon before the prom, I took Mickey to the shop. With a big smile, the florist produced a small white box. Carefully the man peeled back layers of tissue paper to reveal a wrist corsage of rosebuds and ribbons nestled within. Mickey peered at it silently.
“She’ll love it,” the florist assured him.
Mickey nodded. All business, he pulled out his wallet. “How much does it cost?”
Mickey placed two 20 dollar bills on the counter. He remembered to wait for his change. Then, as we walked back to the car, he confided, “I hugged Caroline today.”
“You did? What did she say?”
“She said, ‘I love you.’”
“Really,” I said, feigning nonchalance. “And what did you say?”
“I said,’ I love you too.’”
The prom took place in the school’s gym. Students were decked out in their party best. Parents were invited too. “But we shouldn’t hover,” I reminded my husband Marc. (A reminder to me as well.)
We watched from the sidelines as Mickey and Caroline clasped hands. Together they jumped up and down, with looks of sheer joy on both their faces. Each time he took her by one hand and twirled her around, teachers and staff applauded. Marc and I kvelled—a Yiddish word that means to burst with pride and pleasure for one’s child. It’s related to the German word quellen: “to well up.”
Which I confess I was also doing. A lot.
Because here’s the thing: I never expected him to go to a prom. Prom was one of so many things in the litany of what we were told he would never be able to do. He would never be social. Never have empathy. Would always prefer solitude.
Why do professionals persist in telling these things to parents? Especially when it was clear—even from the earliest days—that our son liked—in fact, craved—connection?
Yet here he was, at a prom. With a date. Maybe “prom” didn’t look the way I thought prom would look, but this wasn’t about me. It was time for me to let go of any lingering regret for what wasn’t—and to accept what was right in front of us. This was still a prom. His prom.
And Mickey was incandescent.
Mickey and Caroline jumped and twirled for 45 minutes before Mickey finally joined us to announce: “I’ve had enough.”
“You need to tell Caroline,” I told him. I watched him return to her side. He hugged her gently. Started back towards us. Stopped. Turned. Hugged her tenderly once more.
Then he asked his Dad, “Was that appropriate?”
A lump-in-the-throat moment. That he felt he had to ask … well of course. Because for most of his life he’s had teachers and therapists and parents guiding him on what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
Was it ever.