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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Letter to My Autistic Daughter to be Opened at Graduation

I feel a little guilty sharing this here, and I think the only reason I'm doing it is because it was always my plan to write something of this nature on the blog.  It's only now that it's a school assignment that I'm actually getting to it.


A little background.  Before I blogged, and after Emma was born, I bought a little leather-bound journal that I intended to write to Emma.  The idea at the time was that this was going to be something that I wrote to her that she was not allowed to open and read until she had kids of her own.  I wanted something she could look at with her own kids and see how we struggled and floundered and how we didn't always have the answers.  And how we loved her.  And I wanted it to be my voice in her ear when perhaps she might prefer not having my actual voice in her ear, but still needed help or guidance.  It was also this morbid idea of a voice from the grave.  What if I wasn't around when she had kids?  Here were my words, preserved.  


From the second journal...
I struggled with it.  I had a difficult time determining my voice.  I wrote in it pretty regularly, but I struggled writing to Emma adult-to-adult the way I had intended; the way I wanted it to read.  I shifted back and forth but mostly it came across (in my opinion) inconsistent, amateurish, and uncomfortable.  I was writing to a two year old one day and the next I was writing to the 30 year old to be, it vacillated between stuffy and formal, and profanely casual.  I filled the journal and didn't buy a new one.  And then Lily was born and weeks turned into months and then years until I once more bought a journal and began filling it in, this time for both kids.  There was a lot of guilt about having a journal for Emma but not for Lily.  And so the journals became for "both kids". 

It was essentially a blog, but instead of typing and hitting enter, I was smearing ink across fingers and pages and giving myself hand cramps.  So I started the blog.  When it started (here's the first post), it was with the idea that autism and Lily probably belonged in a separate space all their own.  I was 'marketing it' to autism parents.  I had started writing unread blog posts prior to that about Emma's adventures, but it was only after I immersed myself in the reading others' posts and writing my own specific to autism that I was really "all-in" blog-wise. I felt guilty about having a "whole family" blog and a Lily-specific blog, and eventually merged the two into one.  Okay. 

That is the story of how this blog came to be.  That is what this blog arguably (now) is, a series of journal posts to my children that they can someday read and hopefully get a little comfort/support from, while also making me a SHIT ton of money.  Meh...at least they'll have the posts.

We received an assignment to put together a time capsule for Lily.  I love those things.  I don't know what all is included, but what I'm focused on here is:  "A letter to Lily for her to read at graduation."

Without further adieu...
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Dear Lily,

Hi, Peach. When you read this eleven years will have gone by.  The first thing I want to tell you is the last thing I say to you every night before you go to bed.  I'm proud of you.  I love you.  I believe in you.  Past.  Present.  Future.

It seems to me that by writing this I'm attempting to predict the future.  Nobody can do that.  The parents who think they can are misguided.  Whether they think their child will be a doctor or football star, an engineer or a pilot, a stay-at-home parent, live in assisted-care or stay at home all his or her life...no parent knows the future regardless of their child's neurology.  The hoops and hurdles God places in the paths of all His children are always different and are never lept through or over nor stumbled across the same way by any two of us.  The branching results of all our decisions, good and bad both, lead us each down a path that is unique to our own experience.  And utterly unpredictable.

You work so hard.  You jump through all the hoops and over all the hurdles we as parents place in front of you.  Sometimes there are so many.  Sometimes we don't even understand why we think you need to jump through them.  We do it because we think they'll help.  We do it because we're told they're necessary.  We do it because "research indicates that...".  We don't know.  We don't have the answers.  We just want what's best for you, and we pray the decisions we make will help lead you there.

But I want you to know this...

You, 8 year old Lily, child of the present, are such a happy child, so full of life and energy and joy.  Watching you spin and jump and play, a broad grin splitting your face, an infectious and mischievous giggle bubbling up and over as we tickle you or play with you we can't help but be happy too.  Every day when I bundle you up and walk you out to the school bus we hold hands and I tell you to stand in the driveway to be safe from cars, and you get so frustrated with me and I worry that you're going to have a meltdown, or throw your glasses or refuse to get on the bus, but when the bus gets there, you tell me, "I happy, daddy," and climb aboard.  On graduation day, this past Lily is the future I want for you in adulthood, the present you now inhabit in childhood:  Happy Lily. 

If you never become a doctor, if you never graduate from college and get a job, if you never go to college, if you never leave our home, if you never learn to read this letter, if you always need help to eat...but are happy?  Then I will be happy.  This future is certain and fixed and utterly predictable.  This future is unchangeable because it holds within itself all the possible divergences from my "expectations" that don't matter when compared to your happiness.

I may not be able to predict what you will one day become.  I may not be able to forecast how far you will go, or how much you will change from the sweet little peach you are right now, but after working so hard and jumping through so many hoops, after all the drills and therapy and frustration, when graduation day comes for you, if you say nothing more than, "I happy, daddy," well then I think we'll consider those 11 years time well spent.

I promise I will always have that end goal in sight.  I promise not to lose sight of your happiness while chasing after misguided expectations of a future that cannot be predicted.  I'm not saying you won't still be frustrated with me.  I'm not saying you won't still have to work hard to jump through my hoops (the ones that make sense and the ones that don't).  I'm just saying that those branched paths of your life within my control that don't ultimately lead to your happiness will be pruned if they can be.

Every night after prayers as we lie in bed I tell you I love you, I'm proud of you, and I believe in you.  No matter what the future holds, I know how hard you will have worked to make it there.  And I love you, I'm proud of you, and I believe in you.

On your graduation day if I say to you, "Are you happy, Lily?" and you respond "I happy, daddy" then I'm happy too.  And if you can't tell me that, then I will do everything in my power to fix that.

I love you Lily.
I'm proud of you.
I believe in you.
Do what makes you happy.

39 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, it is really beautiful.

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  2. Beautifully written and such a wonderful perspective. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. How did you manage to write this without sobbing? I read the first sentence of the letter part of it and the waterworks began. THIS. This, Jim, is beautiful. And it's all any parent wants, ultimately-- but especially so for our beautiful children who work so damnably hard just to make it through each day. May your sweet peach always be able to tell you "I happy, Daddy."

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    1. Oh i may have gotten a tad misty...

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  4. I realized that my last comment could be read wrong because the internet has no vocal inflection... so my second attempt to tell you how I feel is, this made me cry immediately, and I felt too many feelings :)

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    1. I get an email notification of all comments. I'M SO OFFENDED!!!

      :) Just kidding. I'd have gotten it.

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  5. Seriously, Jim? Seriously? You totally made me cry at work. Again. I should really learn my lesson to avoid your blog when I am in public. This was so beautiful.

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    1. Thank you, Patty. I don't always write stuff like this. Sometimes it's baseball bats and thunderdome...sometimes it's softer.

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  6. F'in making me cry this early in the day, sheesh! Thanks for sharing (really). It can be so easy to lose sight of what's really important (for all of us) and it's nice to get reminders. As a parent, you're right - none of us can (or should) predict the future for our kids. The best we can do, since we brought them screaming into this world, is to provide them with the best supported footing possible to be whoever they are, in their happiest incarnation - and hopefully to, by example, encourage them to help foster happiness in others.

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  7. "I happy, daddy".....best 3 words I like to hear. Only mine would be "I happy, mom"...obviously. ;)

    Beautiful Jim!

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  8. That's ultimately what we want. With my guys sometimes, happiness seems so elusive. Great letter brother Jim.

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  9. This is absolutely gorgeous. It's my goal with my kids too.

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  10. This is great Jim. Really great.

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  11. Aw, Jim. You made me sniffly. This is wonderful. You're a great dad, you know? You're a pretty stellar human, too. Pat yourself on the back, I'm too far away to do it for you.

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    1. thank you, Ame! And believe me...I give myself TONS of pats on the back. Ask anyone.

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  12. Just awesome , Jim, and really for any parent. I have been praying this week for God to remove from me those things that keep me from offering my daughter the best ... like fear. We read your blog at night time....she's ten and she likes the Adventures of Lily.

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    1. I hope you censor the language. I have a filthy mouth.

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  13. Thank you for sharing, that is so very sweet.

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  14. This is beautiful, Jim. Exactly what I want for my kiddos too. Oh, and thanks for bringing tears to my eyes, yet again lol

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  15. Beautiful! Your heart is laid out here, as is your love. Your perspective is pure, mature & I love it! Thank you for sharing!

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  16. Today was a rough day with our girls. We had another babysitter leave in tears. I don't know how to get through to them past the autism. They are obviously not happy. Neither are we. Some days I don't know how to face the next day. Thanks for your perspective.

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  17. So beautiful! I just shared this with my husband unable to hold back tears....we always worry so much about the future and this letter has really helped put us back in the perspective that if our special needs children are happy that is all that will matter at the end of the day. Thank you so much for sharing this letter with the world and may God bless your little Lily and family.

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  18. WOW ... As the Mummy of a delightful bundle of autistic boy, I have tears in my eyes ... we both struggle each day with various hoops ... I just hope that I don't fail him and that, at every stage, I hear "I'm happy Mummy"
    I get so very frustrated at times, that I wonder if he actually is happy ... or that he just exists in a world of frustration, both his and mine. I know I must try harder, but some days, that's just too hard to do.
    Very touching and very wise words from an amazing Daddy. Thank you for sharing :)

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