So it’s Christmas time and we have our tree up and lit and it looks gorgeous. Caleb really could not care less about it—he really wants the presents that are under the tree, but until then it’s just furniture to him. I used to try to get him to help decorate, and even bought him a new ornament each year to try to encourage his participation, but a few years ago I figured, “Hey, it’s not his thing.” I don’t think most teenage boys are chomping at the bit to decorate their trees, and I owe him the courtesy I would show any of them who declined.
Today I was dusting nearby the tree. It is next to a window with wooden blinds. Somehow, while I was dusting, Caleb’s Mr. Potato Head ornament became entangled with the string controls for the blinds. I was laughing (by myself) pretty hard so I posted the picture on Facebook with the following caption: “Woody. Buzz. On. My. Go.”
I was still chuckling after I finished the rest of the cleaning so after I showered Caleb and got him into some fresh pajamas, I suggested we watch a Toy Story movie. Any Toy Story movie. I told Caleb to choose while I was showering.
He picked Toy Story 3.
In addition to the wonderful bright star that is Caleb, I also have a beautiful, wonderful, brilliant daughter named “Sophie” who is away at college in another state. It thrills me to the depths of my soul that she is able to have this opportunity. It thrills me that she has managed to escape from the rather difficult world that Caleb and I inhabit. As much as I stand behind her, encouraging her and helping propel her along, I miss her. With every breath. She knows not to let me watch Toy Story 3. But she wasn’t here to stop the carnage today.
I made Caleb his favorite soft pretzel and he and I got under our favorite big blanket and hit “play” on the movie. I was doing okay. I was thinking I could make it through this time. My eyes filled up when all the toys realize they are drifting down toward the junk yard fire. Caleb, who senses every hair on my head, instinctively looked at me during that shot. I proudly smiled at him and said, “It’s okay.”
Allow me to back up for a second. When I say Caleb senses every hair on my head, I am not exaggerating. I’ve been told Caleb has face blindness and that he feels others’ emotions too deeply. They hurt him. Caleb can read my emotional temperature with head-aching accuracy. I spend the hour before he arrives home from school picking off the emotional cobwebs of the day and putting myself into a happy place. This was the suggestion of several therapists—if Caleb’s afternoon is easier, so is everyone’s. Often, I fall apart after I’ve read him his bed time story and tucked him in. But for the three hours he is here after school, it’s all happy times. With all that he struggles with, it is one of the most important ways I take care of him.
So… back to the movie. Right about when the toys were washing themselves off with the garden hose, I felt it. Tears pricked at my eyes, and I felt the heartache of Andy (and Sophie) leaving for college, like it was the first time I saw the movie (during which my 10th grade Sophie incredulously whispered “Mom, you HAVE to stop doing that!). Maybe I’m still working through Sophie being gone.
Now having had a few hours to digest the episode, I think I was definitely mourning Sophie being gone, but I’m also mourning that Caleb, who should be graduating this year, will never go to college. All the kids who were babies when he was are moving on to other things—not all are going to college, but they are all graduating high school. If Caleb ever lives on his own, it will be in a group home, something he has told me with ferocity he is nowhere near wanting to do. All the dreams I had when I was pregnant with him (you know, Heisman trophy winner, debate team captain, valedictorian and salutatorian since he was so gifted) are settled around my feet like wilted confetti. I’m learning to step over it, but it is hard.
Until this: I was thinking back to when Toy Story 3 came out in the theaters. Yes, Sophie was annoyed, but Caleb kept leaning forward in his seat at every emotional moment. When he saw my tears, he hit himself in the head a few times. This was an improvement over the decade leading up to that moment, when my tears automatically caused his tears. He would run screaming from the room, until I mostly learned to swallow tears. But that’s not healthy so I started to let myself cry around him, telling him I’m okay, and it’s okay for people to cry. And this afternoon, for the first time, he was accepting of that. Caleb wasn’t happy I was crying (we did have to call his sister on the phone—she told him it was okay, too) but he didn’t scream. He didn’t hit himself. He cycled through his usual panic modes—asking for no bedtime story (a self-imposed punishment or communication that he just can’t handle me at that moment) but then he came back to center.
This is huge progress and it almost happened without my acknowledgment.
While I won’t be watching Brian’s Song or Heaven Can Wait (that one slays me every time) I am sitting here so proud of Caleb. And it’s vindicating too—I was told years ago that he would stop learning, stop maturing, but he just made this huge milestone at 18! As I have done Caleb’s whole life, I listen to the experts and take their words with all respect, but I also know this young man better than any of them. And I know he’s not finished yet.