In the midst of the Simplified Planner Ruthless Declutter Challenge recently, I found my high school memory book. One of the pages encouraged the high school senior to predict where she expected to find herself in 5 years and again in 10 years after high school. I laughed as I read the responses of that naïve eighteen-year-old country girl. Then I grew more introspective as I thought about how different my life looks than I predicted it might and how grateful I am for that, so I decided to write myself a letter.
Dear Eighteen-Year-Old Rocky,
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan, and it’s not always fair, but that’s okay. It is actually better than okay; changed plans and life’s challenges provide for some of the best surprises and blessings [KT1] [LP2] .
You are not going to be the career woman you planned to be. You won’t be a lawyer or a journalist, but an accountant and then a stay at home mom! You learned in college that you liked writing for yourself more than for others and that you didn’t like to present arguments. In a meeting with your advisor, he suggested you try accounting. You could still graduate in four years and were likely guaranteed a job! You listened and found out that accounting was a great fit [KT3] . Thirty years later, you still use those skills you learned in accounting in your personal life and as a community volunteer.
You married that guy that was just your best friend all those years ago. He is still your best friend and so much more today. He’s practicing medicine just like he thought he would, and that shouldn’t surprise you a bit. One of the greatest gifts he will ever give you, besides your kids, was an introduction to Catholicism. You’ve been Catholic for 27 years now and find so much comfort in your faith. Furthermore, he’s an amazing husband and father and still knows just how to push your buttons by cheering for the “wrong” team or taking the opposing side of an argument just because he can. Some things never change!
You have four children, YES, F-O-U-R! Just three more than you planned! Two girls and two boys. You get more enjoyment out of being a mom than you ever imagined! As you face the reality of a slowly-emptying nest, you wish the hands of time would just slow down. You’ve enjoyed every [KT4] bit of motherhood, from dirty diapers to packing lunches to listening to The Wiggles for the last twenty years! You experienced the lows and highs of motherhood, infertility, morning sickness, and miscarriage to watching first steps, hearing first words, being a sports mom and room mom, and watching children graduate from high school.
Your last child, the surprise one, changed you to your very core. He came bouncing into the world at 9 pounds and 13 ounces. The older kids adored him and he completed the family.
Around fifteen months, he began to change and regress. You knew something was different with him, but you didn’t know what it was or what to call it. Eventually, you learned it was autism.
Autism changed your world. In the beginning, it was super tough. My word to you today? Hold on, breathe, pray; it will get better. You will learn, you will grow strong, protective and fierce. Yes, fierce, like a mother warrior. Your other children will be okay--they will be better than okay. They will thrive. They will become kind, independent, strong individuals, and they will love and protect Matthew.
You will write again. You will write about your experience with Matthew and autism. You want others to have an inside view of one family’s experience with autism. You will advocate for those who can’t or don’t know how. You will work to educate everyone in Matthew’s world to presume competence in Matthew and others like him.
You will be so grateful that life didn’t turn out quite the way you planned in 1988. You will thank God for knowing what you needed when you didn’t or couldn’t see it. Trust me, I know.
(Written April 27, 2019)
[KT1] You should check with the person doing the formatting for your book on whether to put a space between paragraphs;
[KT3] It’s a letter and therefore you can use whatever punctuation you want. But I recommend no more than one exclamation point in a few sentences, or it loses some of the impact. 😊
[KT4] At this point, you switch to past tense, which makes sense. I think you should continue in past tense through the next paragraphs.