Ben has graduated.
What a journey! My readers who have been with me all along may remember the angst I went through and poured out on my (old) blog pages when I began to seriously consider the idea of discontinuing to homeschool Ben. It ended up being the best decision we could have made for him. Just tonight I sent off a long email to the school superintendent, praising the Sp. Education dept. at the school. Last Friday, I had flowers delivered to Ben’s teachers. As I told the superintendent, they did more than teach Ben. They loved him. They weren’t just getting through the school days, but they were intent on preparing him in the best way possible for life outside the classroom. I am so thankful I wasn’t so stubborn about homeschooling that I refused to entertain the idea of letting him go. I remember it took awhile to get to that point, but what a difference school made for him.
Saturday evening was Ben’s graduation party. It went really, really well. Part of me wants to feel some pride that I managed to pull it off as a single mom, without the help of a spouse. But I can’t get too far with that kind of thinking, because I had a lot of help! I had a crew of church friends at my house for most of Friday cleaning everything that could be touched with a dust rag. I had friends that took the Littles for me. I had a friend and her entire family over Saturday morning helping me slap together 500 and some sandwiches and doing last-minute landscaping. I had Arien painting highway signs and Will putting up tables and David doing whatever we told him to do. I had God orchestrating the weather to 75 degree perfection. I had my neighbor bringing over his slushy and cotton candy machines, setting them up, and teaching us how to use them, and then coming back over and taking them all down again. I had a kitchen full of ladies keeping the food flowing so that I could wander around and talk to the guests.
And the guests came – people from church, classmates, Ben’s teachers, his principal, his guidance counselor, the kitchen ladies at the school. His old case manager drove clear up from south of Knoxville, more than an hour away. My friend, Sara, and her family drove 2 ½ hours down from Waterloo. Pastor and Marcia came, which was a huge surprise. Many of our neighbors came. We had a full house and even fuller hearts. Ben is so loved.
And then Graduation Day dawned. I told myself I wasn’t going to cry and I didn’t. But that’s only because I was more focused on helping Ben do what he needed to during the ceremony. I cried later – and had a hard time stopping. We ended up with front row seats to the ceremony, which meant Arien was able to shoot some really neat pictures for me. We were all there, along with Dad and Terry, who had Ben’s youth leader and school advocate for all of his junior and senior high years. I could not have gotten through those IEP meetings and early school decisions without Terry’s guidance.
There were the usual graduation speeches – all of which left out the most vital element (living your life with Christ at the center). Instead, they tracked their progress in excruciating detail from kindergarten through twelfth grade. And the thinking was typically graduation humanistic – “we can change the world,” “believe in yourself,” “look forward, but don’t forget where you came from”…rah, rah, rah…But I did think it was sweet when during one of the speeches, the gal mentioned some of the highlights of her class’ school days and said, “And who can forget the moment that Ben was crowned prom king?” Apparently, that wasn’t only a big deal for us, I guess.
And then there was the moment when they solemnly read, “Benjamin Matthew Heywood” and Ben crossed the stage and became an official graduate.
I thought my heart would burst. All the fears, all the late nights, all the therapy appointments…had come to this moment. We got him through childhood.
Of course, with Ben, there’s more that awaits. We still don’t know his exact future. Hy-Vee hasn’t called yet and, as a result, he’s not even signed up for any summer day-hab. I don’t know if he’ll ever get on at Hy-Vee or if we’ll end up enrolling him in this training program for disabled adults. At some point he’ll probably go to Pella to live in a group home situation but I don’t know exactly when that will be. A lot of work yet awaits! But yet, I kind of feel like the bulk of it may be over with the arrival of graduation. It’s kind of like I graduated, too.
A couple of weeks ago I had received a letter in the mail sent to all parents of seniors. It detailed the expectations for graduation and what exactly needed to happen to get the kids to Sunday. One statement was made in the letter that the graduates needed to be in dress clothes, specifying that no jeans or tennis shoes would be allowed. Ben looked so nice. I had him wear a black dress shirt and I suddenly remembered last week that he had a black and orange tie I had bought him for senior pictures (the school colors are black and orange). But…I did see at least one pair of tennis shoes and Will and David said they saw more than one pair of blue jeans poking out from under the robes. I did notice a couple of boys in t-shirts because you could see the shirt designs poking out above the robe! Where’s the class? (no pun intended). But what could they do? Not allow the student to walk with his class? Well, actually, I suppose they could have done just that. But they didn’t.
After graduation they took the class outside where they threw their caps in the air (and Ben lost his tassel as a result) and then they were herded back into the library. Will retrieved Ben from there and later handed me a file he’d been given. It was Ben’s school file – every grade, every IEP report, every absence…it just made me so sad that they gave us this. I know this isn’t true, but it kind of feels like they couldn’t wait to be rid of Ben – “Go and take every record of your time here with you!” I’m probably little over-emotional right now…
By Sunday evening it was all over. My parents headed back home, Will, Arien, and David went to church and the rest of us stayed home. I putzed around, straightening up the house and watching “Funniest Home Videos” with the Littles. And then it was bedtime. I went to tuck Sam in and I realized Ben was crying in his bed. Soon, it turned into all-out wailing. I hadn’t seen emotion like this from him since his dad died. He kept saying, “What am I going to do now?” and “I can’t believe it’s over!” Poor kid. I gave him two Advil PMs to help him sleep and I sat on his bed and cried with him.
Like I said earlier, we don’t have an exact plan in place yet, like I was hoping we would by this stage of the game. But for all that, I still have a real peace about Ben’s future. It’s all going to work out, one way or the other. The next day Ben was fine (I wasn’t – I was exhausted and weepy. Of course, it didn’t help that three hours after I finally got to sleep Sun. night/Mon morning, Lizzie came into my room complaining that she “couldn’t sleep” which then meant I was awake for the next hour until I could convince my mind and body to go back to sleep!). I’ve started praying out loud with Ben every night that God will show us His plan for Ben’s life and to help us find things for Ben to do in the meantime and to give Ben peace and patience as he waits. Ben told me the next day that it had finally hit him that everything was over – everyone had gone home and the ceremony was finished. High school was really and truly over. And I think fatigue had a certain role to play, too. But he’s doing fine, now. He’s been hanging around the house and I’ve been finding jobs for him to do. Yesterday we were shopping all day long and tomorrow he will spend the day with his former aide, Deb. They’ve continued to get together every so often since her retirement after Ben’s freshman year.
It’s going to be ok.
Well, let’s see – there IS other stuff going on than just Ben’s graduation.
Friday will be Sam and Lizzie’s last day of school. It’s also David’s birthday. I found out that both kids were given the teachers I requested. I don’t know yet about Ellie. This summer will be a busy one. Before I know it, we’ll be laying out clothes for the first day of school all over again!
Ellie has to have a front tooth removed on June 9th. Will took her to the dentist for me last week – just a routine check-up. The dentist showed Will that Ellie’s tooth is gray (I hadn’t even noticed) and the gum is puffing out from all the infection in it. I hadn’t noticed that, either. It probably goes back to this bacterial infection the dentist thinks Ellie was born with. That was the reason we had to get all her molars capped last year. So, she’s going to lose her cute baby mouth and have a gaping hole there until the permanent tooth grows in in a couple of years. That’s sad. But so is having a mouth full of infection.
A couple of weeks ago Sam asked my friend, Deb, who does Ben’s SCL services, if she was a “Mrs.” She told him she was and had been for 37 years now. From there the conversation went into her telling him she’d married while in college but had told her own children they had better finish college before getting married themselves. Sam morosely replied that he sure wished his mom would have finished college before getting married because, “now I have to wait to do sports!” A child of Sam’s age can be involved year-round in multiple sports I’ve found. They offer everything. But while I’m in school I just don’t feel like I can let Sam do anything because of the time commitment required. I’ve told him that when I graduate, then we can consider it. Besides, he’ll be going into the 5th grade by then, which I think is a much more reasonable age to get involved in sports than in the 2nd. But he’s not very happy about the wait.
Last week he was looking through an old scrapbook and found a picture of himself as a toddler with a table knife stabbing a sheet of Styrofoam. He exclaimed to me, “What were you thinking, Mom?” I told him he really couldn’t have gotten hurt, but he just shook his head and said, “I can’t believe you let me do that!” Maybe he has more David in him than I realized!
Well, this is all I really know for now. I’m kind of in a lull right now while I wait for Sam and Lizzie to wrap up the school year and while I try to be gentle with Ben and help him to adjust to this new reality. I feel a mixture of sadness, nostalgia, and anticipation for the future. I also feel kind of old. If I had only ever had the two children that is the norm in American society, I would have an empty nest right now. Then, what would I do?
I’m glad I’ve got thirteen years of schooling and active parenting left (today I am – tomorrow, maybe not so much!). I’m glad the summer is stretching in front of us. I’m glad I don’t have to work yet, I’m glad I’m doing well in college. I’m glad my house is nearly finished and it’s so cute now and I’m glad I have air conditioning on this humid day. There’s a lot of good in my life, even with the passing of the old.