These goodbyes are just about killing me. Since school is out, I did what I usually do at the end of every school year – I write a thank you note to those who had worked with my son, telling them how much I appreciate all they’ve done. Only this time, it wasn’t a thank-you-for-the-great-year. It was an I-can’t-thank-you-enough-for-the-difference-you-have-made-in-my-son’s-life.
A few days ago I sent an e-mail to the Regional Autism Consultant for southern Oregon, who has known Nigel since his non-verbal days and worked one-on-one with him years before she took her current position. I think she has worked with my son for twelve years. So I began with, “You’ve been in the picture so long that it’s hard to come up with an adequate way to thank you” and proceeded to express my gratitude for all that she has done, including designing Nigel’s weekly social skills class (and recruiting other students to be in it) specifically for him. Her gracious response made me cry, of course, especially when I read “Nigel brought such wonderful perspective to the social skills group, he was so very open and honest and a very active participant which really made the group successful – I will miss him so very much.”
Last week, I took Nigel to his last Scout meeting, where they had a goodbye party for him. Being in this particular Scout troop has been so beneficial for Nigel, for many reasons. As can well be expected (due to terrible news stories about abuse in some Scout troops), a Scout troop is only as successful – and as good – as its leader. And I don’t see how there could possibly be a better Scoutmaster out there. We are so blessed with the troop that Nigel’s been part of for almost six years. Our Scoutmaster is by far the most patient person I’ve ever known. He also truly cares for Nigel. When the party was over and it was time to leave, the Scoutmaster said some generous parting words about Nigel and his progress as a Scout, and then he asked Nigel to stand at the door so that every Scout could shake his hand on their way out. I was so touched, so emotional, that I couldn’t even watch.
Our main consolation, which I keep reminding myself, is that we have close family that we will be able to see much more often in L.A. The boys can spend unlimited time with their father, who has lived there for over eight years. They have an uncle and two aunts there who adore them. And then there is their grandfather, who plans to take them to Thailand later this year. I have missed all of them tremendously over the years that we’ve been apart, and I’m so looking forward to sharing more of our lives with them. But as important as family is, kids – especially teenagers – need their friends.
As we drove home from the Scout party that night, Nigel said to me, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find such good friends ever again.” And of course that really did me in. I croaked, “Oh, honey. I know that your friends here mean a lot to you, and you’ll miss them so much. But you’ll be able to find new good friends in L.A. And they will find you. Because you are a very friendly, caring person, and good people will always want to be friends with you. I really believe that, Nigel.”
He simply said, “Yeah.” But there was hope in his voice.
The boys have gone now. They are in L.A., barbequing and bodysurfing with their dad, while I remain in Oregon (for now) to sell the house. I have started sorting through things and packing, slowly but purposefully. Over the weekend I came across an assignment that Nigel had done in middle school, during a time when he was being bullied relentlessly. It was from around the time that he had taken his yearbook and scribbled on all the faces of the kids who had bullied him, and when I looked at it later I cried because there had been so many scribbled faces. This assignment that I found was a “time capsule” that the teacher said she sends to all the students when they graduate from high school, so that they can remember what middle school was like for them. It had items like “My favorite foods” and “My pets” listed next to a blank line. It listed “Friends” with a blank line after it to write your friends’ names on.
But instead of listing his friends’ names on the line, like most kids would have done, next to the word “Friends,” Nigel had written “many.” Even then, he believed that he had many friends. Even then.