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Today – Beth’s 13th Birthday

Just in case you missed the last thirty posts, today is Beth’s thirteenth birthday. The title of these posts were supposed to hint at a pinch of mock doom and gloom, as our girl passes from childhood into her teen years, but in some respects I feel like Beth’s been a teenager for years.

Inheriting the sarcasm and smart-ass genes from her father created a teen-like aura at an early age. But I know better by now to assume I understand what the future will bring, so I do the only thing I can. I love my kid, and keep trying to find where I fit in life as it twists, turns, and whirls along – indifferent to my insecurities. I often wonder if she realizes where I fit in now – where I’ve fit in most of these last 13 years. As many parents can attest, the first child is the practice child. To say I’ve been equal parts teacher and student might be generous.

There’s one last post I’m going to share – one of the first posts of this blog, by date anyway. It appeared with a collection of short essays on my first web site (I’d written a few before I created the site) – the really rough birth of this blog.

I wish I’d saved a copy of that first little piece of HTML I’d typed – even if it was just a running list of links to text files I periodically uploaded, or a back up of that first site for that matter.

– – –

“Independence Day”

Written: 7/4/1997, originally posted sometime after Dec 1998

July 4, 1997 makes it eight years since my own independence day. It was July 4th, 1989 and I was just starting my first semester at UF. I remember sitting alone atop the Broward Hall parking garage. I remember thinking that I should be happy, that I was free on this Independence Day. In reality, I was free to be alone that night. I was free to worry about my future. I was free to have life’s unknowns weigh down on me like the weight of the universe. It was such a beautiful night, looking out across the campus from high above, the sun spectacularly lighting the evening sky. All around was such beauty, yet such turmoil resided within me.

I look back, now eight years later, and I don’t have that freedom anymore. Then I was moving away from a family. Now I’m on the brink of starting my own.

Sometimes freedom is over-rated.

– – –

I’d sprinted up the deserted Broward parking garage at the end of a cathartic, self-loathing circuit of campus on my bike.

What can I say? I was a lonely, moody kid. If there is a sense of doom and gloom now, on the day of Beth’s baptism into teen-dom, it was born of neural pathways and chemical bonds formed long ago in my head, in the memories of my own experiences growing up. My daughter’s life has already been filled with its share of social challenges, and now she’s running headlong into the odd phenomenon we refer to as adolescence.

But enough of the gloom. I’m going to do something unusual to you. I’m going wax optimistic. There’s a part of me that feels Beth is uniquely prepared for the awkward years of adolescence. Because of autism, she’s been dealing with being the awkward one in the room all her life. Though I could be naive. The combined effects of autism and adolescence could make life that much tougher. However, Beth’s made great strides this last year since she started at a new school, one that finally knows what to do with her combination of gifts and shortcomings. She’s much happier. Her anxiety doesn’t drive her to tears after school anymore. Instead of a glum, “ok,” she actually wants to talk about the specifics of a school day.

Well, sometimes.

I prefer to think that having survived the shock of an autism spectrum diagnosis and catching a break being accepted into the study at USF for OCD therapy, after spending most of her childhood stumbling around in the dark treating phantom disorders, not knowing the real problem, living some of the horrors of unnecessary medication, adolescence will be a refreshing dose of normal.

Beth’s childhood is gone. There are parts of me that morn its passing. Its innocence. Its playfulness. Although we had plenty of good moments at home over the years, as you can see by many of the last month’s worth of posts, there were many more heartaches. But there’s obviously nothing I can do about it now, and as much as I’ll miss those aspects of her childhood, I won’t miss the near constant worry that I was making a mistakes. Mistakes where there was no remedy. All those years of therapy, doctors and medication. All those years of frustration. All those years believing it was my fault. Now I know it wasn’t. Now I feel like we have a clean slate.

Part of me worries a little about the coming years. I’m a worrier by nature so there’s no way around it. Things are not perfect. No kid is. No parent is. Perfect is WAY over there and I’m WAY over here. We still fight over various things. There’s even yelling involved. She still has high functioning autism/Aspergers. I try to be patient when she has a social misstep, hoping if it doesn’t come naturally, she’ll remember the next time that folks will usually take it personally when she asks about some part of their body which is out of proportion in size with the rest of it. We still occasionally work together to beat back OCD. However, more than at any other time in her life, I feel like we know what’s going on. I ‘get’ my daughter, or as much as a father can anyway.

Stripped down to its core, here’s the take away from this post:

As Beth turns thirteen I feel like I have my daughter back.

More than any birthday, anniversary, or holiday – that’s worth celebrating.

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