As we put Braden to bed last night, I said to him. “I’m going to give you a kiss goodnight, buddy. Tonight I’m kissing you as a child. Tomorrow you will be an adult.”
Braden smiled. “Adult,” he echoed.
With a few tears in our eyes, Mike and I smiled at each other and closed Braden’s door.
It was a beautiful, tender moment in our household.
Two minutes later, Braden was up going to the bathroom…I had to help him wipe his bottom.
“Happy Birthday, Braden! You are 18 today.” What would one normally write in a birthday card after this? Go ahead and fill it in.
- “I can’t wait to see what the world has waiting for you.”
- “I’m excited to watch you step out into the world on your own.”
- “Adventure awaits.”
- “The world is waiting for you.”
- “You will do great things.”
Really, the list can go on. We all look at 18 as this magical age where our kids are no longer our kids, but adults heading out into this world on their own. When our daughter turned 18, we felt a mixture of awe and sadness, as we thought of how we raised this incredible being and now she was stepping out on her own to take on her own adventure.
With Braden, it’s different. My adult is still very much a child, and he always will be.
As a mom, I’ve been grieving all week. Each year I grieve on his birthday, but the fact that he’s turning 18 is really hard on me. I have a long list of things I’ll never get to see Braden do, (walk across a graduation stage, get married, have his own child). But more short-term, I can’t help but compare when Madison turned 18 and how she asked if she could spend the evening with her friends. They threw her a big surprise party. It was a true celebration. And, as an adult, she had a blast!
Mike and I talked this week about how we would celebrate Braden’s big day. I’ve already written about how he has no friends…so no party. I’m guessing we’ll take him swimming and then out to dinner. Our friends Brad and Kathy will go with us. We’ll sing. He’ll blow out a candle. He will smile.
A gift? Not one to give. This may seem unbelievable to you, but Braden really has no interests. If he shows interest in anything, we generally buy that item right then and there as we don’t want the moment to pass. So as crazy as it sounds, Braden won’t be opening a gift today. We will wait until he shows interest in something and then buy it for him.
So back to how Mike and I agreed to commemorate his day. We are going to spend the next two days making our house more “Braden friendly” and help to create more independence for him.
We will be creating visual schedules for his bathroom and bedroom. These visual schedules will show him the steps for brushing his teeth, washing his hands, and taking a shower. His bedroom will have directions for sorting his clothes for laundry, organizing his clothes for the week, and cleaning up his space.
Braden will be expected to set the table for dinner and clean up the table afterward. Visuals will be created to help facilitate this as well.
We will learn how to better use his augmented communication device on the iPad to help him learn to communicate in a more effective way. He has been using it at school for a while, but we have not figured out how to generalize his use of it here at home. We owe it to him to do that. It’s time.
We have been doing all of these things in bits and pieces, off and on, for years. But we’ve realized we need to be better at helping him be more independent. It will, in the beginning, be a lot of work for us, but in time, he will learn. And more importantly, he will be a happier boy man because of it.
We know Braden will live with us for the rest of our lives. His turning 18 is more of a reality check that not only is he getting older, but we are too. What will happen to him when we are no longer here? Will he have enough skills to live in a group home? We need to ensure he does.
So this gift we are giving him this weekend? Independence. It’s the most important gift of all. It’s time, Braden Boll. It’s time.
Happy Birthday, my sweet man-child.
I can’t wait to see what the world has waiting for you. You will do great things.