What happens when the life you thought you were going to have finally collides with the one you are living?
Similiar to a mid-life crisis but different.
The end of a dream and the beginning of a new reality.
It started with something seemingly small; this realization that my worlds finally collided. The world I was dreaming and thinking I would have and the one that I am actually living. It started with a job. The job I am currently working at. Let me explain;
I am a clerk at the Canada Border Services Agency (formerly known as Customs & Immigration). This job is a level down from what I was doing out in Alberta but after finding nothing for 1-1/2 years I was pretty happy to get back working with the Government. Once I signed the job offer I was informed that I would remain a priority referral for my old level for a period of one year from the date I accepted the clerical job. That means, if my “level” of job opens in the area then my resume is checked first, I am contacted first and if I meet the essential qualifications then it is supposed to be offered to me. Indeed there have been 3 or 4 sent to me since I commenced working at Border Services in November. Some jobs were cancelled, others I didn’t meet essential criteria and one or two I turned down because it was part-time or a LONG way away.
I am happy where I am. The money is a little less but the job seems matched to me and it’s beginning to feel comfortable. All the bad things I experienced in Alberta are not present here and I’m treated like an adult and left to get about the business assigned to my position. After working in various crappy paying jobs or alternately, good paying jobs where it was stressful as HELL or downright nasty….I know a good thing when I see it. I should probably contact my case worker and just have my name removed the priority referral list. I thought I could do it.
I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t though. Why it bothered me so much to consider doing it. So I began to look a little deeper and see what was going on. I was suprised – shocked – by what I discovered. I was right…it wasn’t about the money at all. It was about the death of a dream I didn’t even realize I still had…..
For as long as I can remember, I have studied or learned. I took part in volunteer activities, took “fun” courses or worked towards higher education. It was a slow process but one that I enjoyed overall and planned to continue….forever. Then forever ended. I remember the day quite clearly but I didn’t realize at the time how permanent it would be. It was around when the kids were in grade 3 or 4. Both children were struggling academically that year and I was still working towards my degree and had actually picked up more than my usual quota, to try to finish the degree. It quickly became a tug-of-war: help the kids and let go of my classes; or let the kids sink/swim on their own and concentrate on my studies? Hubby was helping as much as he could but his military job committed him elsewhere and frequently, without notice. I have often been accused of being a practical person. I believe I was in this case.
I withdrew from University. This meant losing most of the credits I had rolled over for a degree; there are time restraints that I had reached…and ultimately crossed after dropping the courses. I knew I was giving up an University degree at that time. My reasoning was ~ and still is ~ that my kids didn’t ask to be born, to have difficulties in school, and that they had only this one chance to do it right. On the flip side, my education could always be picked up later. Although it meant starting over or starting different, it was there when the time was right. The kids’ primary education wouldn’t be.
So I threw my energy into helping the kids and they did a wonderful job that year. My daughter moved onwards and eventually learned to study on her own or with friends and sailed away into the sunset. My son’s scholastic difficulties were just beginning and it overwhelmed him. Not only was the educating part very hard for him, but the constant bullying & teasing was having a drastic effect. So him and I struggled on…and on…until that infamous day in Grade 8, on Valentine’s Day, when I pulled him out of school and called the school board to say he would not be returning until they could provide him with a safe learning environment.
It took a week to figure something out, but a solution was found. From then on educational life improved for my son. Even after moving to New Brunswick, the so-called Province of “have not”, life has never sunk to the despair of those first 8 years. For the rest of grade 8 and ALL of grade 9, Son went to school only half-days. He was with me for the rest of the day. This past fall he went back to school full-time and in November I went back to work. Thing weren’t perfect but we were managing.
Then in the space of a day, the cloud moved back over Son’s academic life. The second semester started and Son was put in a class that held probably every disturbed kid in his grade. It is the nature of the lower-level classes….for those who are struggling for whatever reason, to be given a better chance at the more practical application of a subject. Some kids however, have major disturbing behaviours and disrupt those around them. In this one class, Son immediately was targetted and each day he despaired until things came to a point early this week. An email to the school, a couple of days, and with a swish of a magic wand, Son was removed from the offending class and a happy adjustment was made. His relief was immediate and good results are expected.
Meanwhile, I was wrestling with those referred jobs and came to realize the ultimate issue at the heart of why I couldn’t just take myself off the list. It is the death of my dream…that I’m still hanging on to. The one where I continue educating myself. Where I move up through the working ranks as I always expected I would do. Where I took fun classes and serious courses ~ but taking them.
With sudden clarity, I realized it isn’t going to happen. My future is going to be very different that what I expected, or thought it would be. I have been quietly grieving this change of plans now that I recognize it for what it really is. Son will be 16 shortly and is entering THAT side of the teen years….the one where the parent starts guiding his/her child to the end of high school and beyond. The one where the child moves on; gains independence and creates a life for himself. When my life would once again be needing some activities to fill all the time. This is when I planned to do things with hubby. To pick up a hobby and start taking classes again.
Around me I see it happening. I see the parents of teens getting their “freedom” back. In my household my daughter is growing outwards on her journey to high school graduation. For Son though, all those whispers coming from the specialists over the years, combined with what I’m seeing…and what I’ve learned…his reality is not going to change.
He is not independent. He can manage a day at home, by himself, but that is all. He can’t take care of himself and he can’t handle anything life throws at him. We heard through the years, that kids “like him” end up in a group home of some sort, if they leave home at all. While I recognized the words and the intent and accepted them….I didn’t realize the other side of that thought. Son has one person he sees occasionally; a cousin. This cousin is growing up and away from Son, which, given their age differences, is no surprise. Aside from him, Son doesn’t hang out with anyone. He doesn’t go anywhere or get together with a buddy, or buddies.
His father and I fulfill all those needs. I am his buddy. I am his hang-around friend. His father is the other one. We are the ones who go with him to the movies, or to hang out at the mall….or watch tv with. I more than his father, truth be told. That moment of clarity I had above? It was my future laid out before me. This is how it is going to be. Always. Son won’t be moving on or to others. There aren’t any. Asperger’s Syndrome is a lonely syndrome, made worse for those who live with it if they want to be social and have friends. By its very nature, this Syndrome is isolating. It would be just fine if the person having it didn’t WANT to sociable and preferred solitary pursuits. Son isn’t one of those; in fact he finds it very difficult to be by himself at all. He doesn’t like to be alone and he always wants one of us (usually me) to hang with him. To watch him play his video games, to watch cartoons with him….to colour with him….
Son isn’t maturing like his peers are. Academically yes, he is learning albeit at a slower pace than most of his peers. No problem there as well all have our own pacing at learning different subjects or carrying out different tasks. It is the vague aspects of his person that are not growing up. It is strikingly obvious when he is around his cousins, who are mostly within a year or two of his chronological age. As they grow, these differences become more obvious. He is still a young child in so many ways. It is slowly dawning on us that he may never completely grow up. He may never grow up beyond what he is now. Even if he does, it will not be enough.
I can’t throw him out or ask him to leave. Ever. No one planned or signed up for this kind of life journey. No one can say if the cause is genetic, environmental… if I drank too much German water, or not enough Canadian water…if someone’s genetic flaws got passed to my son. It’s Russian roulette when people have kids and for the most part we expect (and hope) we will be blessed with a perfect baby complete with 10 fingers and toes. We fall in love with these little creatures of our hearts and vow to protect them forever. Some parents never do protect or care for their kids. I am not one of them and neither is Hubby. We take our responsiblity seriously.
So we round out the discussion back to where I started. The worlds collided, in a big way. Son’s upcoming 16th birthday, his lack of maturity or independence, coupled with the status quo of our lives and growing knowledge of what happens to these guys when they grow up, shoved my future in my face. The real future, not the one I created blithely as a teen and young adult. Not the one I worked towards for many years until I had children. Until my children ran into difficult times. I cannot walk away from my Son just as I can’t leave him to fend for himself in our social world. That makes us two of a kind where he gets what he needs from me.
This is okay. As with all changes though it takes a bit to get used to. It is a sense of loss for a while until acceptance takes over and I take charge of the new reality. New doors will open and who knows where it will take us. The struggle is letting go of the old dream, the old world I’d envisioned. It means recognizing what is truly important in this life and getting rid of the rest of it. It is still hard when the people around me are taking courses and chatting about their new-found knowledge. Or when someone advances in the workplace or a new opportunity pops up for someone. I feel a pang and a “it could have been me” or maybe “that SHOULD have been me”…..
I wouldn’t trade my life. I might someday look back at this period of time and realize this IS/WAS the best time and I let it pass me by. The grief period itself is not that long; I generally find a month or two is what I need to let go of the old and get in tune with the new. To say good-bye to old dreams and start living the real world. We will all die someday and our time existing will be a tiny drop in a bucket of water. Who I am compels me to make a life for my family. With my family. And to let the rest go.
So ~ good-bye dream. You were nice and kept me busy for many years. I enjoyed that phase of my life but now I must grow up and move onwards and upwards. There is someone….someones…. who needs me and whom I cannot let down. There is a new life on the horizon and by accepting it, positive and unexpected changes and opportunities will come up. I won’t regret this decision; just miss how I used to live. I don’t miss it as much as I would miss my Son though, if he weren’t here.