It’s hard to describe what it’s like dropping Moby* off at college for his second year. All week, he and I prepare for his return, doing laundry, going through clothes, checking toiletry items and supplies off the list. We always remind ourselves that anything you forget you can buy when you get there. Except for your medicine, so make sure to pack it.
Saturday morning, my husband Dan, the only morning person in the house, wakes us both up. As he sweats and curses while packing the car, Moby and I run around getting the last-minute items. Check in for band camp started at 9:30. Usually I’m the last one in the car, but Moby can’t find his wallet and spends 20 minutes looking for it. Finally, we hit the road.
If you live in a household full of ADHD and anxiety with a whole lot of quirkiness thrown in, everyone needs a lot of grace. Forgetting to do chores or favors, leaving food and dishes out, or needing to be picked up in the middle of a storm because you can’t drive due to a panic attack, are part of the day to day. These are met with reminders and an issue to do the forgotten thing that moment. Grounding, losing privileges or shaming don’t apply. As parents, our philosophy has always been that we are raising future adults. It’s our job to help them learn their strengths and weaknesses, know how to advocate for themselves, and develop life-skills along the way. When Moby received a diagnosis of Autism at the age of three and a half, we had no idea if he would ever be able to answer a yes or no question, tell you about his day, or live on his own. Insisting he’s lazy or disrespectful for forgetting to unload the dishwasher was certainly not a hill we would die on.
Still, planning for the school year always brings me a little bit of anxiety with all the extra obligations, lists of supplies, and paperwork it comes with. With Peach* heading back to school the prior week and the imminent return to campus looming, I flip through the many back -to – school images in my brain, including the day when my (then undiagnosed) ADHD and my concerns for Moby having a positive experience, collided in the perfect storm on a crisp, blue-skied, September Maine morning on his first day of kindergarten.
I somehow managed to have Moby and our Peach, then two and a half, ready early enough to walk to the bus stop. I headed up the driveway from our house at the end of the cul-de-sac, pulling them in the wagon. About halfway down the street, my neighbor Betsy headed back up the hill with her pre-school aged kids.
“Oh hey! I wanted to see Moby head off for his first day,” she said. “Is he not taking the bus?”
“What?” Panic started to swell through my system. “The bus already came?”
I run back to the house, grab my keys, and jump in the car. Betsy says she’ll watch Peach, and Moby and I take off. We have to catch the bus! Like many folks on the spectrum, Moby, at that age, was fixed on routine and the smallest deviations could throw him into an extended meltdown. Not taking the bus on the first day of school could mean he’d expect me to drive him every day. We lived a good 15 minutes from the school and getting out of the house in the morning with two challenging young children was not something I wanted to take on. I raced down our little street, turned left, left again and then right onto the main road that would lead directly to Blue Point School. Ahead of me by about seven vehicles was the bus.
I drove like a madwoman, crossing the double yellow line, leaning on the horn of my white minivan, and yelling at other cars to get out of the way. Clearly, it didn’t occur to me that maybe Moby would now expect THIS every morning as part of the routine. Reaching the intersection where I knew the bus turned into the front of a neighborhood with its last stop at the other end, I turn right, then left, entering from the side road.
I spot a group of kids and parents waiting for the bus on the first day of school. I pull up and explain that we missed the bus from our neighborhood but wanted to make sure we rode the bus the first day. The bus pulls around the corner, I get Moby out in a rush, and he falls in line with the others. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see him climbing the stairs into the bus, his L.L. Bean backpack slung over his shoulders as I breathe a sigh of relief, letting him go.
Arriving on campus, we unload Moby’s stuff into his dorm room, and I notice that I packed a twin sized mattress cover instead of a full. And he forgot his pillows. And soap. And toothpaste. We head to the Target nearby. They don’t have any full-sized mattress pads, so I’ll order one and have it sent. After a quick lunch we head back to the dorm, and I realize I forgot to buy soap! I tell Moby I’ll order him some when I order the mattress pad.
We finish up in the room and drop Moby off at the Performing Arts Center for Band Camp. His hands full with music and his instrument, he can only manage a half-hearted hug as he rushes towards the building. Dan and I take a moment as he heads off, reminding ourselves once again that we weren’t ever sure he’d be able to answer a yes or no question or live on his own. We’re wiped out from the oppressive heat and move, and the ride home is quiet.
Later that night, we’re in our usual spots on the couch zoning out to some British crime drama. Dan’s phone buzzes.
“Oh my God! Moby forgot one of his meds!”
“You’re kidding me!” I reply. “Ugh. I guess I’ll be driving to campus tomorrow with a mattress pad, soap, and meds!”
I head out Sunday afternoon, triple checking that I have everything he needs. The ride is an hour and a half. Moby will be on dinner break and as I approach campus, and he still hasn’t answered my texts asking where to meet him. I see from Find My iPhone that he’s a local sandwich shop and head there. As I pull into the parking lot, I know one thing for sure. I’m going to make sure I get a full hug.
* While my kids have given me permission to write about them, I have changed their names for privacy purposes.