I asked him if he still wanted to go on his weekend church retreat or if he changed his mind. My big little twelve-year-old boy responded with, “Of course! It’ll be an adventure!” Liu is a big twelve-year-old and he will be thirteen in five short days.  I keep asking myself the age-old question asked by parents of teenagers everywhere: “Where has the time gone?”

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While he was at school today, I packed his little red suitcase.  I carefully consulted the list of suggested items to pack as I perused his room.  Hmmm. What a curious mix of stuff.  A drawer full of miscellaneous little things, spanning all of his years with us,  ages 2-12.  A whoopee cushion, some plastic submarines, beaded party necklaces, a looking-glass, three pairs of binoculars.  You know, important stuff.  All of these toys and trinkets he has kept through three moves and many room cleanings.  I know what most of them are from and when he got them.  I find it strangely comforting that he wants to hang on to these pieces of his childhood.  Me, I want to hang on to all of it.  His childhood.

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The next drawer contains the signs of his “growing up:” A mix of clothes, some already men’s size small.   A few last remnants of little boy’s clothes, but men’s small shirt, belt and socks.  How is this possible? He still takes his giant stuffed Husky, “Mama Wolfie” with him in the car sometimes, yet even this, I notice, is dwindling.  Mama Wolfie used to accompany him everywhere and was a fixture at all family events.  I see her lying on his unmade bed, covered with the blanket and wonder, will he take her with on this first church camping weekend?

As I pack his suitcase, I sit on his bed and look around.  I am at once excited for him, and filled with trepidation. Will he have enough of everything he needs? Will he be okay? Will he wander off? Then my fears give way to sadness.  There will be less and less little boy things.  He is on his way to becoming a man.  The added complexity of special needs and Autism Spectrum cause me great concern for his future.   What will his teenage years look like? Will he have friends?  Some kids can be so cruel to others who are different from them.

I sit and stare at the suitcase and marvel at this kid’s bravery.  He has already experienced many hard things, including kids saying mean things to him and trying to beat him up.  He’s had surgery after surgery to correct the cleft lip and palate he was born with along with hard work in speech therapy for all these years.  He’s always up for a challenge and gives it his all, whatever he does. Why would he be scared to go away to camp? He is braver than I am.  And so far there is no indication he is at all concerned about being anything other than himself. Authentic. Despite being teased, despite his quirks and challenges.

I finish packing his things and leave to pick him up at school, knowing he will be home for a couple short hours before heading to church to leave for camp.  I do as I always have, grab Mama Wolfie and a snack to welcome him in the car after school.  He gets in  and we start our familiar routine.  He throws off his back pack and grabs the husky.  “Hi Mama Wolfie.” As we drive down the street he asks how she behaved.  “Oh, not good. Not good at all!”  “Why? She didn’t like me being gone at school? What happened?” At this point, if I’m well-rested, I get pretty creative.  Today I was, so I relayed what happened on the home front: “Well, she knew you were going on this camping trip, and she threw a fit.  She tried spilling my coffee, and then knocked over my plate! Then she tried to flip your bed over, but she wore herself out and fell asleep.” He laughs and adds more elements. “How was it after lunch? Did she get into a fight with Maddy (our dog)?” We go on and on, laughing all the way home, until finally he says, “yeah, I’m pretty much the only one that can calm her down.”

After we get home, we just have a little time before we have to go.  He comes up and gives me a hug.  He’s almost as tall as I am.  When did this happen? Dad comes home in time for us both to drive him to church.  He puts Mama Wolfie on his bed, and closes the bedroom door.  I guess she’s not going along.  I hope he sleeps okay without her.

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As we drive into the church parking lot, I get a lump in my throat. I know it’s just a couple of nights, but I will miss my little guy, who’s becoming a big guy.  We walk inside with him, get him checked in.  I hug him goodbye and tell him I love him.  Then we watch him walk away as I think, “there goes my heart.”

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Authentic