How could spaghetti make me the happiest dad in the world?
All it took was a few FaceTime minutes with my son.
You see, my son and namesake Trotter, who my wife and I call Trot, is in the midst of an amazing program at the University of Alabama known as Crossing Points. It’s for young adults, such as Trot, who have special needs and who are in their late teens and early 20s. The purpose is to give them the skills and guidance they need to begin functioning as semi-independent adults.
Trot didn’t know how to FaceTime before the program. Now he has learned. And gosh, does he FaceTime me — and I light up every time I see his incoming call.
"I cooked spaghetti for dinner last night and it was so yummmmmy!” he exclaimed in his exuberance, as I watched his wonderful face beaming through my iPhone. "I want to cook dinner for Mom when I get home,” he told me.
"She'll love it," I said.
"Will you help me?” he asked.
"You bet I will. I will be your assistant,” I promised.
"Thanks Dad!” he responded, as excited as can be.
Trot making spaghetti, his favorite food, is something I never could have imagined before the Crossing Points program. Nor could I have imagined him going away for most of the summer, thriving, and meeting new friends who, already, have brought him to a new level of happiness, confidence and maturity. Like his suite-mate Bobby.
Bobby’s not his real name, I’ve changed it here to protect his privacy. But this kid, also special needs, has been a big boost for Trot and our family. He’s a little older than Trot and, you can sense, very protective of my son. He likes to tell us how well Trot is doing.
My wife Anne has become friends with his grandmother and they chat all the time. They were talking on the phone the other day. She told Anne what Bobby said to her about Trot: "He's my best friend, and he's cool.”
The next time Anne and I talked to Trot we told him what his suite-mate had said about him. "He's my best friend,” answered Trot.
One of the things we’re trying to do as parents is to teach Trot to be more specific, so I followed that up with, “Now, who is your best friend?” — of course, knowing the answer. “Hold on…wait, wait,” Trot said, turning to his suite-mate to ask him, “What’s your name?”
These moments remind us that within this young man’s body — Trot’s 20 now — resides the mind of a seven-year-old, limited by several special needs syndromes. This is why helping to navigate a new path for our son is so challenging right now — and rewarding. Never did we imagine that he could go off by himself, for nearly two months, and function so well.
He’s got another suite-mate who I will call Allen. Allen is facing some tough special needs challenges. But he is a happy guy and has had a smile on his face whenever we have been with him. Sometimes he gets on FaceTime with Trot and starts talking to us. I can’t always understand what Allen is saying. It doesn't matter; I can hear his enthusiasm. I love talking to him. He's a happy fellow.
Other FaceTime exchanges with Trot have been as uplifting as our spaghetti conversation. “Guess what, Dad! We went swimming. Everybody clapped for me. I climbed the ladder to the top of the water slide.”
And then there was our chat with Trot about him having gone bowling. He’s always loved bowling and has won a local Special Olympics gold medal. So bowling is something my wife and I have encouraged. His conversation from the Crossing Points program, of course, was exactly what he tells us every time he goes bowling. He always gets two spares and a strike or two strikes and a spare. It never changes.
Each time he sounds as excited as if he were telling us for the first time. We sound as excited as if we were hearing it for the first time.
One of the challenges of being the parent of a special needs son is that you don’t receive the same cues — and clues — from your child that other parents do. Sometimes it’s as if Trot speaks to us in code, a code that can be challenging to decipher. Each time he’s FaceTimed us from the Crossing Points program, I’ve asked myself these questions as our talks have concluded: Does he miss us? Does he want to come home? Would he actually be happier in a group setting?
What I do know is that the nearly two months he has been away have begun to ease my concern about whether Trot will be able to manage once Anne and I are no longer here.
Answers to these questions and others will come in the future.
For now, I’m looking forward to making spaghetti.