Goodbye, Old Life; My son’s (and my) transition into high school.

Evan receives the Soaring Eagle award at his Middle School graduation

Evan receives the Soaring Eagle award at his Middle School graduation

We sent our oldest son off to High School today.

For any of you who are parents, you immediately recognize the broad pallet of emotions associated with that statement. They’re all there; joy, happiness, pride, along with sadness, fear, and maybe a little terror (not sure if that last one is an actual emotion, but it fits).  There will be first dates, driving off with friends, and just simply DRIVING!  And it’s all coated with a weird nostalgic melancholy. What happened to my little boy? And wait a minute; I vividly remember being in high school myself. I can’t possibly have a child that age!

But of course I can. And in fact, I do.

And my high schooler came home this afternoon reporting that his first day “went great!” And now, after weeks of encouraging him through increasing bouts of anxiety as day one grew near, I can let out a huge sigh. Then, I’ll straighten back up and get ready for day two.

I should probably mention that Evan, our oldest son, is on the Autistic Spectrum. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age five, along with anxiety and sensory deprivation disorders that so often accompany ASD’s. School has presented it’s fair share of challenges over the years.  The last few weeks of summer are traditionally stressful times around our home as we try to help Evan cope with his rising levels of anxiety. And while this summer was, in many ways, no different, it actually was, in many ways, a lot different.

At his Middle School graduation last spring, my wife and I (and Evan) were surprised to find out that he had won the school’s “Soaring Eagle” award, given to the student who has shown the most overall improvement from the start of sixth grade through the end of eighth. Knowing how incredibly difficult middle school often was for Evan, this was a hug to the gut, never forget it, parental moment.  Boulder-sized lump – meet my throat.  Tears were shed. Most of them were my wife’s, but I definitely contributed.

This summer, Evan surprised us by agreeing to participate in a week-long camp experience with Young Life. This involved getting on a bus full of mostly unknown kids and riding eight hours away from home. For a week. Our kid. Evan.  Evan, who had previously never spent more than a couple of days away from both of us, and only when being watched by close relatives.   This was WAY out of his comfort zone.  And…he had a great time.  He didn’t even feel the need to call us until the last night of camp. Lump – welcome back to my throat.

It’s been amazing to see Evan grow and mature over these past few years. We’ve got an incredible community of friends, family, and professionals who have surrounded us with support, encouragement, prayer, and love.  We are so grateful to all of them.  Still, as the school year approached, we could recognize the signs of anxiety that we had seen so many previous years.  And this time it involved the transition to a new school (transitions have always been hard for Evan).  But again, Evan surprised us.  He started talking more about his anxiety.  He started naming the specific things that he was most nervous about, which allowed us to help him feel more comfortable with those things.  He started taking long walks in order to calm himself down, which has also helped him feel more healthy.  He has actually reached out to peers for advice and encouragement, something that seemed completely unlikely even one year ago.  And so, as the first day of high school grew closer and closer, Evan’s anxiety levels rose, but not nearly as high as in year’s past.  And when this morning came along, he was ready.  A little moody (“So Evan, I see you have drama for third period.  You should be really good at that because you’ve given me plenty of drama this morning.”), but ready.  I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of my son.

And so, at about 7:40am this morning, I walked Evan out the front door on his way to high school.  And while I’ve been happy to share some of his story with you, this is the whole inspiration for why I am writing this tonight.  Because it was in this moment that I genuinely experienced what I had previously only believed to be a Hollywood cliché.

We live right around the corner from the high school.  I walked Evan to the corner of our street.  Before letting him walk on alone, I gave him a hug and told him I was proud of him and that he was ready.  I knew the hug was important to him, because he wouldn’t have allowed me to do it otherwise (though I did see him take a quick look up and down the street to make sure nobody was around to see).  And as Evan started moving up the sidewalk toward school, I just stood on the corner watching him.  As he walked further away, he transformed.  First, I couldn’t believe the young man I was seeing before me and how much he had grown.  Then, suddenly, he wasn’t that young man anymore.  Now, he was seven years old, walking ahead of me on his way to first grade.  I could see him so clearly, with his skinny little legs, crazy-curly hair, and a smile that lit up the valley.  I could hear his giggle, and then his voice, calling for me to join him on the river-rock path he would walk on the way to his old elementary school.  That path used to flood when it rained hard.  We would explore the temporary creek, splashing through the water and having adventures.  I could feel the smile on my face as I watched him through misty eyes, remembering so vividly my little Evan.  All I could think was “Thank you, God, for this moment.”

As Evan got closer to the end of the sidewalk, he turned back to see me.  I wondered if he was also feeling, in his own unique way, some kind of link to his past.  If he was also sensing the significance of this moment as a profound transition in his life.  When we first walked out the door, Evan stated “Goodbye, old life”.  I know he meant it as angsty teen hyperbole, but there was some truth in it.  This was a huge life-transition that he was making.  And so, in this moment when Evan turned back to see that I was still standing on the corner, watching him walk toward his new life, I was certain we would share an emotional moment as our eyes locked from about 40 yards away.  This is what being a Dad is all about.

He saw me, and with a slightly annoyed expression, gestured for me to walk back home.

Oh, yeah.  He’s in high school, now.  I do kind of remember what that felt like.  Still, the moment that I just had was real.  And with that being more than enough for me, I walked back home.  My ten-year old doesn’t start school until Wednesday.  He doesn’t start high school until four years from Wednesday.  I spent the day with him paddle-boating on Vasona Lake, eating snow-cones, and having adventures by exploring and splashing in the creeks.  And I will never forget it.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve got to get some sleep.  Evan’s second day of high school is coming soon.  There will probably be a little bit of anxiety to work through in the morning.

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~ by themattmorrisshow on August 20, 2013.

6 Responses to “Goodbye, Old Life; My son’s (and my) transition into high school.”

  1. I love you. Thanks for painting a picture of that day – you are both incredible.

  2. Awesome Matty…loved how captured and described this journey with Evan. Personally, I kept hearing Daniel Stern’s voice narrating your story (like a Wonder Years episode). So proud of Evan. So thankful to God for parents like you and Natalie. Praising God for His Grace, Mercy, and Unending blessings in life.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Matt. I’m pretty teary this morning after sending Caelyn off to school, but this beautiful portrait made me smile and thank God for our blessings.

  4. Ahh what a sweet sweet moment.
    To see how far Evan has come is truly amazing.
    You and Nat are the BEST parents he could ever imagine.
    What an extreme privilege it is to read this and to pray for my dear friends the Morris family.
    I love you Matt…and Natalie and Evan and Bennett!!

  5. Oh Matt, that was beautiful. I am over the moon that Evan had a great first day of High School. I love what you wrote about that moment. There will be a hundred more like that to follow. Life is good 🙂

  6. Now I have that pesky lump too! Evan is truly an amazing kid, pardon me, teenager. You have all worked so hard to get Evan where he is. God has blessed you both with this unique sweet spirit who gives as much as he gets.
    If you haven’t already, please share this with Evan’s teachers, therapists, etc.; as far back as you can go. Was that a proper use of the semicolon Nat?
    I love the Morris family!!!! Happy day!

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