Nathan takes flight


Nathan leaves for college tomorrow.


He’ll be settling in at Parsons at the New School in New York City, beginning his college career as a photography major.


I know I’m not the only parent who feels like they blinked, only to find a child on the threshold of adulthood. But beyond the awareness of time passing too quickly, finding Nathan ready to head off to a prestigious college feels nearly miraculous.


Just five years ago, we were trying to make peace with the fact that he might never go to college (he told us he wasn’t certain it would yield a “positive ROI”) or for that matter, even be able to live independently.


In seventh grade, when it became clear that he needed both more support and more challenge than the public school could provide, we interviewed several private schools; all of which ended up declining him as a student, citing concern they would not be in position to help him succeed.


We ended up enrolling him at Fusion, which had just opened a few blocks away and offered a one-on-one model we thought could provide enough support. It did, mostly—but a year and a half later he got bored, and asked to take a photography class at ETHS, the public high school. After that, he decided he wanted to go to ETHS full time—something that I was pretty certain would never work.


Fusion had likely saved him during his middle school crisis, but it wasn’t the right fit after that. Nathan was bored and unmotivated, and we lost whole weekends trying to persuade him to finish homework or sitting with him the hours it took to write a paragraph.


And so, I was supportive of a transition to ETHS, mostly because I figured it was the fastest path to the therapeutic school he probably really needed.


Well.


He sure showed us.


To be clear, it wasn’t easy, and we were fortunate to have the financial means and insurance to ensure he had the right support. But it’s Nathan who made it happen—mostly by deciding it’s what he wanted, and by working very hard to ensure that it did.


Over the past four years of my own journey, Evelyn was the most impacted, thanks to both her empathetic nature and the timing which coincided with the tumultuous middle school years when she most desperately needed the sort of safety and stability we just weren’t in position to provide. Nathan, by contrast, was the least: his neurodiversity allowed him to compartmentalize to a degree that was at times maddening.


Tonight, Nathan is calm and collected as he debates how many shirts to bring and which; how much winter gear he needs with him immediately; which cameras to take from his collection. Per circles around him, then moves room to room, finishing laundry, remembering all the things Nathan might need, and making lists and contingency plans. I make Gina’s pizza and hear myself referring to it as “goodbye pizza” aloud more than once, struck each time by how morbid it sounds.

When at last the six of us sit outside for dinner and toast Nathan on the start of his next chapter, we are filled with joy and pride and our hearts swell for him: he has achieved his dream, not in spite of, but exactly because of, who he has become.

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