It’s hard to say when Tucker came to live with us. It was something of an osmosis, slowly melding from occasional visits to entire days split between hanging out with us and playing games on his computer, to permanent residence. And I cannot clearly recall Tucker asking for any of these things to happen. They were offered, and he might not even have said “yes” in what could accurately be described as an answer, but he acceded to them, and he accrued to us.
And I am grateful for that.
I do remember picking Tucker up at Georgetown after his first year of college. Tucker had been an element of our family circle, about it and of it, but not yet in it. And as his freshman year drew to a close, there were — as we’d come to understand about many things in Tucker’s life — many unanswered, but important, questions. What would he bring home, and what would he leave at school? What was he going to do over the summer, and where was he going to be?
And, true to form, my focus was on these and other very practical, functional questions: we’d be happy to drive down to DC to get him, but our Prius was not nearly going to fit much of anything if all five of us were in it. No problem: we’ll rent the biggest vehicle Hertz has to offer. Going down in the morning, coming back at night? No? Let’s stay at a Kimpton. Problems… solutions.
I am a person who is often upbeat, positive, and sees the best in every situation. Mostly, this comes naturally, and at times it comes far too naturally, bordering on doughy-eyed optimistic blindness to a gathering danger. My response to the most high pressure situation is to say, “How can we get through this?”, but that often comes at the expense of my turning around and saying, “How is everyone doing?” No one is bleeding, no one is on fire, so fine, right?
It’s not that I don’t spend any time picturing the worst that can happen… It’s that those moments are almost inevitably followed by my picturing how I get through them, and sometimes only that I’m through them. And I’m often filled with a (maybe not always useful) sense of being able to handle whatever gets thrown my in direction. This “adaptability” sometimes means that I’m dealing with far more contingencies than I’m prepared for; it is necessarily self-perpetuating.
Once we’d loaded the car up at Georgetown – it was a positively enormous vehicle, with three rows of seats and a trunk that would have easily accommodated another whole vehicle – the five of us headed north, back towards Philadelphia. There were five of us. Going down to DC, there had been four, and now here was Tucker, the fifth. If you looked at our family — either now, or then — and and asked, “which one of these is not like the other?” The answer would be: all of them. But at the time, on that trip back from DC, Tucker was still separate. With us, but still separate.
I didn’t know at the time that it was basically a trial run. That a bit more than four months later, Tucker and I would be making the same trip back to Philadelphia, having packed him up from Georgetown again, only a few weeks after he’d started his Sophmore year. I did not know, that first trip back home, of the next trip back home. Was that day in May, three years ago, the beginning of something, or the end? Or not quite either. I still don’t know.
But I know that I am grateful. Tucker has been such an important and welcome and fun part of our family, that a time without him seems not just distant, but inconceivable.
I am grateful for the changes, however unplanned, ad hoc and lurching they have been. Between the two of us, Amber is far more likely than I to war-game out the many possible different scenarios, measuring and tactically planning for each and every challenge. I’m much better at figuring out which car to rent for the weekend. There are any number of things about our life today which, a decade ago, might individually have seemed feasible. Taken together, they seem very unlikely.
Hmmm… Yeah, I like that idea, let’s do it!
“No, not from there, this one, from here, tomorrow!”
OK, let’s do that, then.
“Wait, now this one too, from there, after all.”
Yes, that sounds like a good idea to me!
“Tucker needs a ride back from school.”
“He’s kind of staying here a lot, it seems like it might be a good idea to make this a bit more comfortable place for him to be.”
Sure thing, I like that idea!
“He’s coming back again, this time for good.”
“Ok, he’s definitely got Asperger’s Syndrome, and we’re going to need to make some accommodations for that. Every day. For the rest of our lives.”
I keep reading through that, and sometimes it seems wishy washy of me. Just going along with whatever is coming along. And that’s part of it. But there’s another part. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” When you consider that as expansively as possible – when you look at choices that seem momentous and impactful and big and scary and too much, it’s possible to become overwhelmed with the possibilities. There’s a completely understandable tendency to draw back, to analyze, to weigh the pros and the cons. But the choices we’re given are all opportunities to say “yes”. And if you wait until the outcome seems certain, if you wait for the things which seem too challenging to unfold themselves and explain themselves, you will miss out.
I had very little clue as to what the next three years were going to look like when we pulled out of the parking lot of Tucker’s dorm for the second-to-last time, in May of 2013. Blind, irrational optimism, and an enthusiastic sense of capability in dealing with adversity, were certainly in play that day. I think we knew that there were some significant challenges on the way – we certainly knew that Tucker had been living with some significant challenges all year long, that he’d had a difficult year at school and that his home in Philadelphia was, at best, in flux. But there never seemed like any other answer than “yes.”
And now I see: how could there have been? It wasn’t as if, before Tucker became a permanent part of our family, and we his, that I hadn’t had ample experience with the idea that “family is what you make, not where you come from.” We’ve made plans, we’ve had expectations, we’ve thought we were on a path… and then we’ve shuffled the deck again, and again, and again. Each time, we somehow manage to get dealt a new hand that is surprising and challenging and sometimes an awful lot to handle.
I’ve never wished that I’d said “no.”