Having taught middle school for several years, I thought that once Alex entered adolescence, I would have an advantage in how to deal with these early teen years. Certainly, I recognized particular behaviors as typical for that age, such as his reaching to touch the tops of door frames, something that most adolescent boys seem to enjoy doing as a sign that they are growing taller. I had seen this behavior many times in my seventh grade male students, but was surprised to see Alex do it because I don’t think that he had witnessed other boys doing this. (Apparently, this action must be an instinctive behavior preprogrammed on the Y chromosome.) Also, while I knew that young teens like to whine and complain about being bored and that boys this age seem to have boundless energy, living with an adolescent was much different than teaching seventh graders. One day when Alex was in his early teens, I was bemoaning to a friend and colleague that Alex was, frankly, driving me crazy. My friend, who had successfully raised two typical sons of his own, offered me the following reassurance: “Just wait until he’s eighteen or nineteen; you’re really going to like him then.”
The approach of Alex’s eighteenth birthday last winter filled me with a mix of pride and fear. While we were proud of the accomplishments he’d achieved and the progress he’d made over the years, the idea that he would officially be an adult unnerved me. Nonetheless, I started investigating the things we needed to do now that he was of legal age. First, I had to register him for Selective Service, who makes clear that they don’t care if the young man has a disability because they’ll assess that themselves should the military draft be reinstated. Since the likelihood of Alex serving in the military is next to nil, that process was simply one to check off my list. Later, we needed to take him to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to obtain an identification card. I was actually relieved that we were not taking him to get a driver’s license; he lacks the motor coordination needed to drive a car. After gathering various documents to prove Alex is who we say he is, the woman who processed his ID card request was very kind and patient as he signed the various documents in his barely legible signature. The most difficult task was trying to take his photograph looking at the camera and not smiling, as required. He thought all of this was great fun and had trouble containing his joy while she took his picture. At the same time, we registered him to vote. Because Alex follows the news carefully and enjoys watching political shows, such as The McLaughlin Group, he probably knows and understands politics better than most people do. After the national identification clearinghouse determined that Alex was not a terrorist or a criminal practicing ID fraud, his identification card arrived in the mail, followed by his voter registration card a few weeks later. He was thrilled to receive both. While I approached Alex’s turning eighteen with some trepidation, he was pleased to be an adult, at least legally.
This summer, which has come midway between Alex’s eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays, has been his best ever. Because he has matured and improved his behavior, he has been able to go many places throughout the summer months. While he had only two requests for where he’d like to go this summer—to the doctor and to the outlet mall, we have additionally taken him to various stores and the county fair, as well as to several restaurants on a regular basis. Considering he was basically under our imposed house arrest for a while, due to his unpredictable and sometimes aggressive behavior, this change is a huge improvement. Not only does Alex behave himself in public, but he is also very sweet and pleasant company. As Ed often tells him, “We like taking you places because you’re fun.” For the first time in many years, we can do things typical families do, and we savor every moment of these commonplace yet special times. Mostly, we feel blessed, and I’m thankful that my friend’s prediction has come true: I really like Alex now that he’s eighteen.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.” I Corinthians 13:11