|[image: Smiling Leo, taken this morning.]
Leo's ready because birthdays mean parties! One at school today, with homemade carrot cake (a laughable nod at "eating more healthfully"), and another tomorrow with his friends and family. Plus today we'll take a trip to In-N-Out for an otherwise forbidden milkshake. There will possibly be a man-sized hammock chair arriving later today (shhh). And we will listen to The Candy Band's "It's Your Birthday" and The Ting Ting's "Happy Birthday" all day long. Yes!
I'm ready, on many levels, if not on the plane containing my emotions: I liked having little kids! Little kids are fun! Teenagers are hard! And adult kids don't need you as much!. (I'm less thrilled about all the post-18 paperwork and services changeovers, but that is the path we're on and I'll reward myself with a beer or a bowl of Lucky Charms once it's all completed.)
More significantly, I feel like we've made it to our own version of the Promised Land. Leo is no longer an autistic child, he's an autistic adult. A happy autistic adult. That's something to celebrate. While anyone who's ever spent time in our house knows that we would never pretend everything in Leo's life is easy always because often it is really REALLY not, we know more often than not how to support him in doing what he wants to do, learning, staying healthy, and being content. I feel like we are lucky more often than we are not.
Expanding Leo's contented space to work for our entire family has meant relearning and readjusting some family dynamics: Now that all three of our kids are teens, we are smack-dab in the middle of Competing Access Needs land, a place in which our neurodiverse trio of kids can't always accommodate each other and in fact are sometimes explosively incompatible—often for reasons none of them can control.
Logistically. this dynamic means that, for the first time in almost a decade, our family will be embarking on separate Thanksgivings: Leo, Iz and I to one destination with my family, and Seymour and J with the Rosenberg grandparents. We are all cool with this. And you should be, too. It's what we need to do, and it's what works.
A decade or so ago I would probably have used this space to bewail what "autism" was doing to my family holidays. Today I am thrilled that we're confident enough in our son and in what works for our family to make the choices that work best for everyone. Not just for Leo. Not just for his siblings. Not just for me and my husband. For all of us.
But first, we party. Happy birthday, my dude. I love you so much.
|[image: Barely awake Leo, taken earlier this morning, in front of a black-and
white photo of barely awake toddler Leo with the exact same expression.]