Cindy and I got married 18 years ago today. I felt incredible happiness when we went on our first date in January 2002. That happiness grew ten thousandfold when she accepted my proposal that summer, and to infinity and beyond on our wedding day.
I still remember most of what happened that first Saturday in August 2003. The weather was a little warm, but not overbearingly hot. Two of my groomsmen told me I came oh-so-close to setting the sleeve of my tuxedo on fire when I lit the unity candle (These goofballs also convinced me to hand over my car keys so they could help me with something that I’ve now forgotten, and Cindy and I found our mattress had been moved smack dab in the middle of our living room when we got home from the reception). As you can see, we had some fun with the post-wedding pictures when she picked me up and broke into a huge smile for the photographer.
And then, there was one of toasts at the reception. One of Cindy’s friends, who was an usher during the ceremony, wished our union well. I don’t remember her toast word-for-word, but she said that while we’ll enjoy happiness together, “you’re going to deal with sadness, too.”
“You’re going to deal with sadness?” Say whaaat??????
Lady, we feed you a pretty nice meal and you dare mention that lousy things will happen to my wife and I on the happiest day of my life??? Boo this woman! Better yet, give me a mallet and I’ll gong her right out of the room with the force of Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson, and Jaye P. Morgan combined! To quote Oddball, Donald Sutherland’s character in the movie “Kelly’s Heroes,” don’t hit me with those negative waves!
Of course, no couple can escape trials and tribulations in a marriage – present company included. Cindy and I have had our fair share of heated verbal disagreements over the last 18 years, and she still loves me even when I say totally idiotic things. We’ve dealt with the sudden loss of her stepfather, and the deaths of my mother and father, both of whom succumbed to their respective illnesses. We’ve overcome the loss of a job and dealt with career changes. We maneuver the best we can on a tight budget. There probably aren’t many differences between us and a majority of couples all over the globe in that respect.
I’m fortunate to have married a woman who frequently assures me that there is no half-full glass of water, but rather there’s a 64-ounce water bottle filled to the brim. This is especially when it comes to our son, Nolan, who has Autism and is nonverbal.
It’s starting to hit me that my little boy is inching ever so closer to manhood. He starts his sophomore year of high school in one month, and he turns 16 in a little more than four months. Whether it’s his hormones, growing pains, or another reason unbeknownst to us, he’s been breaking down in tears more frequently as of late. He’s been crabby and impatient. He’s also getting bigger and stronger, and some of his meltdowns have been pretty intense, hence my sore nose and forehead from him driving his skull into them. But he’s also shown he can thrive in situations that are uncomfortable for him.
Nolan is the perfect son in my eyes, and it goes without saying that I love him for who he is. Still, I’ve had one eye on the future, even more so than normal as of late. And I’ve started to wonder a little more about what it might hold for him.
His freshman year went very quickly, even with all the chaos happening in the world. I can envision the pages of the calendar flipping very rapidly over the next few years until – boom – it’s the spring of 2027, Nolan will be 21, and he’ll age out of the public school system to … what? A meaningful part-time job for an employer who is patient and understands individuals on the Autism spectrum? A few hours a week participating in some type of program with other disabled adults? Watching the odometer of dad’s Corolla hit 150,000 miles as we take our 50,000th drive to Dunkin’ Donuts and then around the tri-state area?
Sometimes it’s downright scary to think about what life will look like for our family in the future, and if everything will be something that even resembles okay as we all age. But as Cindy reminded me this past Saturday, okay can mean so many different things.
I remember breaking down and sobbing in the clinic parking lot the afternoon in March 2008 when Nolan’s pediatrician at the time told us he believed Nolan had Autism. While at that moment I saw my dreams of all the things I pictured Nolan accomplishing (honor roll, athletics, great job and a family of his own) vanish, Cindy saw opportunities to learn about the many challenges that awaited us and assure me that our son would mature and develop, albeit at a difference pace and likely in a different manner than other children. And he has.
Whenever I would get frustrated over the belief that Nolan’s elementary and middle school teachers and paraprofessionals were underestimating what he was capable of doing, Cindy would remind me that we know our son best, and that he would thrive in the right environment. So far, he has in high school. I’d like to believe that he will thrive wherever he ends up as an adult.
Some couples wilt under the strain of difficult times and ultimately go their separate ways. I’ve taken to calling Cindy and myself “Team Nolan” the last couple of years. Sometimes I feel like the teammate that’s sees the dark clouds approaching on the horizon and sees an imminent rainstorm of Biblical proportions. Cindy is the teammate who reminds me that the monsoons in life are temporary, and that there is better weather ahead. I’m grateful for that – more than I could ever tell her.
Yes, Cindy and I have had to deal with sadness and challenges over the last 18 years, and we will until we both draw our last breath. But she’s been there to lift me up every time I’ve been down, and I know she always will.