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Personal Essays | Zach is 15

By Kelli J. Gavin

Our son Zach turned 15 on February 17th, and I can hardly believe it. This amazing man-size child has grown into a mighty gentle giant, and he is nothing short of amazing.

Many parents of 15-year-olds are dealing with driver’s permits, school dances, navigating friendships and relationships with the opposite sex, sports and activities. They are concerned about their teenaged children being exposed to drugs and alcohol, about bullying and the possible damaging effects of social media exposure. Sometimes, it is a time of mourning the loss of a child as they grow into a young adult and learn to explore the world around them. The days of needing to be ever-present now just turn into chauffeuring children around town from one thing to the next. Soon, these teens will apply for colleges and, before you know it, they will be moving out of the house and starting their lives as adults.

Zach has Autism, and his life is very different than that of most typical teens. Zach’s biggest daily concerns are if small children will cry at the library. If his iPad will run out of battery life when he is watching Sports Center or Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. If he will get popcorn right away after dinner, or closer to bedtime. Zach will never be able to drive a car, he will not live on his own, and he will never get married. These are not sad things for me as a parent, more of a reality for our amazing son.

Zach is home from school every day by 3:30 PM, which means I need to be home from work every day before then to unlock the door, as knocking and waiting and not knowing if I am home stresses him out. Zach wants dinner every night and is absolutely starving before 5:30, which means I often start meal prep at around 4:00 PM. He wants to ensure that I don’t forget to pack his backpack for the next day so he gathers backpacks and winter gear and assists with visual prompts to make sure I stop whatever I am doing and pack said backpack. Zach wants his shower done by 7:30 PM each evening so that he can draw and play a bit before his 8:00 PM bedtime.

Our evenings together after school are often structured, yet simple. He will want to watch the Fox 9 Evening News at 5:00 to find out who the meteorologist is, and possibly at 5:30 if Randy and Amy are on. He will want to cuddle and read or talk about what will happen the next day. He will often want to hang out with dad right before bed and make sure that the door is slammed shut about a million times. (That is, pretending to slam, and changing the air pressure in the room. The rush of air delights him.)

When Zach graduates from typical high school at the age of 18, he will then be able to continue on until age 21 in the Star Program for kids with special needs. Josh and I would like to keep Zach with us, in our home, for as long as possible. We know that his care needs will be great, as he can never be left alone except for when he sleeps. We know that we will need to make plans for Zach, and continue working on financial planning for his future care.

Knowing all of this, what does the future look like? It looks like a whole lot of the same of what we are experiencing now. Hugs and laughter, silliness and structure, boring meal requests and cuddles, and reading the same books over and over again and watching the same shows time and time again. I have been gifted with an eternal child. A child that will not mature mentally, only physically. I will always have that child who will pause for Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street. That child who isn’t afraid to sing at the top of his lungs or dance until he can’t dance any longer in a public setting. Zach will continue seeking attention from Josh and me, and hurrahs each time he makes a basket. He will seek affirmation that he is an amazing artist each time he comes up with a new marker-drawn creation. He will want his neck and head rubbed by me, and pressure on his arms and hands from dad. These things will never cease.

Most teens doubt the amazingness of their parents. They think they are boring, old, and clueless. Zach will never think that of me. He will always ask me for help because I am the problem solver. He will always want my attention because I exclaim loudly and have best facial expression responses. Zach will always need comfort from Josh and me because it is firm, true, constant, and never changing. I will never be old to Zach, as age is a mystery to him.

Today, I am grateful, thankful and truly blessed for this amazing kid that I have the privilege of calling my son. God deemed me strong enough, courageous enough, and able to be Zach’s mom. And I never plan on disappointing Him.

Happy Birthday to my son, Zachary Eric Gavin. 15 never looked so good.

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