Do you ever imagine your daughter’s wedding? How will it be, compared to your own? Bigger or smaller? Will she wear her mother’s wedding dress or pick out one of her own? How old will she be? Of course the most important questions are: Will she ever find her soul mate, or will she end up alone? Equally important is whether the groom will be a mensch, a family man, someone who will love her and accept her for who she is (and who she isn’t).
As the mother of a daughter on the autistic spectrum, these are painful questions that I try my best to avoid. After all, Sarah is only 22 and still in college. She still has a lot of growing up to do—more than most young women her age. I’d like to think that her potential soul mate is not yet ready either. All young people with disabilities grow up more slowly, with their cognitive development continuing to age 30.
Meantime, there are plenty of other worries in the here and now. Sarah still needs to struggle through her last requirements at Pace University in order to graduate. Then—God help us—she has to find a job, an internship, a place in the community where she can bring her energy, sweetness and joy to the betterment of all. The solution might well be working as an assistant teacher, in a special education class with young children. Sarah has volunteered for the past four summers and enjoyed working with kindergarten kids. But will she pass the multiple choice test necessary to qualify? No matter how long Sarah studies, she always has trouble with multiple choice tests. Even if she passes, will a school hire her when they could choose a neurotypical candidate? No one is rushing to hire her extremely capable, neurotypical twin brother, Max, who does brilliantly on multiple choice tests. I must try to think positively. Sarah will find a way, somehow….
Yet how can I NOT worry—worry like a dagger through my heart—when I watch the beautiful daughter of friends get married this past weekend? Although Danielle, the bride, is 27, she’d already met her husband, Peter, in college. Danielle and Peter lived together through law school; they each have stable jobs and a bright future. Both families were overjoyed at the news their kids were tying the knot. You can feel the genuine warmth and love radiating from the happy couple. They shimmer and glow like a positive energy field, drawing us all close so we can share their joy. Do I dare to expect so much for my Sarah?
The wedding takes place in an enormous, cavernous place with 250 guests. I knew it would be lavish and beautiful, but I never imagined that such large rooms with so many people could feel warm and welcoming with décor that was spectacular. Think Winter Wonderland or Enchanted Forest with lots of white: white flowers, white candelabra, white sequined table cloths, and lots of hanging crystal reflecting all the lights. The bride looked like a magnificent angel or a white cloud floating through her forest of friends and family.
After a beautiful ceremony, we all sat down to a fabulous dinner, danced to a 15 piece band, and listened to folk songs while we ate. The bride and groom had a long table full of 20-30 friends, with 5 bridesmaids and 5 ushers. The toasts by the best man and maid of honor were funny and heartfelt. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. Sarah has a few friends, but even in my most optimistic moments I could never imagine her filling a table with that many peers who loved her or having more than one or two bridesmaids. But none of that matters. All I want is for her to find the right someone who will always love her.
When Sarah was eight, she threw a coin into a fountain and made a wish.
“What did you wish for?” Henry asked.
“To be married someday.”
“Why do you want to be married?” We asked with trepidation. “Why” questions were extremely difficult for Sarah at that age and often provoked a tantrum when she couldn’t answer. But we thought this question was an easy one. I’d have bet money that my daughter would have said she wanted to get married because she wanted someone to love her, but I would have been wrong.
“I want to have someone to love.” Sarah answered without hesitation.
It was hard not to cry. Her voice held such sweetness and hope.
All these years later, her answer haunts me. Maybe we shouldn’t have asked. If you’re superstitious, you believe that wishes are supposed to be kept secret or they won’t come true. Of course, I’m not going to let superstition (or anything else) stand in Sarah’s way. I won’t just move mountains—I’ll level the entire range if necessary.
After my friend’s Saturday wedding, I attended a lecture on Monday by Ann Ford about raising Allegra, her severely learning disabled daughter. Allegra’s older brother, now 47, also spoke about the impact of growing up with an LD sister. Like Ann Ford, I have raised a daughter with severe (though different) disabilities and a basically typical son, with mild ADHD. Unlike Ann Ford, I’m not wealthy or related to anyone famous, so there’s no family fortune available to support Sarah or her brother Max. What will happen to our daughter after we’re gone if there’s no one to look out for her? Although Max and Sarah love each other, they are not close—mostly because Sarah is so jealous and resentful of her brother’s verbal and social strengths. So I can’t count on Max (who at the moment isn’t able to support himself). Somehow somewhere Sarah will have to find someone to love who will also love her.
Suddenly I learn that Allegra got married about a year ago, at age 41. Up on the screen are pictures of Allegra and her husband, Josh, at their wedding. Again, I have tears in my eyes. Better late than never. Even if Henry and I have to wait till Sarah is that age, it’s likely that at least one of us will still be here. I can’t wait for the talk to end, so I can ask Ann Ford how her daughter met her husband.
I’m the first one to ask my question. Everyone in the audience—parents of other LD kids—laugh sympathetically.
“Believe it or not,” Anne Ford admits, “they met through an on-line dating service called “Great Expectations.”
I sit down and quickly scribble down the name. What would Charles Dickens think of a dating service named after his book? I wonder if the dating service is specifically for adults with disabilities, but there are lots of other people waiting to ask questions. I’ll check out Great Expectations on my own.
Whether Sarah pursues on-line dating in the future or meets her prince some other way, I hope she can find true love, and I can live long enough to celebrate with her.