The Parenting Dance: Hold Tight While Letting Go

Nov 17, 2011
Originally published on November 18, 2011 8:09 am

When Sarah Littman took her son, Joshua, to college this fall, it was hard.

"I thought I was gonna cry the whole way back from college," she says during a visit to StoryCorps in New York City. "But I managed to make it until I got home. And then I walked upstairs and I saw your door shut and I just lost it."

Eighteen-year-old Joshua is a freshman at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. He also has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. He and his mother visited StoryCorps in 2006 when he was a seventh-grade honors student having trouble socially.

"Does it bother you to think of home?" Sarah asks her son.

"I miss it," he says. "I miss the dogs and everything. And you, and ... what, wouldn't you miss the dogs?"

Kids with Asperger's can miss social cues — and often have obsessions. For Joshua, it was animals.

But what Joshua really wanted to know was how it was for his mother when she went to college.

"I think I was a lot more excited about leaving home than you were," Sarah says. "I did have some rocky times where I was homesick, but I made some really good friends in college, and that's, I guess that's why I want you to get out of your room. Is it just you've been feeling overwhelmed a bit?"

Joshua is considering not returning to school next semester.

"Yeah, well, I have no idea why am I in college. 'Cause I don't know why I'm there," he says.

Sarah reminded Joshua that he needed to be more open to new experiences.

"Sometimes you have this resistance to trying things and then, when you try them, you end up really liking them," she says. "And really, I just want you to do more of that when you're at college. Just like take that chance."

But how would Sarah react if he failed his classes, he wonders.

"Well, if you came to me first and said, 'Look I'm having a really tough time,' that's one thing," she says. "But if you just sort of announce to me that you failed, then I'd be upset. Because I know how much potential you have. Is there anything you wanna tell me? Or was that a hypothetical question?"

Hypothetical question, he says, calming her fears.

"So, do you think I'll move out of the house when I'm done with college?" Joshua asks. "I don't know, maybe I'll move to Denmark or something."

"Hopefully you won't move so far away that it's really hard for me to come to visit you. You know, I'm really so happy to have you home. I miss you a lot when you're not there," Sarah says.

"Yeah. I miss you as well," Joshua says. "As well as the dogs and everything."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Today from StoryCorps, we'll check back in with a family we first heard from five years ago, when Joshua Littman interviewed his mother, Sarah. Joshua has a disorder on the autism spectrum, Asperger's syndrome. Kids with Asperger's can miss social cues and often have obsessions. Joshua's obsession was animals.

(SOUNDBITE OF PREVIOUS RECORDING)

MONTAGNE: When the Littmans recorded that conversation, Joshua was a seventh-grader having a tough time socially. He is now 18 and in his first semester at college. Joshua is struggling again, and his mother brought him back to StoryCorps in New York. She wanted to talk about what his time away has meant for both of them.

: I thought I was going to cry the whole way back from college, but I managed to make it until I got home. And then I walked upstairs and I saw your door shut, and I just lost it.

: Well, at least you had the dogs.

: Well, the dogs aren't my kids, you know.

: But they snuggle with you when you're feeling upset.

: They do, but it's not quite the same. Does it bother you to think of home?

: I miss it.

: Yeah.

: I miss the dogs and everything.

: You miss the dogs?

: And you and - what, wouldn't you miss the dogs?

: I'd miss the dogs but I think for even political sake, I might say: I miss you, mother - first.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: So how was it when you went to college?

: I think I was a lot more excited about leaving home than you were. I did have some rocky times where I was homesick, but I made some really good friends in college. And that's - I guess that's why I want you to get out of your room. Is it just you've been feeling overwhelmed a bit?

: Yeah.

: So that's OK. Maybe when you get your feet under the desk a little more, as they say.

: Yeah, well, I have no idea - why am I in college? 'Cause - I don't know why I'm there.

: Well, remember how a few years ago, you hated sushi?

: Mmm.

: And now, like, all you ever want to do is eat sushi?

: Mmm.

: Sometimes, you have this resistance to trying things. And then when you try them, you end up really liking them. And really, I just want you to do more of that when you're at college. Just like, take that chance.

: So how would you react if like, I failed?

: Failed your classes? Or…

: Failed my classes, failed college?

: Well, if you came to me first and said look, I'm having a really tough time - that's one thing. But if you just sort of announce to me that you failed, then I'd be upset. Because I know how much potential you have. Is there anything you wanted to tell me?

: What do you mean?

: Or was that a hypothetical question?

: That was like, a hypothetical question, yeah.

: OK, all right.

: So do you think I'll move out of the house when I'm done with college?

: What do you think?

: Well, I don't know; maybe I'll move to Denmark or something.

: Well, that's where you were telling me that's where people are the happiest, right?

: Yeah.

: Hopefully, you won't move so far away that it's really hard for me to come to visit you. You know, I'm really so happy to have you home. I miss you a lot when you're not there.

: Yeah. I miss you as well and - as well as the dogs and everything.

: Yeah. Make sure you do write to me, OK, because I love you and I worry about you. Make your old mom's life a little easier. Deal?

: Mm-hmm.

: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Sarah Littman with her son, Joshua, at StoryCorps in New York. See an animated version of the Littmans' first interview, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.