Periodically, I am confronted with just how long I’ve been on this planet. On the check-out line at the TJ Maxx, I recognize a woman I can’t quite place. The gym? Fellow Starbucks junkie? Thankfully, she recognizes me too and fills in the blanks.
Mom: Our son, Joey was in your Stepping Stones group many years ago. And I was in a parent group at the same time. That program was a lifesaver for us. I’m sure you don’t remember us.
And that is when she said it.
Mom: Joey is going to be 30 this year.
Me: Wait. What? 30?
Mom: It is ironic to bump into you like this. Joey is getting married next weekend.
Me: Wait. What?! 30?!
Mom: He must have been like 10 when we brought him in to see you!
Every time I bump into a former Stepping Stones graduate, I am shocked by the surreal nature of the passage of time. Not just because I don’t feel twenty years older. (Well, maybe, on some days I do.) But more because I am struck by the fact that there are many hundreds of young boys and girls out there we’ve worked closely with in Stepping Stones that are now adults! And, just like Joey, they are creating lives for themselves.
As his Mom goes on to describe 10 year old Joey; his problems with being bullied and his lack of self-confidence, the difficulties he had navigating the social scene and understanding the social give-and-take of other children, and his deep sense of otherness, I see how strikingly similar our Joeys and Jills of today are to those from 20 years ago. Our kids today still want desperately to have friends but don’t know how to make them. Like Joey, they want to “get it” but don’t until we help them to. And, they still describe that powerful sense of relief and satisfaction when they find themselves in a group of peers who struggle with the same social problems they have.
Joey knew he was different. And he was OK with that. But not with how he was treated. But it got a whole lot easier for him when he found better ways to react when he was teased.
And, as this Mom retells her son’s story, her eyes reflect back to a time of worry and pain when she had so many questions.
Same questions that persist today:
“How is he going to make it in the world?”
“How is she ever going to be able to work with people if she doesn’t figure this stuff out?”
“How will he succeed in college? Have roommates? Live on her own?”
Mom: All these years later, I still remember the parent group leader saying to this room full of worried parents, “I’ve never found a parent’s worry to be the most accurate of forecasters.” Every time I worried about Joey after that, I thought of that quote. And, she was right.
When parents are in the thick of things with their kids, it is nearly impossible to imagine the light at the end of the tunnel. Bumping into Joey’s Mom is such a nice reminder to me of how the kids we see continue to change and grow after we stop seeing them. Just like Joey and his Mom, they continue to build on the skills, self-awareness, and perspective-taking they work so hard on in our social IQ groups to create lives for themselves.