My son comes home tomorrow from his summer holiday — one that has already made this a very different kind of summer.

Summer can mean so many things: a new wardrobe, a new job, a new semester, vacations, camp, slower schedules.

For most, it’s the end to the school year. Kids are happy. Parents? Well, a mixed swirl of emotion, from relief to worry: now what? No structure or homework, but long hot days of idle hands.

Most kids in our neighborhood go away to summer camp. My kids never did that. In my family, you don’t leave until you’re married and even then, it’s appreciated if you live in the basement for a few years.My son Joey, being special (he has autism) and needing as much education as possible, needs full year to school, so he’s in school until mid-August. My older son, Nicholas, volunteers during the summer: With special-ed kids at a day camp. And I get to tuck my boys in and go to sleep knowing they are in the next room. What could be better?

Well this year something happened. A cousin asked Nicholas to come to Florida for three weeks.

The decision was easy enough. I trust that cousin with my soul, and would love to give Nick the chance to enjoy a few weeks without autism. Why not? Well did I open a can of worms. And he emailed me the clip from the video-cam: Yes, my boy is happy and yes, I couldn’t be more thrilled as I watch my cousin kiss and hug him, mentioning tell me how Nick is hers for three whole weeks. In the clip my son blushes and tells me she’s spoiling him. What a gift — what joy my heart feels.  And so proud of my confident, honest, good-natured boy that fits in so well, who is on his way to being his own person.

But then I shut off the computer and the silence is deafening. I can barely stand it.  My beautiful boy Joey is special and loving … but  — well,  may I say it?  WORK. He makes messes, and needs help and runs outside and it’s constant and ruthless and I feel so guilty.My heart is as heavy as a ton of bricks.  And I cry because I am lonely, and sad that I could be lonely with my boy right there.  How unfair is that?  And what kind of mother am I that I could feel so sad.  And it hurts.  And I’m sure it hurts for him too.  Joey doesn’t want to be special; he just wants to be like every other 12-year-old boy.  But he’s not. And he needs me to love him…because let me tell you, not that many do.  He is dismissed by most as worthless. I was told just recently by a family member: I think you’re wasting your money. Just.look at him. A piece of my heart broke that day. Thank God Joey didn’t hear, or if he did didn’t understand. Or  worse: imagine if he did understand, and can’t tell me.

So, this summer vacation, I’ve learned to count on myself. I let go of my star and try to shine without him.  It’s tough; Nick’s so easy to shine with. Joey’s star is less constant, and needs constant rubbing, but every once in a while I see the sparkle. He tries so hard.  Thank GOD.  It’s what keeps me rubbing. And knowing that he’ll always need me there? It is sad but kinda sweet.Being needed is all we really want, especially us annoying overbearing mothers.

When I’ve learned what I need I have to learn, to need Joey back — then I think it will be a good summer.

Phyllis Fanzo Lombardi is well known in the Ardsley School District (Westchester County, NY) and the nation for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the families touched by autism. She has trained EMS workers, designers of schools and hospitals, and educators about the needs of low-verbal children with disabilities. When her son is admitted to the bar, she may just run for President.

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  • Carol Solanto September 19, 2009 at 9:52 am

    You’re a special mom, Phyllis. Joey and Nick are very lucky to have you in their lives.

  • vickie lombardi July 31, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    The article is truly a gem….I would like to know who said that about Joey….Phyl you scored big with this one and I am proud of you …You have the ability to show your feelings..Not many people can do that….Mom

  • Annette July 31, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Another inspirational article, so genuine and heart felt. xoxo

  • maryanne July 30, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    There is nothing like mother’s love and i felt you love for your sons with every word you wrote.They are two VERY lucky boys to have you as their mom!!

    God Bless you!