CC Capsule: 1980 Pontiac Firebird — Someone Decided This One Would Make It

I’m writing this on the morning my family will celebrate my youngest son’s graduation from college. He enters the real world with a degree in computer science, and is eager to get his first job and move out of his mom’s house. I’m so pleased for him! This day has me in a reflective mood, and made me recall this curbside classic I found on campus on the day I moved him in to start his freshman year: a base Firebird from 1979, 1980, or 1981.

It is equally amazing that this apparently unmodified and obviously unrestored Firebird made it this far as it is that my son has made it this far. He was the kid I wrung my hands and tore my hair out over. He had a challenging time in public school, especially after he entered adolescence. He always had terrible organizational and executive skills. He struggled to complete his homework, not because it was too challenging, but because he couldn’t focus for long periods of time, and didn’t know where to put work he did finish so it could make it to school the next day. When he did manage to bring finished work to school, over and over again he forgot to hand it in. His grades reflected it, which led to him being put into classes below his intelligence. He was bored, which only deepened this cycle.

We learned somewhere along the way that our son is mildly autistic and mildly ADHD. It explained so much, but we still didn’t know how to help him succeed. The diagnosis got him extra help at school, but by then his attitude was so bad that it didn’t change much. He finished his sophomore year of high school with a high-D average. I wasn’t sure he’d get through high school, let alone get into college, and I didn’t know what to do. He was well off my family’s script of high school, then college, then independence.

Everything changed for him starting with his junior year. He started earning Bs, mostly, with an occasional A sprinkled in. His sullen, lethargic nature gave way to…well, hardly an optimistic, cheerful nature. More like a pragmatic, neutral nature. He just did the work. It seemed to no longer matter to him what he thought or felt about school, he just gave himself over to it and pushed through it.

He graduated high school with grades good enough to get into a small, private school near home and then earn his computer science degree. He is still organizationally challenged — because he wasn’t on top of how many credits he had earned, he found himself three short on graduation day. The school president handed him an empty folder when he walked across the stage, and our son had to take one summer class to finish his degree. That wrapped up last week and he’s good to go.

I asked him once what changed in him halfway through high school. Always a man of few words, he said simply, “I realized that I was the family screwup, and I decided I didn’t want to be anymore.” In short, he decided he was going to make it. Just like whoever owns this Firebird decided that it, too, would make it.