Every parent has trouble letting go when their children grow up, but Glen Finland, CAS/MFA ’06, had an especially difficult time. In her book, Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, Finland chronicles the story of teaching her adult son David, who has autism, how to navigate the D.C. metro system.
Finland writes, “It’s important to know that a story about autism isn’t a story about a single child. It is a story about an entire family.” Next Stop is a candid, sometimes funny, sometimes painfully honest portrayal of raising a differently-abled child and the toll it takes on Finland’s other two sons and her marriage.
Finland’s story revolves around riding the D.C. metro with 21-year-old David one summer, teaching him all the routes and stops, hoping it would afford David more independence. By August, David announced he was ready to journey on his own; Finland wasn’t. But like so many other mothers, she took a leap of faith. Unlike most other mothers, though, she was genuinely concerned she may never see her son again. David did come home, and he continues to ride the metro on his own.
David has done extremely well since learning to navigate public transit. He is a year-round groundskeeper at a park and, during baseball season, also works as a ticket-taker for the Washington Nationals. Finland says the Nationals organization has been extremely kind to David, who loves baseball. In describing her son, she writes, “David’s is a kind of exuberance that reveals itself by swinging an imaginary baseball bat whenever he’s really happy. Feet squared, wrists piled up high on his right shoulder, and swoosh!”
David loves to run marathons and has participated in the New York City Marathon and twice ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Riding the metro alone and running in marathons, David is carving out his independence and embarking on his own adventure, but his mother and family are always there to cheer him on from the sidelines.
In Next Stop, Finland writes, “Let’s tell our stories – and laugh, and cry, and bang our heads on the table if we must – but let’s tell them true.” This is precisely what makes her story so compelling.
As an adjunct professor at American University, Finland teaches her students a similar lesson, one that one of her own favorite AU professors taught her: “Write your way into discovery. Tell your own story.”