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StoryCorps traces one remarkable kid's journey into adulthood

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A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

This month, we're marking 20 years of StoryCorps by revisiting classic conversations with updates. Today, we'll trace one remarkable kid's journey into adulthood.

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JOSHUA LITTMAN: All right. My name is Joshua Littman. I'm 12 years old, and I'm here with Mommy.

MARTÍNEZ: Joshua and his mom, Sarah Darer Littman, first recorded at StoryCorps in 2006. Joshua was an eighth-grade honor student but having a tough time socially. He'd been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and struggled with social cues. He sometimes had obsessions. Back then, it was animals.

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J LITTMAN: From a scale of 1 to 10, do you think your life would be different without animals?

SARAH DARER LITTMAN: I think it would be an 8 without animals because they add so much pleasure to life.

J LITTMAN: How else do you think your life would be different without them?

S LITTMAN: I could do without things like cockroaches and snakes.

J LITTMAN: Well, I'm OK with snakes as long as they're not venomous or, like, can constrict you or anything.

S LITTMAN: Yeah, I'm not a big snake person.

J LITTMAN: But cockroach is just the insect we love to hate.

Have you ever felt like life is hopeless?

S LITTMAN: When I was a teenager, I was very depressed. And I think that can be quite common with teenagers who think a lot, you know, and they're perceptive.

J LITTMAN: Am I like that?

S LITTMAN: You are very much like that.

J LITTMAN: Do you have any mortal enemies?

S LITTMAN: I would say my worst enemy is sometimes myself, but I don't think I have any mortal enemies.

J LITTMAN: Have you ever lied to me?

S LITTMAN: I probably have, but I try not to lie to you, even though, sometimes, the questions you ask make me uncomfortable.

J LITTMAN: Like when we go on our walks, some of the questions I might ask?

S LITTMAN: Yeah, but you know what? I feel it's really special that you and I can have those kind of talks, even if, sometimes, I feel myself blushing a little bit.

J LITTMAN: Have you ever thought you couldn't cope with having a child?

S LITTMAN: I remember when you were a baby, you had really bad colic, so you would just cry and cry. And I didn't know...

J LITTMAN: What's colic?

S LITTMAN: It's when you get this stomachache, and all you do is scream for, like, four hours and...

J LITTMAN: Even louder than Amy does?

S LITTMAN: You were pretty loud, but Amy's was more high pitched.

J LITTMAN: I think it feels like everyone seems to like Amy more. Like, she's, like, the perfect, little angel.

S LITTMAN: Well, I can understand why you think that people like Amy more. Being friendly comes easily to Amy. But the people who take the time to get to know you love you so much.

J LITTMAN: Like Ben or Eric or Carlos?

S LITTMAN: Yeah. And...

J LITTMAN: Like, I have better-quality friends, but less quantity?

S LITTMAN: I wouldn't judge the quality, but I think...

J LITTMAN: I mean, like, first, it was like, Amy loved Claudia. Then she hated Claudia. She loved Claudia. Then she hated Claudia.

S LITTMAN: You know what? Part of that's a girl thing, honey. The important thing for you is that you have a few very good friends. And really, that's what you need in life.

J LITTMAN: Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Like, did I meet your expectations?

S LITTMAN: You've exceeded my expectations, sweetie, because, you know, sure, you have these fantasies of what your child's going to be like, but you have made me grow so much as a parent because you think...

J LITTMAN: Well, I was the one who made you a parent.

S LITTMAN: You were the one who made me a parent. That's a good point. But also because you think differently from what they tell you in the parenting books.

J LITTMAN: Yeah.

S LITTMAN: It's made me much more creative as a parent and as a person, and I'll always thank you for that.

J LITTMAN: And that helped when Amy was born?

S LITTMAN: And that helped when Amy was born. But you are just so incredibly special to me. And I'm so lucky to have you as my son.

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MARTÍNEZ: Five years after that first talk, Josh and Sarah sat down again for StoryCorps. Josh had just started college. He was depressed, and Sarah was worried.

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S LITTMAN: Does it bother you to think of home?

J LITTMAN: I miss it. You know, I miss the dogs and everything.

S LITTMAN: You miss the dogs?

J LITTMAN: And you and...

S LITTMAN: (Laughter).

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

S LITTMAN: Failed your classes or...

J LITTMAN: Failed my classes, failed college.

S LITTMAN: 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 announced to me that you failed, then I'd be upset because I know how much potential you have. Is there anything you want to tell me?

J LITTMAN: What do you mean?

S LITTMAN: Or was that a hypothetical question?

J LITTMAN: That was a hypothetical question.

S LITTMAN: OK. All right.

MARTÍNEZ: Josh ended up leaving school and moved back home. But he tried again and several years later had this conversation with his mom.

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S LITTMAN: Well, Josh, you just graduated from college. Mazel tov.

J LITTMAN: Thank you.

S LITTMAN: I mean, you certainly did really well. You graduated with honors.

J LITTMAN: Yeah, but not great honors.

S LITTMAN: Josh, it's been an interesting road.

J LITTMAN: Tell me about it. From the beginning, I thought, like, I wasn't ready.

S LITTMAN: I know. I pressured you to go.

J LITTMAN: And it ended up being a disaster.

S LITTMAN: I'm sorry about that. I screwed up. That really made me doubt my judgment as a mother. Do you remember when I called you? I asked you if you were thinking of hurting yourself.

J LITTMAN: Yeah, I do remember that.

S LITTMAN: You said no. But I said, I'm coming to get you tomorrow. But I think you've come a long way. One thing that was a really pivotal moment was when Mom died. When we found out, I fell apart so completely in that moment.

J LITTMAN: I remember.

S LITTMAN: Yeah. You know, like, I had spent my life looking after you. But for the first time, you had to look after me.

J LITTMAN: I mean, I'm sure, I mean, Amy would have done the same thing. I mean...

S LITTMAN: I'm sure she would, but she wasn't there. You were. And you were a rock. It's hard to find a silver lining in losing my mother.

J LITTMAN: Yeah.

S LITTMAN: But I've always tried to think of that as the gift that Mom gave me.

So do you remember what I said to you at your bar mitzvah?

J LITTMAN: You said a lot of things at my bar mitzvah. What are you thinking of?

S LITTMAN: I quoted Shakespeare to you. "Above all - to thine own self be true."

J LITTMAN: Oh, yeah. Sorry. Go on.

S LITTMAN: You know, I said it to you then, and I want to say it to you now as you're about to enter the world because you've got an amazing brain. And just go out there and use it to do good things. And I know you will.

J LITTMAN: Thank you.

S LITTMAN: I love you.

J LITTMAN: I love you, too.

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MARTÍNEZ: Josh Littman and his mother, Sarah. Last week, Josh started a graduate program in library sciences and hopes to someday work at the Library of Congress, where all of his StoryCorps interviews are housed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Garofalo