Tag Archives: autonomy

Transition Check-In: Something Between Us

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There’s a ride at Disneyland that most of us have probably been on – The Haunted Mansion. I loved it from beginning to end, even though the first few times I went on it I was scared (but, you know, in a fun way). I always loved the end of the ride when the projector ghost would show up in your carriage. “Beware of hitch-hiking ghosts!” the narrator would say. My siblings and friends (and later, my sons) and I would sit as far apart as we could to make room for the ghost. We’d lean into him or pat his head.

So, metaphorically, I like to think that we should always leave room for something between us (besides ghosts). Like fun memories. Shared dreams. Phone calls and texts. A strong connection. And love.

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I was 19 years old when I decided to move into my own apartment. I had a roommate, one of my coworkers at the restaurant where I waited tables, and we split the bills. I was also taking a full load of college classes. My parents did not exhibit much confidence in me when I moved out, and I’m sure they breathed a sigh of relief when a few months went by and I hadn’t asked them for any money, when it became apparent that I was swimming and not sinking.

Now, 24 years later, it has been six weeks since Nigel moved into a supported living apartment, and I am just beginning to exhale. Last year at this same time, he moved into a supported living home, a euphemism for group home, and within the first two weeks it was obvious that the move had been a huge mistake, that it was entirely the wrong placement for him for a multitude of reasons. He was back home within two months.

So when plans were being made for Nigel to move into the apartment, there was certainly some amount of concern on everyone’s part. His ever-expanding vocabulary belies him, as his emotional age has plateaued at around age 11 or 12, and he requires assistance.  He receives daily support from a local organization called Living Opportunities. They pick him up and take him grocery shopping with his food stamps, they take him to doctor appointments, help him do laundry, and remind him about hygiene and taking his meds. I pay all of his bills out of his Social Security money, for which I am the representative payee. He receives “walking around” money in cash every week, and in a couple of months, we may progress to a debit card. He rides his bike to and from his GED class at Goodwill a few times a week and is doing well with that. Once a week I go to his place to make dinner with him or take him to a restaurant, and on Saturdays he comes to the house to spend the night with his family.

Two weeks ago I discovered that he had used up a month’s worth of food stamps in two weeks. His support staff only take him to the grocery store and help him through the process, but they do not tell him what or how much to buy. It pained me to see the bottles of an 8-pack of red Gatorade strewn around the living room, along with the empty red Jell-O cups, Chips Ahoy! bags, popsicle wrappers, and yes, a box of Twinkies. God only knows what he bought and consumed that I didn’t see.

So after some by-no-means-gentle admonishments, I was relieved when I discovered that he still had some of the decent food that he had bought with me on his first grocery trip. He had plenty of bread and butter for toast. He had cereal and milk, eggs, carrots and apples. So I told him that he had to use his weekly cash amount to buy healthy food for dinner instead of craft supplies, Lego, parts of his Halloween costume that he has been planning for four months, and Slurpees.

He seemed to understand. The situation was not dire, and I was not going to bail him out. We are now six days away from his next food stamp payment, and he’s going to make it. Last week when I went to his place for our weekly visit, I asked him how he felt things were going being in his own place, and in his wonderful, inflection-less voice he said, “Well…I’m learning a lot.”

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Nigel and I don’t talk every day (per his request), but we do text. And I find that when I go to see him, there is this unspoken understanding between us. He is calmer, content with his autonomy. I am calmer, reclaiming mine for the first time in almost twenty years. There is of course the parent-child connection that will always be there. But there is something else between us. There’s a sense of joint validation that we have come through something together. And while we have a great deal more on this road ahead of us, and at the same time are obviously taking steps in our own directions, that shared experience keeps us connected as we move forward.

I’m sure there will be more debacles similar to the food stamp crisis, more stumbles as he forges his own path. More learning to do. But he will be all right, Twinkies and all.

 

Fifteen

I woke up this morning, blinking my eyes and stretching, with “Let It Be” running through my mind. You know – the song by The Beatles. I lay there a minute, listening, absorbing, wondering why it was in my head, and then I knew. It was a really big day, and I couldn’t be there for it.

Aidan, my younger son, my baby, is fifteen today. And today is also his first day of high school. Those two things are big enough already, but here’s the piece de resistance – his high school is in Los Angeles, 700 miles away from me. He is fifteen, and he has chosen to live with his father now, a decision that I accept with love.

For nine years (perhaps longer, subconsciously), I knew that this day would come. I remember the summer that he turned six, the first summer that he went for several weeks to visit his dad, who had moved to L.A. from Oregon six months before. Aidan came back to Oregon after the visit confused and angry that he had to leave his dad to come home, that his dad lived far away. At age six, Aidan was not able to identify and verbalize his emotions surrounding this, and he lashed out at me and told me that he didn’t love me and didn’t want to live with me. I knew that he was hurting, and that I was the parent he could take it out on. He was just six years old, and it was the only thing he could do. I ached for him more than myself. And it was then that I knew – one day, he would go.

But I knew for sure last year in September, when he started talking about it in earnest. Not just talking about it, but telling me that he planned to go to high school in L.A., and that his dad was very happy about it. Although supportive, I put off dealing with it emotionally, thinking that things might change, but deep down, I knew. And in January I realized that I had just six months left with my younger son in my daily presence and decided that I needed to focus on him. I alluded to that in my final blog post at Teen Autism, and from then on I spent about five evenings a week with Aidan – playing board games, reading together, talking, or watching movies and X-Files episodes.

And my beautiful, sweet son not only wanted to spend that extra time with me, he made it a priority. He cut down on his X-Box Live time with his buddies in favor of board game nights or movie nights with Mom. And I wasn’t the only recipient of his familial attention. Aidan made it a point to spend extra time with Nigel, really hanging out with him doing the quality time gig, and doing it sincerely. He got down on the floor and built Lego worlds with Nigel, doing something that most teens (himself included) had outgrown years ago. Aidan talked with him about movie ideas and patiently offered suggestions. Without verbalizing it (at least not when I was around), he seemed to realize that the longest he and Nigel had ever been apart was five days while Nigel was at Scout camp. I wasn’t the only one who would be affected by this big change, and Aidan knew it.

But that’s the kind of person he is – empathetic, patient, intuitive, proactive. Like his brother, he’s a different sort of teen, but in different ways. He couldn’t care less about sports, but he loves to bodysurf. He reads voraciously, mostly science fiction, but also National Geographic, J.R.R. Tolkien, Get Fuzzy, and Game Informer. He’s not into any current music – whatsoever. He can’t stand most of what his peers listen to. Aidan’s into old rock (CCR and AC/DC) and classic metal (Black Sabbath and Dio). He even likes Journey and still loves Bob Marley. When I mentioned that today was his “Golden Birthday,” he didn’t know what that meant and didn’t care. And I love that. I love his hair and his clothes. I love his mind and his heart. I love everything about him, even his rigid eating habits and his nonchalance about his grades.

This is the baby who slept in my bed for nine months. This is the three-year-old who wasn’t talking and needed speech therapy. This is the seven-year-old who said he feels like he has two lives. This is the ten-year-old who told me he’s always felt like the older brother. This is the teenager who needs the space to carve out his own identity. And this is the same six-year-old missing his father.

And so, I am letting go and letting it be. That’s what the past year has been about – preparing for this moment. For a while I tried to fool myself by pretending that he’s going away to college four years early, but I don’t need to do that anymore. I miss him, of course, terribly so. But he is doing what I have always known he would need to do, and I honor that. He is fifteen, and he is on his path. He always has been.

Happy Birthday, Aidan, my amazing son. I am so happy to be your mom and so blessed to have you in my life. I love you more than words could ever say.