Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sammy Goes to College. Well, Sort of...

I spent Tuesday evening sitting on the one front step of Sam's group home crying. I was crying for a lot of reasons, but mainly, I was crying because my conversation with Chad, one of the staff at Sam's group home, had hit several of the emotional soft spots that I owned. Here is a list of my soft spots: Sam; when I had cancer: men I have loved and lost; my status as a "good Mom" or "bad Mom"; and, 'do these pants make me look fat?'. Yup, all soft spots.
Sam and Kate in CT a couple of years ago. :-)
The conversation started as a result of the sweet Katie-did, Sam's new puppy. I was worried that the group home director was pissed at me because I kinda broke the rules for bringing Katie home on Sam's weekends. I was so eager to make Katie a part of the family (can you believe I can be a little pig-headed about getting my way with things?), that I had practically kidnapped her while she was still recuperating from surgery and kennel cough. But that's not why I was crying. (And, I later learned, she wasn't even pissed at me. She was just having a bad day.)

There was a larger issue afoot. As Chad said, "I know you love Sam and I know you enjoy being with him, but we've got a 22-year old man who's still calling you and Ben "'Mommy' and 'Daddy'", (a habit they had been trying to break him of with little success). "You're holding him back."

That's why I was crying.

I always thought Sam's use of the term "Mommy" and "Daddy" was cute. A sweet, innocuous and endearing habit. It was based on 22-years of precedent from my only son. I didn't really see it as a symptom of a parent or parents who didn't want to let go. That's one of the reasons I was crying. It was being suggested to me that the every-other-weekends and Tuesday night dinners were too much. You're holding him back.

All I could think of was all the fun we'd been having the past few years. We could go to a store, go out to dinner -- for God sakes, we could drive to Duluth and spend three days in a hotel and the worst thing that would happen is that Sam would try to take 47 sausage patties at the free breakfast buffet and I would have to remind him of social rules. Not like the old days when most trips out of the house involved a level of military precision and planning just to get him to a doctor's appointment: social stories, photos, hand-drawn maps of the doctor's offices and a full complement of back-up staff just to make sure we could go safely and come home safely. No meltdowns, no calls to 911.

I sat on the steps trying to deny the thoughtfulness of what Chad was telling me. Like a small child with their hand caught in the cookie jar, I said, "Sam was taken from me when he was 11. I want those years back. I'm trying to get them back by spending time with him when I don't need to be his warden." Chad was so patient and so understanding. Clearly, he had skills in dealing with people -- Moms included -- with special needs. He just listened but he kept repeating the truth: "He needs more time here."

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This was true for both me and Chad. Chad's intention was to be honest, even though it upset me; and my intention was to be a loving super-Mom, but I was suddenly getting in the way of all the things I wanted for Sam. Chad is someone Ben and I both trust, and I knew he was speaking the truth for Sammy and doing what he should be doing: advocating when parental love and devotion starts to resemble a straitjacket to the natural order to things.

It was getting late, so I gave Chad an uncharacteristic hug, wiped the mascara off my chin and drove home. I didn't sleep very well. This was not the first time the staff had tried to have this conversation with me and Sam's Dad. But I realized as I finally drifted off to sleep, it would probably be the last time.

The next day, with full agreement from Ben, I went back to the group home and proposed a new schedule: instead of the current weekend schedule which has put Sam either at my house or Dad's house every weekend for the past nine years (Mom-Dad-Mom-Dad...), we would now add in a weekend at the group home. It would be more like: Mom-Dad-Group Home; Mom-Dad-Group Home...). This would give Sam more time to develop new friendships, have dates, practice cooking, shopping and doing his laundry. Normal. daily, routine things that are appropriate for a 22-year old to be doing. As I remarked to his Dad, "It kind of blows my mind because it will be such a change. But if Sam was a typical 22-year old, he would have left for college a long time ago."

We are lucky. He isn't leaving for college or going far away. But he's gaining the same kind of independence from us and having the same kind of opportunity to grow as a person. Things that everyone on his team feels he can do and so much more. It's funny that when I think of this in a logical way, it makes so much sense. I guess I just didn't see it in my role as parent. Ben also made the point that -- not to be too dark about all this, but -- neither of us are getting any younger. We need to put some routines in place that build Sam's independence and don't rely on us both being around for every weekend until 2065. Just not realistic.

As I was leaving the group home, Sam came over to hug me. "Bye Mommy," he said. And for the first time, I actually corrected him: "'Mom', Sam. Remember to say 'Mom'."

As for me, I'm going to search the Internet for a new weekend hobby. Maybe I could buy a motorcycle, some leathers and start spending my free time in Sturgis. Or maybe I could do so much volunteer work that I will become the new Mother Theresa of MN. But most likely, I will just do what most parents do: enjoy the free time and be there for him when he needs me. Like tonight: Sam called me out of the blue and was asking me about where he would be the weekend after Labor Day. (Labor Day weekend is a Mom weekend). It made me smile because I know this is Sam's way of incorporating new information and trying to process a new routine. And he seems perfectly comfortable with the new schedule. I will have to be sure to ask him how he managed such acceptance because I know I am planning to have my own set of growing pains. I may even need a long weekend ride to Sturgis.

PS - Sam would never be the wonderful young man he is without the constant love, support and acceptance from Big Sister Kate (even when he insists on referring to her as "hot".) Her birthday is tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Kate! We love you so much!

1 comment:

  1. okay i am sure Chad was/is right but until my parents passed 10 yrs ago (i was 50) and i was still calling them Mommy and Daddy .. just sayin'