It’s Okay To Let Go Of The Kids

I had the privilege of spending yesterday visiting my boys at their places. By the end of the day, I had come to realize a great many things for which I am truly and utterly grateful. And a few things I need to file into the ‘Nailed It’ category.

Both of my sons, now aged 22 and 21, have had a very rough year. Though they travel in very different circles, have very different abilities, and are at very different stages in their life journeys, each was faced with a serious and major turning point in their young lives. Both are still adjusting to their new circumstances without Dad. Becoming men themselves, both have been denied the greatest single influence and support to their success. At a time when they both need Dad more than ever, they are having to learn to rely on themselves and trust that they already know what they need to know. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

I have watched them both struggle, in their own ways, making mistakes, backtracking, making little steps in the right direction, and falling down again. Always, I have been ready with the safety net. But mostly I’ve had to stand back and let them go. And wait. And hope. And trust.

Over the past few months, each of my sons has met a crossroads. Both were faced with choices that could have had devastating and permanent repercussions. Both were forced to balance emotion with logic. Both have found themselves fighting for their futures. It’s been unbearable to have to watch.

In the past few weeks, both have pushed me out completely. And I have had to trust that we gave them the skills. To believe that they have the heart and the fire to see them through the worst their lives will throw at them. To hope I’ve been able to give them enough.

Going into yesterday, I was unsure. Worried even. When last I spoke to either of them, each was facing a decision, choosing a new path. Both were considering options that hadn’t even breathed their first breath just days ago. I had no idea what to expect. I pulled out of the driveway knowing that, good or bad, things were going to look quite different when I got back.

Twelve hours later, I sat in the van, parked, radio still on, and broke down. Somewhere along the way, we had got things right. Somehow, we have raised two boys – two incredibly different children – into two responsible and independent young men.

I spent my morning yesterday with one son who took charge of his own life, despite my desperate attempts to slow him down fearing he was not quite ready. Yet he was easily able to convince me that I was wrong. He is well. And safe. And happy.

My afternoon took me out to catch up with his brother, who had shut me out as he wrestled with a complete change of direction. As I sat listening to his plan, I couldn’t help but realize that his path had led him to exactly where he needs to be right now. And looking down the road with him is very exciting.

So I sat in the van, feeling the gratitude. And the hope. And marvelling that both of my sons have chosen their own way. Both have chosen independence. Both are confident and compassionate and strong. They are so different. And yet, in all the ways that matter most, they are exactly the same. I couldn’t be more proud to be their mom.

As for all my doubt and worry – I’m entitled. Only hindsight can spout cliches about everything happening for a reason and working out in the end. I don’t care how much faith you have; sometimes things don’t work out. Happy endings are not guaranteed. But I do know how to recognize one when I see it.

And yesterday, though not an ending but two incredible new beginnings, will be filed in the ‘Things I Can’t Express Enough Gratitude For’ drawer. Part earned. Part lucky. And all appreciated.

Why ‘World Down Syndrome Day’ Matters

3/21 is recognized as World Down Syndrome Day, chosen as Down syndrome describes the condition where a body’s cells contain a 3rd copy of the 21st chromosome. This trisomy has been around since the beginning of time, crosses all racial, socio-economic, and cultural barriers, is not contagious, and cannot be ‘cured,’ prevented, or predicted.

But one quick look around today, and it’s impossible to deny that this is not our parents’ Down syndrome.Maggie raking

The best advice I received after having Maggie came from a guardian angel/pediatrician who told me to start planning for a ‘normal’ life for her. “Her only limitations will come from your expectations. Start saving for college. And a wedding. You canNOT look at a 50-year-old person with Down syndrome – if you can find one – and think that’s what’s in store for your baby. We’ve come too far. You can’t look at a 20-year-old and plan for that level of ability. In fact,” and he made me look him in the eye, “you canNOT look at a five-year-old child with Down syndrome and think that’s where Maggie will be. We’ve conquered the ‘quantity’ of life for these kids and are beginning a new world of ‘quality’ of life for them. She will go to school, make friends, read, work, live independently, if you guide her that way. She needs you to hurry up and get over this so you can help her do everything she wants in her life.”

I never looked back.

Maggie will be 15 this summer. She will go to high school in September. She reads, commands her iPad, enjoys full-on conversations, swims competitively, and loves to cook. She complains about chores that interrupt her fun, argues with her siblings, wears braces on her teeth, and leaves her clothes on the floor. She doesn’t like Justin Beiber anymore. She wants to drive. And kissing is gross. The fact that she has Down syndrome is rarely part of the equation.

It hasn’t always been easy. But with four more kids, I get that every kid has his problems. (Thankfully, usually not more than one or two at a time!) And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there are times when the worry about how the world will treat her rears its ugly head and scares me beyond reason.

But that’s the point of World Down Syndrome Day. It’s to let the world know that my daughter is a real person. She has intelligence, and compassion, and a great sense of humour. She has so much to contribute to our world; and the world is a better place with her in it. She, and others like her, are beating the stereotype, breaking new ground, and proving that the world needs to rethink its attitude toward the ‘underestimated’ population.

Having kids changed my life. Having Maggie changed me.

 

How I (Re)Found My Husband

We bought a house.

To anyone who knows us, no more need be said.

But, to avoid a cranial implosion, I must elaborate.

My wonderful husband has decided every year since we moved into this money-pit of a nightmare, that we are moving. Every spring has brought with it the stress of having to pack up the entire house so that it can be staged for viewing. We look for a new house, usually find one that he likes, talk to a realtor, torture the children with box after box of now-hated belongings, and then, miraculously, mortgage-guy puts an end to the whole mess.

Then we unpack. Everything. And put it all away again. And I catch the children avoiding eye contact with Dad for months afterward.

Last year, we didn’t even unpack the last 60-ish boxes. I haven’t a single knick knack in the house. No pictures on the walls, no candles, no fake flowers, no hand-made Mother’s Day gifts. I’ll admit that the dusting has been easier, but the house looks like anyone and their brother could be living here. I’ll also admit that there are a few boxes in the basement that aren’t coming with us…

So this year, when Dad decided we’re going – again – I morphed into Mama Bear and refused to pack a darned thing. Wouldn’t let the kids do it either. If he brought so much as one empty cardboard box from the liquor store into the house, I would cut him up in tiny pieces and pack him into it. So there!

He went looking at houses anyway. I felt bad that he was looking by himself. He looked so dejected. (Okay, and I guess I didn’t want to leave him to his own resources, either. Who knows what he’d come home with…)

I compromised. I told him that if he was going to do this, he had to narrow his search to the ideal house. Get us a pool. And an ensuite bathroom – no more running down the hall in the middle of the night. And a driveway! A huge backyard. Close to the kids’ schools. Our favourite neighbourhood. And at least one hundred thousand less than what we’d been looking for in the past. No stairs. And you know what? I want a cul-de-sac. A deadend court. No traffic. The kids can play outside. Secluded. Private. Quiet.

In the back of my mind, the guilt built up again. I knew this house didn’t exist. But he was so excited to have me along on his mission. I love him. But sometimes I do things to him that make me feel bad. I knew this was a wild-goose chase.

My surprise, then, when he came to me the next day with the house, was so obvious, even to him, that he clued in to my devious plot.

Yes. This was it. The perfect house. Really? Who’d have thought?

So we went to see it. And fell in love with it. We could move into this place and do nothing to it for 10 years. (One child has asked us for the gift of no more renovating… Poor kid.)

In the end, there were only two problems. It is three rooms too small. Sure we could convert the garage to make up some of that space. That would mean more renovating. Which would likely be a huge selling point for the kids to move out as soon as they’re ready. But then, once they’re gone, there’s plenty of room. Problem solved. Hmm. I can live crowded for a couple of years. I’d have a pool. And a huge backyard. And peace and quiet. This problem gets better with time…

Then we got to mortgage guy. I figured that, here we finally have something we want, and he’s going to bring us back to reality. But no. Mortgage guy shows us how to get this place, and keep the other as an investment property. Meaning we would have some kind of retirement plan – a first. And some hope for our financial future. Five kids – four of whom have special needs – can really wear away at your finances. This sounded good. Unlikely, but good.

As karma would have it, good or bad, mortgage guy came through. We signed with the lawyer yesterday, close in three weeks. Our whole lives have turned 180 in under a month. And while we haven’t had a minute to think about it, discuss it, or decide if we really want to do this, the truth is, we have discussed it. We’ve talked about this on and off for the past five years, since we adopted the kids and moved here. And because we had done all that talking, we’ve made this decision as one mind – each knowing instinctively what the other wants/needs. There wasn’t time to think. We’d have lost the deal if we’d waited even another hour. We’ve moved quickly on this, together, and are back on our game.  Stress has always brought us closer together.

We are now practically fused at the hip!

There’s something to be said for taking a chance. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.