There comes a time in most parents’ lives where they get to take a deep breath and say “What do I want to do with my free time?” Sure there are breaks where you get a babysitter, but that’s not quite the same. It’s not even the time where maybe a weekend trip without the teens is conceivable, although you continue to check in and worry about what you’re coming home to. No, I’m talking about the kind of freedom that means you don’t have to be accountable for your actions to anyone but yourself (maybe your partner) and the law of the land.
I’ve certainly seen and heard the horror stories about adult children returning home. Most of the time even that doesn’t curtail the freedom to come and go as you choose. Even when there are grandchildren involved, usually there is still an option to opt out for a night on the town.
I recognize that we still parent our adult children. We still worry that they are eating right, paying their bills, gainfully employed and in good relationships. We remain “on call” for any and all emergencies real or imagined. But on a day to day basis, once the kids are out of the house, arranging our lives to accommodate their needs kind of stops. Unless you have a child with special needs.
I adore my son. He’s a joy to have around. He’s easy going, stays out of trouble, and pretty much keeps himself entertained. He likes being out and about and enjoys meeting new people. But he’s 23 and I still can’t leave him home alone.
As much as I’d like to see Orion become independent the reality is that’s highly unlikely. If he would work to maintain his relationships on his own (and with Facebook he’s making some improvements in this area) I could see the possibility of his finding a roommate who’s abilities complemented his own. Orion would like to get married and have a family and a wife could certainly take on some of the responsibility, if finding one was as easy as friending someone in social media.
My reality is that I will be Orion’s primary caretaker for the foreseeable future. I don’t get to have a “post child-raising” life. What I do get is an occasional weekend of respite. A set period of time where someone, family member or a special facility, takes on Orion’s daily care. I still have to be “on call.” I can’t fudge the edges of the agreed upon time frame. I still have the responsibility of the overall health and well being of my son. But I get a deep breath.
Respite is incredibly important for anyone doing 24/7 with a kid. When your child has special needs, the night out with a babysitter becomes a much more involved process. When your special needs child becomes an adult, the available pool of “sitters” becomes smaller and harder to screen. I have to find a place that can accommodate Orion’s needs, a staff that is relatively competent and at least trustworthy, and something that he’s going to enjoy.
I am incredibly fortunate in this regard. Every once in a blue moon I can convince my ex to take his son for an overnight. It’s not the best choice. Orion is often not given a bath, he is hugely limited in mobility and the over all environment can be extremely frustrating. But chances are good that for 24 hours Orion won’t starve or get hurt and the ex at least knows the Doctors if a medical emergency arises.
My parents have also been a resource for respite. Orion loves it there and they do take good care of him. The problem is that it’s a 3 hour drive there and back on either side of whatever time I need. I enjoy the visit too, but when you have a limited amount of vacation that extra time really cuts into the “time off.” My parents, like all of us, are aging and as easy as Orion is, dealing with his needs can be physically demanding. As Orion ages and respite opportunities decrease, so do my parent’s availability.
This weekend was none of above. I live in a county with a program for people with special needs called “weekend ventures.” They take a bunch of young adults for the weekend, put them up in a hotel and take them on an activity. This weekend was ValleyFair Amusement Park. Orion loves seeing his friends and being away with peers. I love having a weekend off.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Having a break, a sleep in, and a night on the town makes it easier to go back to our daily routine. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the respite. The thing is, most of the stuff I did, Orion would have enjoyed too. Go figure.
It seems that I forget to allow joy into my life. Oh, it’s not that it’s not there. I am just very quick to nod at it and dismiss it. I move on to the next thing that needs to be done rather than allowing myself a moment to experience pleasure.
I came to this rather surprising insight while talking with a health coach. We were talking about exercise. She was hoping I’d find something I really like to do. I told her that historically, as soon as I find something I actually like to do I stop doing it. Something else takes precedence, especially if I might be having fun.
I also mentioned that even when good things happen to me I am reluctant to take the time to gloat. Isn’t that an interesting word choice? If I celebrate, delight in the moment, allow myself to experience joy the voice in my head accuses me of gloating. Unpacking the old baggage is a significant part of the work of exploring spirituality, but sometimes it feels like reaching blind into a bag of mousetraps!
Dare I admit that if it wasn’t for my dear friend Kate (THANK YOU!) I probably wouldn’t have even celebrated having my book accepted at the publishers? It’s true. She called me up beaming for me. She had a beer in her hand and insisted I get myself a drink and toast across the phone lines. She gave me permission to actually take some time and bask in the moment. Yes, as stunned and pleased as I was I needed permission to be joyful.
So now I have taken up a daily practice of actually looking for things that bring me joy. I find myself singing along more to the radio. I find myself turning off the TV and reading a trashy novel. I find myself thinking about flowers.
I used to fill my house with flowers. Every month I’d spend money at the florists for an armload of blossoms. I’d fill in with flowers from the garden or my blossoming plants. I know I stopped the florist because of the budget, but when did I stop bringing flowers in from outside?
Every time my hibiscus blooms it makes me smile. It’s like a present for the day. I delight in walking past the flower displays at the grocery store. I even enjoy the little flowers at the top of my chives. So I’m going out to the grocery store and getting myself a bouquet along with my milk and eggs. I deserve all the joy I can get!