Somehow I could not have predicted the feelings of giddy freedom owed to a Cliff-less weekend. But there they were, unmistakable and unfamiliar as I drove away from The Friendship Home, a provider of respite care for families like mine. Cliff would spend two days "on vacation” with other men and women living with developmental challenges.
That is not to say I’m not conflicted about it. I am simultaneously terrified of trusting strangers to take care of him, and dreamily contemplating the possibilities of forty-eight hours to myself. In the words of Harvey Fierstein, “Is that so wrong?”
Let’s continue along this line of questioning. Is there a woman who has not experienced the push-pull sensation intrinsic in the journey through motherhood? Can we not admit to holding our children tightly to our chests one moment, and flinging them away from said chests in a desperate bid for appeasement in the next?
I have held Cliff tightly for his whole life, going on twenty-nine years, and frankly, he’s ready to fling me away for much the same reason.
Somehow I expected to feel a terrible sense of loss similar to what I felt when I dropped my younger kids off at college for the first time. The tears, the worries about safety, the empty chair at the kitchen table, all of it. What came instead was a surprisingly short-lived melancholy followed by a bit of wandering the house without purpose, followed by a sense of calm. That is to say, I missed him, but I have begun to see the idea of these short excursions away from him as training ground for the future.
The training ground is his as well. I like to call them baby steps—these hours in the company of people who don't know him. As much information as I have given the staff at The Friendship Home about his routines, habits, abilities and challenges, he must still figure out how to make himself understood, how to negotiate to get what he wants.
When my husband and I picked him up on Sunday, he was sitting contentedly in a cushy chair in front of a roaring fire. Not too shabby.
In the end, what I want is a bigger world for him. And I won’t lie—I want a bigger world too.
In our plan for his future, he must see the possibility for happiness in a mother-less/father-less time. Happily, we are young, he is young, and there is opportunity enough to venture beyond the scope of home. Life stretches before us, inviting us to enter through doors not our own. But if time should turn out to be short, why not make the most of it now?
Last night I drove Cliff to a dance where he ignored my existence for a good part of it. About twenty minutes before the night was to end, I ambled over to see if he would consider a dance with his old mom. The closer I came, the farther into the corner he went. So I stood and ignored him right back. Before long I felt him wordlessly at my side, evidence of the push-pull the son feels toward the mother.
The DJ played Macklemore’s Thriftshop, a favorite of ours. We sang the chorus as we danced in circles, clinging to a singular moment of giddy freedom.