Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Milestone

Yesterday afternoon they called out Jeremiah’s name, he walked across the platform, shook the hand of the high school principal, received his diploma.

It was noisy enough amid the loud shouts and horns of well wishers that she and I could talk to each other privately in our own little cone of silence.

We looked at each other, and suddenly smiled. We gave each other a high five.

I hesitate to write further because this may be difficult for people to understand. But, this post is good for me to write, to get these ideas down, and so I’m treating this one as a private journal entry which happens to be posted in a public place.

Raising these children has been an awful lot of work. Brenda has been so frustrated, so tired, and this moment, this moment of watching our son, the one with an IQ of 46, walk across this stage is bitter sweet.

We love him. But it has been a task of mixed emotions all along.

Lately Brenda’s frustration has created a tension between us that was (is, always will be) hard for me to understand. But last night it became a little clearer.

Granted, I am a man, and that makes me intrinsically incapable of truly understanding the mind of a woman, any woman. But I try.

I know her longing to bear biological children has weighed heavily on her, and I somewhat understood that her not being able to conceive was somehow different than my not being able to have children because she was not able to conceive.

I knew that there was a resentment in her about all of that, and I knew it was somehow connected to the raising of these children. But, as I said, I’m a man, and thereby incapable of understanding the mind of a woman.

We leaned our heads together and shared about what we had just witnessed. We spoke about how high school had been good for him in providing experiences that will help him ride public transportation, stock shelves in a grocery, keep focussed on a task.

We spoke about how it hurt a little to see the parents around us who beamed their joy for all the world as their children strode confidently, shook hands with the future shining in their eyes, wore ribbons and medals of scholastic achievement, while our son shambled across the stage with a silly vacant smile trying to understand the meaning of what he was doing.

His graduation was more of a mark of passing time than of accomplishment, unless it was our accomplishment. Jeremiah just sort of floated along.

Somewhere out there on the other side of a glowing computer screen someone is thinking that these thoughts seem inappropriate for us, his parents. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t all that Christian either. But this has been such a hard task, raising this boy.

I think about Willy, our first child who died 15 years ago, and I wonder what he would have been like today. He would be a freshman. I think he would have been intelligent. I know I would have poured my love of reading and science and theology into him like a deep vessel and watched with such joy as he carried those parts of me with him into his future.


I am grateful for my children, but sometimes I look over the life I have and I wonder about what may have been...

But back to the point... last night. Brenda has been so angry... but that anger seemed to melt last night, and we spoke about Jeremiah’s future.

I told her how I have been preparing him emotionally for weeks about a life outside of our home. How I have been describing the life of being independent (as much as he can be in a group home), and the things he needs to learn next.

And Brenda melted a little.

And I saw a little of her that made things more understandable for this male brain of mine.

I saw how she feels tremendous guilt for her efforts to push Jeremiah onward. How she has felt that she simply couldn’t go on any further with the colossal task of taking care of him. The strain of watching him constantly, as we have worked so hard to do ever since he burned down our church two years ago last Thursday night.

And now that she sees that I agree that he should move from our home there has been a lightening of the tension between us.

I told her that I agreed he should move, but because of reasons that are good for him, not for us. I told her that someday she and I will die and he will be forced to live in a group home then, it is better he learn to do that sooner rather than later. I told her it is our responsibility to help him grasp as much of a normal life as he can handle, and we need to guide him through the steps it takes to set up financial, physical, and emotional security and independence.

I said we should not move him from our home out of anger or resentment of anxiety.

I do have reservations we are pushing this a little quickly, but I also know Brenda can simply not hang on much longer. The way she sees the world, and Jeremiah, is different than the way I do.

This may seem a little callous or hard, that we are looking for relief from raising our children. I don’t think it is. We do need relief. Raising two mentally handicapped children has been a tremendous amount of work. But they need independence, and we will work on tht transition as hard as we have worked raising them all these years.

I reminded her about what happened when I was 18. I had been living with my dad in Huntington Beach, California, attending Marina High School when he split up from his second wife. We moved to Silverado Canyon, about 40 miles away. My brothers and I would get up about 5:30 to ride in the back of a pickup truck of a friend of Dad’s all the way into HB forty miles away. He would drop us off at Beach Blvd. and Edinger Ave., about two miles from our school. We would walk the rest of the way. Then, in April, two months before school was out, I turned 18 and my dad told me to go find some other place to live.

We are moving Jeremiah along in a way that is much gentler, much healthier than how my father moved me.

Jeremiah is my son. I will always be his father. I would give him half of my IQ to make it normal if I could. I would give my life to protect his.

Some folks think that adoption is not the same as having a birth child, and they are right. I see a lot of parents as a teacher who have no business being around kids. My kids didn’t just happen to me. I chose them.

I chose them after years and years of prayer and wishing and hoping and planning. I love them.

Jeremiah may be with us for another year or two as we find him a place in the world. But seeking to move him on is not the action of desperation it might seem because of the exhaustion we feel. It is simply the deep breath of the marathoner who see the finish line in sight and takes the courage to continue the climb up Heartbreak Hill.

Does it sound like I am trying to persuade myself?

Perhaps I am.

It is just that today, after being able to speak gently with Brenda about a topic that seemed to be too prickly to handle, I think I see good in this direction we are taking.

I see Jeremiah learning to fit into society in his own unique way.

He spent some of his graduation money on a toy light saber. And he will make foolish choices when he is on his own. But so did I. I made mistakes and he will also. But they will be his mistakes. And I think it is a good thing if he can get into a place where he can make mistakes that are his own.

He may not be the kind of child who made the football team or was a little bit of a math nerd. And he may not get the highest paying jobs. But as he said when we spoke yesterday when I asked him what he would like to do for work: “there are lots of jobs.”

He wasn’t too concerned.

He will fit in somewhere.

I cannot see the world from Brenda’s perspective. And even in this moment of agreement we agree for different reasons.

But in the battlefield that a marriage can sometimes be, an armistice is a blessed event.


MMM said...

Happy Father's Day, my friend.

Reading your entry, I sighed for your marathon. And for your lost boy. And for Brenda. And incidentally, don't feel bad about not getting the mind of a woman. I don't even know my own mind most of the time, and sometimes when I see what it's capable of, I wince and back off very very very slowly, with a sigh of relief at having escaped. :)

From someone who works with the smallest of children with disabilities, I congratulate you both on assuming such a daunting task, and doing your best at it. You have my support no matter what. I am proud of you both, and please ask me if you need resource information, a friendly ear, or a brainstormer. I count those things among my talents, and would be honored to share them.

(((()))) for your boys.
(((((((()))))))))))) for your marriage, which has survived.
for you
and ((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((()))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))
for Brenda. :)

Chris Krycho said...

Ironic timing for my comment, I suppose... I stopped by to say Happy Father's Day.

You continue to earn my respect and admiration as a man who has been faithful with what God has given him - and that is a great deal indeed. You have honored God and your wife and your children (though you are, like all of us, still imperfect), and for that I applaud you. Thank you for being an example of a man who, though flawed, is seeking Christ with all of your heart.

I'm sorry I've been absent so long; my own life has consumed me and left little time for this world of connections across time and space - so far apart, yet so intimately linked.

God bless you. May His peace cover you. May His wisdom guide you. Be blessed, I pray, in the midst of all you do in the days, weeks, months... years ahead. Know that God does reward those who faithfully seek Him. Be refreshed, even in your weariness, by His power.

You are in my prayers, my friend- my brother.

squirrel said...

I'm sure it is very hard for you but remember we all want to get our children out of the house and on their own once they graduate and we all feel guilty and secretly really want them to stay with us under our wing to protect them. It is a natural thing to have these mixed emotions about our children when they graduate whether they are hadicapped or not. You are doing the right thing! My prayers are with you during this challenging task ahead!

I hope you had a GREAT FATHERS Day!

Felisol said...

My congratulations go to Jeremiah, who with an IQ of 46 have endured 13 years of failures, defaults, lonliness and fullfilled high school. Even "floating through" must have been tougher than anything an ordinary 150 IQ person can possibly imagine.
To be a "looser", to know you are different and still keep on keeping on.
Jeremiah , created perfectly as he was meant to be in God's picture, is my student of honour.

curious servant said...

Thank you for your kind words for Jeremiah. Actually, he has more friends than anyone else I know. He is well-liked, always cheerful.

I think he will be OK.

We will always be there for him, always there to lend a hand.

Coco said...

Happy Father's Day!!

Being a parent is not an easy task...but both you and Brenda have wonderful parents!! : )

May God continue to bless you and your family...

And now to enjoy the summer!!

Jim said...

Hi CS, I didn't get over here very fast after your visit and comment. Thanks!
It sure is good that you posted that picture of Brenda and you. I see a little smugness and pride in each of your features.

Now look at the lady behind you. You may know her. She doesn't look like there is anything happy for her on this day.
You and Brenda are so fortunate to have each other working with these boys. Kids help couples bond on a joint project, generally one will dominate in the job, this seems to be you with Jeremiah.

Fox's Mom said...

Your son is unconcerned because he's had you and Brenda to stregthen and encourage, and 'grow' him-you gave him exactly what every child hopes his parents will give him; you two did a fantastic job and it shows precisely because you all three know it is time for him to spread the wings you taught him to use. Adoption, sh'moption, the kid is yours and you two did great! You taught him Love. Wow!

Jeshua weeps, have you heard that one? This time, I think he is smiling...

Amrita said...

Happy belated Father 's day CS. I just wish there were more and more fathers and husbands like you.
You are very honest about your feelings and Brenda 's too. I really sympathize with her.
Its hard to me to understand this thing fully because in my society and culture we would keep Jeremiah with us...we don 't have group homes, which are very good I think.
Its very hard holding on to the choices you 've made adopting 2 mentally handicapped boys.i would have chickened out long ago.what you have done for these kids is invaluable.

curious servant said...

Amrita... your comment, and Felisol's has given me a lot to think about.

It may be that there are some cultural differences here... It may also be that Brenda and I are wroing about our approach to raising children.

I don't know.

I know that we approach our parenting with love, dedication, and an eye to their futures.

It may be that we shouldn't be looking at an independant life for our kids.

It seems to me that there might be an perspective that is an American thing here. I'm not sure.

Americans idealize independance. We tend to believe people are happiest when they are carving out their own destinies. I always thought that was the purpose of raising children... to foster in them all the traits needed to create individuals who can go out into the world and discover their own destinies.

I think that was one of the hardest realities for me in raising kids who are handicapped is how it limits their possibilities. How they would not be able to have a limitless horizon in front of the lives.

This might come from the whole westward expansion which is a part of America's collective history. I know it is a part of my personal family history.

Finding our way in the world is what we have been raised to think of as the goal of every person.

The idea of keeping our children with us seems contrary to that belief of what makes a person healthy and happy.

I suppose it is a perspective I haven't questioned much.

I can see that this view has led to other problems, even international ones. The concept of manifest destiny is also intrinsic to our paradigm, and that might be why we have found ourselves, as a nation, so involved in messes such as Vietnam and Iraq... that we have been given not just the freedom to expand but a mandate from God to spread out over the world.

Ah... I am getting more political here than I should...

I appreciate the comments from my friends in other cultures and other nations who can help me to examine my assumptions.

God bless all!

Pia, aka forget me not said...

Dear CS
I've been thinking and praying about you and your family constantly since I read this post (but even the previous ones in which you mention your hopes for your sons' futures).
Yes, there is definitely a cultural perspective which comes into play. I am an in-between: I was born and raised in the US by well educated immigrants from Italy, and now I am living in Italy, raising two children (boys). Now admittedly, Italian (Mediterranean) parents tend to keep their children as close as possible all their lives, and this happens even in North America (but remember, Jesus Himself was from such a Mediterranean culture), but there are also many positive points too. For instance, living close (often TOO close) to the extended family means that a couple can count on the concrete support and presence of grandparents, uncles, aunts etc, in raising their children. This is a great help especially in cases of children with handicaps or illnesses. Another plus is that children grow up amidst a constant exchange of experiences and insights from the older members of the family.
On the other hand, you can get into some trouble if parents lose control over who's in charge of teaching the kids manners, etc. That's why Italian children are considered among the most spoiled children in Europe...

On the other end of the spectrum there is the anglo-saxon or North American family model, in which 18 year olds are, as you said happened to you, asked (or told) to leave as soon as possible and learn to fend for themselves.
I think this is a source of huge problems in the US, because many (normal) young adults are not mature enough to make that move, and often end up homeless or worse, so it follows that pysically or mentally challenged kids have it even tougher.

Halfway houses exist in Italy, but I don't know how well they work. I have a friend whose daughter, Martina has some serious problems which were caused by fetal suffering. Martina was kept back in a few grades so that she would spend as much time as possible in a school atmosphere where there are other kids, who all loved her. She's 18 now, but she would never be able to hold any kind of part time job, whether it be stacking shelves or whatever.
Her parents send her to some kind of day care organization, and she loves it. She comes home at night, though. She could never survive without her family.
Her parents know that they won't be around forever (though they are still quite young) and they don't know what the future holds, but they will protect her and keep her with them for as long as humanly possible, and then Martina's sister will take her in.

Now, considering that the American culture is different from Italian culture, it follows that when in America, do as the Americans. Each culture must be respected and if there is criticism, it should be constructive. I am hoping you will be able to find some kind of compromise in which Jermiah can be free enough to carve out his destiny without becoming a victim of fate (something that happens to too many "normal" kids who are out on their own), and at the same be time be able to count on his parents as much as possible.
I can't help feeling that Brenda's issues may simply be the normal issues that come up in every female mid age crisis, although her story is undoubtedly more complicated than that of a woman who has lived a more "normal" family life.
Sorry for the excessive length...

curious servant said...

No... I like the extended comment.

This is giving me a lot to think about.

Jada's Gigi said...

what a post! I believe I have a tear in my eye...somehow..along this very difficult road called marriage, and parenthood..called life...we find our way..especially when we have a Lord who orders our steps...You and Brenda..and Jeremiah too..will find your Him...

MMM said...

Read this, and think of what you have done.
You are God's hand.

curious servant said...


Not sure what you mean by the link...

Are you praising me for rescuing Jeremiah and Isaac from their situation? Maybe it was a good thing... but the words of Felise and others makes me wonder if I am still doing the right thing.

Part of me is shouting that everyone needs an independant (or as much as possible) life, free from the restraints of living at home... Part of me is wondering if I am pushing them out for selfish reasons.

A part of me wonders if I have finally shown some people enough of myself that they no longer respect me, and part of me says that the whole point of what I write is to be honest in my posts and that it doesn't matter what others think since this whole blog is an exercise designed for me to work through ideas in my life.

I've never claimed to be perfect.

Today was the last day with students, and I have about a week to do some other tasks, calculate & post grades, write a grant proposal, write a report for the Dept. of E. grant, write a report for the Digital Storytelling project, package the presentation for the school board, and shut down, unplug, and pack the computer lab, and see after purchasing the items my principal has asked me to look into to improve our assemblies at school.

Speaking of which, we had that assembly today I was putting together. It went pretty good, though there still were a lot of folks who found ault with it.

Aw well.

That sounded cranky. I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go lie down.

Terry said...

Dear Curious Servant..Brenda is so pretty and she has such a kind face!

While I read this story , I felt tears in my eyes.
I want to congratulate not only Jeremiah, but also his great parents!

I think that you are making a wise choice about letting Jermemiah go out on his own, eventually.
I have a cousin who had a child that was in a wheel chair and lived at home until her late 20's.
Her mother thought the same as you do Curious Servant.
When Marlene lost her husband, she began to think what would happen to Jody if something happened to her.
She got Jody into doing things, and volunteering at differnt things and gave her the confidence of doing things on her own instead of staying at home and sitting on the veranda all the time.
To this day, Jody has her own apartment that is handicap equipped.
She would have surely been in a nursing home if her mother hadn't of done what she did, even though it made the mother feel guilty.

I wish the best for you guys and I can just picture your two heads leaning together and talking!
I think you have a lot to be proud of!!!....Love Terry

Lorna (see through faith) said...

He walked across the stage with a smile - and that makes me proud of him and you as his parents.

I pray that as you make the next transition that the peace that reigns between you and Brenda continues - that love flows and conquers all.

In my thoughts and prayers xx

Judas Hate said...

Apologies for my long absence.
A belated Happy Father's Day to you and congratulations to Jeremiah!
Everyone’s situation is different and must be handled accordingly. As Jeremiah's parents, only you and Brenda know what is best for him (and for Isaac).
I will say that I have personally witnessed (over many years) the detrimental effects of keeping a (mentally) handicapped child from getting out on his own. Once his Mother passed, he was left alone. Until the day he died, he never did really adjust.
You're not abandoning Jeremiah. You're giving him a gift of independence and strength and self-reliance. There will always be the parental love and support. The calls and visits. Being there when needed, when wanted.
Just my two cents and what do I know, really. But there it is.

Love and respect.