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.