In this year of worldwide chaos to pandemic proportions, each member of my family has experienced a new thing. My husband started a new job. My oldest son got engaged. My middle son started working. My youngest son graduated from high school and headed off to college. Along with that last new thing, I retired from home education. I also finished and released a collection of poetry. While many of our day-to-day activities have remained the same, some have dramatically changed. Within all five of these new things, those changes have been for the better.
But, I have wondered a few times, when there have been steps forward, that there have been some steps back.
You would think I would be used to this phenomenon. Nothing has prepared me more for the constant rocking back in forth in the same place in life than the way raising a child with special needs has. Add to that the unexpected calling to home educate thirteen years ago, which I must say included a few tantrums on my part. So why should it surprise me that the threat of catching a widespread virus lead to my youngest son coming home to finish out the semester through online classes?
Yet, I admit, it has taken me off guard. It makes me concerned for his social connections and his move towards independence. It wasn’t until we talked more about those two things in the past few days–after the relief of knowing his COVID-19 test was negative–that I realized we needed to review a few paramount skills for social connections and moving towards independence.
If we want to remain negative, we need to isolate. It sounds counter-intuitive to those who are energized by gatherings that there is a need to sequester. It feels wrong to welcome a child home and then set rules for engagement. “No hugs” until we know “the results.” For a week, I set the table with three plates and set the fourth plate at the top of the basement stairs. It was strange to see a masked person walking around my house. But, these were the steps to be taken for our week of “what if.”
If we want to stay positive, we need some comfort. After my youngest left for college, so did many of the carbs from our cupboard. The three of us at home went back to our preferred low-carb/keto fare. I have to say that this alone lowered the food bill. But, as soon as I heard that our youngest was going to be home indefinitely, I had to place a second grocery order for a carbo-load. At one point, he graciously told me that we could continue our keto-diet, and he would fend for himself. But, when the kitchen is off limits and so is sitting at the kitchen table, that independence isn’t possible. If I couldn’t hug him, at least I could love him by preparing some of his favorites. ‘Tis the time for sweets anyway, so we might have to resume our resolve in 2021.
If we want to be healthy, we have to throw out the garbage. This truth is literal and figurative. Perhaps it is not a secret that some life skills regress when children leave home. Sometimes they need reminders about laundry. We groan that we have to remind them to clean up after themselves. The most rudimentary skill I hoped I didn’t have to revisit was “Take out the trash.” So, even as I reminded my youngest son to throw out his garbage, I walked him to the other side of the basement. As we stood in this place I have called “the depths of despair” and “the dungeon,” I spread out my arms wide and said that I needed this reminder at times myself.
If we claim that everything in our lives is uncluttered and pristine, we are lying to ourselves. Every single one of us has something worth pitching. Some are as obvious as empty water bottles, moldy coffee mugs, and paper wads. But, others reside in secret hidey-holes known only to our private selves. Those dredges need a deep cleaning, too, if we are going to be of any use to others. So, as I reminded my son, if you aren’t going to do it for other people, then at least clean up your personal space for yourself.
When we are ready to return to social connections and independence, let’s leave this historic time knowing there is a fresh start. That means we have some housekeeping to do during our isolation. Let’s keep what comforts and throw out what doesn’t. Let’s clean up, if not for others then for ourselves. We can stay positive and remain negative at the same time.