Sunday, November 18, 2018

Doing It On Your Own

It's been 86 days since my son went away to college.

It's been the longest he's ever been away from me and the farthest he's ever been from me physically.
He's across the country at George Mason University.

He's a California kid - see shorts that he's wearing in November - and he lives most of the time in Virginia now.

There aren't any four year college programs here in California.

Our search for colleges that are created especially for people with intellectual disabilities took us all over the country...but sadly, hardly anywhere in the west.

Every single step I wondered if it was right.

I tried to follow Patrick's lead...tried to gauge whether it was he who cared about college or me.

I wanted to be careful about pressuring him into something that wasn't I have an intense desire for each of my children to live their authentic life, not mine.

But with someone with a disability, there is usually more parent participation and looking for college was no different.

He applied.
He interviewed.
He got accepted.

And then the hard part began...we had to imagine what life without Patrick in our every day sphere would mean.

We had to be okay with him going.
We had to be more than okay...we had to be excited for him...and shove our fears and worries to the side.

86 days ago he moved into a dorm.

He lives with two other people with disabilities and a typical student who is a 4th year mechanical engineering major...from New Jersey.
His name is Stav.

This was Stav and Patrick on Move In Day...and the friendship has only grown.

What's happened for Patrick is a lot of growth...personally and emotionally. 
But something else has happened...something that you wish for each of your children and almost never can picture for your adult child with a disability.

Patrick has found a COMMUNITY.
He has something that Dr. Erik Carter from Vanderbilt University identifies so well:

It has developed slowly over these months...but today, 86 days later, it is easy to spot.

When we visited Patrick and were dropping him back off in his dorm, a friend saw him, opened the door to his own room and yelled to another friend,
"Patrick's back!"

Dr. Carter speaks about true Belonging as "an ache when someone is missing" and there it was...
people noticed he was gone...people wanted him back.

He had his peeps.

When we call him and Facetime him, he is often surrounded with people:

He is busy and learning alongside of friends.

TOGETHER they have strength and courage
...they can do the hard things...
they can work through the glitches and figure it out.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we called Patrick and there were four people holding up his foot.
He showed us their faces and we asked what was going on.

Patrick had a blister...a little blood...and his crew was working together to figure out how to help.


This is what we all long for...what our hearts yearn for...
we crave connection.

Today, Patrick flies across the country on his own for Thanksgiving...
only we know the truth.

This HUGE milestone would not be possible if it wasn't for the experiences he has had over these 
86 days.

He's not alone.
He has a friend of mine who is willing to take him to the airport, guide him through security and show him the way.

He has a community that believes in him 

Isn't that what we all need?

Watching Patrick has made me more determined than ever to create a community where I live that offers that same beauty of welcome and belonging.
Support and kindness.

Patrick is living a life that is all his...with support from so many.

That's the kind of world we all want.
The kind we all need.

This Thanksgiving, we will count milestones and blessings and be clear...
none of us do this on our own.

We need each other.
Together, with all our foibles and fumbles, we are better.

Grateful doesn't cover it.