Sunday, March 3, 2024

64. Our next chapter. Independence.

While I’ve talked a lot over the last 10 years about my plans for Parker, I’m not sure everyone realized I was serious. Recently I have a lot of people saying “You’re doing what?” and shocked by what is going on. Trust me, that is not your fault. I’ve been sporadic in talking about it, life is busy, and it always felt really far away. So while this will not answer every question, it will give you many of the answers you are looking for.

A little background in what led to this and why now.

A little bit into Parker’s diagnosis, I read an article about two brothers in their mid – late 60s. Both have an intellectual disability. They’ve spent their entire lives at home with their parents – who were now in their 80s. (This was originally my plan for Parker. He was going to live with me forever.) Life was great for them, they were happy, had their routine, and were living great lives. And then, their parents died. Within a couple months of each other. And the brother’s lives were turned upside down.

With no other siblings or family who could take on caring for the men, they were placed into a group home. Despite being placed together, the men fell apart. They became combative, they didn’t understand why their parents were not there, why there were living in this place, and had no idea who all of these people living there with them were.

It was a terrible situation that never did get better. It only got worse. The article absolutely shook me. I had Scott read it and we agreed that we would never put Parker into that situation.

My plan to keep Parker home with me forever was shattered.

As we talked a lot and agreed on a plan. While Scott doesn’t remember the age 25, it was burned into my memory. That may be a mom thing, I knew exactly how much time I had to fully embrace this plan and prepare myself for what would – no doubt – be a life changing event.

Despite our divorce and me being Parker’s guardian, I couldn’t break that promise to Scott. We chose 25 because we believed we would still be here to help him with this transition and more importantly, we would still be young enough to see him succeed in this new role without us and he would be able to see that he was ok without us while we were still here.

That was most important to us. That we all would be able to be here to help as needed and see him successfully independent, whatever that may look like. Because honestly, at age 5 – we had no idea what that would be.

After we divorced, I knew I had to start putting more thought into what we would do. I know that literally everyone felt the answer would be to put Parker in a group home. And, don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing group homes out there but this wasn’t going to work… mainly for me.

I lack trust in others. Especially when it comes to my kids. Parker can’t tell me if something happens to him. I would see a behavior change but I wouldn’t know if someone hurt him physically or sexually. And as much as you don’t want to think that would happen – the reality is, it happens to our loved ones every single day. They are easy targets, especially those with communication challenges. That wasn’t going to be an option. I needed to figure out something else.

And that’s when it hit me. It would be so much easier for me and A to move out of the house than for Parker. This is the only place he’s ever lived, he’s comfortable here. He’s safe. The neighbors would help look out for him. I immediately knew this was the route I would go for him. Not to mention, it gave me complete control over who would live and work with him. I  needed that.

The last several years since, I’ve been working bit by bit to get the house ready, making as many updates as I could. And I’m not done, I still have a deck to replace and a bathroom to refinish but I have to figure out where I’m magically getting money from for those projects first. Everything else is ready to go. And that’s a good thing because Parker turns 25 in May.

So, here is the plan – in a nutshell.

Mid May I am  moving out. We have our date, it is on Parker’s calendar there is no turning back. While originally I was going to buy a house here in Canton, I’ve realized over the past year – especially with A moving to the UK, that I couldn’t do that.

I’ve never lived alone. I’ve never been without my children. I already struggle from really bad depression and anxiety. When I had to leave A in the UK last October, I didn’t know how I was going to survive with A so far away. I wasn’t going to let A know that because I wanted A to succeed. But watching A’s taxi take them back to school while my taxi was waiting to take me to the train for the airport was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

The overwhelming pressure on my chest made it feel like I could not breathe. It took me several weeks to reach a point where I could get through the day without crying and learn how to breathe again. Some days I still struggle. But A is so incredibly happy, it makes it hard to be sad. And this is what I wanted for A – to find their place, to spread their wings and to really, truly follow their dreams. And A is. I’m beyond proud.

I know that leaving Parker is going to be even harder. A has always been very independent. Parker, however, depends on me for everything. He needs me to get through the day. And, let’s be honest, I need him.

So, I knew if I bought a house here now, I would ruin everything. I’d be like, “Hey Parker, do you want to come visit mom? Do you want to stay the night? Do you want to stay the weekend? Do you want to stay all week?” And eventually, he would be living there with me. Additionally, he knows he can play me. He would have me over here all the time. ALL the time. Everything I’ve worked and planned so hard on for the past several years would be ruined. And it would be my fault.

I couldn’t do that.

I decided to reach out and ask my parents if I could stay there. Just for 1 year. Long enough to put distance between Parker and I that I can’t be here at the drop of a hat. That he has to do this on his own because he can. So I don’t ruin this.

It puts an hour and a half between us. A full year of distance that is not horribly far away yet far enough that I can’t ruin this for him. One year. Then I’ll be back with a place of my own here, in a better mindset, ready to take on that part of my new life.

Asking my parents if I could return home at 50, with 4 cats and a dog, was rather entertaining but they know me well. They know I would ruin this too if I stayed local. And my mom is incredibly aware of how fragile my mental health is. The worry of my depression reaching a point that I cannot get out of bed, can’t leave the house, and the depression consuming me is very real. Very real.

My parents have the space. When they built their house, it was built with a walk out basement. The basement was set up for my sister who was still living at home at that time. So the entire basement was laid out to be a space for her. Living room, dining area, extra space for an office, a huge bedroom, and a full bathroom. I’m certain it is more square footage than a single floor in my current home. Plus, they live on 22 acres so Willow has room to run.

The best part, besides having my parents there to help me through this emotionally, is that I get time with my parents. I left home at 18. The day after I graduated high school. I’ve always regretted leaving so quickly. Time is something that slips by so fast. I can’t pass up this opportunity for time with them as unfortunately, we are all continuing to age.

While there is space downstairs for A to be with me when they are home for summer break, A wants to be upstairs with Grandma and Grandpa in the spare room. A cannot wait to be there with access to the horses every single day. We have plans for A to be with Parker at least 2 days a week, too.

That covers me and A. So how are we going to make this work for Parker? I’m gonna tell you!

Parker will have two roommates. His best friend since they were 3, William and his very good friend, Marriah. Each of them have a care taker already, this will transfer over. A caretaker that is specific to each of them.

They will rent the house from me. Their rent will cover pretty much everything plus provide fun and emergency fund money. There will be chores that they are expected to do, outings in the community because they need to leave home now and then. William and Parker will continue to keep their jobs. This is an independence that are all three ready for.

Everyone asks me about the pets. Especially knowing the attachment Parker has with Willow and Sweetie. And while I originally had planned on Willow staying, I can’t leave her here for many reasons. First, it isn’t fair that Parker gets to keep his dog but William can’t bring his. Second, Willow is extremely protective of Parker. Extremely. I do not want a situation to occur where Parker is messing around with his friends and Willow takes it wrong and jumps in to protect her boy. It is not a risk that I’m willing to take. So, yes. I am taking ALL of our animals.

We want this house to feel like it belongs to all 3 of them, not just that William and Marriah are staying at Parker’s house. We plan, after the kids settle in, to get them a house pet or two. Whether it be kittens or a dog is to be determined – by the kids. But they need a pet – or pets. They all three are leaving animals behind to live here, it is important that they have animals here with them,too.

I’ve given myself until the middle of April to get the house cleaned out. 26 years of stuff to go through and purge and pack and move to my parents. That will give the three families a month to paint and make the house feel like it belongs to everyone. A fresh new look inside.

In Mid-May, I’ll move out and the roommates will move in. It is rather surreal still.

Life has been challenging. Parker hates for me to clean and doesn’t want me out of his sight which makes packing a challenge, too. The house needs a good deep clean after my stuff is out. Right now, I’ve worked a little on 2 rooms and a huge closet. I’ve made a bigger mess in the process. I’m honestly overwhelmed by how much there is to do.

And I get stuck on the reality that I won’t have Parker by my side 24/7 as I have for the past almost 25 years. We are always together. We don’t separate often. It hit me hard tonight when I was tucking him into bed that I only have 64 more nights of goodnight kisses and tucking him in. Only 64 more nights of hearing him yell that he loves me before falling asleep. 64 more days of nonstop Paw Patrol and Blue’s Clues. 64 more days of starting our mornings together at the dog park with Willow and our dog park friends. 64 more days of keeping my emotions in check while I help him believe this is the best thing ever. Because it will be. He’s ready. I will never be but he is. He is going to soar.

And Scott, Jen, and I are all going to be around for many years to see how successful he is living as independently as possible and loving his new life.

It’s going to be good. One day my heart will see that, just like it has with A.

No one really prepares you for being an empty nester. And while I am sure it is hard for everyone, when you have a child that depends on you daily for everything from help in the bathroom to being sure they get fed – making that leap to separate is harder. I don’t know how to be me without Parker. I don’t even know who I am without Parker. But, it is time I figure that out.

I know, with time, we will all be ok. Better than ok, we will be great. I will have the ability to travel to see A or Melissa or finally make it to Alaska to see Sonja without figuring out 24/7 coverage for Parker and worrying about how he will do with all of the change. I will have the opportunity to have dinner with friends or shopping or just getting together. I’ll have time to finish my book.

We can do this. If I’ve ever done anything hard to prove how much I love my kids and how I would do anything for them… sending A off to the UK and making arrangements for Parker to live with roommates surely has to prove that. I’d like to believe that along the way, I have done something right for them both to be such amazing adults.

We can do this… and we will.

Last thing, several have asked how they can help and I’ve not really known how to answer that until this past week when I’ve felt my most overwhelmed. There will be things the kids need to get started. After the other parents and I meet and have a list, I’ll create an Amazon Wish list for them. And if you’d like to help with the bathroom renovations or cover the costs of the deck, I’m not going to turn that down either.

Most of all, when I’m living further away – and also when I’m not, please keep an eye on Parker and his friends. Please remain in his life and support him. Love him and remind him the community is here for him. I need to see that, too. Because one day (hopefully many, many, many years away) I won’t be here anymore and it would help significantly to know he’ll never be alone, he will always have a community here for him who loves him.


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