We arrived home from our vacation at midnight last night. It was a l o n g trip, to say the least. We’d left the apartment where we were staying for vacation at 5:30 in the morning on Wednesday (5:30 there, but 8:30 pm according to the time here on the US west coast), got a taxi to the airport (half an hour), flew to Amsterdam (two hours), then flew to Los Angeles (ten and a half hours), then a shuttle to my sister’s (two hours in bad traffic).
We visited my sister and her family for about a day, enjoying them despite our exhaustion and jet lag. It’s a pleasure to see how well her kids are doing, especially my eleven-year-old nephew. From January until August this year, he was in a wheelchair due to chronic leg and back pain. Since September, after a stint in a children’s hospital, he’s not just walking around but is also back playing sports.
Thursday evening we caught our (delayed) flight home from Los Angeles (two hours) and then a Lyft home (half an hour). It was only minutes before midnight when we unlocked the front door. Who was sitting in the kitchen, eating cold chicken and talking loudly on the phone, but my dear son Andres.
I gave you the details about the long trip and our jet lag so you could have a sense of how depleted we were as we entered this situation.
Andres is my older son, the one with autism (and possibly other developmental disabilities). He lives several hours away from me with his girlfriend, Valerie, and her family. I hadn’t seen him since April, shortly after he discovered and read my entire blog. He had a decent summer, overall, but recently, I saw signs that he wasn’t doing all that great. Specifically, while we were on vacation, we saw him posting a lot of inappropriate, emotionally charged and/or outright irrational things on Facebook. But even then, I didn’t understand how much things were crumbling to pieces for him.
We were already en route home by the time I found out that he was heading to our house. I tried to get him to wait, even a few days, but once he has an idea in his head, as long as he doesn’t need money from me to make something happen, it’s nearly impossible to change his mind.
I wonder if I can set up the situation briefly. I’ll try:
Andres and Valerie have been arguing a lot, for months now. A few weeks ago, they decided that maybe instead of being a couple, they should think of each other as “family” (in a platonic way). They still cared for each other, but “not in the same way.” They thought this could reduce some of the conflict, and I guess it did, in a way.
That freed Valerie to pursue a guy she had met online who lives far away, in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Andres expressed some interest in Valerie’s best friend–who is already in a relationship but has some interest in Andres. Messy, yeah, I know.
Valerie decided that she should go and visit this guy out where he lives. She is terrified of flying. Actually, she is frightened even to ride the city bus, but especially terrified of flying. Anyway, she decided she would ride the train to see him. But she was afraid to take the train alone, so they decided she and Andres would travel a bit of the way together, and then he’d put her on the train to California. She’d travel the length of California, changing trains twice, and then in Los Angeles, she’d catch a train for the Midwest. The whole trip would take four days.
I heard the details of this when I was at my sister’s and was incredulous: A young woman who is frightened to travel at all, who hates to go out alone, is going to venture out on her first trip by taking a four-day train trip by herself? But I couldn’t do much, as it was almost time for us to head to the airport.
So we get home, and here is Andres. He put Valerie on the California train, and in the intervening hours, he traveled to our city, all the time talking to Valerie on the phone. Literally all the time; they did not hang up the phone for a moment. In those few hours, they decided they did love each other after all. In fact, they were madly in love and needed to be together. They could never be separated, they decided. So their new plan: Andres should fly to Los Angeles and then take the train with her so she didn’t have to be alone. Then pnce Valerie got where she was going, he would continue on the train to see my mom on the east coast for a bit, then head back and pick up Valerie and take her to see my mom, then they would ride back to Los Angeles and then home…
They have no money for this, of course. My mom’s health isn’t good, and she can’t have a visit from him now. It would be a long, complicated trip. Andres has a job of sorts, getting paid by the state for helping to care for Valerie’s disabled brother, and Valerie’s mom expects him back in two days to help again.
I mean, it makes no sense. But he urgently, absolutely believes that this is what is going to happen. “We aren’t children, Mom. This is something we’ve thought about for a long time and considered deeply.”
I forgot to mention that 1) he smells terrible, a combination of body odor and filthy clothes, 2) his teeth are more rotted out than ever–I notice he has lost one since I last saw him, 3) he has that wild-eyed look he gets sometimes, especially when he has not slept in a long time.
He sat across the kitchen table from me at breakfast this morning, shoveling scrambled eggs into his mouth as he talked too fast, and I caught myself about to say to him, “Could you please chew with your mouth closed and talk after you swallow?”
Stop, I had to say to myself. The time for correcting his table manners has passed. You tried to teach him manners, and it didn’t work. You wanted to give him some sense of money management, of planning ahead, of considering his impact on other people, of being responsible. You only get so many years to try to instill those things in your children. That time is over. Now you cannot control the way he eats or what he eats or whether he sleeps or if he takes his meds or whether he keeps or loses his job.
All you can do is hear his requests (“Can you loan me the money for the trip, Mom? Please, Mom? I’ll pay you back…”) and then decide if they are things you are willing to do, or not. You can treat him with respect. You can be patient and remember that he didn’t sign up to see the world differently, to be childlike in his judgment. You can love him. But you can’t control what he does with his life.
The list of things we cannot control in this world is so long. I’ve come to terms, I think, with most of it, but it’s still hard to acknowledge that I have no control when I see my son living in physically and emotionally unhealthy ways.
My lost suitcase was found and recently delivered. I think I will unpack and go to bed. After all, everything’s a little bit easier when you’re rested.
CREDIT: Photo by Nathan Wright on Unsplash
I think being a parent when children have grown up must be really hard. I cant imagine what it will be like having to take steps back, keep my mouth relatively shut, and accept that my kids will make terrible decisions. It’s great that you can do that though. You are clearly a really supportive parent rather than an overbearing parent. I hope that as mine grow up I can keep this in mind – my desire to protect I think will probably come over as controlling. Ugh. It’s not easy is it?! X
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I know, I desperately want to protect him, and also to guide him to live in a healthier way. But if I indulge my desire, I end up being a nagging mom, and he just ignores me more. So practically as well as philosophically, it makes more sense for me to back off and only offer advice when asked for it. It isn’t easy, but I find I am doing better when I talk it over with my husband–not just the “Andres wants $200” talk, but the “Even though I know he will have periodic crises and I try to expect it, I still feel overwhelmed when it happens. Can you help me be the kind of mom I want to be?” talk.
Sometimes I think back to when he was younger and wonder, “Could I have done this better or that better or gotten a different kind of help?” This kind of thinking can make me feel really bad… I wish so much for a different outcome, and it’s easy to blame myself. I know I tried hard. But did I try enough? I will always have that question.
But since I can’t go back and change the past, I have to just keep trying to do the best I can in the present.
Thanks for recognizing that it is not easy. Validation always helps a lot.
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Trying to decide how much to help my daughter is something I struggle with a lot. I think it’s hard enough to make these decisions if you’ve grown up securely and with good role models, but extra hard if your parents weren’t willing or able to help you when you needed it, or if your partner believes that children should have to “deserve it” before they get anything – it makes you feel guilty when you withhold help for your own child, because you worry you’re being “just like them”. Having someone to talk it through with sounds like an huge relief.
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The best thing about this entire experience was that when I made the effort to talk explicitly to my husband about what was happening, how challenging it was, and how much I needed us to be a team in dealing with it, he was 100 percent with me on it. That helped a lot and reminded me, yet again, how fortunate I am in my partnership with him.
Oh god, please go to bed & rest! What a huge emotional field to deal with- you’re amazing 🙏🏼
Sending calm clear vibes from Australia, G 😊
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Ha, I am so NOT amazing. I have to keep reminding myself not to scold or punish myself for not being amazing, for just being a regular mom who tries but doesn’t really know what to do with a son like this.
Oh, Q. This is hard, so hard, and it sounds as if you handled the entire situation with grace. I really do admire you for being able to step back, not correct your son, and to hear him out. I love that you are supportive and respectful and loving without taking over and just fixing things and telling him what he needs to do. I am so sure its not an easy road, but you really are navigating it well.
As for the question of did you try hard enough….well, I think you loved and supported and did everything you could because you are a good mom, and because that is who you are. You are a person who does all they can for the people that matter to you. You did enough. You are enough.
I hope that you are now unpacked and well rested! Xx
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Unpacked now, yes. Well rested… alas, no. But doing okay.