Supporting The Independence of My Child with Intellectual Disabilities
The first time I took my son, Jack, swimming was quite a challenge. Not for him, but for me. While he was eager to jump into the deep end (without a thought about the danger of drowning), I had trouble letting go of his hand. Yes, I realized there were teachers in the water ready to catch him and teach him how to navigate the waters, but until that moment, I was the one who held him up and kept him safe.
The same is true as I get him ready to move into his first apartment. He’s super excited to experience that independence of living on his own. On the other hand, I am having a tough time letting go. For years, my job has been “Jack’s mom.” I have nurtured him, taught him, cared for him, and even disciplined him.
I worry about who’s going to do all that now. He will have a new set of caretakers who will look in on him, but will they pick up after him as I do? Will they remind him to take his lunch when he forgets? Will they make sure he wakes up in time for work?
As I write this with tears in my eyes, I realize it’s time he learns to pick up after himself. It’s time for him to leave the nest and enjoy his independence. After all, I won’t be around forever.
As tough as it is to let go, I realize we have been preparing for this moment for years. Jack has learned to cook dinner, clean the house, and even mow the lawn and plant his own vegetable garden.
I’m confident he’ll be able to prepare his own meals and continue his gardening hobby at his new place. That was one of the big draws of his new apartment – a huge garden and live chickens for him to tend to! (Other family members are all showering him with gardening supplies as a housewarming gift.)
To be honest, I wonder if part of my regret isn’t selfish on my part. I will miss his cooking, and now I’ll have to tend to my garden on my own.
Jack plans to spend some of his newfound freedom volunteering more in the community. He tells me the more people get to know him, the more they understand people with special needs.
Being a part of Special Olympics Colorado has helped a great deal. Over the years, I have watched him be part of a community. He’s accomplished feats I never dreamed of, including swimming 40 laps without skipping a beat.
He asked me if I will still come watch him compete and take him to the State Meet in Grand Junction this summer. My answer? I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
My husband and I will also continue to take Jack on vacations with us. (He and his dad are avid snorkelers and SCUBA divers.) I’m not quite as daring, but every trip we take with Jack opens our eyes to a new experience through his eyes. He usually plans out our itinerary way in advance.
Yes, letting go is hard – for me and my husband as well as our dog, Katie, who likes to snuggle with Jack every chance she gets. I’m trying to reassure her and myself that Jack will return for family dinners and short visits, and we’re only a phone call away if he should need us.
Brenda Stuart-Ryan is a Denver journalist and frequent volunteer with Special Olympics Colorado. Her son’s favorite activities are swimming, basketball, bowling, and special events like Tip-a-Cop, the Plane Pull, and the Polar Plunge.