Yesterday I went to a seminar titled "Empty Nest Syndrome" and learned approximately nothing, but it felt good to sit in a big room with a bunch of goofy parents steeling ourselves for the big good-bye. I don't need anyone telling me that it's all good and right and the way things are supposed to go. I know all that. I haven't fully processed or articulated what it's like to really never have an "empty nest" in the narrowest definition of the term, given my life as a primary caregiver to my beloved Sophie. Life goes on in a sort of eternal present for me and Sophie, even as my sons move forward, and I don't mean this in a bad or heavy kind of way. I will try at some point to write about it, to parse out the peculiarity of maintaining a nest even as my own impulse is to fly away to a new part of life. As they say. I texted a fellow caregiver during the seminar that I was going to drop a bomb on the person leading it by asking whether taking up a new hobby or planning a trip would help the "Never an Empty Nest Syndrome," and my friend texted back, Do it, and I smiled and looked up and let my mind drift to all the years, all the years. I am so damn proud of Oliver, of all he's accomplished and the young man he's become. I'm sad in an existential way that my job raising him is largely over even as I know in my bones that mothering is so deeply embedded, I might as well be one of those orca matriarchs whose sons never leave her. I'm going to tell you a story about something he said the other day in response to us witnessing a terrible motorcycle accident on our drive from Los Angeles to Tucson. Oliver was driving, and I was reading when he yelled out and grabbed me and I looked up to see a guy flipping over and over and a bike in the air and the guy rolling on the road and then we were past and pulled over and I was calling 911 and then Oliver pulled back out on the highway and we were on our way our hearts pumping and both of us exclaiming and repeating over and over what we'd seen and that terrible rush in the body for many minutes before we quieted. You know what's really weird, Mom? Oliver asked, and I said, What? and Oliver said, I noticed that guy a while back on his bike and he had a flag or something on his jacket and I thought he was probably a stupid Trump supporter or gun guy or just an asshole on a bike, but when he went flying through the air, I saw his shirt go up his back and it was ripped up, his back was all red and I felt bad for him and then I thought that everything in the world is going to be okay because of that, that we feel bad for and care about people, about life. It's about love and that kind of thing.
P.S. Lest you believe my son to have reached some lofty place of magnanimity and compassion, led there by a mother more bodhisattva than human, I'll confess that we decided we wouldn't feel the same way if it'd been Dear Leader who'd been on that motorcycle.
I'm up too late, but I've been playing around with this post in my head all day, wondering whether and if I'd write it and how. Tomorrow is the big day -- I'm driving with Oliver to Tucson and dropping him off at the University of Arizona. I'm not exactly dropping him off but will, of course, be helping him to move into his dorm and get settled and then perhaps I'll leave his dorm and give him a casual hug and a kiss and go straight to a realtor's office and rent myself an apartment nearby and WAIT! I don't want to live in Arizona because it's too far from the ocean, but I don't want my baby to leave home and yes, I'm excited for him, and he's ready for all of it and it's the way of the world and you have to let them fly and yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.
I am sad.
I made the three of them pose together today for pictures. How did the entire summer go by without me taking a single picture of them all together?
Just in case you haven't, here's the link to our latest podcast. For new readers, my friend and co-host Jason Lehmbeck and I have a podcast for caregivers. Actually, it's a podcast for caregivers and the rest of humanity. We interview siblings, too, and the one with Clio Chazan-Gabbard, the daughter of author Chris Gabbard, will, I think, enlighten you no matter what you're doing in your life.
She's a very special young woman with profound insight and heart-piercing honesty.
I learned recently that Sophie was eligible to receive a home health aide, but I felt dubious about the whole thing for reasons I won't spell out since you've heard them ad nauseum for as long as I've been tapping away here. When she received a very generous number of hours, thanks to the great State of California and the Regional Center, I told my father and he said, I find that hard to believe, and I said, I know. I told my therapist about it, and she said, Wonderful! and I said, What will I do with myself in the mornings? and she said, Rest! and I said, What do you mean? and she said, Lie on your bed and read or go into your room and write and I mused on that for a while, lying there on the couch in her office where I've spilled the darkest of my guts and wept and been guided and helped for years. Asking and receiving help is acknowledged by most caregivers I know as two of the most difficult things to do, and while a lot of that has to do with the actual busy brain and body work it takes in terms of time and arrangement (CEO of Sophie, Inc. reports), a lot, I think, has to do with this deep, psychic attachment we have to our unique children and young adults. It's less about burden, more about acceptance and everything about love. Throw in guilt and responsibility and the ridiculous and very much American ideals of individualism and pull yourself up by your bootstraps culture, coupled by an ableist society that looks on disability as something so hideous and burdensome that we hear things like would you have had an abortion if you knew? or I'd rather be dead than dependent on someone or I could never do what you do -- well, it's damn hard to ask for help and even harder to receive it.
I am receiving it, Reader.
Sophie's morning aide is a delightful young woman who comes to the house weekday mornings and gets Sophie up and dressed and groomed (see above). She makes her breakfast and feeds her, brushes her teeth, packs up her stuff that she needs for her adult day program and then drives her there in our accessible vehicle. She talks to Sophie and is incredibly gentle and meticulous about her hygiene, the style of clothes she will wear that day and can fix Sophie's outrageous hair into all manner of amazing styles. She gives her choices and treats her with dignity and respect and humor. It's unbelievable, actually. The only thing that she's not allowed to do is administer medication, so I do that. It took me some time to train her and even more time to will myself into letting go, but guess what?
Reader, I am resting.
The universe is abundant.
Here's that Extreme Parent Video Project that I made years and years ago with the help of other caregivers, many of whom I had only met online. You'll see that asking for and receiving help was a common theme. Enjoy, share, ask for and receive with gratitude and grace.
The world is in this room. This here's all there is and all there needs to be.
Sethe, from Beloved
It seems like everyone is mourning the death of Toni Morrison, and I've been tearing up off and on all day thinking of her, of her spirit, her words, her regal presence, her books, what she meant to me my entire adult life, as a reader and a writer and a human being, and then I was thinking of all the people slaughtered over the weekend, of the piles of dead children, of the human stain of racism in our country, of all that we have to do, to fix and how to be. I first saw Toni Morrison at Spelman College in the late 1980s, shortly after Beloved was published, and I sat in a huge auditorium with hundreds of people, mostly African American young women, and before She walked out onto the stage, a group of women played drums, the beat so steady and rhythmical they presaged her voice, her voice with the words, always, that she put on the page. She walked out, probably at the age I am now, and I was struck then by her presence and by the impact she had had on the women in the room. She was their voice. I read nearly every single thing she wrote. The second time I saw her was not too long ago in Los Angeles, in a theater downtown filled with the mix that is Los Angeles, yet when she walked into the room, she was so grand, so regal, her voice so rich and deep with humor and wisdom, all of us so rapt and smiling and nodding our heads that I thought then: she is all of our voices.
Rest in peace and power, Toni Morrison. Thank you.
This is the time for every artist in every genre to do what he or she does loudly and consistently. It doesn't matter to me what your position is. You've got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you've got. Toni Morrison, in an interview with writer Pam Houston, Oprah Magazine, 2003