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Thursday, December 03, 2009

World-transforming Jamie news

When I got home from teaching and doing stuff late Tuesday afternoon, I received a piece of strange and surprising news: the people who run the LifeLink apartment had called to find out if Jamie could move in this week.

I realize this information requires some unpacking.  Here in State College, there is an apartment for teenagers and young adults with disabilities; it’s part of the larger (and very amazing) LifeLink program (you can get some details on the high school / college part of it here, and there’s a wonderful documentary available for viewing here).  People put in applications for short-term stays, and the whole thing is supervised by various coaches and teachers.  We’ve gone to two of the Open Houses (one last year, one this year), and we’ve been talking for the past 16 months or so, off and on, with Jamie’s teachers and aides about when he might be ready to try to move to The Next Level of independent living.  Last month, Janet and I actually filled out the reams upon reams of paperwork necessary for an application (specifying, for example, what kinds of things Jamie can and can’t do independently or with minimal prompting, and what kinds of activity outside the apartment—from going to the apartment-complex gym to traveling around town on his own—we would and would not permit).  And we had just started to think about the initial stages of maybe commencing the process of beginning to think about when we might want to contemplate maybe putting in an application for a four-day stay.

Now, let me back up a moment and put this in a larger context.  Seven or eight years ago, I began to talk to Jamie about what he might want to do when he becomes a man.  I mentioned a variety of living arrangements—with us, in a group home, in an apartment with one or two other people.  His first answer, no doubt inflected by his fascination with a local restaurant that adjoins a hotel with a pool (so that you can see the pool area on your way to Mad Mex), was that he wanted to live in an apartment with a pool.  (He meant apartment building; even at 10, he knew that individual apartments usually don’t have pools.) Within a couple of years, however, he had decisively backed away from this option; the next time we talked about it, sometime in 2003, he said, ashen-faced, “I want to live with you.” His tone suggested that he feared that I was threatening to boot him out of the house someday, so I assured him, “Jamie, of course you can always live here.  We will always love you and you can always stay with us.  I’m just saying that when you’re bigger, and you might want more privacy...” “No,” he insisted.  “I want to stay with you and mom.”

That’s where things stayed for the next four or five years.  Whenever the subject came up, I told Jamie that he could always live with us in his own room, but that if he ever wanted more privacy, he could think about some other arrangement.  (Perhaps an adjoining cottage!  Though someone would have to build it, I suppose.) And he always said that he would stay with us.

Well, then came late adolescence, and with it, the knowledge that other kids were living in the LifeLink apartment, learning how to cook and clean and spend their own money, etc., and slowly Jamie’s attitude began to change.  I like to think that all my travels with him helped in their way as well, giving Jamie more confidence and savoir faire in his movings-around in the world.  Anyway, over the past few months, as Janet and I have tried to get Jamie to—what is the term of art?—do more around the house (make his bed, tidy up his Underground Lair in the basement, clean up after dinner), he has often responded like a teenage boy.  And whenever that happened, Janet or I would say, “you know, you’ll have to do this kind of thing at LifeLink,” and lo!  it would get done.  Clearly, this apartment-living thing was a serious motivational tool.  We just weren’t sure when Jamie would be ready for the real thing—or (as you have no doubt surmised by now) when we would be.

So when the call came on Tuesday afternoon, it came as a shock.  To us, that is.  Apparently, one of the residents of the apartment had gotten sick and gone home, and there would be only one kid in the place through Sunday.  Not wanting to leave that one child alone (albeit with the usual coaches’ supervision) all that time, the LifeLink people called to offer Jamie a six-day stay.  Jamie was like, “cool!  goin’ to LifeLink.” We were like, “ZOMG HOW DO WE PACK WHAT DO WE DO ZOMG.” But we calmed down (a little), made arrangements to drop him off at 8 (after dinner and a shower and a change of clothes), and began to put together his clothes and toiletries and necessary electronics, even programming into his (recently-purchased and rarely-used) cell phone the numbers of his family members and afterschool companions.  We met his roommate, a delightful young man Jamie has known for some time, but not well enough to know that they share a love of the Discovery channel, Animal Planet, and The Dark Knight.  And after the meet-and-greet and the bed-making and the general moving-in were done, we left Jamie to his own devices at precisely 8:45 pm, Eastern time, December 1, 2009.

A historic moment, far more important, in the grand scheme of things, than Barack Obama’s speech or even Tiger Woods’s crash.

I was sorry that I did not have the chance to perform the traditional father-son knife fight, but I did note with wry amusement that Jamie’s first home-away-from-home was much nicer and ten times roomier than Nick’s had been.

We’ll be checking in on him now and then—he’s only a few miles away.  But still.  Our hearts are in our throats, and an ox stands huge upon our tongues.  Fortunately, my hands are still free for typing.

As we were leaving our house for the fateful ride over to the apartment, Jamie, starting down the back stairs with his iPod, stopped and said, “I have to get my suitcase.” “That’s OK, sweetie,” I replied.  “I’ll get it—it’s quite heavy.”

“OK, sure,” Jamie shrugged, and then added in a singsong voice, to no one in particular, “what are parents for?”

What are parents for, indeed.

Posted by Michael on 12/03 at 07:03 AM
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