I’ve been a little radio silent around here for a bit. Mostly because I’ve been eating. Or thinking about eating. Or planning the eating.
To be fair, this is the case for me All the Time. I like food. But in my defense at this particular time, my friend Maggie and I just held our first ever Food and Wine Retreat, so All the Thinking About Food = LEGIT.
I cannot adequately express how very much I needed the time away at the Oregon Coast to just hang out and relax.
It’s been a month, friends. One of those sort of Stunning, Beautiful, Brutal MONTHS. Anyone else?
And these pictures from the retreat have nothing to do with the Month I’m about to share, but, perhaps against the backdrop of the Real Life we’ve been living, you can see how grateful I am for Rest and Good Humans and Amazing Food by the Sea.
A friend approached Greg at church a few Sundays ago. She’s kind, and she knows our family, so she thought we’d want to know about the post in a public group on Facebook, describing a teenager on the path near our house who was threatening a young family, aimed at hurting or robbing them. A teenage boy who, when physically described, sounded too much like our oldest boy to ignore.
Since the post mentioned his service dog, too, we had no doubt, really. I also knew he wasn’t going to hurt or rob anyone. Ian is very much like his Golden Retriever, Zoey; he’s much more likely to lick you to death than do anything to hurt you, ever.
But his disabilities — intellectual, verbal, and developmental — none of which are visible, mean he’s regularly misunderstood. And, if I can be perfectly frank here, our Guatemalan son is no longer seen as an adorable little boy with big brown doe eyes; now that he’s a 5’10”, 190 lb, brown male, people see a threat. I cannot adequately describe how much, over the last 15 years, our eyes have been opened to systematic and entrenched racism and to our own enormous privilege as white people.
So I did what any mommy would do. I joined the Facebook group, read the message about the lurking boy who followed the family, read the comments encouraging police involvement and warning the public to be wary of him, and attempted to defend my kid and dispel the idea that he’s a danger.
I wrote: “Hi. The boy you mentioned is my son, Ian. Ian is significantly intellectually disabled, and the dog, Zoey, is his service dog. As you noticed, Ian’s disability affects him socially, as well, and he is unable to accurately identify how others feel. His speech is also significantly impacted (he’s unable to understand others well or make himself clearly understood) — not sure whether you talked to him or not, but thought I should let you know that, too. I’m so sorry his behavior caused fear and anxiety for you and your kids. The good news is he wasn’t going to rob or hurt you; he cares deeply for others and isn’t violent or dangerous in any way — he’s just awful at understanding social cues. Ian’s only unsupervised activity each day is walking Zoey for 15 minutes on that path. He’s 18 now, so, alongside his therapists and teachers, we’re trying to give him “more responsibility” to do a few things on his own. Taking Zoey for a walk is his one thing right now. We regularly talk to him about the fact that people respond differently to him now that he’s “man sized” than when he was small. He’s very interested in and likes people, so it’s difficult for him to understand that lurking beside people, their kids, their conversations, etc. makes people feel nervous. Please know this is something we’re continuously working on with him and also that we had a long discussion with him about your experience. He said he “didn’t mean make them feel bad.” We’ve emphasized the importance of giving strangers a lot of space so we don’t appear threatening. Wishing you peaceful walks in the future…”
I hit send, and then I cried for a really long time.
There’s a grief inherent in raising children who experience disability. I haven’t met a parent yet who hasn’t felt it. But I’ll tell you… the last two years have been extraordinarily hard. Defeating. Exhausting. Relentless.
We adopted Ian when he was 3, and, until he was 16 or so, we dealt in possibilities. He could possibly drive some day, we thought. Or maybe one day he’ll have his own apartment. While kids his age were earning trophies for their sports teams, we were happy for them… and grieved that Ian will never experience the camaraderie of going to State with water polo or wearing a letterman’s jacket on campus. But still, we thought; he still has potential for Some of the Usual Things.
Until we didn’t think that anymore.
Until his childhood was over.
Until we arrived at the barriers he cannot climb.
And then we grieved again, both for the life he cannot have… which we long suspected… but perhaps even more for the end of the possibilities.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Ian has a LOT of potential and will learn and change and grow as the years move by. But the goals are different now. The capacity isn’t there to drive and it would be both foolish and dangerous to try. Now the goal is learning public transportation. Similar with independence; he won’t get to go away to college like his sister or live in an apartment unsupervised or handle his own finances. And so we look to what he CAN do… but we grieve, too. There’s a lot of that.
And the grief over the “threatening teenager” was founded in the reality that he will face this sort of thing forever. That he can’t live only inside our family bubble. That he’ll go out into the world for more than 15 minutes at a time, and more people will feel threatened by a man-child who really would love to have a friend. That 15 minutes is all the time it takes for that to happen.
I mourn that he can’t go into the world like I can and disarm people with words. I mourn that he’s 18 and must still be supervised 23 hrs and 45 minutes a day. I grieve that he will be judged “creepy” or frightening or a danger to women and children.
It’s impossibly hard to love a child and not be able to give him the world. You know? Impossibly hard.
The community response to my message was beautiful, really. Strangers sending love, letting us know they’re eager to meet and greet Ian on his walks, and telling us about petting Zoey and chatting with Ian. “I’ve met this young man and his beautiful dog, as I walk the trail very often. I also have taken the time to stop and talk to him and Zoey (who he was kind enough to let me pet) I never felt a threat or worry around him, to me he just seemed a little lonely and a friendly hello seemed to really brighten his day. I hope they continue to enjoy the trail.”
I cry again, every time I read that. I needed the reminder that some people are magic and have the power to see past the surface to the precious person within.
But the whole experience threw me for a loop, especially coming, as it did, on the same day my oldest girl asked us to find her birth mom. I’m a fan of that plan. I’m really excited for her… and also for me, truth be told. I’ve wanted to hug her bio mom for years. To thank her for giving my girl life. To tell her Abby’s been happy and healthy and well loved. To share how proud I am of our girl, hers and Greg’s and mine. But dealing with the emotional aftermath of the Path Situation AND trying to figure out how to hire a private investigator in Vietnam? That was something, friends. Just a teeny, tiny bit overwhelming.
So it’s been a little radio silent around here. And I think I’ve made the case for Why Food, and Why Retreat, and Why Rest and Respite.
Because life is lifey. Yes?
Life is lifey.
But life can also — at least for a little while — be fixed with fresh pasta and pizza and risotto and local wine…
…with outstanding people and human connection…
…with goofballs and laughter and a frickin’ break from the grind…
…and with the reminder that we’re all in this together.
None of us alone if we’re brave enough to reach for each other.
Signing off for now (and headed to get myself some food, because obviously),
P.S. Retreat season is a busy time for me. Lots of thought, planning and energy go into these events, none of which would be possible without my steady staff, Maggie and Polly Peterson, who have made my dream of rest and respite built on human connection happen. The retreats are how I’ve met and spent time with many of you, dear readers and friends, and I’m grateful for every minute. (Including the naked on the beach ones.)
P.P.S. We do have two more retreats coming in 2018 — the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat in May (for new and experienced writers alike) and the Mindfulness Retreat in November. There are still some spaces available at each, and I’d love for you to come. Maggie will be cooking. 😉 You can find all the details here.