Reflections on empty bedrooms.

On Friday evening I dropped my eldest off at the summer camp where he works. He will spend the next two months working with schools in the camp’s outdoor education program. For July and August he will be head counsellor at the camp.   This is the fourth year he has worked at camp and I know he loves his time there. Like any parent I am thrilled he is finding his way in the world and seems happy on the journey.

In late August he will dash home and pack up his things to head off to his fourth year at university. He attends university locally, so despite the fact the that he lives with friends we still see him regularly. I expect he will likely live at home again at some point in the future since he is making noises about grad school.  So to date the early stages of our transition to “empty nest” hasn’t been particularly traumatic.  But I know it is only a matter of time.

As I drove home from camp Friday it struck me that by the time my eldest returns home to live Matthew could  be living in a group home. We don’t know when that transition will happen, only that it is likely looming in our not too distant future.  As I drove it slowly dawned on me that this past school year was possibly the last time I will have all three of my children living under the same roof.  And for a few moments during the drive home I descended into a bit of a funk.  There was a sense of sadness that a really important chapter of my life was reaching its conclusion.  The steady four days of rain we had endured probably didn’t help.

Like many parents I am simultaneously excited and devastated about this gradual transition to an empty nest.  These two emotions, in particular, live in paradoxical tension with regard to Matthew.  On one hand the relief I know I will feel about NOT having to manage his care, coordinate his nurses, change his diapers, and so on, is pretty significant. I will able to plan and live my life without the ubiquitous demands of Matthew’s care, and I won’t live with this crushing sense of responsibility.

With  Matthew in care, I will be able to be selfish and place my needs closer to the top of my to-do list.  That is pretty seductive after 18+ years of placing Matthew’s 24-hour care ahead of almost everything in my life – including key things like sleep, showers, eating, family-time, and so on.  I am human after all. I am ready for a break.  However, existing in the same breath, is the simultaneous heartbreak of knowing that I will need to relinquish Matthew’s care to someone else – that the well-being of my vulnerable beloved son will be in someone else’s hands.   What if that someone else isn’t as attentive to detail as I am.  What if that someone else only sees Matthew as a job, rather than a human being. What if Matthew suffers because of my apparent selfishness. The anxiety and guilt is pretty crushing despite the hard fact that, even if I wanted to, I cannot manage Matthew’s care indefinitely.

And then there is the awareness that the rest of the world might be judging me as well, and that includes other parents like me.   I have heard fellow parents of complex children talk about their belief that placing any child in a group home is an act of pure selfishness on the part of the parent.  That parents who do so want “forget about their child and get on with their lives”.  As if we could.  Forget about our child, that is.  I know I won’t be able to.  It is unfortunate that even in our community, among parents who are equally burdened, we are quick to heap judgement on one another.

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