Hannah- my Hannah. Full of a special spunk and personality that is topped off with an innocent delight in the simplest of things. We spend lots of time together. In fairness, I think I might have raised all my children somewhat unconventionally, in that we spent more time at home and less time in organized activities. As a home-school family, we put more emphasis on reading and travel than sports or clubs.
When Hannah came along, with some medical issues, our lives changed, or rather, our priorities. Because there were six children, my husband and I couldn’t afford lots of extras, making our annual trips to Minnesota more important than any other summer activity. The older siblings eventually moved out, went to college, got jobs. Hannah and Theresa, still here, make my universe more manageable, but no less busy. Smother Theresa is home-schooled, has piano lessons and is insanely active in the local Jr. Roller Derby Team. She has a constant stream of Facetime buddies ringing up or text messages distracting her from actual conversation or chores. “I’ll get to it, I PROMISE, Mom,” is an abused mantra.
And so what of Hannah? She has activities that I attend with her. Yes, You Can Dance, special needs ballroom dancing is the highlight of the week. Sundays are magic. We have bowling in the winter, softball in the summer. They are as much a part of my social life as hers. My best friends are now the parents of her peers. We don’t have much in common, some of us, but we have one huge thing that we share, and that’s a fundamental understanding our each other’s lives without words, without explanation, without judgment. These activities are easy to encourage her to participate in. I am there. I do not worry. But, I get tired. Tired of being the best friend, tired of being the guardian, the watchdog, the skeptic, the perpetual mom who never really lets her be who she is or find her way. I can’t let go.
In 5 months and a day, Miss Hannah Bug will be 18 years old. Here is where my heart rips in jagged pieces. She needs to be an independent person. She will not ever drive a car or work a full-time job. But there are things she can and should be doing. She should be able to meet friends for an hour without me looking over her shoulder. She should be able to say, “I have plans this weekend.” Those plans don’t need to include me. They shouldn’t include me. She needs autonomy. I need it. I am beginning to see that I don’t need it for me, although an hour of respite is welcome when it happens, I need it for her. When she feels accomplished, when she experiences new things to share with me, we both reap the joy from it.
When she was 13, she was inappropriately touched by a trusted aid at her school. It’s been nearly 5 years. It’s fresh for me. She has gotten older, wiser, a little less innocent, and certainly more aware. I, on the other hand, just didn’t let her out of my sight for 5 years. This is not a good long term plan. It’s not fair to her. After a long search, mostly a soul search, I have found a program for people with intellectual disabilities in our area that has overnight retreats, camps and a club once a month that I can feel comfortable and confident to leave her.
This past weekend was her first overnight at The Woodlands. My husband and I showed up for the Diva Red Carpet walk on Saturday. She wore her purple dress with the “diamond” buckle and had her hair styled with glitter. She was the last young woman on the runway. Just like her mother, she owned the stage. We sat in the front row and clapped wildly, one of us tearing up, as she took her rose and walked with her volunteer, suit and tie wearing, “eligible bachelor.” For a brief moment, I saw her, saw her- as the open, free spirit that she is. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s easy to let go. There is fear, real and paralyzing fear here. But there is also a deep, swelling pride and admiration. “Mom,” she winked at me, “I got this.”