Thursday, March 18, 2004

Busy, busy!

Dorian and I visited a local sheltered workshop on Monday. There were 92 clients sitting at work tables in a huge warehouse, doing piece work. I marvel at how accurately her antennae registers what are often feelings identical to mine. In some strange way, she "reads" me, and responds appropriately to what she picks up. My instant unguarded response was to the quiet in the room. Should have been comforting, and a strong indication of contentment of those working so diligently at those tables. Instead, I could feel myself tighten up and silently polish up my smile a bit. It was not something I was particularly aware of at the time, but in retrospect, it was there.

We were on a guided tour with the director of the program, a lovely woman who obviously had been prepared by Dorian's social worker well. She was welcoming and gave us room to roam at will. Dorrie discovered an old acquaintance from Clausen House and -- after some hesitation and not well-hidden distress (tears were very near) -- she was in deep conversation with Ed.

Then came the resistance. It was not to be ignored. The rush of tears and the obvious not-yet-voiced-or-understood intention to scuttle this plan before it went too far! She was not having any of this. Not sure where it was coming from, but some of the feeling (from the few words that I could overhear as she and the director talked) were related to her sense of being curbed, reined in, infantalized, loss of independence. It was all garbeled and disjointed, but I could hear it. Coming home to live with me -- even temporarily -- was hard for her to deal with, but Mom was too nice to rail against, but she was "Mom!"

I left her deep in conversation with the director while I left to sit in the car and give her the space to vent. She came out about ten minutes later with face red and blotchy from crying, a tell-tale packet of tissues in her hand, and the director's business card with the promise to call when she'd made her decision about this job. We drove home in silence. She'd managed me very well. I was totally disarmed and wondering where I'd gone wrong?

Yesterday, after a talk with her social worker, I felt a little less lost. Began to realize that most of the plans I'm making will serve me far better than they'll serve her. I need her in a safe setting for my own sake. In the best of all worlds, I'd have her living just a few acres away in a lovely senior housing complex where I can be supportive (and controlling!). How crazy! She would be in a world where everyone would be elderly and there would be no one from her social group with whom to interact.

It's also true that -- in that world of the brain-damaged and retarded -- people operate at a level where needs often overwhelm the ability to give. As a relatively high-functioning handicapped individual, she has as hard a time navigating that world as she has that of "normal" people. The world is simply not designed for Dorrie... . But then I knew that. It may just be that having her on her own all these years has blinded me to the fragility of her existence and of her hunger for understanding.

So, I'm again at a loss. We are living together. It's been little more than a month now, and -- except for her two days a week at NIAD (National Institute for Arts & Disabilities) studios, and two weekends when we've picked up her friend, Chris, to be our houseguest -- little has happened for her. We've not yet given notice to her rental agency and we have yet to go to her apartment to pack up and move things. That may have to do with my secret hope that we're turn up a place to move them to. The total disruption of my small condo is hard to accept since it will (hopefully) be temporary. Is that selfishness? Am I holding out for fate to intervene in some way so that I can keep my space in the world as sanctuary?

But it isn't just that. I'm sensing the same resistance in her. She wants to be on her own, for whatever that may mean. I want and need her to be safe. She has little understanding of what "safe" is, I think. Without the intellectual ability to understand the concept, how can she protect herself? And having that ability, how can I not demand the right to protect her from herself?

She can only think about finding her way back to independence (after 16 years of being essentially on her own), and I keep trying to find the balance between helping her to retain what she can of that -- while distracting myself with the work with Jennifer and the excitement of new projects.

Yesterday I drove her to Oakland to meet with her teacher for the afternoon. Today she is at home while I meet with Jennifer to look over the Convention Center facility -- then to meet for lunch with a council member of the Finance Committee to talk about the proposal we're preparing for the Chamber of Commerce. Tonight we'll attend the symphony. Tomorrow I have an interview with a student from Laney Community College for a taped interview about the union movements of World War II. On Saturday Dorian has Special Olympics basketball practice in preparation for the tournament next weekend. That should be enough distraction for both of us, and the indecision will carryover into next week.

Meanwhile, I'll be working on a MoveOn project that involves hosting a meeting at the Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble -- time uncertain. The calendar remains almost as full as it was when I was working with the State, but the volunteerism doesn't meet my need for earning a salary again. That's what the Convention Center project should produce. Will know more about that in the next few days. So far, so good.

Life does go on... .