Friday, February 25, 2005

Dogging perceptions ...

Spent a few days this week nursing a stubborn digestive tract irritation and -- simultaneously -- some anger I couldn't trace to its source. The two (as always) were related.

As mentioned, I'm scheduled to leave early on Tuesday morning for Ashland, Oregon. The first vacation I've had in more years than I can recall. I do believe the last was the trip with my late husband that took us to the island of Kauai for an extended stay in the mid-80s. Since he died in 1987, you can see that it's been ages. I did travel for a weekend or two -- a cruise to Ensenada and one to New Mexico. But those don't really count as vacations; hardly enough time to unpack my bags.

During those trips with Bill, Dorian was living in Santa Barbara at St. Vincents Academy in the safe care of the good nuns. She graduated at 18 at which time she entered Clausen House in Oakland where she'd moved up over the years to independent living status. That's all changed now.

Early in 2004 -- and for reasons brought on by state budget cuts -- we gave up her apartment, stored her possessions, and combined our lives here in my not-nearly-large-enough condo.

Due to my really complex work and civic life, though I've lived here for several years -- I don't know any of my neighbors except for passing them on occasion in the parking area. Not true for Dorian. She's here when I'm not, and is gregarious and open and speaks with everyone whether they're responsive or not. They are surely aware of her mental deficits. She's not been treated badly in any way that I can see, nor has she been isolated.

Dorian comes in each day from her art classes (5 hours a day, 5 days a week) and plops down her bags and immediately takes off to collect the mail (she holds power over our one key) then heads for the shopping mall just two blocks away. It's a ritual. She walks around a pattern she's set for herself, and visits with kiosk personnel and picks up sample cookies at the bakery and chocolates from See's Candy. Then makes a call home on her cell to reassure me that she'll make it back before dark (usually 3:30 or 4:00). This has become a ritual and serves us well. She's made friends with the security staff, and enjoys their protection, I'm sure. Where I don't know my next door neighbors, I have gone over to meet some of the folks on her route and assured myself that she wasn't abusing the system in any way.

Back to Ashland:

When I arrived back from Mendocino a couple of weekends ago after a heavenly stay at oceanside, and as I was getting my overnight bag out of the car -- my downstairs neighbor was just driving in. She's also a senior. She mentioned that Dorian had told her that I'd been away for the weekend and that she was alone with her cats. There was no indication that this was a criticism, but a just quiet remark in passing. But I felt gently chastised. Dorrie and I had been in contact by phone each night and David had responsibility for looking in on his sister.

For reasons I'm not quite sure -- I felt the sting of criticism. My neighbor was under the perception that I was an irresponsible mother who'd gone off for whatever reason, and left this helpless young woman alone in the apartment!

It had never occurred to me to take my neighbors into my confidence by telling them that this handicapped daughter had been living independently for many years in an apartment two towns away, or that she had been learning since her sixth birthday to live beyond the life of her mother by gaining independence over many years. That coming home after the experience of learning to depend primarily upon a team of case managers, social workers, therapists, and teachers, was a regression. That those professionals and I were still working to retain what we could of those lessons over those years -- by building in some times when she was left very deliberately alone to handle her life. I'd done none of that. They couldn't possibly know. How on earth could I tune them in now? It would seem so self-serving; much more related to my new male interest than to my daughter's welfare. I'd let it get away from me. And, I couldn't live with even the perception that I was being irresponsible. What to do? At that point my gastro-intestinal system took over and rebelled! Climbed into bed and pulled the blankets over my head and tried to sleep past the dilemma.

Since Dorian really enjoys having the place to herself, to hire a "sitter" would have offended her and appeared like a measure of mistrust on my part. She, after all, is a fully grown woman who uses every single modicum of brain power that she has, and does pretty well with that. That's more than can be said for most of us, right?

Finally, an inspired thought: She loves Kokee, David's 22 year-old daughter, and Dorrie's niece. Gave a call and learned that Kokee is free to spend the nights next week at our place. It only means late evenings to morning when she leaves for work and Dorian leaves for NIAD. No problem. David is around in the event that the terrorists strike Chevron-Texaco or Berlex Chemical just up the road apiece, or if the Hayward Fault decides to slip. Dorian will not feel babysat. And, I will feel free to fully give myself to George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare, August Wilson et al -- on the first carefree vacation in at least two decades. My neighbors will simply have to hold their fire until I get back. But there is surely a need to take the time to clue them in on life with Dorrie, at some point. On this score I've been neglectful.

So saying, I'm up and totally symptom-free, ready to attend an evening of award-presentions at the Richmond Main Street Initiative event this very evening. And a chamber music concert and dinner tomorrow afternoon and evening. Dorian has a Special Olympics basketball tournament all-day on Sunday, so it will be a full weekend. You may not hear from me for a bit.

I'm feeling cherished, valued, beautiful, and "young." I've about decided that "youth" is in many cases simply a case of arrested development. All are feelings that go on being felt even as the years pile on, and are surely not restricted to only those young in years.

It's quite possible that a lifetime with Dorian who's stuck in childhood in many ways, has spilled over onto her mother. My concept of youth may have been distorted by that experience. I live every day with proof that years may hold little meaning with respect to the maturation process, and, with little relevance to chronological age -- the feelings and the capacity for continual growth is widely varied and Quixotic at best.

Most of life is illusory, and what we make of it depends largely upon which end of the lens we're looking through at what moment in time ... .

Photo: Three little "beauty queens" in a contest on Treasure Island during the World's Fair. I'm the 17 year-old on the left, my cousins, Ruth (Warnie-Romine-Strange) and Elaine (Allen-Wilson) were two other runners-up in this news clipping. It may be interesting to note that the young lady who actually won the contest (the ticket-selling kind) would have appeared in the bottom center of the picture -- but she was neatly clipped out by I know not whom. (T'weren't I!)

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