Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Lost in the confusion of past days ... found while foraging through old memories ...

a large cache of papers (correspondence and notes) from the experience of the Unitarian-Universalist Black Caucus at a critical time in UU history. They're written to friends with whom I shared the experience and give an accurate picture of a truly historic era that has not been heavily documented. On an impulse, I emailed an African American minister friend now living in the Boston area telling him that -- while going through old files I'd come upon papers that he might find of interest. He's far younger than I; the age of my eldest son, I think, and one with an abiding interest in recent black history.

I read through only a few of the papers -- fully intending to run them through the paper shredder but finding it difficult to do so. They held little of importance to me at this point in my life -- especially when there were so many other ways to go in recalling the events of my history -- but should they be trashed? Probably not.

I didn't see them as anything more than my personal account of events, but, suppose other personal accounts could be turned up from basements or attics in other parts of the country? It was after all, a national movement involving 3 meetings in 3 states over 3 years and filled with content that should be remembered. Supposing he could combine my documents with those of others yet to be discovered? Could that not be interesting?

He responded almost immediately and within two weeks sent a message that he would be here in the Bay Area for several days soon and would love to have a chance to talk about my offer. It was a given that he was enthusiastic about having possession of my papers.

He came last Wednesday; we spent the day together, and I learned from him that there is, indeed, work being done at the moment in gathering together just such works into an archive being established at the University of Chicago. We agreed that I will pull my papers together into protective sheets in a binder and send them to him for inclusion. My request was that he first scan them for anything that might be hurtful to anyone -- or that might be politically inappropriate in light of subsequent developments in the years following -- but otherwise they're his to use as he sees fit. It's a considerable batch of sometimes hyperbolic accounts of events, but the few that I took the time to scan were exciting to read. I believe that others will find them equally so.

So you see, I may be becoming a writer by default.

Over the next few days I'll go back to foraging through these yellowing crumbling documents for more pieces to share here. But that may mean more discoveries that need to be directed into other avenues for sharing to more targeted readers in the black community.

It could be that I've lived many books, any one of which could find its way into print. Maybe the hardest job will be choosing which book to write. It may be that I will become stuck -- unable to decide and lose the momentum to write at all. It could be that the remembering will serve its own purpose and not need to be acted on. But deep down I think that would be regrettable.

Will I stop long enough in the living of it to tell about it?

No longer waiting to exhale ...

It has been less than 24 hours since those crucial decisions were arrived at to begin a 90 degree turn in the pattern of our lives. I'm feeling less pain than relief -- though this may be a temporary state and not one to count on quite yet.

The immediate crisis has passed. Life at home is again on an even keel with little sign of the trauma of the past several days.

The biggest change is the one taking place in my mind -- coming to terms with where we are in space and time. I've been living with a daughter who is chronologically at middle age with a mental age of a rebellious young adolescent. She is composed of a mind that is riddled with empty spaces where logic and judgement and rationality should be residing; a mind with huge deficits controlling a normal healthy body, with a raging libido and all of the hungers of an adult woman. A necessary hysterectomy performed about two years ago has thrust this healthy female body prematurely into menopause -- adding the ultimate combination of traumatic physical/emotional elements to an already compromised female system. I am no match for what nature has wrought. No one is. It will take a team of professionals blending abilities and training to even begin to address something so complex. Everything short of that will fall short of what is needed to maximize her again.

I know what that looks like because -- when she arrived home from several years of schooling at St. Vincents Academy in Santa Barbara at 19 -- that word would have described her. She had been maximized. My hopes for her were realistic in light of what she'd been exposed to. She had received her high school diploma with the ability to enter any community college at the vocational level. She was self-confident, capable of holding her own socially, and with enough training to benefit in sheltered-workshop situations. It was all I could have asked for. My sense of what she might be capable of was strongly influenced by what she'd been given up to that point in her life, and of how much she'd profited from it. I had high hopes that didn't take into account the slippage in the safety net that would follow in the wake of huge and consistent cutbacks in what the state allotted to the services to the developmentally disabled.

When assessed in that way, I feel fortunate to have been able to cope so well for so long. There is no disgrace nor failure to rue. Superfriends are immune to all that. We just do the best we can given the tools we have to work with. The trick is to know when the system reaches overload, and to begin to increase the universe of minds required to deal with it as needed. I've done that.

Now I will concentrate on doing those things that keep me whole and capable of letting go gradually. We will probably have until August before the necessary processes have been worked through by those in whose hands our fate now rests. I will concentrate of my role as protector-mother until circumstances change that into whatever comes next.

She will swim this weekend at the University of the Pacific and will come home bedecked with ribbons (as always), filled with pride of achievement. She's preparing for the next NIAD art reception and exhibit in about ten days and that will hold us in a comfortable relationship where she is fully occupied by good things.

Me? I'll begin my own process of separation -- already begun as you can see -- which will be so much easier now that next steps are beginning to emerge. I'm no longer alone with the decisions and -- even better than that -- I trust those in whose hands our fate now rests. It's been a long time since I've had the will or the strength to allow that to happen.

Her future is not as I'd envisioned it when she was a toddler -- when I was coming to terms with the life ahead for her -- but it can still work. I will still be needed but in a new way; one that is ill-defined right now, but one that may require more distance between us than ever before. That will be hard. But I'm beginning to understand that her ability to adjust to those next steps may be embedded in my ability to allow for the distance between her life and my own to be broadened considerably.

A life of my own ...

Now that's a concept that I don't think I've ever really considered ...

...maybe I'll see the birth of at least one more Betty; one who's outlived or outgrown the need to mother. Or, maybe I'll learn whether one of my lesser "Bettys" will emerge to take over. It would be lovely if I found that my "woman" has stepped up in front of my "mother" to take charge of the 'bod' and that there are still discoveries to be made from yet one more edge of my being.

I'm sure that he'll appreciate such an outcome.

We'll get to test that out this weekend while Dorian is in Stockton and while I'm aware that this is the beginning of something unexpected but probably long overdue. We'll start with dinner and a concert on Saturday evening ... and maybe I'll begin to let it feel 'normal.' My cell phone will be fully-charged and waiting for word of disaster (as always) but maybe just a little less so than before.

Life will go on, and for both Dorian and me.

Photo: Dorian Leon Reid upon her graduation from St. Vincent's Academy in Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

So many decisions -- so little time ...

It's been days since I've written and the reasons have little to do with not having anything to write about, but with so many events happening so fast -- all having such huge impacts on my immediate future. It's dizzying!

There are so many conversations going on in my head (me with self) that I'm beginning to lose track of just which of "me" is directing my life at any given moment. And, as I've cautioned before -- this has nothing to do with pathology -- but with which of the many women that I am will have control over my movements? I so want to simply relax into the Betty evoked by my new romantic interest but feel compelled by the very maternal me who is the facilitator of the life of my handicapped daughter, Dorian. The pull is strong in both directions, and the urgency of waning days on the planet is working hard to keep me tied to a position of enlightened self-interest.

Dorian's life is being threatened by the fact that we're needing to separate her from me in order to re-establish her path toward full independence -- interrupted by the deteriorating support system we'd so carefully built over many years. State budget cuts ended those plans when the safety net crumbled and her apartment had to be closed and a return to share my home was the only answer. Many have faced homelessness and life under bridges at that point. We were lucky that I'm still living and able to absorb her into my life.

But that's been less than successful. I've learned over the past year through living with her that this probably was never a viable option anyway, and -- having had a close look at her mental deficits -- I'm quite certain that she should never have been a candidate for independent living. Having the social system collapse may have been a hidden blessing.

She is now in a state of total "adolescent rebellion" and both our lives are impacted by my inability to protect her from herself. We needed outside counsel and I received that this morning. After a conference with her case manager and social worker I've agreed that she is needing a residential treatment program for at least a year. Just such a program exists within 40 miles (reachable for visits) and at the end of that time she will be evermore in a supportive-living placement -- probably in a group home somewhere.

This means giving up her five-day-a-week program at NIAD, but it also means that art will become a part of her treatment program since it means so much to her. That's hard to deal with. It also means an end to her Special Olympics programs as well. She is such a successful athlete that she has been selected to compete in the swimming competitions at the California State Games at the University of Pacific in Stockton this very weekend.

I cannot imagine that anything as important to her as these elements being sacrificed, but I also am ready to yield to the advice of professionals with more objectivity than I have at the moment.

I'll miss her. She is a huge part of my life and has become really central over the past year despite the difficulties of being her mother, therapist, best friend, and mentor.

There is also the sense of guilt at being given back my own life again at the expense of diminishing hers. Though I'm surely wise enough to know that this is an unavoidable aspect of being a parent, and that the feeling will eventually leave as I see the effects of giving her a new environment in which to grow and adjust to being separate from me. I've regressed a great deal over the past year; becoming Momma instead of Superfriend as before. I'd also begun to "diagnose" and "treat" inappropriately, drawing on a great deal of experience in the field of the disabled as the result of my professional life where I was the representative responsible for the interactions between my state assembly position and that of the disabled community; its parents, clients, and vendors. It was impossible for me to live up to my own expectations.

All said, I've a lot to get used to over the next few weeks as the changes begin to take place. It will not be easy for either of us. We'll both be ambivalent since she is angry with me these days and acting out -- and I'm feeling trapped by the constant need to provide oversight and protection in a situation that is clearly beyond my control. We need to move fast while she is distracted by her anger with me -- and willing to trying something else. Waiting until we're in a good and loving place will work against our ability to separate. A paradox.

I may not have been writing because of my mixed feelings, and may continue to be unable to put those into words. On the other hand, I may find that the candor that tends to work for me when I'm writing will make it possible for me to work though the trauma by setting it into words on this screen. In that case, anyone reading this may find themselves reflected here if they're dealing with similar problems of involuntary separations.

Hold us in your thoughts ...

Even more, write to me if there are concerns, questions, or words of advice that might help this transition.

In typing that last word, it felt good. Long lives have undergone a myriad of transitions. That word almost better than any other, fits the life process so well. Learning to move in and out of patterns can serve one well, if we've learned to embrace rather than resist those that cannot be altered or avoided. I believe that I've learned that lesson well, and that by now things simply fall into place pretty neatly if I don't put up too much resistance. I know that the positive can be enhanced by embracing change and that the negative can be overcome by caring.

That will leave me free to begin to explore next steps ... and to help Dorian do the same.