On Friday afternoon, we enter the Napa gym, greet the front desk attendant, swipe our cards and, as we’re heading toward the locker-rooms, Theo turns and says the opening line of our new routine, “So, see you in a little over an hour?”
“Sure, I’m going to do the elliptical and a few machines and may get in the pool at the end.”
“Great, see you in there.”
He heads toward the pool, and I store my things in a locker and head for the exercise machine room to begin my workout.
Even just a couple months ago, I would have followed him in to help secure his hip float, or hand him something out of reach after he transferred to the pool deck. Increasingly, his fierce determination to recover his capabilities and expand his independence has borne results, both because of his rigorous pursuit of beneficial therapies and his sheer will power to make it so.
Back when we were at the Shepherd Center over two years ago, it was a completely different routine, when I’d help him on with everything – cap, goggles, water shoes (to protect then-unfeeling toes), hip float, paddles – and, once in the water, I was like a pilot fish, swimming adjacent to him, ready to assist when needed. Getting him out of the pool took all my strength and coordinated timing, followed by assistance with showering and dressing.
Now, he all-but-escorts me to my workout. It’s amazing how all the little changes add up.
As parents, we so naturally put our child's interest first, and one of our greatest challenges is to figure out just what form that takes. What is too much? What is not enough?
At different stages of maturation, it means wholly different things: at a young age it is assisting with basics, like helping them dress and keeping their clothes clean.
When they are older, maybe in high school, it becomes more helpful to let them do their laundry.
How does a parent know when to pull back?
In so many cases, our desire to set up the best situation for them will not be in actually doing the task; they need to master it on their own. Frequently, it would be easier (and faster!) to do it ourselves, but then they are denied the chance to learn.
Striking this balance is one of the oldest of parenting conundrums – every other animal has figured out how to tell when their young are ready, but intuition for us can still be hard to trust. We worry, perhaps too much, about the risks and unintended consequences of early efforts at independence.
This balance of response is ten times more delicate with someone in recovery. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned how many of us at our stage of life have had the opportunity to care for someone. I’ve heard from friends of caring for children, elderly parents, and colleagues, and so often I’ve heard what a blessing it is to be able to attend to someone else. I, too, have shared that sense of joy.
In various cultures and religions, and from a number of philosophers, we’ve learned that it is a gift is to be able to share ourselves in helping others.
A young child isn’t aware of the lesson around each corner, but Theo knows well just how to ready himself for the pool! In these cases, his actions determine when each new bit of progress is achieved; it is not up to us to identify when a milestone has been reached.
This has taken constant adjustment for Ray and me, being attentive to the small shifts and not overstepping. Those small shifts add up, as Theo is increasingly able to accomplish tasks others take for granted, like unloading bags from the car, planning and packing for his trips to Los Angeles, Boston, and Hawaii, even preparing meals. It may at times be challenging and tiring for him, but that’s the nature of progress. It is the goal that our family shares.
For everyone, life presents many notable challenges but, on this Mother’s Day, we acknowledge and celebrate the joys of nurturing others.
Truly, it is a blessing to care. – Susan
— Winston Churchill