On Turning 21 in 2020

I have mixed feelings about my son turning 21 in this year of pandemic and turmoil.

His 21st birthday, even in a pre-COVID19 world, would not be like most kids’ celebrations as they come into “legal” age. I could be disappointed about that for him.

But at this time, I’m just relieved we don’t have to argue with him about the safety of going out—like some of his young adult peers who are ignoring medical experts and partying as if they (and their loved ones) are invincible.

He stayed home for pizza and cake and games with his parents instead.

Unlike most others his age, he’s not working or going to school, and that’s a loss in some ways. 

But, at this time, I don’t have worry over the safety of his job, if his college campus will be open in the fall, if his dreams and ambitions will be delayed. 

From home, he shared a virtual roller coaster ride with his friends from his day program, and listened to everyone singing a joyous if slightly disjointed “Happy Birthday” song on their regular Friday Zoom meeting. 

Although my son is coming of age during an important time in our country’s history—a time when many of his same-age peers are getting involved in political activism for the first time, debating over issues of great importance to our nation and (hopefully) gearing up to vote on them—he’s unable to play an active part or voice his opinion. I’m sad about that, remembering the causes I began to care about when I was his age.

But at this time, I’m also grateful that I can keep him home safe with me. 

Inside our home, we read simplified articles about current events (News2You is a great resource) and talk about what’s going on outside of these walls—about protests and safety and masks; about how we can do our part to take care of our community. We are privileged in this choice to stay home, even as we have our own struggles with this, too.

Mostly, we are rolling along as we usually do. 

Praise song for the Day excerpt

Birthday or not, our “usual” includes continuing to help him manage his anxiety. That virtual roller coaster ride is reflective of his moods lately; they course through peaks and valleys every day. This pandemic-induced pause has allowed me time (and opened a need) to find some new calming music and videos, and we’re trying out some new strategies to keep all of us on a more even keel.

One benefit to this isolation and repetitive home-bound routine is that, while it is difficult to be without any in-person support providers, the worry of how his behavior impacts others has essentially gone away, since it’s just us. Plus, if he needs to take a day off from whatever his mom puts on the daily “to do” list? It’s OK.

Because guess what?

There’s an identical day tomorrow during which we can try again.

bird silverstein

Another addition to our life in 2020: I’ve started reading poems with my son. I was inspired by a podcast where author Cheryl Strayed talked with former US poet laureate Billy Collins about the comfort of reading poetry. My son missed out on a lot of rich literature in his mostly functional-based education, and I have to admit that I’ve not studied poetry much.

But it sounded familiar when Billy described a certain power in memorizing lines of poetry—a task that his students first see as tedious, but later come to treasure as the rhythmic words and imagery become a part of them, to be “summoned up” when something in daily life sparks a memory of those lines.

How is this so different from the “scripting” we hear from my son’s early books (so many of them written in rhyme), from his movies, and even TV commercial jingles? He “summons up” language he’s memorized all the time as he makes connections to what he sees and hears. Why not give him some enriching words from Emerson and Shel Silverstein, from Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes?

He’s been very receptive to our short poetry sessions (with his mom attempting to perform mini poetry slams). He seems intrigued by the cadences and rhymes, even if the language is complicated, and its been a calming, low-stress activity we can do together.

Speaking of reading out loud, it may not be your typical 21st birthday milestone, but my son is finally letting me read Harry Potter to him. He hasn’t been ready for this until now—but I suggested it (again) a few weeks ago, and now we’re halfway through the first book! Even though it’s only a few pages every few nights, I’m liking this development very much.

It’s quite, shall I say, magical?

HP poem

So, cheers to 21, kid. I’m happy to celebrate with you, in our own way, as we always do. Even in this strange year of 2020.

Stay Quirky, and stay safe, my friends.

B at 21





At Home Together

This stay-at-home thing is really putting our new house to the test. We had no idea when we moved in here a year ago how much we would be appreciating the extra space. We can be at home together. All the time. And not kill each other (so far).
My son and I have developed a fairly decent weekday schedule. We toggle between active engagement on various things and downtime (for him) so that I can work or find other creative ways to ignore my still lengthy “to do” lists.
Since we’ve been gifted more time at home together, my son is making steady progress on learning how to do his household chores. Enough so that I’m already scheming which things I could move from my list to his. 
He even expressed an interest in my sewing machine, and actually learned how to stitch a few runs for some cloth masks – perhaps a new skill in the making? (The sewing part, not the mask-wearing part. That won’t be sustainable for him, so we’ll be staying isolated a lot longer than most, I’m afraid.)

Read More

Foraging for Comfort

It’s been over two weeks since my son has seen anyone in person besides his parents.
Well, we’ve waved to a few neighbors on walks around our block, so at least he’s had a glimpse that the world still exists. 
But he hasn’t seen “his” world in awhile. 
I’m seeing a bit more stress in his eyes, as the novelty of a “vacation at home” with mom and dad is starting to wear off.
But I think this will be our new reality for a while longer.
I’ve tried to explain to him what’s going on, using some “social stories” like this one and offering some simple language like “We have to stay home to stay safe. People are getting sick and we want to stay well. We are safe at home.”
We don’t have our regular supports of respite providers and day program and therapies and recreational activities. It feels strange and worrisome—I want our “team” to be safe in their homes, but to also have income. We are trying out some video conferencing sessions for some of his therapies and adapted recreation, and that looks promising. At least to give this kid something to do, connect with some familiar faces, and give these valuable people a way to have an income from a distance. Read More

Getting to Know Him

I’ve been working on setting up some new opportunities for my son, new therapies and other classes he’s going to try out. This always means I am asked to describe him on intake forms and in phone conversations, to explain his “level” of ability, his challenges and strengths, his preferences and dislikes.

It’s a necessary evil, to attempt to distill my son’s attributes and needs down to shareable soundbites. Semi-verbal. Developmentally delayed. Autism. Anxiety. History of self-injury (but better). Understands more than he can say. Can read. Sensory issues. Likes Pixar.

But no amount of questionnaires, recent evaluations, or interviews could ever provide a full picture of this kid, the picture that you need to really “get” him.

You just have to be here. Read More