Our Lives

Our Lives: Here’s to a new season

CorrespondentMay 17, 2014 

CindySchaefer.AL.050113.JEL

Cindy Schaefer.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

As my year of writing this column comes to a close, Glenn and I are preparing to move into a new season of our lives. As is our youngest son. In his ongoing quest for independence, Kevin has begun the process of hiring caregivers. After more than 20 years on the job, we are being replaced – at least part of the time. And that’s how it should be, though it won’t be a simple transition for any of us.

I never expected to be caring for an adult child. When making plans for the future, that’s not something that typically comes up. But it is those unexpected twists that often define our days and enrich our lives.

Although a good deal of parenting during the early years is spent putting out fires, mediating disputes and doing your best to keep little criminals from becoming adult-sized criminals, deciding to become a parent also means accepting whatever is waiting around the corner. It happens without instruction and without guarantees. And the most difficult part just might be the one that you tend to give the least thought: learning to let go so your child can grow.

We’ve been tiptoeing into the move from parents of young children to those of young adults for many years now. In reality, it starts the day they are born. It begins with the baby steps, with a first sleepover, a solo bike ride, a trip to the movies with a friend. It’s not always an easy thing to trust that your children will survive without you. Or to let them fall and learn instead of forever being there to catch them.

I was the mom who followed behind the school bus the first time our oldest daughter rode it to kindergarten. Erin was, of course, perfectly fine and thankfully, too busy being 5 to see me lurking in the shadows. But everything doesn’t always turn out so well. Our second-born set off on a bike ride through the neighborhood when he was 6 and returned home missing four teeth. Two more came out the next day. It wouldn’t be the last time I wished I could bubble-wrap Brian.

The leash is loosened even more as milestones like driver’s licenses and college occur. With our first two, we survived the bumps with the cars, the broken hearts and the growing pains of moving into college dorms. I like to think we have been fairly successful in giving up the hands-on role and moving into that of advisers. I know I am proud of the adults my children have become.

But for a child who is dependent on others for his physical care, the transition is a bit more tricky. We will not only be trusting Kevin, who certainly does not lack in maturity and sound judgment. We will also have to trust strangers to meet his needs without harming him either physically or emotionally, two very real concerns.

The world is tough for adults with disabilities, particularly those who cannot physically navigate the world without round-the-clock assistance. Hiring capable nurses and caregivers and juggling their schedules is not for the faint of heart. Kevin has chosen to take this step while still at home so that he has the comfort of knowing we will be there for backup. Should he move out in the future, he knows he will have to plan for the likely event of a caregiver failing to show up on time – or at all.

It is a lot of responsibility weighing on a young man, but we know if anyone can handle it, Kevin can. Since the day of his diagnosis with spinal muscular atrophy, Kevin has defied odds and risen to every challenge. And as his body has grown weaker, his spirit has continued to soar.

I am often told how strong I am, something I do not like to hear because it is worlds away from the truth. I would never be brave enough to choose the challenges our family has faced. It is only through God’s grace that we have been able to stare down those challenges and uncover the beauty in each and every one. For it is by trusting Him that we are taking and delighting in this incredible journey.

And even though I didn’t get the storybook life, I still got the happily ever after. Our lives. Thank you for letting me share them with you.

Schaefer: cschaefer63@nc.rr.com

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