Ya, so, I was reminded recently that it has been almost 14 years since our now 33-year-old daughter moved from our home. Check that – five of those years, she actually lived in an apartment we built for her, above our garage. But, it’s been 14 years of letting go for me, and living away for her, and I guess I feel the need to talk about that.
It was our daughter who asked me, last week, “How long have I been independent, Mom?” I smiled as I got out my fingers and toes to count. Independent. Hmmmm. Now, that’s something to think about!
I remember that day, back in ’94, when our daughter, who lives with multiple challenges, was 10 years old – we were at a planning meeting at her elementary school, and she came out with it. This kid, who could barely put a three-word sentence together, said, “I want my own apartment.”
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. (I won’t go into the response of the educators, here.)
First of all, how was it that our daughter could put together such a fine piece of communication? Secondly, how did she even know what an apartment was? She had never seen one. And, we had certainly never spoken to her about the idea of her living in her own apartment. What’s more, we had never really even thought about our daughter living “independently,” away from us.
But, there it was. She wanted her own apartment.
The GPS was set that day. Everything we would be doing to support her, for the next 10 to 15 years, would become part of the own-apartment, dream-making, action plan. Without knowing it, and for sure without our being ready for it, our daughter sent us on an amazing journey that day – towards a life away from us, on her own, in the company of others … interdependence.
Ten years later, three years after she had “graduated” from secondary school, when our daughter was 20 years old, my husband and I were ready to take on the emotional and financial challenge of making our daughter’s omni-present, own-apartment dream come true.
Our first step was to review the Vision and Mission Statement. These had already been guiding us for several years (and continue to guide us, today), but we had to ask ourselves, do these reflect our daughter’s vision of living on her own, independently? We could not even imagine how such a thing would be possible, but the GPS had been set long ago, at that school planning meeting, at age 10. And, we were committed to the process. So, we made revisions to the Vision and Mission, kept dreaming, and started taking concrete action.
Our next step was to determine how we could provide a simulated, own-apartment experience, within our home, where we could keep our daughter safe and teach her living-away skills, while we got used to the idea of letting go. We decided we would build her an apartment above our garage, where she would be close by, but separated from us enough to foster increased own-apartment confidence.
We had already begun compiling a Wish List of ideal aspects of an apartment for our daughter. This list writing, done covertly during many, many conversations with our daughter, happened slowly, over the course of about four years prior to the decision to build an apartment. So, we started figuring out a floor plan that would maximize the space above our garage, then approached a local builder-friend, who had a heart for what we were working to accomplish.
Within days, our builder handed over a conceptual drawing that incorporated as many things from the Wish List as possible. We got a price, visited the bank, and got approval for a loan. On May 3, 2004, de-construction of the garage began, and our daughter started taking huge strides towards a life away from us.
Our daughter loved that she was the “boss” of construction. She loved how the builder always deferred to her opinions. She loved the builder’s attention to what was most important to her: a railing on the stairs, and a no-slip tub. She loved how she got to do some hands-on work, during construction. Her goals, her longstanding vision, and her support needs drove the process forward.
After six months of construction excitement, move-in day finally arrived. She had packed her little bag of things she held dear to her, and stood at the door of her new home. She was ready to take that huge step toward living away from us. A braver person I’ve never known!
But wait! There was one last conversation to be had, before she moved into her lovely apartment. Casa Nei Bosco (Wee House in the Trees) was waiting for her, but she would have to make one very big decision before she took even a single step into her new home.
I sat her down. She was so excited, it was a challenge to keep her attention. She would not let me touch her, although I wanted to hold her tight and never let her go. I had to take a big step, too. I had to do some major letting go – right there, right then.
“You are 20 years old, and you are moving into your own apartment. Your dream is coming true,” I said. “But, you have to know that you cannot live here forever. This apartment will help you to learn and grow. And then you will have to move out, into the community.”
I’m not sure she really understood what that meant, but, right then and there, we negotiated a date when she would move out, away from her dad and me and her brother, into the community, to start her life of interdependence.
“So, what would be a good date,” I asked. “You’re 20 now. How about when you’re 25?” “Ok,” she agreed.
And, so, on Move-In day, November 24, 2004, the date was set – July 14, 2009 would be Move-Out day.
We made a sign that read, “Move-Out Day: July 14, 2009,” and stuck it up in her apartment. And there it stayed until we took it down, on Move-Out day, July 14, 2009.
Yup, she moved out on the very date that we had written down, five years prior. We hadn’t known how it could be possible, but she was moving out – on her 25th birthday.
That’s another wee story that’s pretty cool – about how an apartment was offered to our daughter, and how the move-in date, which originally was another date, became just that date that our daughter had been staring at for five years. And, how our daughter managed that huge transition away from us. Yes, a braver person I’ve never known.
But maybe that’s for another wee blog post.
This all was proof to me that it was more than our daughter’s GPS at work – that God had a huge hand in making living away possible. Yaayyy, God!!!
I had needed so much support throughout this part of our journey in letting go – from my husband; our builder; an amazing group of other families on the same journey; Community Living; and, my faith in God, who has plans (Jeremiah 29:11) for our daughter, and who wants only the best for her. I got that support, and continue to need it, as our daughter’s dreams continue to unfold.
So, this year marks 14 years that our daughter took her first big step towards living away, and nine years since she moved from our home. She has had three different addresses, as we have searched for the ideal location for her home away from home. And, having found that almost ideal place, our next step is to help her to foster a sense of strong, healthy community within her apartment building neighbourhood.
The journey, and the story, continues.