Susan's Blog

Sunday, August 6, 2017

But is it okay?

Every time I drop Nat off at his group home my body goes on extra alert — trying to sniff out anything untoward or bad or depressing or neglectful or dirty. I never find it in this place. Okay, the television is always on. But ain’t that America? You choose the technology to sink your face into all depending on your age, your culture, your social class, your preferences. So eggheads like Ned and I are always facing open laptops. Millennials like Ben and Max are always on that phone. Slightly older people I notice have iPads so they can read with huge letters. And group home staff often have televisions on. Ain’t no crime.

So I stand there and I feel and feel and feel — the air around me, the sense of things, and open my eyes extra wide. Nothing. It is safe.

And Nat is willing to go and stay there. He does whatever we want, whatever we need. And we, on the other hand, try to give him pleasing variety. We break up the weekend usually with Nat being here one or two of the weekend nights. We work it out with him: “You want to come home after breakfast, or before? Go back for dinner there?” We give him choices. We write it in with him, on the weekly calendars that settle on surfaces throughout our downstairs like leaves. I almost never recycle Nat’s calendars because sometimes he likes to study them even if they are over.

So we settle on his schedule and we bring him back. He runs upstairs, comes back down, sits on one of the couches. I bend towards him to kiss him goodbye and we exchange a glance. I think that I see in his eyes something — not sadness, but not happiness — but I don’t know, do I? Not wariness, either, thank God. But not peace. What I read there is that he is willing to go back but what if he’d rather stay with us?

I feel — or fear — that he’d prefer to live with us, and just go out during the day to his program where he volunteers all around greater Boston or takes hikes or goes to museums or bowling or kayaking. I have no doubts about his day. Neither does he. And while he loves it when I pick him up from there on Fridays, he is okay with going to the group home, too. Maybe more than okay. If he didn’t like it, he’d tell me. Right?

As long as he comes here at some point on the weekend. So — is it okay, what we do? What if he would prefer to live with us? Should he?

He thinks he’d prefer it. But would he? I think sometimes he’s bored out of his gourd here. Here there is very little routine, other than meals. The structured activities are few and far between. I ride my bike in the morning and he comes with me. I drop him off after a three-mile loop and then I continue on my own for another hour. He seems okay with that. I don’t think he’d do well going with me everywhere else for another twelve miles because there’s too much noodling, no definite plan. I don’t know.

He goes from couch to porch to playroom to his bed and back again. He refuses books, movies, music. He wants snacks, walks, friends. We can’t give him that all the time or even a lot of the time. He waits in the kitchen, silently telling me he wants a snack, or needs his meds. But at his group home, there are a lot of activities, and they also say he initiates a lot. They have late afternoon activities — the Y, bowling, shopping — and then dinner, then showers, then bed. Thursdays he goes to music. Different guys go out with him, and different staff. Variety and schedules, dependability. Kind people. Lively roommates who notice him.

Ned and I think the group home is great. But I wonder if Nat believes he’d rather be with us, boredom and all. So am I supposed to take him home? Or am I supposed to be helping him live with others which is the natural way of things? Eventually he will have to live with others. There won’t be anyone to take care of him once we’re gone, other than the group home. That’s a reality. And if he lives with us for decades more, how will he feel moving out when the time comes, and he’s 60? But am I supposed to think that far ahead?

Is it right that I feel relief, too, when I walk out of the group home and then feel excited about being alone with Ned? I know I’m supposed to have a life of my own, and I do. But is that fair to Nat, if he’d prefer living with us?

And what if it’s just kind of an anemic wanting? What if he’s okay enough with staying there?

A friend of ours sees this all black and white. His son is in a group home. He fought to get him in there. He says, “Hey, he’s got it good! He’s got a roof over his head, people to take care of his every need, things to do. That’s better than most people on this Earth.” I love this friend’s certainty, it’s like a cold glass of water on a parched day.

But then I’m back to just me and my wiggly certainty, my fears. My deep muscular love for Nat, for my boys, where I want everything good for them. And even when something is pretty darn good, I worry: is it good enough?