Archive for Arc Jacksonville

Time is Ticking

hour-glassTime is ticking….

May 23 is the end of the school year and the end of the only life CJ has ever known since he was four years old.

May 23. In case you were wondering, it is just over five months away.

This terrifies me. There’s no blueprint. There’s no official plan. There’s no more track of upward and outward. In fact, unless I figure something out, it’s basically the opposite. What happens next? What are our short term goals? What are our long term goals? What are the backup plans? What does CJ’s future look like after he ages out of the school system?

Nothing has ever terrified me more.

He really (really, really) wants to go back to “college” . He attended one of Arc Jacksonville’s Summer Experience four week sessions last summer. He was out and living large, without mom or coming home each day, and with an invisible army of support behind him, he was making it happen. Yeah, that sounds like college.

He might be able to go to both sessions this summer. College x 2. And after that…? After that, it is all me, all the time. Me with CJ at home. Me without the daily break for both of us. Me without the system support to help me help CJ make sense of his changing world. I had one friend describe it as being CJ’s the cruise director on the Good Ship Nowhere to Go. That is NOT what I signed up for. I would be miserable. He would be miserable. What 22 year old wants to hang out with his mom all day every day?

Is there help? Yes. Are there other services? Yes. But there’s no framework of the school system to help me sort it out. It is once again a labyrinth filled with flaming hoops to jump through, over and over.

What about a job, you say? What about putting all these life skills and experiences of CJ’s out there in the community where he can keep growing and contributing? Right. There’s the Vocational Rehabilitation, which is part of the DOE. They work with people with disabilities to help them find jobs and provide support. Sounds great, right? In reality, they are overworked, underpaid state employees doing their best with limited resources. Like so many services since we started this journey, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Guess who gets to spend the day squeaking now? And the nicer the squeaky wheel, the faster, sometimes. It’s a delicate balance between pleading and demanding, and most day’s I favor the latter.

CJ’s school has a program where he goes to “work” at local businesses for a few hours each day. The school provides transportation and someone to go with him and coach him. He has worked at a YMCA, Goodwill, a grocery store and several restaurants. He has enjoyed almost all of them. He loves to feel useful. Don’t we all?

The problem with all of this is after he is out of school, that program goes away. What will I do? Once that plug is pulled, where do I turn to plug it in again? If he manages to get a paying position, even for a few hours a week, how does it all work? How does he get there and home? Who helps him to make sure he is doing what he is supposed to be doing? Who helps him keep the job? Who lets me know when there’s a problem so I can jump in with support? So many of the people who manage to get jobs lose them when they can’t perform without the supports they so desperately need. And if he gets a job, I am now the taxi, personal assistant and job coach. What will that do to my sanity?

There is a bus service through the local public bus. We had to apply, get a doctor to fill out a form and go for an in person interview. He was eligible. This will provide transportation to and from work. I have heard the bus trips can be quite long as they go door to door to pick up and drop off. CJ has always loved riding the bus. I am hoping it will give us both more healthy time apart.

He wants to move out. A week doesn’t go by without him asking about “college”, the apartments (“the ones over there with the pool”), or the “little houses” at the Arc Jacksonville. Not “if”, but “when” can he go. What on earth do I tell him? What if the answer turns out to be “no?”

I’m trying to make sure he gets to do every senior year moment possible. His name is on the senior class shirt. He went to the Homecoming dance. He walked in senior night with the football team. He already has plans for prom. I know his experiences will always look a little different, but I want to make things as “normal” for him as I can. But I’m always aware that I’m giving him this normal, knowing it’s unsustainable for much longer.

I still wake up in the middle of the night and I can’t breathe. I still wrack my brain trying to think

of one more thing, one more option, anything I haven’t done, anyone else I can contact.

I love my son, but he is almost 22 and the world is coming at us both. Both of us are anxious. Both of us are hopeful. But the future is all on me. And so far, there’s no real answers and no real plan.

Help.

College Summer Experience

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Well, it happened. CJ went to college, at least one summer session of a college experience at the Arc Jacksonville. He had never been away from home for more than four nights. The was four weeks. FOUR WEEKS!!!!

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His room with all things green

We applied and I waited anxiously for an answer. I’m pretty sure we were one of the first applications. I waited very impatiently. We got our answer. He was in!! We went and toured the apartments and met the people involved. CJ liked the apartment and was excited. We got the supply list and I was off. I made the obligatory trip to Ikea and they cooperated with all things green down to green picture frames for $.99. I packed, checked off lists and loaded the car.

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The pool where the girls were

We got there and went to the parent orientation. We went to his apartment and he told me good-bye. What?? Nothing is set up. It’s MY job. I need to prove I’m a good mom. Well, OK. I could set up. We had almost 3 hours. It took 20 minutes. The other parents were still setting up. We waited around. He told us to leave, multiple times. Finally, we did. I was all prepared for the flood of emotions. They never came. He was fine, so was I.

I knew he would want to tell me good night and I wanted to reassure him that he was fine there. He hadn’t called and I wanted to catch him before he went to bed, so I called him.

Me—Hi. How are you?
CJ—I’m talking to a girl. I gotta go. I’ll call you in the morning.

Only, he didn’t. He was fine, really fine.

The pattern continued with me calling him begging for information, him having to go. He did talk to other family members and friends, usually over FaceTime. He was always having fun and usually had to go as “the guys” were leaving or there was a girl involved.

After week one, I got a report. It said he likes girls, check. He ate all his snacks the first day, check. He ate other people’s food, check. He was having a great time and loves hanging with the guys, check. Everything was going as expected. Better than hoped for.

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Cooking dinner

He had to menu plan, shop and cook. They took field trips to a baseball game, the museum, the zoo and the movies. They rode the bus and practiced crossing the major intersection near the apartments. He loved everything. I never heard a complaint.

I got week 2 and then week 3’s reports. The consistent theme was that he ate all his snacks day one and ate other people’s food.

I couldn’t reach him about midway through. It turns out his phone went in the pool. I guess he’s more normal than I give him credit for.

The weeks flew by. It was time to come home. It took longer to get out than it did to drop off. Stuff was left in his room and I had to go back in twice. His keys were lost and then found. His wallet had been missing for two weeks. The big problem with the wallet was that his ID was in it. I was starting to wonder if it was all a ploy to stay.

We left and came home. The whole way I was anxiously hopeful that there would be changes. It was instantaneous. He walked through the door and everything went back to the way it was. I was crushed. All that and nothing…or was it?

He does his own laundry. He comes with me to the gym and rides the bike for as long as I’m there. He cooks when someone else comes to cook with him. He won’t cook with me, but I am his mom, after all.

He talks about it all the time. He tells everyone how great it was. His favorite thing changes from the pool, to the apartment, to the zoo, to just hanging out with the guys. He wants to go back. He won’t stop asking when he is moving. Not “if”, “when”.

School has started for his final year. The countdown has begun. It’s not as scary now. There is hope where there was none before. The best part is that things are more normal than I ever thought possible.