Move Out: Triumph or Tragedy?
Updated: Apr 29
After 6 weeks apart, it's time to assess
Last month was the culmination of years of effort by Gwendolyn and our family. After years of dreaming and determination, we dropped Gwendolyn off at a residential living community for adults with special needs. As mentioned in last month's post, Jennifer and I are in the process of resettling in a new house about 30 minutes away.
As we drove away in tears and were unable to mumble a word, we both wondered if this was the right move for our family. Perhaps Gwendolyn wondered the same thing as she was escorted into a dormitory of strangers. But this was her dream and it was time to take the leap.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the transition was that we were not able to visit Gwendolyn face-to-face for 6 weeks. We understood the rationale - sever the ties a bit and shift her daily support from parents to staff. Still, we feared the FaceTime visits would not be enough for us or for Gwendolyn.
Only time would tell if this was the right move at the right time.
Learnings from 6 weeks apart
I'm pleased to say the 6 weeks have gone by rather smoothly. Like clockwork, Gwendolyn FaceTimed us almost every night around 8pm. We'd get a bit of a rundown of her day - the activities and exercises she did, the food she ate at the cafeteria, the rare day trip off-campus, new friends she met, and the occasional drama she encountered.
Early on, we'd also get texts or calls on small issues she had been trained to ask us about - her meds are late, she has a headache, she needs more shampoo. In return, we always pointed her to the caregivers who are there to attend to such needs. Over time, those requests of us became fewer.
In the middle of the 6-week hiatus, it appears she became a bit lonely. As many of you can likely relate, it's sometimes hard to tell. Gwendolyn doesn't openly profess her feelings so we have to discern them from clues and inquiry. She did finally share that while she was enjoying her new home, she missed her friends of nearly 10 years at her old day school - she wished she could split her time 50/50. Quite an insightful comment we recognized. We arranged a one-hour Zoom call with her old schoolmates and she was able to see dozens of smiling faces wishing her well and providing her some brief updates. That seemed to do the trick.
Finally, every time we caught up in the last two weeks the conversation included the countdown of days until we could see each other. We've been so busy buying our new home and preparing for the move, but our home is definitely not the same without Gwendolyn's smiling face, occasional banter, and constant inquiries about dinner plans.
Peas in a Pod
However, upon reflection, we are all doing well. We are adjusting to our less frequent contact with Gwendolyn (and her sister we left behind in Houston and brother we dropped off at college) and she (and her siblings) are doing well laying down new roots in new places with new support groups.
It is interesting that this transition has occurred for all 3 of our kids at the same time. That is actually exactly what we've always dreamed for Gwendolyn, that she would have the same opportunities as her brother and sister. So she, like them, is enjoying the independence, missing a bit of the closeness and familiarity of the past, but proud of their accomplishments and their own bravery in the face of overwhelming change.
So this past week as the 6-weeks expired, we rushed to pick her up for a "night on the town." She wanted to shop, eat out, and see a movie. As I've shared in the past, our dynamic is quite interesting. We love each other to death but marred by extended child play on my part which became aggravating teasing from her perspective, I usually play second fiddle to her sweet, gentle, and warm mother (I completely understand this choice). But when she saw us at the car waiting for her, she made a beeline for me (likely because Jennifer was off to the side capturing the moment on her phone). When she reached me she nearly knocked me over, but I was in heaven for the moments of the warmest bear hug ever.
Throughout our day together, we caught up on all the news including her debut at Karaoke Night, her weight loss successes, favorite classes, and the new dramas that were unfolding. By the end of the evening, we would return to the standard renditions of the past. By 8:30 she was slouching over the dinner table, ready to return for an early night's sleep. She's quite busy especially on weekdays so the midnight bedtimes appear to be a thing of the past.
We parted ways in the moonlight back at her dorm. We all had a great time reuniting and it appeared we were all ready to part ways for the new level of independence we had all discovered in the past 6-weeks.
Now that the indoctrination is over, we look forward to her spending a weekend with us and her sister at the end of the month.
It warms my heart to see her growing - making more of her own decisions, planning a bit more of her future, handling some issues along the way, and asking for help when she needs it. I can see her confidence and pride and it tells me we've done a good job!
During the past 6-weeks, I've thought about what we might have done differently. However, for what can be a harsh transition for anyone whether they are going off to school for the day, a camp for the summer, or college for the year, Gwendolyn was as prepared as possible and we were ready too. Gwendolyn is 27 now. I don't think she (or we) would have been ready at 22 but perhaps at 25. We felt like post-COVID this was the right time and I think the past 6-weeks have confirmed that for all of us.
What is your definition of independence? It may not include a move-out plan as yet, but spend some time to dream with your adult with Down syndrome and consider the possibilities. Then take gradual steps to make that dream a reality.
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Please take our quick and confidential survey. Your answers will help us better understand your dreams of independence and the obstacles that may stand in the way so that we can seek to address the myriad of issues in our upcoming Guidebook for Independence. Click on our logo below to take the quick survey.
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