Since everybody seems to love a Tommy update, I'm going to write one! As many of you know (Life Skills), Tommy is a little over halfway through his life-skills transition program out at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia. He has been living with a roommate, sharing a bathroom, going to classes, and having room inspections every week for five weeks now. He has to set his alarm, and be in class on time Monday through Friday, without anyone hovering over him, reminding him to set the alarm, and reminding him to get up, and dressed, and all that morning routine stuff. I can hardly believe it!
He has failed one room inspection because he opted to see a movie instead of doing laundry. He was really upset about it, too. The failure part, that is. He texted me a rant full of excuses- “I was going to do the laundry when I got back, we were going to take the trash out when we got back, the movie was longer than I expected…”
Oh, boy. I texted back: “well, I guess you learned a lesson, didn't you? You need to follow the rules, I guess, so you don't fail again. Right?”
It is so hard not to hover, not to validate any excuses, not to be so worried about every little thing. I'm not good at not worrying. I'm also not good at not jumping to conclusions, like, “Oh my gosh.. he failed a room inspection… what if he fails another, and then gets asked to leave, and then there will be no hope of anything good happening for him… and he doesn't have the finesse to even sweep a floor!”
After a few hours of radio silence I got the text that indicated all was well, the re-inspection went well, and -bonus!!- I even got the “Yes, I guess I have to follow the rules” text. Everything is indeed ok, apparently, lots of the kids fail room inspections at least once. They just have to clean up, empty the trash, do their laundry. And the movie (Suicide Squad) was great, by the way.
Elation. Happiness. Joy.
People, he's getting it. He is learning, slowly, but surely, how to organize himself, and how to keep himself together. I truly believe that some life skills need to come from a “not mom” person. I want the best for him, but I start to sound like a parent from a Charlie Brown movie (mwammm mwah mwahhhmmm) when I'm trying to teach these things to him. I admit that I'm nagging sounding (begrudgingly admit it), but, let's face it, children get really good at tuning mom out sometimes. Also, I run out of energy trying to sound therapeutic, and trying to convey understanding while teaching the reasoning (again) about the necessity of clean clothes and daily showers, and sorting laundry. It's true.
Two weeks after Tommy arrived at Woodrow Wilson, I went up to retrieve him for a visit home for the weekend. He met us in the common room, and right away I noticed that he wasn't shaving, and he looked a little more oily than usual. I kind of expected that, so I didn't say anything as we walked to his room to grab his laundry and his backpack. When he let us in his dorm, I thought it looked pretty typical for a room shared by two young men. It smelled pretty typical, too. I was impressed, however, that his laundry basket was not totally overflowing, and that the bed was made, even if the comforter pattern was sideways instead of being vertical.
Surveying the room, I was nodding appreciatively at the relative tidiness that the boys were keeping up. Then, I noticed that on his desk-- in the exact same place I had left it-- was Tommy’s bath caddy. Inside Tommy’s unmoved, still very new looking and very dry bath caddy were the following: one unopened bottle of body wash, one unopened bottle of shampoo, one still-boxed and unopened tube of toothpaste, a dry scrub-poof with tag still attached, an unopened package of razors, one factory sealed shaving cream bottle, and an unopened package of four toothbrushes.
“Have you been showering? At all?”
“Ish,” he replied, very confident sounding.
I may have levitated, I'm not sure, but Tommy was looking at me suddenly with an unusual expression.
“And your teeth?? Have you brushed them? At all?” I asked in a very low voice, that I was extremely carefully not raising.
Oh my goodness! I really tried to not shout at him, but, seriously? Danielle was with me on this little soiree, so she starts immediately whispering’ “Yoga fire breaths, Mom, breathe.”
“In two weeks, it didn't dawn on you to brush your teeth or take a shower??” I yelped at him as softly as possible, “and what is ish?! How do you ish take a shower or brush your teeth?”
Tommy, looking much like a cross between a six foot tall Dr. Who and a child looking like he wants to get away from a Harry Potter howler message in person, says very softly, “But, mom, you didn’t tell me to do that.”
Time momentarily stops just for me sometimes. In a flash, everything goes silent, and I see in front of me my six foot tall son as a preschooler, wanting to please, waiting for instructions. It is so. so. so difficult to not have a typical reaction to an atypical situation.
“Son,” I whispered, “in the nineteen years that I’ve been telling you to brush your teeth twice a day, I kind of thought that you would just know to continue to do that. The toothbrushes and toothpaste and the soap should have been a clue. I need you to shower and brush your teeth every day.”
“So, everyday?” he asks.
“Every single day,” I answer.
“Oh- ok- I got it. Can we go home now?”
“Definitely,” I answer.
When we got home, my husband autoclaved my son, twice, for good measure. Tommy fell right back into his normal routine once he was cleaned up and re-instructed in the importance of grooming. When I dropped him back off at Woodrow Wilson on Sunday, I unwrapped all the toiletries, and wrote on his calendar: shower-use soap, deodorant, brush teeth with toothpaste in every square space. Reminders, I hoped, would help.
Tommy insisted on playing his epic return song (loudly, off his iPod, so everyone could hear), “Back in Black” by AC/DC as we checked him back into the dorm, and dropped off his meds at the clinic. Yes, kids stared at us, but they were either smiling at us, or ignoring us completely. The counselors and staff were nonplussed by his epic return song playing out loud. It occurred to me then, that Tommy is exactly where he needs to be. He is learning and doing and growing. He may not always shave or have shiny teeth, but with a few reminders, he’ll get there. My Tommy is becoming the best Tommy that he can be, there, with a little help from some friends that are professional counselors and teachers and not-moms.
And we’re all a little bit mad here, but life seems to continue to work despite us not always being in the same place, and we all fit together like puzzle pieces...
Interesting how that (puzzle piece) is the autism symbol, isn’t it:)
Keep calm, and parent on.