Friday, November 4, 2011

Letting Go: it ain't easy

“We’ll meet you at the Wellesley subway stop at 10:45, ok?”

My husband is talking on the phone to our son Michael at the group home where he’s living. “You remember how to get to the Wellesley station from there, right?  So we’ll see you there at 10:45, a quarter to 11. Do you want to write that down so you don’t forget?”

“No, that’s okay, I’ll remember,” Michael says to my husband. They then hang up.

I’m standing in the background, listening to the conversation. I want to jump in before my husband ends the call. I want to say, “Tell Michael you’ll wait while he gets a piece of paper to write it all down. Or, at least, have him repeat the time back to you and describe how he’s going to get to the Wellesley station.” 

But I don’t say anything. I keep my mouth shut and get dressed. I can’t always be jumping in, trying to micromanage everything and everyone interacting with my son. At some point, I have to let go, at least a little. Michael likes feeling independent. I have to give him a chance.

We’re meeting up with Michael to go to an art gallery together. My husband Robin and Michael take a woodcarving class each week, and their teacher is exhibiting his sculptures at a downtown gallery near the Wellesley station. Michael, like us, was really looking forward to seeing the exhibit. I so very much want everything to go smoothly.

If all goes well, we’ll be meeting Michael in two hours. I can’t relax, though. I know there’s a very good chance that all will not, in fact, go well.  It’s happened too many times before.

Michael, now 24, has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). One of the symptoms he has, common in people with the disorder, is a poor memory. What he may know one day may not be retrievable to him the next.

Sure, he once knew how to get to the Wellesley station from the group home where he’ll be coming from.  But will he really remember how to get there today? Maybe or maybe not. Will he remember what time he’s suppose to meet us?  Maybe, maybe not.

To complicate the impending rendevous, Michael often believes he knows something when he really doesn’t. He often says he knows something when he really doesn’t. He often pretends he knows something when he really doesn’t. And, as I mentioned before, he often knows something one day, then not know it the next.

Therefore, both my husband and I know the chances Michael will show up at the right time and place are 50/50, if that.  

Robin and I arrive outside the subway station a little early just in case Michael shows up ahead of time and gets worried if he doesn’t see us. I can see from the look on Robin’s face that he’s as anxious as I am. We stand together for awhile, then he moves away, leaning up against the building. He pulls out a crossward puzzle he’s been working on.  I move into the sun and pull The Globe and Mail out of my bag and begin reading. I look over at Robin, now pacing and biting his lower lip.

Everytime a rush of people come out of the subway station, I peak up from the paper to see if Michael is one of them. He’s not. Something churns in my stomach.

Fifteen minutes have passed. It’s now 11:00. Then 11:05. Michael’s now 20 minutes late.

“I’ll call the group home to make sure he’s left,” Robin says. After a brief call, he tells me, “They say he left around 10:30, so he’ll probably be here soon.” I’m not totally sure whether Robin believes it, but we both take our positions again. Neither of us wants to admit defeat.  So we wait.

I’m starting to think we may have to consider giving up, but I don’t say a word. Neither of us wants to be the one to say, “I guess we better go on without him.” 

I took comfort in knowing that though we would be terribly disappointed if Michael didn’t show, we at least wouldn’t have to worry about him. Even if he got lost finding the subway station or messed up with the timing, he would know how to get to our house. We’d practiced that with him on the subway line for what seemed a million times and a million different points on the system.

I kept looking at my watch. It’s now 11:15. He’s half an hour late.  11:20, 11:25.  11:30. Now forty-five minutes late.

“What do you think?”  I say. “Should we just go?”  I really don’t want to, but it was probably time.

“I guess we can safely assume he’s not coming,” Robin responds.

And wouldn’t you just know it. Right then, Michael walks cheerfully out of the subway station in his black hoodie and jeans with a big grin on his face, looking as proud and cheerful as could be.

“Hi, Mike,” I say, putting my arm around him. “We were just about to leave. We were afraid you got lost or something. You’re forty-five minutes late.”

“Really? he said. “What time was I suppose to be here?”

“10:45” I say.

“Oh, I thought you said 11:45.”

“Nope, 10:45. Did you have any trouble finding the station?”
“Naw, I know the subway system really well.”

“We’re just glad you made it,” I said. We really were.


  1. Wow!! Just reading this gave me a stomach ache, then made me cry. What a moving and lovely vignette you've captured, Linda. The tense, lip-biting parents not wanted to even look at each other for disappointment. Then, Michael's happiness and triumph...and he did get it all right, except for the time ( he was 15 minutes early, so he timed it exactly right for when he thought he was supposed to come...a success)

  2. I never thought about it the way you've suggested. Yes, you're right. Michael was indeed EARLY considering he thought we were suppose to meet at 11:45. You must be a real glass half full kind of person.