For most parent, they know the day their child is born, one day they will leave home. Most do this soon after high school graduation, either by moving away to college or moving in with friends. I never thought John would have a moving out day, but John had other ideas.
I should have seen it coming. Last August we took John to the beach for his birthday, after all you don’t turn twenty everyday. The first night we arrived the sun had just set. I went out side our camper to help set up our camping site, but John started walking toward the beach. I followed him to the edge of the camp grounds and told him we would hit the beach at dawn, tonight it was dark and I couldn’t even see how to cross the busy highway, let alone know for sure were it was safe to walk. While I had grown up knowing the waters edge of Biloxi, Mississippi hurricane Katrina had removed enough buildings to change the landscape. I told John we would have to wait until we could see to go walking. That was enough, for a few minutes.
John looked down the highway and saw the bright lights of businesses and off he went toward of all places, Hooters. As he grinned I reminded him that one, we had left Daddy behind, and two, I didn’t have any money on me. John turned around and headed back for the camper, not to go home, but to get Dad and some money. I was shocked. John is my calm kid who never leaves my side and here we were in the middle of a city far from home and all of the sudden he turned into a rebellious hot head.
The beach time was no better. My visions of a quite restful time to lay in the sun with a good book in my hand turned into a nightmare of marathoning with John. Nope, he was not going to sit quietly at the waters edge, he was going to explore the area and that meant the ocean as well. This mild mannered young man turned into hulk and shook off my protest of needing to rest, feet hurting, sun burning, not on my plans list as he struck out into the blue grey waters. I stood back and watched him once to see just how far he would go without me. He never looked back, and I am sure, just held on in his mind that I would not let him get too far, I would cave and follow. As I watched him stop and leave foot prints on high mounds of sand that jutted out of the water, I marveled at his new found Independence while that inner Momma voice reminded me he could not swim, and if he had a seizure, he would be lost in the dark muddy waters deposited by the Mississippi river forever. I would run after him begging him to slow down and he would, but he didn’t stop until he was ready to stop.
At the weeks end I was more worn out than rested. But I was proud, oh so proud that on his birthday John had taken us out to have dinner at a local bar and restaurant. By taken us out, I mean he got up, got dressed and hiked down the beach to show me the local hangout where music blasted until late at night and girls John’s age waited tables. John led us as we followed him a few blocks to the place where I am sure he had been plotting for us to take him all week. We found ourselves surrounded by young people who didn’t see John’s disabilities, but just saw John. Our waitress caught me away from the table and ask about John’s inability to speak. I told her he could hear, but was disabled physically including unable to make any sounds. She ask if if would be okay to give him a hug and birthday kiss on the cheek. I told her sure it would, it would make his day. She kindly said, “Oh, but it will make mine, he is cute and if you lived here, we would love to have him hang out with us.” John got a piece of cake, a hug and a kiss and a group of young people his age sang to him and called his name over the loud speaker asking patrons to wish him a happy birthday. He ate it up, I don’t recall if he ate all his lunch or not, but he sure drank in all the attention with gusto.
Back home life went back to normal. John stuck to my side like glue in public and remained his typical mild mannered obedient self. Then, it happened, John asserted his independence from me. I really didn’t notice what he was up to at first. A book here, a shirt, a couple of DVD’s, John was slowly taking things out to the camper. We keep the camper set up complete with electricity and pluming so it has always acted as a little guest house when needed. For a couple of years our oldest son called it home. Currently it was empty, but John and I often checked in during the winter months to make sure everything was working well. Now I noticed John was taking things into the camper, bit’s at a time. I ask him if he wanted to go camping. No response, he just kept on hauling treasures out the door and into the camper. I shrugged it off and went back to work.
One day John was finished stocking the camper. Much like a bird builds a nest bit at a time, he had build his home and now was ready to move in. He woke up one morning, marched right out the carport door and walked in the camper. I followed to let him know breakfast was ready. John came back into the house, promptly picked up his breakfast plate and hiked himself right back into the camper, putting his breakfast on the table. I thought it was a phase as he sat down to eat. I was wrong. John had officially moved out.
I had never thought of John as someone who would leave home. It never occurred to me, that at twenty he felt and needed his own place. We talked about it and came up with an agreement. John was allowed to move into the camper as long as he came back into the house at night to sleep or I slept in the camper with him. John agreed.
No, I really don’t know what he does in there alone other than watch tv or read books or play with puzzles. I do know the neighborhood kids had no trouble joining him after school and “hangin” on the weekend. I take food out and invite John to join me for dinner if he so wishes. Some days he does, some days he take his plate back to the camper to dine with the tv and his dog Max. I sigh feeling rejected, then smile feeling proud that my son needs that ever important mile stone, that touch of freedom.