"Letting Go" by Susan Farr Fahncke
With every year of watching my son grow up, I am appalled at the desperation with which I want to cling to him. Noah is deaf and he is now ten. We have always been very close – one of the benefits of being the mom of a special needs kid. Usually the only deaf kid wherever we are, he has always relied on me for communication, explanation, a playmate, and confidante. I have discovered that fourth grade seems to be the cut-off time for this dependency. This was an unexpected shock for me – for some reason I assumed he would always want me by his side.
Noah goes to a great deaf school. We moved 1100 miles for this school – completely uprooted our lives and changed life as we knew it. But giving him the best education and most opportunities possible was our number one priority. We wanted a place where he would be safe, happy, would thrive. What is that saying – be careful what you wish for? We now live in Kansas, in a very rural area, with beautiful open farmland for miles and miles. Most of Noah’s friends live great distances from the school, so they stay at the dorm during the week and go home on the weekends. I could not fathom spending this much time away from my son, so he commutes 40 minutes each way. It’s not a bad drive and we are close enough to zip over for extra activities and meetings.
Still, forty minutes is vast when your friends are there and you are home with no one to play with, no one your own age to laugh with, tell jokes to in your own language. Isolation has become a part of Noah’s life, as it does for most deaf people at one time or another. He goes through life rarely running into someone who “speaks” his language. Only his parents and brothers and sisters sign, so his lifeline to friendships, bonds with other kids has become his school. The older he gets, the more he needs this lifeline.
Last fall Noah started asking to stay at the dorm. At first I shut him down, giving the possibility no thought at all. I have always sworn I would never let Noah be a “dorm kid”. He would be a home kid. Period. He became more and more insistent that he should be allowed to stay at the dorm. All his friends were there. They had wonderful, fun activities that he was constantly missing out on. They hung out together, had dinner together every night. He wanted to be a part of it. His arguments grew more persuasive and my mind opened just a bit to this possibility. He asked for just one night a week to be allowed to stay at the dorm. I talked with other parents whose children stayed at the dorm. They absolutely loved it! It was clearly their home away from home and a very safe and nurturing place. My heart ached at the thought of my baby leaving the nest – even for one night a week. I gradually began to let myself consider it and when I got the announcement that swimming would begin on Tuesday nights, Noah asked to be able to stay at the dorm on swimming nights. He has always been happiest in the water, and I knew he would dearly love this opportunity. I felt a little tear in my heart and I caved. Tuesday nights became “dorm night”.
The first “dorm night” arrived. Noah got ready for school on Tuesday morning, his duffel bag packed with his swimsuit, pajamas, school clothes for Wednesday and travel sizes of toothpaste, soap and shampoo. And his pager. I asked him at least 57 times if he had packed his pager. I sent him off to school with tears stinging my eyes and an extra big hug. I worried incessantly all day. What if he wanted to come home? What if he got hurt? What if he had a nightmare? I waited and waited for a text message from him. Finally it arrived at 4:15 – a full hour after he got out of school. (But who was waiting and counting?)
Hi Mom! I miss you! I am having fun! Going swimming soon! LOVE LOVE LOVE! Noah
I got the next message at 9:00pm. Hi Mom! I miss you! I will pray. Good night! Good to know he missed me anyway, I thought. And he remembered to pray. That’s my boy. You want to see something beautiful and unforgettable, watch a child pray in sign language. I was deeply relieved to hear from him. The night felt long as I tossed and turned, unable to sleep and wondering how he was. I got another text message from him the next morning at 7:20: Hi Mom! I go to school now. I see you soon! I miss you LOT.
I picked him up that afternoon and he ran at me and I ran at him like one of those sappy commercials. I felt like he had been gone for a month. His face glowed and he signed fast and furious, all the way home, telling me all that he did and what a wonderful time he had. I marveled at the joy in him. Just being connected to other kids like him had lit him up – filled an empty spot. He told me he had cried at bedtime, but that he loved the dorm and couldn’t wait until next Tuesday. His eyes searched my face as he earnestly asked me if I missed him. I knew I had to be careful here.
I turned my head away to hide the tears, smiled big and signed to him that I did miss him, but I was happy he had fun. He will never know how terrified I was of this first step into independence, how much I wanted to grip tighter to his childhood and dependence on me.
Dorm Day Tuesdays are hard for me, but they are a day that Noah looks forward to. I am getting used to him staying there. Although I miss him, I don’t worry as much as I thought I would. We text each other so our connection is not lost, and I know he is safe and happy and this is a great opportunity for him to forge new friendships and bonds that he would never have otherwise. I am secretly proud of myself. Letting go ain’t easy. It takes great courage in a mother – especially one of a special needs child. Letting go takes selflessness and sacrifice. It is a huge leap of faith, of love. But I have learned that letting go – just a little, is one of the greatest gifts I can give my son. It allows him to soar on his own.
Susan Farr-Fahncke copyright 2008 firstname.lastname@example.org
I am the founder of 2TheHeart.com and Angels2Theheart! I have stories in seven of the Guideposts "When Miracles Happen" series of books, have 3 books which I co-authored titled "A Warm Cup of Kindness for Friendship, for Sisters, and for Mothers" coming out next month, along with "Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul". See more of my book projects on my personal page at 2TheHeart: www.2theheart.com/SusanFarrFahncke