Monday, October 20, 2008
Learning How to Count
When I was younger I used to count by years. It was "x" number of years until high school graduation, four years of college, two years of internship in my chosen field, three years of seminary education. For a long time the concept of years served my thinking rather well.
I have discovered that as a parent, and an adoptive one at that, that I need to learn how to count all over again. When dealing with special needs children it is not helpful to count in years. A year is a nearly insurmountable period of time in which to project outcomes. Even months are too big of a stretch in most cases. Occasionally days will suffice, but I am discovering that hours and minutes are a more accurate measure for assessing success in many of my children's lives.
This morning, for example, I was up early in order to meet our son Mike outside of the county jail, as he was released at 6:00 AM. It was a chilly fall morning with temperatures hovering in the mid-40s, so by the time I arrived at 6:10 AM Mike was already shivering in the cold, holding in his hands two plastic grocery bags containing all of his worldly possessions. Other than the clothing on his body (and the sweatshirt in question was given to him by the jail staff), he had only a few paper documents and a number of drawings he has been working on.
He has been in jail so long that he didn't recognize my car. It was seven months ago that we gave our newer car to our oldest son Kyle and purchased an older (though nicer) car which we have been driving since. When I pulled up Mike was surprised to see that it was his ride, but upon discerning my presence he jumped in the front seat, all 168 pounds of him.
There are few places to go at 6:15 in the morning, especially in our college town, so I drove to a family restaurant and we had breakfast together. We had a good conversation, and Mike reminded me continually why it is so easy to love him. When he is chemical free and needing the help of someone he is charming and more socially appropriate than several of our kids who have no real challenges.
Within a few minutes I became tasky, and we made a mental list of his tasks for the day, the chief among which is "find a place to stay." "It's a little early, dad, for me to be trying to contact friends, but I'll try later" he reminded me after we had established that as a priority. "Yeah, Mike, I understand that."
After eating we drove to my church office (Mike cannot be in our home, especially when his siblings are there, and they were still getting ready for school at that time), and I gave him, per the judge's order, a specific invitation to be with me in the church. (The judge ordered this as part of his sentence since he was involved eight months ago in a burglary at our church). In the office I worked while he emailed friends to see if he could find a place to stay.
At 9:00 AM I telephone one of the county's adult mental health social workers. She was not in, so I left a message asking her to contact us about setting up an appointment to talk about what services Mike qualifies for. I am hopeful that she will return my call sometime soon so we can get working on that. She already has Mike's file (has had for a couple of years now so that when the need arose it would be there).
We stayed at the office most of the morning, until departing to purchase some personal care items and some basic clothing. He has one pair of tattered jeans, so I purchased two more (discounted at T J Maxx) for him, as well as a sweatshirt. He now has some t-shirts, underwear and socks. That's about all he has, but it will be a start, and he appropriately thanked me.
At 2:00 PM I dropped Mike off at the place where he has started to work, where he quickly changed clothes. I told him to call me later tonight (I have responsibilities all this afternoon through early evening) to update me on things. It has been nearly nine hours since I picked Mike up, the first time I have seen him in the flesh for nine months. And in those nine hours he has been successful. Nothing has been stolen, no one has been lied to, everyone's property has been safe.
I am learning to be thankful for hours. I'm sure glad I have learned how to count all over again, because for now, at this very moment, everything is OK.