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Off Task

By Pamela Beeman


I have some milestones coming up. In a month, I’ll no longer be the parent of a teenager, and wow, I started that gig in 1995. Then sometime in fall of 2011—I’m debating doing the math to get an exact date—I will reach 100 cumulative years of parenting. That’s 29+26+23+20 plus another half-year each from their spring birthdays. And while they were never all teenagers at the same time, I will have four 20-somethings for just under a year. Anyway, I’m thinking of giving myself a party: something like a Mega-Mother’s Day, emphasis on the champagne.

This makes me realize, too, that while friends all around me are becoming grandparents, not a one of my kids

  • is finished with college
  • is married
  • has a house, or
  • has a job
    • Well. They have student employment, but no employment of a sort that permits them to take over their own, say, car insurance or medical benefits. No house in which to unload things I’m storing for them.

      Evidence-based information: not done parenting when they move out at 18 ...

      Theory of Mind

      "Any day that I get to sing the Hallelujah Chorus with a big group of people is a good day." I posted this on Facebook and got more responses than probably ever—even my birthday.

      It’s a yearly choir festival, and I love it because not only does our own little church choir comport itself fairly admirably, but also because it’s become a tradition to bring all the choirs together for a couple of final songs, one of which is the Hallelujah Chorus. (One of the Facebook responses likened it to musical Prozac.) So, 150 of us squeeze into the front of the LDS church and, even if you don’t know the music so well, there are enough who do that it will carry you ... and this year, I even nailed that hard section of the alto part on the third page: Woot! Hang on, I am going somewhere with this.

      I took Alice, my 25–year–old–daughter with Down syndrome with me this year, partly to get her out of the house and partly as an excuse not to bicycle. I did actually think she’d also enjoy the music, but as I was ducking into re- hearsal a little late, she took the opportunity of my divided attention to whisper she’d found a spot to listen to her own music where she wouldn’t bother us, then took her CDs and headphones and left the room.

      As rehearsal was winding down, it occurred to me I had no idea where she was. We were at a b-i-g church, with lots of doors with choirs practicing behind them. I checked everything that wasn’t locked, and started to fume. We were first on the program and needed to get into our places, so that added fuel to the fume. I finally found her behind a random door and, whispering angry scolding, took her headphones and ordered her to get into the sanctuary (doesn’t that sound good?) if she knew what was good for her.

      I did see her trail in before we started singing. (I knew her huge binders of CDs wouldn’t do her any good without the headphones. What was she doing bringing those to a concert, anyway?) Once the concert was over and the Handel Prozac started wearing off, we had our discussion.

      "Alice, how could you? I had no idea where you were!"

      "But mom, I was in room 13. My birthday is the 13th!"

      "Yes, Alice, but how would I know you were in room 13?"

      "Well, it’s the same room Trip and Russell and I waited in when we came with you and dad a few years ago."

      "Still, Alice, I didn’t know that. I. Did. Not. Know. Where. You. Were." I’m hissing now, but at least not shouting. I wish I could say it was because of restraint, but it was because I had lost my voice during the singing.

      OK, I do know that theory of mind is a developmental trajectory. I have, in fact, given Alice the TM portions of the NEPSY, only partly because I wanted to practice the test administration. Alice’s Theory of Mind falls below the second percentile for her age. She cannot understand that I don’t know what room she is in. She knows what room she is in, and for heaven’s sake, it’s room 13. Her birthday, duh.

      Sadly, this knowledge has not "informed my practice" so to speak. We continue to browbeat Alice about showing some understanding for what other people are going through. "Alice, you are making me late for work!"

      "But Mom, my bus doesn’t come for another hour! I’m not late." It’s a little tricky because she does show lots of emotional understanding: If somebody is sad, she’s sympathetic and protective; if they’re successful, she’s proud and thrilled. This is evidently stored in another area of the brain, or at another level of that developmental trajectory.

      We’ll just both try to keep trajecting. Hallelujah.

      Pamela Beeman has been a school psychologist for 30 years and lives in Chico, CA.