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Off Task

By Pamela Beeman

I Know Alice Should Move Out

People often ask me how long Alice (my 26-year-old daughter with Down syndrome) is going to live at home. One of my special education teacher friends asks me particularly pointedly.

"You know you’ll have a better relationship with her if she moves out."

"I know, I know...."

"And she’ll mature, become more independent."

"Yep...."

"So? Do you think no one else could take care of her? Are you unwilling to let go of the last of your mothering? What’s the deal?"

I have thought about those things. My identity as a mom has been insanely intense, and letting it go about the same time as retirement could put me into shock. However, I’ve found the empty nest to be a lot more fun ... and relief ... than I expected. The house stays pretty tidy (Boy, do I notice it when the kids come home for vacation!), the evenings are peaceful, and the fridge doesn’t have to be full of milk. It has occurred to me to chafe a little bit over having to get Alice up and off to her programs every morning. Have I signed on for this for the rest of my life? I could sleep in a good hour, I could go straight to work from the gym, or I could go out for coffee!

And while I’m convinced that nobody could care for Alice like I do (She needs to wear her mouth guard at night. Not too many diet sodas. When’s her next eye doctor appointment? Is she out of the vitamins she thinks are "mood stabilization pills"?), I recently heard about a group home that really gets the members to be responsible. Alice wouldn’t be allowed to let her room build up with the treasures she drags home from everywhere (I have to hire somebody to help me clean her room; it makes me crazy) or to raid the refrigerator when we’re not looking. It was the first time I even considered that somebody else might be better at getting Alice to take care of business.

I have been heard to say that the taxpayers don’t need to support Alice in some setting when she has a home and a family that loves her; I do think there’s some room for frugality here. Although it’s arguably shallow, one of the main reasons I resist her moving out is that I know she will gain 50–60 pounds in the first year. She has a pretty leisurely energy level, and she loves anything fried. I drag her to the gym, ride her around on a tandem bicycle, pack her lunches, and try to monitor what she eats. That axiom about not messing in girls’ diets is true. I thought it didn’t apply to Alice, but my monitoring has just made her sneaky. Still, when she had $6 a day for lunch, she was buying something called vegetarian nachos, "with extra lettuce and tomatoes, Mom!" When I finally encountered this dish, I figured it weighed in at about 5 pounds of chips, cheese, sauce, and a sprinkling of lettuce and tomatoes. Aaack!

Confessing this to my friend, she asks me, "Would that be the end of the world? If that was the price of her independence and happiness?"

"But her health! It would be so hard on her. Not to mention how others would view her, and tease her."

Although to be honest, Alice doesn’t stress about her weight. At 4’9" and about 150 pounds, she loves to dress in tight, colorful, sparkly clothes, and she walks around like a million bucks.

It’s probably time for me to take a lesson from her.

Sheep Flash Mob

One advantage to mothering a quartet of 20-somethings is having my own personal Google.

"What is this music called Screamo?" I text. "I work at a junior high and I count on you guys to keep me current so I have some cred here." (One text back: "Ew. Avoid at all costs.")

And have you seen the clip making the Internet rounds called Extreme Sheep? (Actually, it may not be new— somebody told me it was first posted in 2009, so yesterday.) But anyway.... Genuine hillside shepherds, sheep dogs, and flock; add a bunch of LED lights on the sheep, train the dogs where to hustle them, then film an after-dark giant replica of a Pong game, complete with recorded videogame music in the background. Brilliant! This is my idea of performance art; but then, I think I like anything that brings order out of chaos. (They say that’s why women like playing Tetris—it’s like picking things up and putting them away neatly. Wait ... we like that?)

That’s why I like Flash Mobs, too: order out of chaos ... sudden synchronization and evidence of effort ... of a behindthe- scenes plan. Sigh. Makes me tingle.

The latest plan at my junior high is for the teachers to stage a flash. We have the music already, a mash up of Pink Floyd (you guessed it) and The Hustle. Now all we need is a little choreography and a visit from our inner children—or maybe a well-trained sheepdog.


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