Several years ago, I was sitting right here in front of my computer, talking on the phone, when Robbie came down into my office.
I waved him off.
“Rob, I’m on the phone.”
“There’s water coming from the ceiling in the dining room.”
That ended my call and I rushed to see. Sure enough, a stream was descending from the chandelier, clinging to the multiple bulbs until eventually dropping to the hard wood floor beneath. Nate’s room is right above and I charged up the stairs.
There he was, sitting at his desk looking at books. Approximately six feet away was his bathroom, toilet overflowing, the sound impossible to ignore. Nate was oblivious to the chaos that surrounded him.
It wasn’t a major catastrophe, although I can tell you it is not safe to wipe down a wet lighting fixture. The most troubling thing about this incident was that Nate showed himself ill-equipped to be alone.
He’s 20 now, and strives to be on his own more and more. He fights (and usually wins) his battles to become an independent student, and he’s much easier to leave alone on those rare occurrences when Karen and I are gone and his brothers are busy. Nate never could use the telephone, but now he does with great ease. Caller ID helps. I used to practice with him before we went out.
“Nate, if it says ‘Jeffrey Katz,’ then press ‘talk.'” I’d go to the kitchen and call him. From the TV room he’d pick up and I could hear him loud and clear through the receiver as well as across the rooms.
I’d ask him how he was doing and remind him to press “end” when we were finished.
Now he picks up for us and a select few (grandparents, close friends). It gives me peace of mind to know that, when we are 15 minutes from home, I can hear Nate’s voice and get a fairly accurate report of what’s going on.
But it still doesn’t allay the fear that when a crisis hits, maybe as banal as a clogged toilet, but possibly as terrible as a fire, Nate isn’t adept at making the correct decisions, or even aware that something bad is happening. We rehearse scenarios in case of emergency: calling 911, running to the backyard fence. It’s impossible to know if he can pull it off and we hope he’s never put to the test.
We work towards the goal of complete independence. For some kids, 18 is when they set off into the world, for others 22, right after college. For Nate, maybe it’ll be 30, or 35. Who knows. I think it’s going to happen, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of effort and gives us a lot of worry.
Nate is committed, in his mind, to move back to Chicago. When he says that, and he says it often, I tell him that maybe someday he’ll get a job and live by himself out there. He likes that idea, and so do I. It’s almost too fantastic to conceive, but so was college a few years ago.
Anything, and everything, is possible.