O.I.ndependence Away From Home 3/3

Continued from previous post

"No. No you can't. Absolutely not." 
"Why not?"
"What happens if you get hurt? Who is going to take care of you? What happens if you fall out of your chair and break something? What about your disability benefits? Do you know if they will still work out-of-state?" 
They paced and shuffled around my dorm room. My first mistake was having the conversation in a stuffy cement 6ft by 8ft block. I did what I usually did when they got frantic: Ignored them and looked away, stared out at the window and began counting the seconds till they calmed down.
"This is the best town in allll of America for you to go to college and you want to LEAVE? Are you crazy?! And not to mention you're right by the best hospital in allll of America too! With the best doctor! He knows you best!" Still, I remained silent.
It was like a very informal court case. I had to wait for their side to be done screeching their arguments before I could launch into mine. In my mind though I had all the answers to their questions, not only did I have all the answers but my responses screamed aloud in my head. I wanted to shake them by their shoulders and tell them that I was capable of so much more. That it would be okay. That I was sure, somewhere inside of me, that studying away was the next step for me. I knew their questions would not be about why are you choosing to do a study away program? (In truth, my parents didn't even really understand what my major was about anyway). But instead their questions were focused around do you think you'll be able to survive away?

"You guys, I'm going. I've already got it all planned out. I'm going." I could not have chosen to utter those words at a worse time. They were emptying my laundry hamper into a bag that seven days later would carry fresh clean clothes. Dad was putting boxes of pre-cooked meals in my room-sized refrigerator.
"You can't handle yourself on your own. You just can't. Who is going to do all of this for you?" 'This' is what my parents had been doing for the past 19 years.
Sure, my mom told me about how she gave up her job and career when I came along. And when my family moved to section 8 housing in a Boston suburb it was because we couldn't yet afford an accessible home to live in. I knew all of that stuff but it wasn't until that day that I saw how centered around ME my family was. Specifically, how centered around ME my parents' lives were.
I remember swallowing a very large gulp in my throat that day and at that moment. It made me incredibly sad to realize all of that - of course I was thankful and grateful for them but in that same realization I recognized I had something to prove for myself and them. So there I was wanting to get away, to show them not only was I capable of "..doing all of this.." for me - on my own, but that THEY had their own lives to live too. Their own potential outside of the lives of their children was unfulfilled, I saw it that day as my laundry was folded away into the drawers and food was put into the fridge for me. There are many times when I wonder where the world would be if every child could have had such adamant parents like my own.

The days following didn't get easier until after the long winter break was over. My parents still didn't realize that I was actually intent on leaving until they saw the boxes of things from my dorm my friend M had helped me to move back home. As I carried my bedding and sheets into the house the look on my dad's face was one of stunned sadness and shock. Somehow I knew that they wouldn't realize I could do "this" on my own until I was actually there on my own; knowing that helped me deal with their anxiety and the many arguments that occurred during that holiday season.

That night I was leaving for the bus station my parents finally came around (I mean, really, they had no choice by then). They gave me two large suitcases to pack all my stuff in and sent me on The Ride to South Station (earlier that semester I had saved all my work-study money to buy a one-way bus ticket to D.C.).
"So you're leaving home for the semester eh?" The van driver asked me.
"Yeah, I'm doing this US foreign policy program at a university in D.C. I'm really excited!"
"I remember when I left home for the first time, I had gone to the peace corps for two years and that was overseas..."

Study away/abroad/independence:

  • Know that it's possible. But also know that that possibility won't be handed to you, it'll take research, adaptations, and thousands of annoying logistics - but it will work. 
  • One part I had left out was that after talking to my parents I even wrote a letter to them explaining, calmly, my reasons for going and why I knew I would be able to handle it. To this day, it is probably the most honest piece of communication I have ever had with my family.
  • I always knew I wanted to try to live on my own  WHILE MY PARENTS WERE STILL ALIVE! Though they might be several states away, I knew that if something went awry at least they would still be there to help me. This may be blunt and a creepy thought to think about, but ... think about it!
  • Along the same lines of "know that it's possible," also know that others have done it before you. A simple google search of 'disability independent living' will reveal many sites and resources at your finger tips!
  • Also, if you are a student at a college/university - chances are there is a Disability Services Office at the ready to make your life easier. I was very fortunate to have an incredibly well connected office at my school and the woman in charge helped me from the start to the end of the my study away experience
  • For parents: your child seeking independence is natural, inevitable, and I hope it is a source of pride for you (I am not a parent so I have no clue..). And of course you will be worried (we expect you to be!) but as a child I also want nothing more than to know you always have my back, and that you will trust me to listen to what you are saying and go my own way. 
  • For young people: Your parents are totally gonna freak out. We will always be their "fragile babies" and I'm sure we have all heard the horror stories about the time "so-and-so had no clue about O.I..." But now it's not like that! Now it's our responsibility to educate and help others be aware of what O.I. is about, and more importantly, what we as individuals are about! Remember those times our parents talk about and use them for more than just amusing stories around the dinner table. 

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