Jessie headed off to camp last Thursday. Packed, clean, and excited for another year at Camp Misquah, a summer camp near Gracefield, Quebec for people with intellectual disabilities. This is her first year in the adult camp, and she was psyched. Ready to move up, and certainly ready to leave us behind! The only thing she was really concerned about packing were her notebooks for writing lyrics—Camp Misquah, in her mind, has the potential to be a Camp Rock experience. She graciously left the rest of the packing to me.
On the morning of her departure, Dan got us all up at 6 am. We showered, coffeed, breakfasted, and got the last remaining bits and pieces together in the car and drove the three blocks to the parking lot where the buses sat waiting and the clean-t-shirted counselors milled around looking for their cabin mates.
Jessie scrambled out of the car, leaving Dan and I with the luggage, to meet friends and eyeball the counselors. After checking in with the nurse—with a small bag of medication that only included chewable Advil and was nothing in comparison to some of the rigourous medication schedules that some of the other campers are on—we got her bags out of the car, tagged with her cabin number, and lined up for loading on the bus. As I grab my coffee and head back into the fray to talk with other parents, I notice two small dogs standing quietly, calmly, and tethered to two of the campers. Each of the dogs is sporting a service dog harness. I am curious, as they seem too small to be guide dogs. In fact, neither is much larger than our cat.
I introduce myself to Kate (I love name tags!) and ask if I can pet her dog. I bend down to stroke the black furry creature and am greeted with a wet puggish nose and tail wag. “So, he’s your service dog?” I ask. “What’s his name?” “Buster. He lives with me. He’s an anxiety dog.” I refrain from saying anything about the dog not looking anxious, and ask how that works. “He helps me be calm,” Kate replies patiently, as if answering the question for the umpteenth time. The other dog belongs to her roommate, who has a seizure disorder. The two young women live together with their dogs and the four of them are off to camp! I realize there is a long line behind me, waiting to greet and meet the dogs and I move off to join Dan and say goodbye to Jessie.
As the buses are boarding we find ourselves standing next to Cara’s dad (one of Jessie’s cabin mates) and introduce ourselves. Cara’s Dad is a real estate agent and recently bought a house for Cara, who is a couple of years older than Jessie. She and two other young women with intellectual disabilities live there together, with support. I had heard about what they were doing through the grapevine, and was interested to talk to him about the venture. While waiting to wave to your child (sic) going off to camp is not the best venue for a long discussion, I just wanted to introduce myself, open the doors for a longer discussion at some other point. We talk for a bit about the house and how well it is working out. We lament the lack of paid employment and living options for young people with disabilities, and he admonishes us to consider buying a house sooner rather than later.
Ah yes. Living away from home, leaving the school system, finding a job and a future and a way to be in the world. And funding it all. It’s not that I haven’t thought about. I have. Quite a bit in fact. But right now it’s all I can do to get Jessie packed up and off to camp; thinking about getting her packed up and ready for life is a whole other scenario that includes serious medication, just because of the lack of ready-made options.
When people ask about Jessie’s future I often use the line my friend Claire taught me: “We haven’t invented it yet.” But the time for serious invention is here; I can feel it breathing down my neck. And as we wave to the buses as they leave, I’m thinking that I should make an appointment with my doctor. I need her to write me a prescription for on of those anxiety dogs!
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