Jessie has had a boyfriend—whom I will call Tall Thing—for almost two years. I have not written about their relationship at all because it is theirs and I did not want to trespass. I will say, however, that nothing really prepares you for the conversations you have to a) have and b) listen to. I mean, we’ve all practiced and become comfortable with talking about dating and love and sex with our children (I certainly hope), but there is no parenting book that I have found—not even those targeted to parents of children with intellectual disabilities—that talks about how to broach the subject with your son or daughter’s date’s parents! “Hi, I was just calling to ask you what you’ve taught Bob/Brenda about sex?” I mean, what is the etiquette for that? I spent days agonizing over that first phone call, trying to suss out Tall Thing’s understanding and his parents’ level of comfort talking about dating and boundaries and sex. Not conversations I often have with near strangers!
As for the conversations you have to listen to . . . well, I admit, I am a lurker, ever curious. But in my defense, it really is very hard not the hear a conversation going on in the back seat of your car, the car that you are required to drive to make any dating possible. While I have written snippets of these conversations down in my journal, I have not blogged about them because, no matter how delightful, I want to respect Jessie’s privacy on this front.
However, I am crossing that boundary here today because Tall Thing broke up with Jessie Saturday night. At our house, after a romantic Valentine’s dinner (red table cloth, candles, dinner for 2), and with Jessie in the long clingy dress she herself bought just for this romantic occasion. Dan was so mad he went and erased the pictures he took of them off the camera.
At first, it seemed like everything was going well. Tall Thing had bought Jessie a card with chocolates inside; she had penned him a long letter that listed all the things she loved about him. They ate a romantic spaghetti dinner and then retired to the family room to talk and hang out. And then, toward the end of the evening (really, I wasn’t spying, I just happened to be loading the dishwasher) I happened to hear: “But I can’t deal with all this grandfather drama.” At issue, I believe, were the dates that Jessie had to cancel because she was in Montreal going to her grandfather’s funeral.
Now, in Tall Things defense, I don’t think he was intentionally being callous. I think he was just getting tired of it being difficult for them to get together. So he was considering being “friends.” Not “boy” or “girl” friends. I had to exit quickly as I heard my daughter begin to melt down. Then I had to hold back my husband, who wanted to strangle Tall Thing for being so tacky as to break up after a Valentine’s Day dinner.
When it was time to leave, Jessie followed Tall Thing to the door, confusion and sadness (okay, despair, but no parent wants to write or see that) on her face. Tall Thing put on his coat and I drove him home. The conversation was interesting (once again, things you have to adjust to: driving your daughter’s boyfriend home after he has broken up with her and trying to remain respectful of his personhood and restrain yourself from dumping him at the side of the road). Tall Thing was still uncertain about being girl and boyfriend, but then in the same breath went on to tell me about what he had planned for their anniversary in May. I think both of them are so in love with the idea of being/having a girl/boyfriend that neither are really able to let go of what might not be giving either of them what they need. This is the HARDEST part of parenting (ignore any thing else I may have listed as the hardest part, this really is the hardest part): not telling your child what to do in affairs of the heart, but hoping that you have raised them in a way that will let them make mistakes and then recover.
When I got home, Dan read me the riot act. “This is NOT the time to give her the speech about a woman needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” So I knocked on her door and respectfully entered and sat on the side of her bed, wiping the snot and tears from her face. She talked, I listened. I said I had a little bit of advice, but would only give it to her when and if she wanted it. “Okay Mom,” she said. “I want to hear it.” And I briefly said that sometimes love sucks and it’s hard to grow up and have to deal with break-ups. But that she was a wonderful young woman who deserved someone who loved her and treasured her and with whom she shared interests. That she should take some time to think about what she wanted. Did she want someone who was going to be fickle, to keep changing their mind? But also, that I trusted that she could figure it out and that we were always there to support her and love her.
I sat there and held her for a while, then retired to our own bedroom, where I held Dan and felt grateful that I had another person to do this parenting thing with!
Sunday morning, Jessie and Dan were putting dinner in the crockpot and Dan was explaining how cooking was like chemistry. “Yea,” said Jessie, “That’s something Tall Thing and I didn’t have!”
I’m not sure how long that feeling will last. I am not sure that she wouldn’t, if given the choice, try to ‘make it work.’ I am not sure that she isn’t so in love with the idea of having a boyfriend that she might not trade some measure of her own esteem for the promise of a kiss.
But I am sure that she deserves someone who loves her, treasures her, shares her passions, and is willing to be there for her when she needs him. Someone who makes her weak at the knees and with whom she has “chemistry.”
And in the interim, we will keep trying to teach her about relationships, be there when they fail, help her make friendships and a range of relationships that will support her, and love her with all our might. That’s all we really can do, even if it never seems quite enough.
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