Happy 33rd Birthday

Doug’s 33rd birthday was Monday, July 18th.  As he does every year he began reminding me three months in an advance that he has a birthday coming up.  Every evening phone call since sometime in April has ended with , “Guess who has a birthday soon.” His hope was that I would drive up to get him and bring him home for the week of his birthday.  I had to let him know right away that I wouldn’t be able to do that, that I just could not afford the gas to make that drive twice in a week. Not to mention my bad tires and the bad running condition of my car.  I did promise him though, that I would certainly be there on his birthday for a good long visit and that I would take him to his choice of restaurant.  Each day he would ask if I was still planning on coming. He asked if I could bring Rusty so they could play basketball. He also asked several times if I could bring his Aunt Denise.  She had been up there with me a few times before.  I realized again how Doug likes everything familiar.  He likes to repeat things that have gone smoothly for him. He mentioned that if Denise came we could go to the lake like we had before and that we could go to the same park we’d been to with her.

When Doug was a child, if something wasn’t exactly as it had been he would become upset.  Each trip we’d take to Iowa to visit family was a test because Doug would expect all of his cousins to look exactly as they had two years prior. We’d always traveled to Iowa every other Christmas to visit family.  It bothered Doug that his cousins were growing up. If we didn’t stop at exactly the same rest stops or stay at the same hotels while on the road he would become upset and remain off kilter the rest of the trip. New, unfamiliar, unchartered ground, and adventure are all things that Doug cannot handle well.

Denise, Rusty, and I arrived at Doug’s assisted living home around 11:00 a.m.  He was so excited to see Denise that he walked right by me with his arms stretched out wide to give her a huge hug.  He then hugged his brother Rusty and immediately turned his attention to Denise’s new car.  He raved about it.  “Honey, did you notice that I was here?” I beckoned for his attention.  “Oh Mom, I love you”  he gave me his big bear hug.  As he held me I felt the familiar tremor in his arms.  His shaking is and always has been something that has embarrassed him.  My heart ached for him.  He is on so many medications. Some of them cause him to shake and have tremors. At one point, several years ago, his Doctor put him on a medicine to counter act that side effect. Unfortunately that medication had a severe side effect of it’s own. Doug began having a horrible rash. Rather than realizing the rash was a side effect of the new medicine, the Doctor treated the rash with a topical cream. The rash continued to grow. Then one night Doug had a horrible seizure and ended up in the hospital. While there he had several more seizures.  At home I began doing research on the internet about the medicines he was taking.  The new medicine that the Doctor had put him on to control his shaking had caused not only the rash but seizures.  I went to the hospital with printed information about the medication.  The Doctor at the hospital immediately took him off the medication.    Now Doug not only shakes really bad but must take anti seizure medication the rest of his life.

Anyway, our day went well.  We went out to eat at a not so great restaurant. I noticed that Doug now used his knife and fork, which is something I was never able to get him to do properly. He had fried chicken. I watched as he struggled to cut the chicken as his hands shook violently.  I told him that I thought it would be okay if he picked the chicken up with his hands and ate it.  With quiet determination he continued to cut small pieces and pick small bites out with his fork.  Some bites made it to his mouth, some made it across the table onto one of his dining companions plates. He never noticed where his food would land, he just continued to eat as the rest of us gave sad empathetic glances to one another.

After lunch he thanked us profusely and went on and on about how great the restaurant was. I personally thought it was a horribly over priced place with very little to offer as far as food quality, but kept quiet because he seemed to enjoy it.  We then went to the park so he and Rusty could play basketball. While sitting there watching the two of them play a few games with another couple of guys that were there, Denise mentioned to me how impressed she was with how kind Rusty was to Doug and how well he handled being around Doug in public.  It doesn’t take long for someone in public to realize that Doug has some problems.  He’s constantly apologizing to people for no apparent reason. If one should ask “What are you apologizing for?” He’ll then say something like “For the bad thoughts that were in my head.” Which makes one wonder right away what thoughts those might be. Then sometimes he’ll follow up by saying things like “But I’m not going to hurt anybody, I promise.”  or…  “I don’t wanna go back to jail, so please don’t call the police.”  I told Denise that there was a time I found it to stressful to go out with Doug because of the things he would say and do in public, but that my brother Tom made me realize that I had no reason to feel embarrassed over things that another person says or does.  He said that most people see right away that Doug has mental problems and that is nothing that I can control. Doug’s behavior and the things he says are something I have never had control of. “So, Tom made me realize that I should never be embarrassed over anything Doug does, and Rusty and Liz have learned that as well.” I was explaining to Denise when all the sudden, from out on the basketball court my 33 year old son yells over to me “Hey Mommy!”

“Hi hon.” I reply as I notice the guys he’s on the court with glancing at one another. I look over at Rusty and he shoots me a big smile. “Yep, I’m pretty impressed with Rusty myself.” I say to Denise.  Most kids his age would be horribly embarrassed by their 6’3″ , 33 year old brother yelling the word “Mommy” across a basketball court in the middle of a game. Rusty seemed unphased if not a bit amused.

After the guys finished playing several games, we headed back to Doug’s assisted living facility. Rather than going straight there, we decided to go to the lake that Denise and I had taken him to when he first moved up there. Denise wanted to sit for a while at the end of the dock and dangle our feet in the water. I never realized how afraid Doug was of water.  He clearly was troubled by the walk down the pier and was ready to leave as soon as we got there.  This added to the many things about Doug that I harbor guilt over.  I had taken Liz and Rusty for swimming lessons. Why had I never bothered to do this with Doug?  I cheated him out of so much when he was growing up. Now that he is a low functioning 33 year old man, or manchild, I see more and more how my own shortcomings retarded and ruined his life.

Leaving him there that day, his birthday, was not easy.  Although I tried to rationalize and tell myself that he lives with such a flat affect emotionally that he won’t be sad but for 5 minutes after our departure, I knew in my heart he was yearning to go with us.  I know he hates where he lives and that he wants so badly to be home with his family and to feel included in our daily lives.  He tells me every day “Pray for me mom. I don’t know if I can make it here much longer.”

I do honey.  I pray for you every night. I pray for you to have strength. I pray for you to find happiness.  Thirty three years ago I cried tears because I could not bring you home right away from the hospital. You were premature and had to stay and grow. I blamed myself. I prayed to God to let you come home to me, happy and healthy.  That prayer has never changed.

….”Child of mine, child of mine… oh yes sweet darlin’  I’m so glad you are a child of mine.”



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2 Responses to Happy 33rd Birthday

  1. Leslie Allen says:

    Karen, We all make mistakes with our parenting. I felt guilty when Miles got his first glasses at age 4, for not realizing earlier how bad his eyes were. Actually, he was only three. To be a parent is to feel guilt. If you had taken Doug for swimming lessons it would have ended in disaster. You are sensitive in dealing with him.

  2. Denise says:

    I thank you for allowing me to share Doug’s birthday with you. I’m proud of Doug because even though he was afraid of the water, he faced his fears and walked onto that pier and dangled his feet in the water, even if only for a bit. You can let him know that he is constantly in our thoughts and prayers, also. Love all of you!

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