The mother of a young woman with different abilities, I am constantly aware that definitions of adulthood we take for granted are not as straightforward as we think. My girl is a miracle of paradoxes: put an addition in front of her, something as simple as, “what’s 3+4?” and each time, she must concentrate, and struggle, and use her fingers to try to solve the equation; there’s never any guarantee she’ll get it right. However! There has not been a single effort on the part of lots of people around her to keep her safe from internet predators that our girl has not found a way to overcome. Each time we think we have her hemmed up, out of the blue, I will be at my laptop and a PM from Facebook will pop up. “Hi mama this is María. How are you? I love you. Rite me bac.” My heart dances and shrivels, in the same instant. Any way I have of staying connected to this person I continue to miss desperately, gives me joy. And I know only too well how very vulnerable she is to exploitation and harm. So once again, I follow up with her support team in Fort Lauderdale, once again we try to figure out one more way to keep her away from what is both life-giving and death-dealing not just for her, but for all of us, really: the internet.
When we are together, and out walking, whether to the mailbox at the end of the driveway here in Lowndesboro, or on a busy street, María always slips her hand into mine. Each of those walks holding hands makes the ground we walk on holy for me, filled with the mystery of love so real I get to feel its touch and grip. And yet I always make myself hold her hand as lightly as possible. Whatever comfort holding her hand gives me matters nothing next to my desire, as her mama, to give her the space to claim as much independence as she possibly can. If one day, she were to pull back her hand and tell me we don’t need to hold hands any more, I would be fierce in safeguarding that space between us. From the moment I met her, even though she was not placed in my arms as a squalling baby, my job has been to let go–and strengthen her to let go too.
So here she is, already past her teens, a 20-year old. María has informed me that as soon as she is 21 she wants to go to the Hard Rock Casino close to her residential program. O dear, sweet Jesus, have mercy on us! I’m glad I still have several more months to find a way to honor her sense of what it means to be an adult without surrendering her to one of the worst versions of adulthood I know!
Over the past few months, Maria has been discussing this year’s election, her desire to vote. Sherod is driving to see her next week. One of the things they’ll do together is register her to vote, hopefully get a sample absentee ballot. She and her dad will discuss who she wants to vote for, and hopefully, practice filling out the ballot. Then, we will ask one of our friends in Fort Lauderdale to sit with her when she gets her real ballot in the mail. We hope our friend can answer any questions Maria might have, help her make sure her ballot is counted by filling it out correctly. When Maria’s done with the ballot, our friend will make sure to mail it back.
There is no paradox in this, no bittersweetness, just absolute pride and satisfaction. My daughter has pretty strong opinions about who she thinks should be our next president. She sees herself as part of a larger reality and understands she plays a part in how history turns out. She needs some special accommodations and she also deserves the respect of citizenship. And she is enough of an adult to vote. How wonderful is that?!?!