One of the things that I like about living in an apartment is that I get to meet people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. The boys and I get to meet people who are here for a short time and then move on. But they are interesting people and sometimes we are lucky enough to have them stay in our lives. And sometimes not. The apartment complex is more diverse than a neighborhood would be (here in Parker, Colorado) and there are people of all ages here.
For example, there are some grandparents here in our complex. We met them soon after we moved in. They had their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons living with them for a while after they moved in. The boys were all around the same ages and the oldest was in the same program David was at school. When the son and his family moved out of his parents’ apartment, we kept in touch. In fact, he watched the boys for 1/2 a year in the morning before school. He is now divorced. But his parents still live in the complex and the boys still visit on a regular basis. David has somewhat moved on (he is the oldest and has less in common as the boys have grown-up), but Michael LOVES spending time with the boys. In fact, this summer the boys were visiting their grandparents a lot and Michael was usually with them. I would feel worse about this, but I had pneumonia for most of the summer and I knew that Michael was safe and supervised. The grandparents, who my kids call “Grandma and Grandpa H” (they use their full last name, but I won’t post that here), are amazing people. Grandma H was a teacher and is from Puerto Rico. Grandpa H is from NY or NJ (I can’t remember – I know that their family lived in both places – but they moved to Colorado from Ohio). They’ve been married forever and their son is, I think, in his late 40’s. He was an only child. They love to cook for the kids and when David did a project on Puerto Rico, Grandma and Grandpa H made some traditional dishes for him to take to school to share with his class. They buy the boys Christmas presents every year and the boys have gone (in pjs) to their apartment Christmas morning for a little bit. Sometimes the boys go over there and just hang out and talk with them. I love that the kids have a great relationship with Grandma and Grandpa H. We wouldn’t have met them, or stayed in as close contact, if we didn’t live here.
We’ve also met a number of young families. One family lives across the hall from us. The mom, Tina (I’ve changed their names to protect their privacy), is 27 years old. She has 3 children (and one who died at 15 months from brain cancer, she was 20 years old at the time). Her youngest son is special needs. Looking at him, you wouldn’t know that anything was wrong with him. But try to talk with him, he’s 5, and you are left perplexed. She’s been working on getting him a diagnosis and into special programs since they moved in. She’s had him at Children’s and has had a ton of testing done on him. She started several years ago (before they moved to Colorado) and has had difficulties getting the specialists to give him a diagnosis. He was a premie and he has a whole slew of problems. She finally got a diagnosis and I think that it fits (mostly). As a special ed teacher (even though I’m not working at the moment, I do have a Master’s in SPED), she has asked a lot of questions. And I’m happy to help her out. Some of the things she’s been told have been confusing and I understand why she is so frustrated.
But, let me tell you, she is an amazing mom. Her daughter and her youngest son are 12 months apart (her daughter is the youngest). Recently,I went to check on her because as I was taking the garbage out, I noticed that her keys were still in the door. As it turns out, she had both her daughter, Anna and her youngest son, Charlie crying and she was trying to get them in from the car. Her oldest, Lance, who I think is in 2nd grade, had to use the bathroom and had gone running to their apartment. I helped her carry stuff inside and she told me about Charlie’s diagnosis and that she would be meeting with ChildFind the next day.
As we were chatting, we discovered that we both love to scrapbook. She doesn’t have much time (her husband travels and is not home much of the time) because she is busy with her kids, but she wanted to show me her scrapbook of her son, Allen, who had died. While I was sitting looking at it, Charlie and Anna were both crying. She said that they both missed their naps and were tired and cranky. (Personally, I was surprised as my kids were done napping at 3, but she said that her’s still napped – apparently, Charlie could nap for 3-4 hours a day.) Lance had gone out to play with the kids running around the complex (Michael was one of them). Charlie was bothering Anna as siblings do when they are tired and cranky. I listened to her talk to him. She spoke softly (not her normal volume) and slower. She simplified. “Stop. Anna was there first.” And she told him consequences, “If you don’t stop, you will go to your room.” She was amazing.
I would have been flustered. I would have yelled, if it were my kids. But, she has learned that that doesn’t work with Charlie. He is on the Autistic Spectrum (for those of you who don’t know – that means that he has some autistic characteristics, like not understanding facial expressions or tones of voice that other kids his age would understand). Charlie also doesn’t understand consequences most of the time, making it difficult to discipline him. She and I have talked about strategies for parenting him. But she lives with him 24/7. And she tries so hard.
When I was 27 David was a newborn. I was figuring out parenting a newborn. I was inexperienced and unsure of myself. Here Tina is at 27 and has gone through the loss of a child (I can’t imagine) and is trying to raise a kiddo with special needs along with her other 2 kids, mostly by herself. If I hadn’t talked with her, I would have missed out. I would have written off this amazing person because of stereotypes. Because looking at her, you might see a young mom of a crazy kid (Charlie). You might see a woman who smokes (and this is the ONE thing that I can’t truly get past – but who could blame me with Chris’ lung cancer), who doesn’t seem to have things together. But that is not who she is at all.
She is an expert on her own kid and trying to find her way through the maze of doctor’s offices, services and insurance to get her kid what he needs. She is a strong advocate for him, and is trying her best to work through a system that is difficult for parents who have the money to hire advocates to help them. A system that is confusing even for professionals and often responds best to the parents whose voices are loudest and checkbooks can afford attorneys.
I am shy by nature. Sometimes it comes off as being “stuck up” but I am usually quiet. If someone says, “hi” I’ll respond, but often I have difficulties initiating conversations. Living in an apartment has forced me to leave my comfort zone and interact with people. It has expanded my horizons. I would love to have a house and a backyard. I would love to have a place to call mine, permanently. But that isn’t to be right now. And if I didn’t live in an apartment, I wouldn’t have met Grandma and Grandpa H or Tina. I would have missed out.