The sun was hot in the cloudless sky the first time Kurt and I volunteered at Community Homestead, a non-profit rural community living and working with people with special needs. We followed Nadine, the young woman in charge of the garden, to the strawberry patch.
“Can you weed this row?” she said.
“Sure,” kneeling, I started pulling tall grass from the dry earth, ignoring 14-year-old Kurt who remained at the end of the row, arms crossed and frowning. Nadine moved off to tend to other duties.
I was willing to do my best even though the little gardens we planted at home were usually tended by my husband. I yanked weeds and piled them up and moved down the row. The other volunteers pulled and moved swiftly in rows on either side of me, gaining more ground than me as I crawled along. I apparently sucked at weeding.
“Do you want to help?” I looked up at Kurt, who still stood at the end. Not responding, he walked off and sat on a bench in the shade. His reluctance to help didn’t surprise me. He didn’t like to be out in the hot sun, plus getting him to do any chore turned into a “chore.”
I had so wanted to make a good impression for Kurt. I had wanted to be the helpful mom and have Kurt willing to join in. I had learned that they expected everyone to be productive, working at whatever level their special needs allowed. Nadine hadn’t put any pressure on us. This was our first visit, after all. I was the one who had high expectations, somehow wishing to wow them with how helpful Kurt would be. Unfortunately, he would have nothing of that.
By the time we headed home that afternoon, I had grime sticking to my sweaty skin. In my over zealousness, I was dehydrated, a bit sunburned and tired. I cried and fretted on the 45-minute drive, not knowing how I would continue to volunteer there.
Yet, we did. Because of what I didn’t want for Kurt and because of what I wanted for him.
“In your wildest dreams,” Jon, the behavioral psychologist asked months before our first visit to Community Homestead, “where do you see Kurt living when he is an adult?”
My wildest dreams of him living on his own had disappeared years ago due to the cognitive disability caused by thousands of seizures. But I did have dreams.
“I can’t see him at a group home,” I said. “I don’t want him to be only with people who are paid to take care of him.”
I took a sip of coffee at our kitchen table and added, “I don’t want him to be parked in front of a tv for hours each day.”
“Okay,” Jon wrote notes on his pad, “That’s a list of what you don’t want. Now, what do you want?”
“I want him to have as much independence as possible. And I want him to have purpose in his life.”
I remembered that conversation often during our rocky start at Community Homestead. I couldn’t let go of my dreams for Kurt. We had to keep going.