Mimi was one of the people I called when I was “reaching out” to people during the stay at home orders. I’ve actually called her twice during the last three months. The first time was to check on how she and George were doing. The second time was to ask her permission to post her story on my blog.
Mimi has no internet service or email. She doesn’t keep up with people through technology. Both times I called, she thanked me for listening to her talk at length about what’s going on in her life. Various friends from her church and her pastor have reached out to her via phone during this time. She is so appreciative of people doing that. Mimi, twice widowed, lives alone with George.
“George is not much of a conversationalist.” She laughed when she said this.
George, who has severe autism, is now 55. Before COVID-19 lockdowns, he was attending an adult day program while living with his mother.
This program has been cancelled since mid-March.
In 1985, George was twenty-one and public education ended. Mimi knew George needed someplace to go and activities to keep him occupied. By this time, there were opportunities available and Mimi found an agency that was having some success with children with autism. They had a program for George. Mimi, who was required to participate in a three-week training session herself, learned many techniques which she continues to employ with George thirty-five years later.
Mimi told me that the agency formed an adult program around George and his needs. Social skills training and basic math were part of George’s instruction then. Throughout the years since George began at this agency, there have been changes in name and management, but George has remained at the same place through the present day. Mimi informed me that there are still people involved there who have known George since the beginning. One of these people has seen the growth that has occurred in George through the years. Mimi told me that this woman says, “I’m one of the few that knows where he’s come from.”
The adult day program currently involves connections with the community.
Small groups of four clients with two caregivers go out into the community and participate in volunteer activities. While these activities provide service, they also help the participants continue to develop their own social and life skills. Sometimes they deliver lunches for a local Meals on Wheels and exchange a few words with meal recipients. Mimi feels good when caregivers tell her that George is a favorite with some nursing home residents he visits. Sometimes groups help in various ways at a local food pantry, shred papers for an animal rescue site, or stuff envelopes for other not-for-profit companies. The agency is always looking for new opportunities for their clients. On Fridays they go out to lunch, shop, or participate in a group activity such as bowling. They also learn how to handle money when they pay for their own purchases.
George enjoyed his program, but it suddenly came to an end due to COVID restrictions.
One of George’s favorite things to do with his mom is to go grocery shopping each week. While there, George ventures off to pick up his own favorite foods and bring them back to Mimi and the cart. When local grocery stories stopped allowing more than one family member to shop due to COVID-19, this created a challenge for Mimi. She can’t leave George alone at home or in the car.
Her other son, James, now married and with adult children of his own, has a job that has required more hours from him during this period. He still manages to pick up groceries for his mom. He visits one of the warehouse stores to buy large quantities of George’s favorite juices.
Mimi and George do go once a week to Walgreens. He learned quickly that if he doesn’t put on his mask before leaving the car and keep it on until he’s back in the car, they will not get to shop. George is able to purchase one of his current favorites, Spam, at Walgreens. Mimi tells me he would eat fried Spam three times a day if she would let him.
George, whose speech is mostly words and phrases, mentions going to the hospital. This is how Mimi realizes that he understands enough about events to worry. She does her best to reassure him.
George, a big man, has had a few more meltdowns during lockdown. One of the things I most admire about Mimi is her consistency as a parent. She never waivers from the techniques she learned thirty-five years ago. Those were possibly the most valuable three weeks of her life, in my opinion. (I say this as a parent who was not always as consistent as I should have been.)
“I won’t give into it.” She has told me this multiple times during various conversations.
“If we get there and you’re acting like this, we’ll turn around and go home,” she tells him and she does it!
What will this summer bring for George? Mimi told me that his day program will be reopening with “waves” of participants. She doesn’t yet know all the details. The yearly summer camp that George looks forward to attending has cancelled this year. The camp counselors come from other countries and work one on one with the campers. Dorms, masks, social distancing! All problems, so there is no camp. She is thinking that she and George will venture back to church soon. They are both members of the senior’s group there, so George has friends that he enjoys seeing.
I will leave you with two quotes from my recent conversation with Mimi.
Speaking of George as a middle-aged man she said, “They can still grow.”
“If they’d have started earlier with programs, he would be even farther now.”
Look for future posts on George and Mimi. If you missed the previous posts, you can start here.