Readers’ Voices, Valle Dwight: Will we ever get him out?

  • Valle Dwight with her son, Aidan O’Donoghue. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 5/21/2020 9:15:41 AM

As we wind up week 10 of staying at home, I’m starting to wonder if we will ever get our son out of the house again.

Aidan turned 24 the other day. He has Down syndrome. When this COVID business began, I worried that we would never get him to understand the intricacies of it. Nuance is not his specialty.

His specialty is being with friends, dancing, singing at the top of his lungs, greeting me every morning with “There is my lovely mother!” How would we ever get him to understand the idea of social distancing? No more going to the YMCA to flex his muscles for everyone? No more rehearsals with his band? This was just cruel! But with his underlying heart issues, it was important for him to get it, and get it fast.

I should know by now not to underestimate him. He caught on quickly. Much more quickly than many others I know. And he got all the subtleties and nuance, and he has become the COVID cop of our house.

Every time one of us leaves the house, he shouts down from upstairs, “Remember, 6 feet! Don’t forget your mask!”

And when we return home, “Don’t forget to wash your hands!”

We take long drives on the weekends for a change of scenery, but the only place he is comfortable going is cemeteries (always a happy experience during a pandemic: “Oh, look, this whole family died of smallpox,” but he hasn’t seemed to notice).

If we suggest stopping somewhere on the way home, he refuses to come inside. When we suggested a 6-foot-away outdoor birthday gathering with extended family, our former social butterfly freaked out and refused.

I’m beginning to think we’re going to have a repeat of the Santa Claus nightmare on our hands.

For years, Aidan was terrified of Santa, hated the idea of a strange man coming down the chimney at night, even if it was to leave presents. He used to break out into a sweat when we’d drive past Yankee Candle and whisper, “I hate Santa.”

Then at some point (I think it was when he realized the guy’s name was Claus, not Claws, which he finally confessed he thought it was), he became a true believer. Only problem was he was now 14 years old. And pivoting is not his thing.

I tried explaining quietly that, oops, turns out Santa isn’t real after all. He’d shake his head sadly at me. Clearly, I was insane. I’d been telling him his whole life about the wonders of Santa, and suddenly I have a new story. He wasn’t buying it.

After many attempts at reasoning with him, one day at some Christmas event I found myself shouting, “Santa isn’t real! He’s just made up for little kids!” I got some evil looks from other parents, but Aidan looked at me calmly and said, “Of course he’s real, Mom. He’s sitting right there.”

As we start to take tentative steps to reopening, I can imagine similar scenes in our house as we try to get Aidan to reemerge. I picture him clutching the doorframe as we push him out the door, with him screaming, “NO! I have to be 6 feet!”

And us yelling back, “It’s OK! You’re safe! The president says it’s all a hoax! Coronavirus is made up by the Democrats!”

And our neighbors looking out the windows, wondering why we’re torturing our son, and how sad it is that we’ve lost our minds during the shutdown.

But I realize that, much like the Santa fiasco (“he’s sitting right there”), Aidan may have a point. The coronavirus is still out there. We’re changing the rules, but we can’t change the reality.

So you may not see us until there’s a vaccine, or until I can convincingly lie about there being a vaccine.

Until we meet again, remember: 6 feet, wear your mask, wash your hands.

Valle Dwight is the director of Development and Communications for Pathlight, a nonprofit supporting people with disabilities and their families throughout western Massachusetts.


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