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As Beth’s sophomore year at Harvard began, we lived far apart for the first time. I bridged the 725 miles between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Tiffin, Ohio with phone calls, emails, and care packages.
I also tried to help from a distance, to free up at least a little of Beth’s time for more important things, even though we both knew she could do everything she needed to by herself.
I made travel plans for upcoming Paralympic swim meets. I responded to requests for details for newspaper articles and updated her resume for a reporter. I started a Challenged Athletes travel grant application for her and she finished it, adding her personal goals and the essay. I ordered medical supplies and wheel bearings, When she needed a new bag for the back of the wheelchair, I researched options, emailed her the best ones, and bought the one she selected.
Beth took over repairs for her wheelchair, scheduling a service to come to her dorm only after the intermittent catching of one wheel progressed to a consistent and frustrating obstacle. Her dirty laundry piled up until she couldn’t find clean clothes to wear.
Her priorities filled her days: swim training, classes, homework, volunteering, mentoring—and sleep.
Grateful to be home, I reconnected with the rest of my family. John and I visited Ben in Columbus. John taught 3rd graders while Maria attended Heidelberg College full-time, worked at a video store, and led college tours, in addition to babysitting. She sang in the college choir and show choir. Maria also solidified her plan to move to the Boston area after she graduated early, in December of the following year. She had a double major in elementary education and special ed. Always busy, she wasn’t home much except to sleep, but we found times to meet at Taco Bell to catch up over burritos and sodas.
I loved my suddenly wide-open life, but I also felt the need to get a job to help with finances, even though John never pushed me to work outside the home.
Without a college degree and with little opportunity in our small town, I had few options. Any minimum wage job would limit me to a very low income. I thought about working at the Tiffin Center again, a state job and my highest wage option. However, John might retire after the next school year, which meant we might relocate. It wasn’t fair to the residents to purposely work at the center for a short time. Plus, the thought of starting over again in direct care in the most difficult module was daunting.
Working at a group home could be difficult, too, but seemed a bit easier and more flexible than the Tiffin Center. I decided to bite the bullet and manage another group home for the same agency I worked for earlier. Before accepting, I toured the Tiffin home, a modern duplex in good condition. The physical environment was a big improvement over the dilapidated house I had managed before. I said yes.
I wish I had said no.
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