In March 2013, CAREGIFTED sent Jennifer Babcock on a getaway to St. Helena, California, where she met up with CAREGIFTED's founder, Heather McHugh. Below are selected excerpts from her reflections on being a caregiver and a CAREGIFTED getaway recipient.
● What does a typical day look like for you?
I am a single mom to an 11 year year old son with autism and a 16 year old daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome. My son wakes up in the middle of the night and I try to help him go back to sleep. We have to get up at 5:00am so that I can get myself and my 2 kids ready for school. My son is not easy to waken, so I have a structure that I must use to get him ready in the morning. I put my son on the bus and then my daughter and I go to the local high school where I am a special education teacher and an autism specialist, (and have been doing this for over 22 years). I teach students with autism and work on behavioral programs. Then I go home and work with my son and his behavior team.
● What’s the hardest part about caregiving that nobody sees?
My son is aggressive. He hurts himself and he hurts us too. I know that he does not want to do this. Trying to work to de-escalate him and find other behaviors to take the place of the aggression is hard work.
● What about caregiving brings you the most pleasure?
His laughter, his smile and the way he engages with me when he is happy. He will take my face and hold it in his hands and try to kiss me. He will come up to me and want a hug.
● Do you have any special interests or talents outside of caregiving? If so, please explain.
I have an art studio and I like to paint, sew, and make altered art pieces using vintage magazines from the 1950’s. I like to take old furniture and make it new. Taking old things and making them into something new is one of my favorite things to do. I also like to cook.
● Describe a moment during your getaway when you felt the most relaxed or at ease.
Sitting in the sun, drinking wine at a beautiful winery. The warmth of the sun and just being able to sit without worrying that something was happening at home was relaxing itself.
● What was your favorite “spot” on your getaway? Why?
The Culinary Institute of America. Because the gardens were so beautiful. The class was fun. I was learning something new. The food was fabulous. Everything about that day was amazing!
● How has your getaway changed your perspective on life and your role as a caregiver?
It reminds me that I am still an individual with my own needs and my own life to live too. I am no good to my family if I do not take care and nourish my own soul.
● What emotions did you experience when you came home? If you can remember, tell us about a moment where you experienced a strong emotion shortly after your return to “normal” life.
I was glad to be home. I missed my kids. I had souvenirs to share with my daughter and I had made a scrapbook along the way so that I could share it with my friends and family. While showing the scrapbook to my friends, my son defecated on the floor. Time for life to get back to normal.
● What thoughts or information would you share with other caregivers who are going on their own getaway?
Bring scrapbook supplies and make a page per night. That way when you come home, you can simply put the pictures in and you will have this wonderful memory book of your trip with the highlights as you experienced them. When we get home and life returns to normal, it will be hard to put this together and hard to remember everything you did. You will treasure this book and when you have a hard day, you can open the book and revisit your trip.