Day One: New Socks
Jonathan can’t fold his socks into pairs. He can match one with its partner, but he physically can’t unite the sock mates into a ball of cotton.
“Will you show me that again?”
I pick up two white crew socks, one in each hand, line then up straight and tuck one cotton crew inside the other with a simple wrist twist.
Jonathan tries. His hands shake ever so slightly, he fumbles one white sock, it falls to the linoleum floor. He picks it up, lines the tops together and tries again. I watch as he struggles. I want to grab the socks out of his trembling hands and do it for him. I clinch my fists and squeeze. My patience pulses through the veins of my fingers.
“Keep trying Jonathan. You can do it.”
“I’ve never done my laundry before.”
Jonathan is eighteen. There’s black stubble under his nose where his electric shaver can’t reach. I’ve yet to see him without the bill of his Yankees hat covering his forehead.
Jonathan has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Pragmatic Language Disorder, Learning Disability in written expression, and severe anxiety. His daily prescription cocktail consists of Concerta, Effexor, Abilify, Minocycline and Methylphendate.
His parents packed his suitcase, separated his outfits in zip lock bags and put him on an airplane from Cleveland to Denver.
Jonathan is a student in the College Living Experience’s summer program. For three weeks, Jonathan and thirty other want-to-be first year college students with distinct learning disabilities are attending classes and learning independent living skills, such as laundry 101.
There are ten washing machines, five lining two walls and ten dryers stacked five on the bottom, five on top on the a third wall. It’s steaming hot; the heat of the dryers coupled with twenty teens in one small room is making sweat drip from my pits. Boys are clutching their bed sheets stuffed with dirty, stripped boxers and girls are holding portable, see-through laundry sacks full of pinks and purples.
All of them are asking for help at the same time.
“Hey Jesse, how do I start this thing?”
“Where’s the soap at?”
“Why do I have to separate my colors from my whites?”
“What does unbalanced load mean?”
“When is there going to be a dryer for me?”
“How long is 35 minutes?”
I provide lint-peeling lessons as I eye a boy stuffing all of his clothes and sheets into a washing machine with his foot.
My mom taught me how to do my own laundry when I was tall enough to reach and spin the dial on our avocado green Maytag machines. I don’t recall her teaching me the proper way to fold my undies. I just trusted myself enough to know that folding the elastic once was good enough. Jonathan doesn’t trust himself enough to open the dryer door when it beeps because its cycle is complete.
“Would it be okay for me to open the dryer now?”
I’m not teaching these teenagers the right or wrong way to do laundry, I’m teaching them to do it on their own. They’ve had everything done for them their entire lives. Their parents sent them away in hopes that when the return they’ll be able to complete basic household tasks independently.
So when Jonathan asks, “Will you fold my pants for me?” I say No. And, even tough it takes 45 minutes to fold a small pile of clothes, Jonathan does it by himself.
-- Jesse Ruderman
Jesse Ruderman spent three weeks this summer working for College Living Experience's first annual summer program in Denver. CLE specializes in helping teenagers who live with ADD/ADHD, Aspergers, psychosocial-maturational, nonverbal learning disorder and other learning disabilities transition into college and adult life with a three-week intensive college preparation session. More than 30 students from across the nation traveled to Denver, where they lived in their own dorm rooms, attended college-credit courses, traveled via public transportation, cooked and or ordered their own meals and were responsible for maintaining their own medications and hygiene, testing their ability to function independently.