After spending all summer at home with my kids, I needed help. And I mean the kind of help only an intensive three-day program could provide. That’s why I signed up for “Good News! You’re Still Alive on the Outside!” Here’s how it went:
When I first met Chuck, my Reintegration Specialist, he asked if I would like to see my room. I responded, loudly, “HAS IT BEEN CLEANED UP? OR IS IT A BIG MESS WITH YOUR TOYS EVERYWHERE?” Chuck patiently reminded me that my kids were back in school and this was a room just for me. He asked me to blink several times if I understood.
After settling in, I went to get lunch with the other parents in the cafeteria. The haggard-looking dad in front of me was disappointed that they were out of chicken salad sandwiches. I piped up, “Hey, this is not a restaurant! You’ll eat what they make.” At that point, Chuck scurried over and whispered that the dad was simply disappointed. I turned to the dad again and said sharply, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” When he didn’t respond, I added, “Are you even listening to me?” Chuck ushered me away while at least one parent muttered, “Newbie.”
That night, with each strange noise, I sat straight up in bed and yelled out, “IS EVERYTHING OKAY?! Hello?” This happened maybe ten times before Chuck called on the intercom. He told me that noises were typical for the facility, and they had nothing to do with any dangerous activities. I told Chuck that “I better not have to come up there,” but he calmly replied that the facility was a one-story building.
I wolfed down some toast. I also received a slight mouth burn because the coffee I was chugging was hot, which I was not used to. Chuck suggested I relearn how to eat and drink at a normal pace. I marveled at the sensation of being able to take two bites of toast in a row without having to break up a squabble over a toy. Chewing my food into smaller pieces before swallowing was also quite the novelty.
When my in-room phone rang, I yelled, “I’ll get it. Don’t pick it up!” Later, I felt compelled to go into the crowded common area and announce that I was going potty and that no one should bother me while I was in there. Chuck explained to the crowd that I was struggling with intense PPS (Post-Privacy Syndrome). There were knowing nods all around.
That night we all attended a seminar where we were asked to write down important recent events. I listed, as my top three, “Favorite pencil used,” “Can’t find book,” and “Uh-oh, it just broke.” When I was told that the intention was to list events in the real world, I panicked and blurted, “Somebody needs a time out!”
By the morning of the final day, I was mostly able to perform simple adult-level transactions without incident, such as buying food at a drive-thru. When the cashier gave me my change, I backslid a bit by replying, “My meal was $4.70. I gave you a five-dollar bill. How much change am I getting back?”
I spent the last night there holding my breath for no reason. Chuck said that breathing slowly and deeply was maybe the hardest thing to relearn. He told me that after participating in this program, most stay-at-home parents successfully reintegrate into the adult world in two weeks. I asked him if he knew how many days that was. He smiled and said 14. I told him that was correct and that he could have one piece of candy. “Not two.”
Illustration by Andrew Lakata