Rosemary Coogan is always taking care of children — her two grandkids at home, teaching preschool, and her autistic son, who demands the most attention.
“It is not easy, I will admit. But I thank God I never gave up and don’t intend to give up because they’re my kids and they’re here for a reason; and my special-needs son, he’s also here for a reason,” she said. “I love my son with all my heart.”
Coogan is divorced, and her daughter Kuuipo Galletes and Galletes’ two young children live with her. Galletes tries to schedule her part-time restaurant shift around her mother’s schedule so someone will always be home with the kids.
Coogan said she pulls a “double” shift, coming home from work to take care of her grandkids and son, while her daughter goes off to work. She’s close to exhaustion but still driven.
“I just thank God I have the energy!” she said.
She and her daughter make enough to pay the monthly bills and the special-needs devices and services for Coogan’s son that are not covered by insurance. They don’t get welfare, “as we feel someone more in need can utilize it,” Coogan said.
With no money for extras, they could use some help to make Christmas a little merrier for the kids, and that’s what Helping Hands Hawai‘i does through its Adopt A Family program. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser partners with the nonprofit to collect funds and donations of material goods via its annual Good Neighbor Fund drive. Readers may designate that their donations go to a particular family featured in stories running every Sunday until Christmas. Funds will provide a special dinner and gifts from Santa, and also assist people with basic expenses throughout the year.
Coogan said her son, Kekoanu, is getting bigger, stronger and harder to handle and that he is like a 5-year-old in a 12-year-old’s body. He doesn’t know how to talk or express his needs and feelings in the normal way, so he gets frustrated and starts injuring himself or those around him with no malice intended.
“He doesn’t mean to pull your hair and bite,” she said. He’s also very sensitive to noises, smells, textures, different places and unfamiliar faces.
“Every change is traumatic.”
He’s very sweet, but has no self-restraint. “He’ll hug you so tight — family members understand him, but (others don’t). ‘Whoa! that’s too tight!’” The classmates in his special-needs class want to make friends with him, but his idiosyncratic behavior and lack of speech make him hard to relate to, she added.
When he’s with her, Coogan has to keep her eyes on him every minute because he might suddenly do something that isn’t appropriate. She has to hold his hand in public or he’ll see something, get excited and run to get it, which includes charging into the street without looking for oncoming cars.
When she takes him shopping with the two smaller kids in tow, it’s Kekoanu who she lifts up into the grocery cart so she can control him better in the store. Other shoppers look somewhat aghast, she said, as if thinking, “He’s almost as big as you!”
Her relatives always warn her of burnout and insist they can handle his meltdowns if she takes a vacation, but she is very worried how he will react if she’s gone. Just coming home late from a meeting makes Kekoanu anxious. “I always have to prepare him for what’s coming up,” she added.
“This boy has been my opihi ever since he was born. He’s going to be 13 this month and he’s never slept away from me. He’s very, very attached,” she said.
“I don’t ever get a break (vacation), but I’m just really, really glad I get family support. I have a big family and we work together.”
Her greatest fear is how he will do without her if she dies.
“I’m making sure I’m healthy enough to take care of him. I just worry about the future and if anything happens to me, having some alternative plans for him … In the meantime, it’s all me, it’s all family members I depend on,” she said.
For Christmas, she would like Kekoanu to have earphones for his sensory stimulation activities, and elastic-waist pants, size large. Suggestions for her 3-year-old granddaughter include a doll and size 3T clothes, and for her 4-year-old grandson, a radio, music and size 4T clothes; and toys and books for all.