One of best parts of raising a child with disabilities is the way it teaches you to let go of the small things. There’s something about it that shifts your perspectives into place.
I’ll speak for myself.
My parenting skills became looser over time—certain things were skipped or abandoned. Like failing to give my son, Jackson, a middle name. He enquired about this again last week when he got a passport and noticed the gap.
“What’s the deal with that?” He asked.
“Third child, I ran out of steam,” I answered.
“Like my childhood pictures?” He asked.
Yes, just like that.
When Jack was five we visited our neighbor Tara. She had the son who had a “nervous stomach,” and did trigonometry in his head. He was an overachiever and his mom was too. That day she showed us thousands of pictures of him in a leather-bound volume. Tara talked in a whispery voice as we flipped through the pages. She had on a long skirt and sported the bonnet she wore every day. It led my other neighbor Shelly to mouth, “Sister wife?” when we were at the block party.
Tara brought us boxes of Sun Maid Raisins and gushed about how much she loved her baby book. Jack examined it carefully and asked, “What’s a baby book?”
This, by the way, actually happened.
It didn’t seem too early to explain the way the world worked.
“There are good parts and hard parts about having a brother with disabilities,” I started in my best psychologist voice. This was easy since I am a psychologist. Porter flapped his hands. Jack looked bored.
“We may be missing the baby book, but you also benefited from a more relaxed parent.”
“A LOT more relaxed,” Tyler interjected. “Like mom not making you wear underpants.”
I may have put my hand over her mouth at this point. Tara froze and her lips trembled. I assumed she was reciting a silent prayer.
“You are exaggerating honey. He didn’t wear underpants during the winter.”
There was a longer story, but it was better not to chance it. Besides, Tara wouldn’t get it. I didn’t set out to have Jack skip undies—it just happened.
The first time was on a frigid December day when I finally had my four children strapped in their car seats. There was a winter advisory and the roads were icy and rutted. I sipped a cup of Folgers Coffee and blared the radio. The kids’ long johns, pants, snow suits, and coats had taken an hour and now my children were all restrained behind me. It was the highlight of the day.
As I pulled out of the driveway, Jack announced, “I forgot my underpants.” I pretended I didn’t hear him.
“HE FORGOT HIS UNDERPANTS, Mom,” Tyler said. “Aren’t you going home?”
“It won’t be the first time. One school day going commando won’t kill him.”
The story would have ended here if Jack hadn’t embraced his newfound freedom so enthusiastically. He had to wreck it by talking to the other boys. A week later his teacher pulled me aside to say that several parents had complained.
She said, “All the boys wanted to be commandos.”
This is a long way of sharing the way my disabled son, Porter, loosened my parenting. After living with autism and the seizures and behaviors, few things rose to the level of crisis. Intubation tubes, breathing problems, or ICU stints were serious. Most other things were not.
Disabilities and health issues do this: They slap priorities into place, ready or not. Jackson missed out on the baby book and middle name, but gained a mother that didn’t helicopter. I knew things worked out.
With or without underpants.