Washington - Parenting any child – even the perfect child, the “please and thank you,” honours student, doesn’t-need-every-new-Apple-product child – is the hardest job.
Please do not comment or send e-mails saying parenting is the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. I agree, wholeheartedly. But none of that changes my assertion that being responsible for the growth and development of another person is inexplicably difficult.
But what is it like to parent the child who is born deaf or autistic, or without 10 fingers and 10 toes? Or the child who, either through nature or nurture, commits an explicable act of violence?
I flirted with this world in the early years of my twin sons’ lives. Born two months premature, Andrew was 8 days old when doctors told us he had had a massive brain bleed which could leave him blind, deaf, unable to ever walk or talk. Christopher, the “healthy” twin, was born with two holes in his heart.
For two years of visiting every “-ologist” known to man we were the parents of definably “less than perfect” children. Then the holes filled in as the heart muscle grew and the child who seemed destined for disability learnt to ride a bike.
You breathe an enormous sigh of relief, celebrate the seemingly minor milestones, and you try to forget the fear which clutched at your heart when it seemed all could so easily have gone wrong.
Having experienced the highs and lows of this world, I was transfixed when I stumbled upon an interview with Andrew Solomon last month on The Colbert Report about Solomon’s 2012 book, Far From the Tree.
Solomon, a National Book Award winner, has written an account of the lives of parents raising less-than-perfect children.(He calls them “exceptional” in the least pandering sense of that word.)
He raises many questions: Should deaf children be taught to read lips and talk, so as to fit in better to society? At what age do parents allow a transgender child to wear a dress to school? What if your child is Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine High School shooters?
Solomon’s definition of “exceptional” is fascinating. He includes childhood prodigies, on the theory that a prodigy poses as much of a challenge to family dynamics as does a disabled child.
And he is open about being the gay son of straight parents.
But what struck me most was an essay Solomon cited by Emily Perl Kingsley, a writer for Sesame Street.
She says having a child with limitations is akin to planning the trip of a lifetime to Italy and having your plane land in Holland instead. Holland is a different place, not the place you planned on going, but, Holland “has windmills… tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.”
As someone who spent time, literally and figuratively, in Holland many years ago, I was struck that the analogy works not just for the parents of exceptional children, but also for those of us who are too anxious about every decision we make in parenting our unexceptional children.
We must all remember to savour our tulips. – The Washington Post