I was sitting in a meeting one evening with other parents like me. We were all alumni from ICEC, an organization providing various therapies to our special needs children. The meetings were always moderated by a psychologist who helped us work through our grieving, healing, and milestones. Thank goodness because we needed all the mental help we could summon. You know that saying “It takes a village?” It does. It takes a village of psychologists and pharmacists to get through such staggering times like that.
Nevertheless, it was quite a liberating group and it was the first time that I realized I could just be myself with no hang-ups, nothing to prove, and nothing to be egotistical about. It was an amazing time of self awareness, all the while dealing with the most traumatic moments of my life. You would think that dealing with all the hurt, pain and disappointment of having a child with special needs would only make me feel helpless, unhappy, guilty, and disappointed, but it was the opposite. I felt relief that Derek is who he is without any need to explain anything.
So this one Mom started talking about her kids, how she had one child with ADHD, one with autism and one with some other undiagnosed syndrome. And I thought I had a full house. She went on to explain that her son was born missing several fingers. She was pouring out her heart to all of us when I suddenly burst into inappropriate laughter. It was awful. I felt ashamed at first because everyone was looking at me like I was nuts. They disapproved of my “bad behavior.” I couldn’t stop, I was a runaway train at that point. Tears started rolling down my face. People started giggling as they watched me explode with the freedom that comes with pure laughter. The laughter was like rockets jetting out of my mouth. Finally I had to stop and explain myself. It took me several times to try and talk, I couldn’t stop the laughing. Finally, I said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m laughing because if I would have known you earlier, we could have given you four fingers! My son was born with extra fingers and toes –12 of each –we had spares!” The room exploded in laughter. The other parents laughed like they’ve never laughed before. All the sadness, grief and disappointment was washed away for several minutes as we passed around a box of tissue to dab the tears of laughter streaming down our faces. It was much needed relief.
The absurdity of that sentence that came out of my mouth was appreciated by this crowd. This is the same crowd that can laugh at things you would never think someone should laugh at. It’s like me saying, “Oh, your kid’s room is a mess? Let my “borderline autistic” son come over. He’ll line up all the toys and have the place spotless.” Only parents of special needs children and the friends and family that they are close too can feel comfortable laughing at that kind of darkness. It’s such a sense of freedom that I can’t explain when you can be safe enough to laugh at such serious circumstances. No one is offended, no one makes excuses for it, it is just us “being” with what we have been given. Our adopted four-year-old son was born addicted to meth. His birth mother used drugs while she was pregnant with him. We recently ran with the kids in a children’s 1K race at a local festival and we joked that David would win the race hands down. We rarely see him walk. His preferred method of traveling is running. He runs down the street, in the house, wherever we go. We laughed that he sized up the other kids running the race, by saying, “You think you can beat me? I don’t think so, I’m powered by Meth. I got this thing in the bag.”
As bad as that sounds, you have to realize, it’s the adverse circumstances that our kids have sometimes that make you stop and think, “I have to laugh or I’ll cry.” We choose laughter, and sometimes it may not sound politically correct to other people, but I have nothing to prove to other people anymore. And being PC takes too much work. I’m exhausted already.
It’s like my 95 year old grandmother (“Gaga”) said to me after she observed a particularly hectic day we were having in my house, “Honey, you need to drink more.” Boy, Gaga had a way with humor and that’s what keeps me going – humor. If I can make someone laugh for a minute when they are in the fight of their life dealing with such traumatic events, you better believe I’m going for the funny bone. We have to just keep going and I think that’s what laughter does. It just helps us keep moving through the day. Before you know it, you’ve made it through a few minutes, and then you’ve made it through a few more. Suddenly you realize you’ve made it through a day with less tears than you had the day before and you’re still alive and you’re still functioning. I think that’s what this is all about – finding a way to deal with what you’ve been given and still being a functional, happy and positive human being.
Mother of Derek 11 yrs old with Joubert Syndrome