A few years ago there was a fun piece doing the online rounds about how to tell if you’re ready to be a parent. It was full of amusing advice such as, ‘Go to the chemist. Hand the pharmacist your wallet and tell her to help herself,’ and ‘Buy a live octopus and a string bag. Attempt to get the octopus into the bag without any bits hanging out. You are now ready to dress a toddler.’
It got me wondering about how to tell you’re ready to parent a child with disability.
Granted, most of us don’t start out with this in mind. But then, I think we’d all agree that no one starts out on the parenting journey with a particularly realistic picture of what it will really be like. You can blame the Huggies ads for this if you like, but I think as a race we tend towards optimism, which has probably been important to our success as a species (although I’m afraid I can’t back this up with science as I paid insufficient attention during biology class at school).
But in the spirit of optimism, with a healthy dose of realism and (hopefully) humour, here are a few of my tips to get you ready to be the parent of a child with disability:
- Forms: Pop down to Centrelink, or the Tax Office and get as many forms as you can (at least 45 pages worth is ideal). Take them home. Switch the TV on to the kids channel and turn the volume up to high. Sit down to complete the forms. You have 20 minutes – go!
- Hospitals: Go to your local hospital. Find a doctor. Sit in her office and tell her your child’s entire medical history, including every medication they have ever taken, and the doses. Leave the office. Find another doctor and repeat the process. Continue until you have seen at least 12 doctors.
- Out in public: Visit your local shopping mall. Wear only your underwear and a fluorescent orange clown wig. Ignore the stares of other shoppers. Complete at least one purchase without breaking anything you will then have to pay for. You are now ready to take your child to the shops.
- Groceries: Go to the supermarket and ask to see the manager. Ask him to remove all of the products on the bottom 2 shelves, turn off the in store music and have all of the other customers leave. Now you’re ready to take you child supermarket shopping.
- Laundry: Put every item of clothing and linen you own on the floor of the laundry. Put three loads of washing on before you leave the house. Go to work. Return home and put 5 more loads of washing on before bedtime. Repeat daily for 18 years.
- Dinner: You will need a friend to help with this step. Prepare a nutritious meal. Serve the meal and sit at the table. Eat your own meal whilst pleading, at 3 minute intervals, for the friend to sit down and eat their dinner. After 15 minutes, have the friend sit down, take a forkful of food and sniff it. Then have the friend throw their plate on the floor and walk away. Retrieve plate and call the dog over to eat the dinner. After 20 more minutes, have the friend return and say ‘Ice cream’ repeatedly for an hour and a half. Give the friend ice cream. Pour yourself a large glass of wine.
- Décor: Find someone whose house is messier than yours. Make them your best friend. Visit often.
- Sleep: Get a second job in a nightclub. Drink coffee all day to keep awake long enough to go to work at night. Spend the night serving people and wiping up their mess. Finish work at 3AM. Go home and lie in bed waiting for the coffee to wear off. Get up and go to your day job. Drink more coffee. Repeat process until you forget you ever needed sleep anyway.
- Stuff: Visit the homewares store and buy a dozen expensive glasses. Take them home and break one every two days. Return to the homewares store and purchase a dozen slightly less expensive glasses. Repeat the breakage process. Go back to the store and buy a dozen cheap glasses, take them home and break one a week until there is one glass left. Push it to the back of the cupboard with the other surviving bits of random glassware. Drink out of jam jars for the next 10 years.
- Car travel: You’ll need a friend’s help with this step too. Learn the words to one Wiggles song. Get in the car at peak hour. Ask your friend to sit behind you. Give them a basket full of toys, preferably made of hard plastic. Drive for an hour, while singing the Wiggles song. Have the friend pull your hair and throw a toy into the front seat every 5 minutes. Retrieve the toy and throw it back each time while still negotiating traffic. When you pass a McDonald’s, have the friend attempt to exit the car. Grab the friend’s arm and hold onto it for the remainder of the journey. When you arrive at your destination, reverse park the car while still hanging onto your friend’s arm. Don’t forget to keep singing the song.
- Frustration tolerance: Remove one piece from all of your jigsaw puzzles and rip the final page out of every book you own. Buy a cheap electric keyboard and glue down the G key. Leave the keyboard switched on from 5.30AM to 10.30PM each day. Take the battery cover off the back of every remote control in the house and throw away. Remove the batteries and push them under the couch. Scratch or chip every coffee mug you own (except the ugly brown one you got in the work Secret Santa in 2003).
- Holidays: Find a house less than 2 hours’ drive away that isn’t near any shops, cliffs, deep water or neighbours with barking dogs or motorbikes. Make sure it is completely fenced in and has a working DVD player and melamine crockery. Book a holiday there every summer for the next 18 years.
- Personal grooming: Make an appointment at the hairdresser for a full colour, style cut and blowdry. Ring all of your relatives to find someone able to babysit for three hours. Find someone who can babysit for 30 minutes. Drive at unsafe speeds to the salon. Ask the hairdresser to just give the ends a quick trim. Look through the Home Beautiful magazines and laugh like a maniac. Thank the hairdresser and tell them you’ll see them again in 12 months.
So hopefully that is all helpful as you embark on your journey. Obviously, there’s not the space here to cover everything you’ll need. I haven’t mentioned resilience, patience, hope and love. Your child will teach you these.