A few weeks ago me and a few friends (all of us 24 year old men without kids) were talking about children. Specifically about whether and when we might want them. This was all going pretty much as expected: the broad points of view, from the broody to the depressingly distant, were all represented. That is until I surprised the floor by announcing that my attitude on the subject was softening.
To those who know me, the fact that this elicited a raised eyebrow will come as no great shock. While I’ve never been as fervently anti-child-rearing as some others my age, it’s fair to say that it’s never been a high priority of mine. So, their surprise was something I was expecting. What did catch me off-guard was their shock at my reasoning.
“Well, at my work you kind of end up meeting a lot of cute kids” I said, trying to de-raise some of those eyebrows.
“At work?” one of them asked with a hint of puzzlement.
“Aren’t most of the kids at your work ….” the other ventured, trailing off finding himself unable to use the word ‘disabled’.
Is disability in children really so unthinkable that the idea of being around disabled kids making someone slightly broody enough to stop a conversation in it’s tracks?
I should say in defense of my friends that they’re both lovely, caring and compassionate people. Just people who’ve been so flooded with stories of ‘inspirational’ families heartbroken at their stricken child that they can’t see what I see.
I’m lucky that in my work once in a while I get to see a child take their first steps (on wheels), I’ve seen the very communicative bond that develops when a parent has to arrange a kid’s legs in order to sit on the sofa, I’ve seen kids so comfortable in themselves that not being able to control their own limbs is a hilarious game, I’ve seen just how bright having to contend with the laws of physics can make someone.
To me then, it seems completely natural that being around these kids would, at the very least, make me reconsider my position on having children.
The conversation continued.
Having seen all these things, there are moments when I find myself thinking that (if I do want kids), not only has knowing these disabled children made me a little broodier, I don’t actually mind the idea of having a disabled kid myself.
“You can’t say that!” a friend exclaimed, seeming to think I’d wished some curse on the as yet unborn.
Now, I appreciate the naivety of my position and I don’t mean for a second to talk down the challenges that I know families with disabled children face, but I couldn’t help being a little annoyed at just how negatively they view it.
They didn’t understand.
What frustrated me was they only seemed to take the negatives: initially they didn’t believe me that in many ways it’s just like raising any child. I conceded that there are differences, but they would only believe that these were harrowing burdens. In trying to convince them that there were pros as well as cons I may as well have been trying to convince them that up was down.
Am I really so bizarre in thinking that it really wouldn’t be the end of the world to watch my child take their first steps in a wheelchair? Have I massively missed the point of all I’ve seen over my two years doing what I do?
In any case, for now this is all academic and, I’m aware, horribly self-indulgent. For now I’ll stay quiet in the knowledge that if/when the time does come, for all the things I’ll be woefully unprepared for, there’s at least one thing I’ll go into parenthood on the lookout for. And, If you’ll forgive the daydream, I’ll muse on shocking a doctor by responding to a child of mine “needing wheels” with a calm “cool”.