by Laurence Clark
BBC Ouch 15th November 2005
One year on after the birth of his son, Laurence Clark reflects on a few incidents peculiar to being both disabled and a dad – the sorts of things that the parenting handbooks won’t tell you…
A few months after Tom was born, my mate Steve (who was already a father) emailed me some advice about babies and possessions. According to him, any stuff that I may have once thought of as mine will now almost certainly have been reclassified as his.
He wrote: “You have obviously categorized these items wrongly and he is showing you the correct way … which usually involves throwing those shiny, reflective discs on the floor and possibly jumping on them!”
Proving Steve’s point, Tom very quickly learnt to become mobile, possibly compensating for the lack of mobility in myself and my wife. At 7 months old he could out-run me in his baby walker, enabling him to momentarily get his hands on stuff that he shouldn’t have before I could reach him.
Last Sunday, I found out the hard way that he can now almost out-crawl me too. My wife was in stitches watching me shuffle 15 feet across our living room floor, puffing and panting whilst trying to catch him up. Still … if I’m ever hard up for cash, I could always hold a crawling race with our son and invite friends to bet on who would win. My money would be on him!
Pretty much from when he first became aware of his surroundings, Tom has been fascinated by my wheelchair. When we first put him in his baby walker, he’d sit beside me and look me up and down as if to say, “I’ve got one of those things with wheels too now!”
I’m forever amazed at the hours of entertainment that he seemingly derives from continuously putting my brakes off and on! Tom readily accepts that his dad is a wheelchair user – after all, he’s never known any different. He’ll probably find it strange when he starts mixing with other kids and discovers that their fathers aren’t necessarily wheelchair users too.
This morning, my wife had to leave for work at 8.00am, leaving Tom alone with me for an hour or so until our personal assistant arrives. When Adele first returned to work I used to dread these times, whereas nowadays I’m used to Tom’s morning inspection routine. It goes like this:
- Check that the toilet seat still lifts up;
- Unwind about 6 feet of toilet roll;
- Sit in the shower cubicle for a couple of minutes;
- Pull on the black bin bag protruding from the kitchen bin (ideally until the whole thing topples over);
- Open the kitchen booze cupboard and try to grab a wine bottle;
- Randomly scatter the pile of mail belonging to our bungalow’s previous owner throughout our home;
- Try to get a book down from our deliberately tightly-packed, child-proof bookcase;
- Open the middle draw of my desk to grab some envelopes;
- Try to grab the flexible cord on our telephone in order to pull it off its table;
- Cry until I give him his bottle of milk!
I’ve now accepted that my place in all this is to follow him around and tidy up whatever mess he’s created. I sometimes try to stop him with a firm “No”, but he’s now learnt that he can get round this by smiling at me. This causes me to smile back, thus giving him unspoken permission to carry on with what he was doing in the first place!
As Tom does his rounds each morning, he discovers more and more things that he can do. For example, today he discovered that he can slide open our bathroom door whilst I’m sat on the toilet. This discovery came as a surprise to me too!
The only way I can wash Tom is by getting in the bath with him. This worked well until the day came when he grabbed hold and yanked my pubes, causing me to scream. Of course, the more I yelled, the more I scared him. The more I scared him, the harder he pulled. The harder he pulled, the louder I yelled. The louder I yelled, the more I scared him … and so on.
My wife came in to find us locked in our pubic tug-of-war, screaming “Arghhhhhhh!” at each other. If a social worker had walked in right then, they would have had him in care as fast as you can say “at risk”! I don’t know about you, but I think that says more about social workers than our parenting skills!