I challenge anyone to get their head around family dynamics. Every family is different. Some of them are filled with a thousand hugs and a million I love you’s whilst others run for the hills at the first sign of anything affectionate. Some consist of open book relationships whilst in others there’re so many things you just can’t say. Regardless of what the situation is, they all have their quirks. However, I think when you have to contend with disability in and among those crazy dynamics, everything becomes more complex.
Daily life as a kid was always chaotic. There were dogs, cats, pigs, goats, sheep, hens and ducks, and that was on top of the fact that my parents had to care for two disabled children. When most kids were kicking a ball about after the school day was over, we were trying to figure out how the hell I was going to kick the ball without falling over, how to get Kenneth’s autistic brain to register that he was supposed to do something with the ball, and have everything achieved within our allotted schedule. Once we’d established a solution to this scenario and countless others like it, the question then arose of how we were going to get the other kids to accept that we weren’t aliens.
As much as my parents were the kind of folk who strongly believed that our disabilities shouldn’t stop us from doing anything, there were numerous occasions when Mum would be futilely attempting to outstare toddlers when they glared at us in the street. We wouldn’t go anywhere unaccompanied. What would happen if I suddenly needed the toilet or fell off a curb? And there was no way Kenneth could be left unattended; he couldn’t comprehend what danger was, so in his head roads, strangers and six-foot drops were irrelevant. I guess, what I’m trying to say is the dynamic of our family was one of heightened overprotection and unintentional co-dependency. It wasn’t a bad childhood; it was just different.
By the time we reached our teenage years, the contrast between the needs of me and my brother was vast. Like any other teenager, I wanted my freedom and independence, but I knew more than ever that I wasn’t the same as my peers; I still required physical assistance with pretty much everything. Kenneth, on the other hand, looked like a teenager but didn’t act or sound like one. Whilst I was so desperate to fit in, he couldn’t care less. Lads Kenneth’s age were going to parties and rolling after the birds awoke. He was being tucked into bed by his Mum. My friends were growing up, getting boyfriends and more than likely not telling their parents anything. I was having conversations with Dad about the likelihood of being able to fall pregnant one day. I guess, what I’m trying to say is the dynamic of our family was one of slight isolation, but we put on a united front. It wasn’t bad growing up; it was just different.
We’re adults now and not much has changed. Mum is still fiercely overprotective of Kenneth and she still tucks him in at night. Dad and I have conversations about things that a father and daughter really shouldn’t discuss. I’m still trying to figure out how to kick a ball and Kenneth still doesn’t see why he should. I still don’t fit in and Kenneth fits perfectly into his own world.
I guess, what I’m trying to say is our family dynamic is anything apart from conventional and most of the time it’s a little bit strange. But what that’s taught me is that it’s okay not to fit in; in fact, it’s better if you don’t. It’s taught me to create my own lane and not conform to social norms. Unique family dynamics, whether they’re intertwined with disabilities or not, are a blessing in disguise.