My family may be small in size, but to us it’s a pillar of strength. We cherish our time together. Our mealtimes are noisy with animated conversation and frequent bursts of laughter. In so many ways, we’re like most other families.
But we also have features that stand out—at least to those people who don’t relate to our experiences. My husband, Ian, is quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury long before I met him. Our one-storey house is accessible with widened hallways and wheel-under sinks. Once or twice a day we have personal care attendants in our home to assist Ian. At other times of the day, I pitch in to help with things his hands and legs can no longer do.
Yet we have more in common with your family than you’d guess. Ian and I both have full-time jobs. We’re parents to a gorgeous 15-year-old daughter, Emily. We have a sweet little dog, Chloe. Our schedules are nonstop crazy, never enough hours in the day, yada, yada, yada. Sound familiar?
Other families don’t always get, immediately, that ours is normal in all ways that count. From neighbours to hairdressers to well-meaning friends, I’ve been told “you’re a very special person” and “I could never handle your marriage.” Then there’s that mildly prying: “So, what happened to your husband?”—which comes up a whole lot earlier in casual conversation than you might expect. (After we got pregnant, a high-school friend even emailed me to say: “I hope this isn’t offensive, but I didn’t think men in wheelchairs could have sex.”)
Back in the early ’90s, when Ian and I first laid eyes on each other, it didn’t take us long to realize how much we enjoyed each other’s company. (Plus he was handsome.) The disability was secondary, but nevertheless it was there. Thus as we built a life together, we had to negotiate ways to accommodate it. Our house renovation budget was spent on lowered countertops instead of granite countertops. I didn’t have the freedom to, say, go to bed early—not if Ian was relying on me to help him get undressed. I had to get used to admitting morning staff into our home before I’d even blinked the sleep out of my eyes. Those are some of the day-to-day details that maybe not everyone experiences. I’m sure you have a few less-than-usual details in your life, too. I adjusted.
Then, three years after we married, we had a baby. We have always had a loving, mutually supportive relationship. But when we decided to become parents, it utterly transformed us. I know you thoroughly understand this part. Suddenly, Ian and I found new qualities to admire in each other as we shared this bold adventure together. And what an adventure! We were lucky to have a beautiful daughter who seems to have inherited the best from each of us—her dad’s musical gifts, my way with words, a deeply rooted morality, a truly offbeat sense of humour—but she also fully has her own character. She is bright and lively, goal-oriented and compassionate. Emily completed our family, filled it out to all its corners.
As time goes on, and years of living with disability leave their mark, Ian faces new physical challenges. He has more help than he used to. Emily is navigating her teenage years, looking ahead to post-secondary education and career options. I’m no spring chicken, either (although I’m overly proud of my laugh lines). Our household evolves, just like yours does. It keeps us on our toes.
But one thing never changes. We still love each other deeply, we still laugh our heads off at the dinner table. We’re the best family together that we can be.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
This is #1000families post number 27. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.