Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When a grandparent has a disability

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

When Moira was very little and just walking on her own, every time we saw a stranger in a wheelchair, or using a cane or a walker, she would run right up to them with an excited look on her face. Usually this was surprising to them, and occasionally startling. I have a feeling that most people with limited mobility are used to small children being scared of them.
But this is my Mom. She uses a cane, walker, and a wheelchair, depending on the length of the excursion. She has MS, and Moira adores her, so she adored everyone who was like her. I managed to find a graceful way through the transaction of extracting my excited toddler from their path, usually with a "Yes honey, they have a walker (wheelchair, cane) just like your Nain does! Let's say hello."
As Moira has gotten older, she's gotten more reserved, and less likely to run full tilt at strangers. She's also gotten more aware that there is something different about Nain. We have talked a lot about why she uses a cane, and why she walks differently. We have talked about what the cuts in sidewalks are for, why there are special parking spots, why we let some people use the elevator before we do if it's a small one, or crowded.
All of this has leaked into her play, as she tries to understand the difference between her and Nain. The first time she picked up a stick in the woods, it immediately became a cane. She even does a pretty convincing mimic of Nain's shuffling gait. She still doesn't think it's weird, but I can see the questions forming in her mind, especially as we meet more of her friends Grandparents. "Why is she different?"
We haven't made it to the whys yet. Why was she diagnosed when I was 16? Why is there a higher rate of MS in the Pacific Northwest then anywhere in the world? What causes MS? Most of these questions we don't know the answers to, and we may never know. I know there will be harder questions though. Like, "When will she get better?", where the answer is "Never." I hope I can meet her questions with the same forthrightness I have the things we've talked about so far. I expect the questions to start coming faster, especially now that we are buying a house to share with my parents.
I found a stick!

Books to read with your kids that treat disability like it's part of every day life. (Note to Dad, we only have the first of these.)
The Great Big Book of Families
Just Because

Does your child have a grandparent with a disability? How have you handled these conversations?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)


  1. First, those photos are adorable!

    My son also has a huge fascination with wheel-chairs. His Gramps (my husband's dad) is in one because of a stroke, and though he can't talk to Bennett, he can interact with him and B loves him. Anytime he sees ANY wheelchair, he runs to it and tries to either push it or climb on it. This has been cool, because like you said, most people with visible disabilities are met with fear from children, not joy. We were at the Children's Hospital once and Bennett saw a tiny little girl in a tiny little wheelchair. He lit up and ran to her! He instantly started pushing her and she was giggling and laughing and havinga hay-day. They played for about 20 minutes and her dad teared up and said NO child has EVER run TOWARDS her.

    There is something about innocent little kiddos that is so inspiring.

    Beautiful post.

    1. How wonderful that your son was able to share that experience with that little girl.

  2. My mother-in-law walks with a cane, having had both knees replaced. I'm not sure how we'll approach it just yet, but Acorn sees a lot of kids with wheelchairs and walkers and other mobility aids every week at therapy, so I hope that it won't be such a big deal for us to discuss...though I suspect that once he starts talking, the question "why" will be a big one.

  3. Thank you for those book recommendations! I've been hoping to find some books to share with Kieran. And, um . . . what are the cuts in the sidewalk for??

    1. The handicapped ramps in the sidewalks. Funny/sad story: Washington recently started putting a bumpy surface on them so that the blind can find them more easily, but the surface they chose makes it much much harder for human propelled wheelchairs to get up them.

  4. What a beautiful post! We love the book "Zoom" but I will check out the other two for sure. I love that your daughter runs to strangers who remind her of her Grandma. That is awesome!
    Julie from "What I Would Tell You"

  5. I love "Zoom!" too! I came across it a couple years ago and immediately bought it, even though I didn't have any children at that point. Such a great story!

  6. I love the open-hearted exuberance of little ones! It's so cute she just ran up to people. I bet that made their day!

  7. What an honest post, the questions will come but I'm sure you will handle them beautifully. Thanks for the book list!

  8. I think that early conversations and exposures to differently abled individuals helps children retain their open hearts and minds.

  9. I've just put the second two books on hold!

    Very cool to hear your experience, and it might be something we encounter more as my mom's MS progresses. Mikko's fascinated with people using wheelchairs or crutches or who have lost a limb. I try to honor his curiosity while remaining respectful to the person he's talking (loudly) about. It's an interesting balance, for sure.

  10. I love this post! My children are blessed to have four living great grandparents. Two have limited mobility. They love their grandmother's walker. It is quite the "thing" for her toddler great grandchildren to play with! I've noticed that they are less "shy" around grandparents who need assistence because, like your daughter knowns, it is a "sign" of someone they love.

  11. This is a great post for this Carnival! Although my daughter was fortunate to have a great-grandmother for 2.5 years of her life, she never really got to have a relationship with her due to my grandmother's poor health. However, she was able to connect with her and often liked to pretend she was her "busy mima" and get all snuggled up in her chair under a blanket. I love to see that your daughter is also imitating her grandmother. That is a beautiful thing to watch. Great post!

  12. I agree with HRM that this is a great post for this carnival! A beautiful side effect of a very debilitating and sad illness, is that your children will automatically grow up to be more inclusive, empathetic, and accepting of those with disabilities. I love that photo of your mom with the baby (not sure which one! =), they look very in love with each other. Babies know no disability or variation, but they sure know love.
    Wonderful post. xo