When our kids were little and poorly behaved, my wife and I nervously accepted an invitation to have dinner with the model family in our school. This household’s children were widely admired and celebrated citizens of the lower elementary grades, whereas our little rascals were . . . . not. We cringed to think of the wreckage Thing 1 and Thing 2 would inflict upon what we presumed must be a tranquil, orderly home.
So it was a great comfort when we arrived to find that this residence—like our own—was run by the inmates. Toys, clothes, and piles of unidentified stuff were strewn about every room. Electronic noise wafted through the corridors, broadcast by unattended devices that had been abandoned in empty wings of the building. Our hosts’ children, so respectful of rules and regulations at school, gleefully ignored every command as they rampaged across their home turf.
The parents were refreshingly unembarrassed by this chaos. In fact, they seemed completely at ease with it. As the four of us shared wine and conversation, my wife and I exchanged a look of relief. Could it be that our weird, muddled, seat-of-the pants family life was actually . . . . normal?
Nearly every parent we know has had an epiphany like this one, a sudden lifting of the terror that one’s children and/or parenting style are irredeemably unconventional. Many amputee parents, and able-bodied parents of amputee children, have a particular version of this discovery—or so we learned as we assembled this issue’s twin features on parenting and limb difference (“Raising Amputees: Let the Kids Be Kids” and “Amputee Parenting: Mother of Invention”). Without question, limb difference presents some daunting challenges that most families never have to face. But the families we interviewed shared a belief that limb difference can confer a degree of freedom as well. By taking superficial markers of “normalcy” off the table, it can liberate parents and children to embrace standards that are more authentic, more true to self, than the arbitrary conventions imposed by society.
More important, our sources found that proximity to limb difference tends to reinforce positive values such as curiosity, perseverance, compassion, and creativity. It encourages all family members, not just the one(s) with limb difference, to defer judgment and take people as they come. It promotes (as one parent put it) “the gift of unconditional acceptance,” which is equally valuable whether it’s granted to someone else or to oneself.
Like all parents, the moms and dads featured in this issue also confessed to moments of doubt that the humans they’re raising will ever be able to govern themselves or participate constructively in a self-governing society. Such flashes of dread are inevitable, but they’re generally fleeting. What comes through most powerfully in both of our features is the joyful, inexplicable, shared craziness that only families can produce.