Raising 5 Disabled Children Brings Lessons of Cooperation

February 24, 2010

The first time I read her blog “Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities” I was inspired.

Not only because she is helping children in need, as that is one of my lifelong passions. Not only because she so eloquently let’s us into her life via her blog. But also because she is a living example of positive collaboration.

Lindsey Peterson is the mom of five bright and beautiful children. The only slight difference is they all have disabilities. Her family, which includes both adopted and not, is one of love. It is a chosen path of helping others have a better life…with a few moments of frustration, sibling rivalry and temper tantrums thrown in.

Her story intrigued me. Reading through her entertaining entries, I knew I wanted to talk to this woman of inspiration more. She was kind enough to sit down with me, virtually of course. Here is what she had to share…

EH: Had you always wanted a large family?

LP: I never really thought about having a large family. I only knew that it felt good to help people. My whole life I’d volunteered at various places to be with people. I have been volunteering with a recreational group of adults with disabilities for more than 35 years. They are wonderful friends and THEY inspire me to be a better person. Adding to our own family became a natural extension of that. If I could have that happiness on the twice a week this group met, why not have it every day in my life? It was FUN to raise kids. Plus, I am not the best housekeeper, so my rationalization was that if I have 5 kids to take care of, washing the floor does not have a priority. I’d much rather take care of kids than clean!!

EH: What inspired you to adopt initially?

LP: When I was pregnant, I desperately wanted a daughter because my mother and I had such a great relationship. I had a difficult labor, (I had actually fallen down the stairs before the birth and bent my tailbone in, so the only way the baby could come out was by bending it back out again, and that took FOREVER!) When my son was born, bless him, I was SO disappointed. The very day he was born I decided to adopt because that would be the only way I could guarantee a daughter. My husband, of course, didn’t agree so readily and attributed my decision to adopt based on the long labor I had just been through! Then, as it turned out, my son had hereditary blindness. Problem solved. Because it was hereditary, my husband did not want to risk having another biological child, so he agreed to adoption. We chose Guatemala because the adoption agency we chose sponsored an orphanage there so we knew the children were well cared for. Our son Francis was 2 when we adopted our daughter, Dinora. We have the CUTEST picture of her sitting in the infant seat and Francis holding her head in one hand so he could find her mouth to feed her bottle with the other hand. He loved her as though she were a fuzzy pet.

EH: What was the initial reaction of your birth children when they learned that you would be adopting?

LP: Francis was glad to have Dinora initially, although as she grew she became the aggressive one and would jump on him and tackle him from an early age. Fortunately she was pretty loud and had heavy footsteps, so he could hear her coming and get out of the way.

After a few years with Dinora, we decided we wanted more children, but could not afford another international adoption, (which can be VERY expensive.) I knew a friend who did foster care and was able to adopt the first baby she fostered. GREAT, I thought, you could have a child for FREE! Little did I know, but soon learned, was that most foster children do not end up being adopted by their foster families. We ended up having 14 foster babies before we were able to adopt Steven. We were all careful not to get toooooooo attached to the babies because chances were they would go to live with a family member or, heaven forbid in some cases, be returned to their birth parents. I had to look at it like we were doing a good thing and giving these babies a head start in life but I prevented myself from getting attached. Besides, I LOVED babies, and I’d much rather play with a baby than wash the floor. We did only take male babies because Dinora herself expressed extreme jealousy if we were to consider a girl.

By the time Steven was adopted, he had already lived with us for 3 years and the permanent transition was easy. Then we had another foster boy we planned to adopt. We had him from birth to age 3. His grandmother had tried to get custody, but because she was 76 years old they had denied it. We were in the middle of the adoption process when the court reversed their decision and decided to let the grandmother adopt him. She turned out to be a lovely woman and we invited the her, (from Puerto Rico) to come and stay with us during the adoption process to ease the transition. We still have contact with them and he visits with us every summer. However, because we had thought he was going to be our son, we had become attached, and his leaving was the most devastating thing that ever happened to our family. Although I wanted more children, we didn’t want to go the normal foster care route. So, we took in a 3 year old who had been in 5 foster homes and was currently in a nursing home for children with AIDS. He had been born HIV positive, but, as happens frequently, his mother’s HIV antibodies left his system and he became HIV negative. Because of his HIV status and the fact he had been in foster care for 3 years, AND the fact that his birth mother had 6 other children removed from her and they were living in foster homes because there was no family to claim them, they could pretty much guarantee we would be able to adopt him if we took him in as a foster child, and we ended up doing this.His name was Angel. My other children accepted Angel automatically, (they were used to babies in the house anyway.) The funny thing was, Angel did NOT, (nor has he EVER,) accepted THEM! He has always been intensely jealous and he often tells me he wishes he were our only child!

We thought we were done adopting, but then a call came in requesting we take in a 7 year old girl who was profoundly deaf. (They called because I know American Sign Language.) It was supposed to be on a temporary basis, but when she was 10 we ended up adopting her. Dinora was, and still is, resentful because she wants to be the only daughter. She was in college at the time, and my feeling was she wasn’t even living with us, but she has never accepted Marie fully. Angel and Steven hated her, as only brothers can hate their little sisters.

EH: How is their acceptance today with their adopted brothers and sisters?

LP: Francis loves them all. He was the first child and had his special time as an only child, plus he is now 27 and does not live at home. He especially enjoys using American Sign Language with Marie. The other children have a tolerance for one another but are not especially close. The whole family has learned sign language and we use it regularly at meals and any time we talk. Well, MOST of us use it all the time. Angel take special delight in talking without signing on purpose so Marie does not know what he is talking about!

EH: What is your biggest challenge in raising children with special needs?

Honestly, my biggest challenge was in learning not to care what other people think. I have always been that way to some extent, but when you have a child with Asperger’s syndrome having a meltdown on an airplane for 2 hours, it would be enough to make most parents crazy. (Even my husband went to hide in the back of the plane.) We have had the ambulance at our house many times and my children have had to be restrained many times, especially may daughter Marie who has serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to early childhood abuse. She has a history of flipping out and hitting, spitting, biting and so forth. (She reminds me of when Helen Keller was under the table when the family was first eating.) She looks like a wild animal, glaring eyes, messy hair, no concept of what is going on around her. It has been a learning process, but I have learned to calm myself during their most dramatic episodes. Now I am so calm I make sure I bring my “hospital purse” with me that has a bottle of diet coke and a large print book to read for those long emergency room visits!

EH: Where do you find the most support?

LP: Support…support…what’s that? My basic support is spiritual. Just me and God. Calming. I do not generally share my problems with others, so most of my friends and work acquaintances do not know the extent of their problems. This is the main reason doing the blog is so therapeutic.

EH: Can you share a story of how your adopted children have brought joy into your life?

LP: Oh, there are too many stories to share!!!!!! Watching Marie, who is profoundly deaf, learn to dance by feeling the vibrations of the base on the wood floor. Being at DInora’s college graduation with honors despite numerous psychiatric problems plaguing her through her 4 years there. Seeing Steven’s eyes light up when he is crouching on the ground in the woods trying to catch a snake, and his sheer delight when he catches it! Watching Angel mingle with the elderly at a nursing home, dispensing hugs and complements. Knowing Francis lives a wonderful and full life despite blindness because of the way we have raised him, (especially looking at the picture he sent me while skiing in the Swiss Alps with the caption “See, Mom, no trees!” because he knows I was always petrified he would ski into a tree!) They all spend time volunteering and helping others which proves to them that their disabilities are NOT disabling. Every day of their lives bring joy into my life, even the “bad” days. I am thankful that I have found them and that they have found me, and I am so proud of the many obstacles they have overcome.

EH: What aspects to your personality have developed from assisting children in need?

LP: My personality has been the same since childhood and living with a brother who is severely multiply disabled. I learned to accept everyone and to believe in the value of all human life. I think back to that old Sunday School picture “God Don’t Make Junk”. I have always helped others, even in elementary school. It is the part of my personality that led to the development of our family in the first place.

EH: If a genie granted you one wish, what would that be?

LP: Oh, of course I would say “World Peace”, but that would sound corny. I think a practical wish would be for people to develop more tolerance towards each other and to learn to love one another despite our differences. Less selfishness and more selflessness.

EH: What is the most important way that we can help others, in your opinion?

LP: It is important to respect the dignity of others. That means saying hello to the developmentally disabled man in the grocery store. Smiling at the mother who has a baby with deformities and telling her she has a beautiful child, (because, honestly, to HER, that child is beautiful!) Helping the person next to you who is deaf who is trying to get his point across at the store service counter, (grab a paper and pencil.) If people have time, I strongly encourage volunteering. It can be as simple as visiting a nursing home to play cards with a resident, serving a meal at a homeless shelter, or gathering clothes for those in need. If everyone in the world just did one little thing to help others, there would be a huge ripple effect that would improve the world.

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