Freedom and Loss
By Dee Thompson
My son, who is now eighteen, loves to drive. He’s a good driver, despite having only one hand. The freedom to drive is very dear to his heart. I didn’t understand all the reasons why until a few months ago.
Last year, Michael got his driver’s license. He started driving my fourteen-year-old Mazda 626. It had been sitting in the driveway until I could find the money to fix it. For over a year, while driving on his learner’s permit, he had looked at that car in the driveway and dreamed of fixing it and driving it.
We were talking recently about all the stressful things in his life in the past year. He got his first real job and worked as a lifeguard at the neighborhood pool all this past summer. He finished high school and started college. He had to cope with the Mazda falling apart, and then we bought a little used Honda from a family friend.
“I didn’t want to lose the Mazda. I had an emotional connection to that car,” he said quietly.
Coping with loss is stressful, and adopted children are very vulnerable. Older children who remember their birth families grieve, no matter how stressful the “first family” situation was.
And, of course, for kids like my son, there’s the additional and ever-present stress of having three limbs in a world of primarily four-limbed folks.
When Michael was five and living in Kazakhstan with his birth mom, he lost his right hand to frostbite.
I adopted him when he was ten, after he had been in an orphanage for two years.
After giving it some thought, I realized why he didn’t want to give up the Mazda entirely, despite all of its engine problems.
The Mazda represented Freedom.
The Mazda made him feel normal.
Whenever Michael goes walking around in a public place, he has to deal with stares. He always has to deal with a certain amount of discomfort and/or pity from others.
Driving changed that. For the first time in his life, my son was able to experience freedom. In the car, nobody in other cars knows that he has only one hand.
He had been delivering food for only a few weeks for a little Italian restaurant in our neighborhood, and he rear-ended another car, wrecking the little Honda we had bought after the Mazda died. He felt really bad because the Honda had been bought from Bill, a family friend.
“I wrecked his car!” he wailed.
“Michael, Bill has a brand new car. He’s not mourning the totaling of the Honda.”
Now Michael is driving a 2003 Buick LeSabre that one of our neighbors sold to us, and it’s in pristine condition. It’s a luxury car, and he loves it. He has been working for several months delivering food while successfully going to school and keeping up his grades.
His manager told me when he hired Michael he figured he couldn’t do anything but drive. He was astonished that Michael does everything in the restaurant that he asks the other drivers to do when they aren’t delivering food—preparing pickup orders, bussing tables, food prep, etc.
“He can do anything he wants,” the manager said.
Yep. All parents of limb-difference kids learn this lesson: never assume your child can’t do something. These kids will [happily] surprise you every time.
Some mothers of limb-difference or special needs children may think when a child turns eighteen that parenting duties are greatly reduced. Not so much. Not always. Shepherding our kids into adulthood safely requires a lot of “thinking outside the box.” Recognizing and acknowledging my son’s attachment to my old car—and his assumption that everyone else is also emotionally attached to their car—is just one example of that.
About the Author
Dee Thompson lives in Atlanta and is a freelance writer. She currently writes blogs, books, essays, and the occasional poem. Dee holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. She is the author of two books, Adopting Alesia and Jack’s New Family, and contributed an essay to The Divinity of Dogs. Dee also blogs at The Crab Chronicles and her professional blog, The Write Rainmaker. Dee lives with her son and enjoys gardening, cooking, knitting, reading, and movies.