What my son’s disabilities taught me about ‘having it all’

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Because of her child’s problems, the author will never have a tidy, peaceful life. But none of this keeps her from being happy — as long as she asks herself the right questions:

As someone in her 40s, unequivocally in middle age, I find myself and my friends in that stage of life that seems to auger constant assessment — am I happy? Am I doing the right thing with my life?

Evidenced by the number times Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was posted on Facebook, it served as a cri de coeur of the collective unconscious of those of us swimming in the Gen X/Baby Boomer estuary, last stop before becoming truly elderly. (It’s apparently also the most-read article in the magazine’s 155-year history.) Slaughter rightly questions why having a family complicates the career ladder for women in a way that it does not for men. But the hidden heart of the article, I believe, is its hinting at that unspoken yearning for that perfect life that has been promised to us by … someone? Ads? TV? Ms. Magazine? Those ATHLETA catalogs?

Let me compare and contrast that with a typical incident that happened just last week in my own 40-something working mother life. My husband and I were sitting in the office of a neuropsychologist who had just run an assessment on our 12-year-old son who has a variety of disabilities and medical problems.

“You know cognitively, he’s functioning at the bottom 1 percent of children his age,” he said.

I nodded.

“That means 99 percent of children are doing better than he is.”

I nodded again. (Yes, I can do the math.)

He waited, seemingly perplexed. “Having seen what I saw, and of course you have to be with your son all the time — I have to ask you, how do you have the patience?”

I looked at him. He’s my son. It was so obvious, I did not say it.

“I mean, really. How do you do it?” He looked to my husband, who gave him the same look. He tried a different tack: “Well, with all this stress, how are you two doing?” Read more

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