“I wanted a daughter…but not the one I got.”
This was the painful admission that Linda Atwell eventually told a therapist about her daughter, Lindsey. Atwell had dreamed of having the perfect child, and her beautiful, healthy newborn daughter seemed the realization of her dreams. But at 16 months of age, Lindsey had a terrifying grand mal seizure, which may or may not have explained the short in her neurological system that kept her intellectually stunted, suffering from ongoing essential tremors (a neurological disorder that causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking), social anxiety, and other emotional problems.
Raising even “normal” children is already a daunting challenge. Raising a special needs child requires infinitely more infusions of love, patience, money, as well as a difficult reframing of parental expectations for the child’s future. Attwell’s memoir is filled with heartfelt love, devotion, and honesty about her journey as Lindsey’s mother. Whether driving all over town to find the all-but-sold-out Cabbage Patch doll that Lindsey desperately wants for Christmas, or designing and building a small cottage on their property where she can live semi-independently as a young adult, Attwell and her husband spare no effort in supporting Lindsey’s efforts toward maximum functionality and some semblance of independence.
Much of the book involves the emotionally wrenching four years when Lindsey ran off to live with a predator more than twice her age, to the shock and horror of her disbelieving parents. Despite her status as a special-needs adult, the state authorities could do nothing to help the Atwells recover their daughter.
Throughout the years, Attwell tries to find coping tools to deal with Lindsey’s emotional immaturity, inflexibility, and relentless demands, such as for a pet horse. She struggles to keep her heart open and loving toward her daughter while also protecting herself emotionally from frequently unappreciative and insulting talk from the daughter for whom she has done so much. Ultimately, Attwell defines better boundaries for herself, insisting that Lindsey can choose “glad or mad” when things don’t go her way.
Loving Lindsey is a gripping read and an important contribution to the genre of parenting memoirs. Raising a special-needs child makes parenting not just a job for 20 or 25 years but for the rest of your life and beyond, planning for the care and support of a less-than-fully independent adult.
It also means that parents must redefine their idea of the “ideal” or “perfect” child.