Family, special needs and love

When I left my ex-husband many years ago to take my children to a happier place and a safer life, my sister said to me, “Are you sure you want to do this? Nobody will ever love you again because of all that you’ve got going on.”

Photo by Jason Geil/Chicago Parent

Rich Wood and Jennifer Wheeler with their kids (standing) Noah, Nicholas, Nathan and Abbi Wood and (seated) Wheeler, Tripp and Tate Morrison.

And while I couldn’t quite believe that she had actually said those words to me, I knew perfectly well what she meant. What I’ve “got going on” are three sons with special needs and I knew that there was a very good chance that nobody would ever love all of us.

Well, guess what? I met someone and this someone does love all of us, in exactly the ways we’ve always wanted to be loved. He loves my steadfast nature and my fierce fight for right, and he loves my sons and their challenges and victories. I love my life but, as complicated and difficult as it can be, I do not know if I would have signed up for it had I been given all of the information in advance. But the man I love knows all, sees all, hears all, and he has volunteered anyway-freely, willingly, forever.

We are getting married and moving into his house, a house he already shares with his four children. If you do the math, we will have seven children altogether. People call us the “Brady Bunch, plus one,” although with six boys and one girl, we have thrown off Mike and Carol’s gender curve just a bit.

We have one thing the Bradys never had-kids with special needs.

Before our families met, I was terrified that things might not go well and I would lose the love of my life forever. How could we blend his four children who are academic high-achievers, athletically gifted and socially set, with my three children who have challenges at school, could care less about sports and need extra help to socialize?

All I needed to do was trust the children. They knew all they needed to know-that all kids love to be loved and all kids love to play. My kids can’t get enough of my fiance’s children. They admire them and marvel at their video game skills. And my sons’ new siblings also like Pop-Tarts and hot dogs, so it’s all good as far as they are concerned. My fiance’s children have taught me the most valuable lesson of all: Just give kids the information and they will know what to do with it. Answer their questions, tell them the truth and they will demonstrate compassion and understanding in abundance.

So when we told them we were getting married (there was cheering) and that we would all be living together as a family and the kids just marched happily onward, I was a little surprised. My panic was for nothing. Special needs was a non-issue. There was nothing wrong with finding love again or becoming a family. The kids already knew that. Now I’m not saying there won’t be any need for therapy down the road (been there, done that), but I trust my new family. I trust the children. We will all take care of one another.

Now if only we had an Alice to do all of our laundry …

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