Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Clothes Make the Man

I was driving around the block, in this new neighborhood, waiting to meet a friend when I came upon the stop sign. To my right, was the new high school. It was several stories high, all brick, and quite imposing. What I noticed most were all the steps to get in. The kids were all walking towards the school since it would be starting soon. It was a cool fall day and the boys were dressed mostly in jeans and short sleeved t-shirts or jeans a sweat jacket of some sort, unzipped and open. Many did not have on closed toe shoes. The girls were dressed similarly only the jeans were tighter and the t-shirts were smaller. They too, had a thin jacket, unzipped and open. The temperature was less than thirty degrees on this day. I thought about the clothes that I dressed Dear Son in today, a heavy fall jacket, long sleeve shirt and sweat pants. I looked around and couldn’t find any of the teenagers, dressed this warm.

I was taking in everything I could, as I slowly drove down the street. I was thankful I was in a school zone so I could absorb all of their actions. This was after all, the high school in our district, the one he should have gone to. I say should, because they denied his admission, even within the Special Education Cooperative, since they did not have the facilities to care for him. What they really meant was that he was too “disabled” for their school. Secretly, I was happy. I had been afraid to send him here, because none of the kids in his classroom would be here, nor any of his aides, nor any of the teachers that knew him. Heck, even the bus company changed. There would be no one that would know anything about Dear Son.

You can’t imagine how that would be. Some of the kids in his classroom could at least speak, and they could have provided some information about him but with no one, I worried about what might happen. Even with a new aide, you always wonder if they will be good to him and also if the school kids would be good. Most often, they just ignore these kids.

I was curious especially about their clothes. One of the advantages of special needs children, is that you can buy them whatever you like, at least if they can’t speak or express their wants or needs. With Dear Son, I could buy whatever I liked and did. I never had to worry about what the trends were at school and usually, he was one of the best dressed. He still fit in of course, but he looked great. I had a rule though, from the very beginning. I made sure never to buy any sweat pants of any kind. That was what disabled people wore and I certainly didn’t want him to “look” disabled. I returned every gift that he ever got, that included sweat pants. I was never ashamed of Dear Son but I loved to dress him well to not only celebrate him but also as a reminder that someone was at home who cared about him and that I was paying attention. Paying attention, meaning, if they were going to mess with him, I was going to find out and then they would have to deal with me. That’s always the fear of the parent of a disabled child, that someone will mess with them.

Dear Son is almost fifteen now and the past year or so hasn’t been kind to him. Not only has he gone through puberty and put on some weight with one of his meds, he can’t move much. This makes dressing particularly problematic since he can’t seem to help at all. I have had some training by the occupational therapists, but it’s still pretty difficult. It was this past year, that I finally broke down and purchased some elastic waist sweat pants. He has other pants certainly, some jeans and some khakis, however the easiest ones to put on and off are the sweat pants. I have to roll him from side to side to get on his pants and it’s nearly impossible to lift his hips off the bed to put on his pants. If I am trying to put on jeans or khakis, by the time I get them up on him, the zipper may be crooked and it’s hard to line everything up, which is where the sweat pants come in. Also, since he’s still in diapers, this is a major issue.

This clothing issue, is why I was so fascinated to watch the other teenagers walking to high school. Did Dear Son fit in anymore? How would he be perceived if he were “normal”? Not a fair statement at all since if he were normal, then he’d be wearing more fitted jeans, in different washes, like the ones that hang in his closet, but that he never wears. He’d also be dressing himself, buying some of his own clothes and certainly wouldn’t need any “extra” room in his jeans for his diaper or for his leg braces. It’s pretty hard at fifteen to buy jeans for him, since most of them are fitted, and don’t allow extra room for these things.

The clothing issue, is what prompted an e-mail from a friend of mine in another state. Her daughter is severely mentally and physically disabled and is extremely small for her age. She is eleven and size of a five year old. She participates in an online group and came across a message post one day where someone randomly asked why all disabled people were dressed like babies. She was crushed. They weren’t asking her, mind you, just asking a general question. She was in tears. She had just purchased a Disney t-shirt that she thought her daughter would love but after seeing the post, refused to dress her in it, because it might appear too “babyish”. Her daughter, wears a full body brace and requires elastic pants. She also wears a onesie cotton t-shirt with snaps, under her brace, to make it more comfortable, when she sweats. She e-mailed me to get my thoughts on this matter.

I find it ironic that mothers of disabled children worry so much about their clothing. We just want our kids to fit in and to be kids. It’s ironic because in Dear Son’s case, many of his high school peers wear pull on nylon sweat pants, and they aren’t disabled. Many normal girls also wear yoga pants so to dress them in pull up elastic pants, isn’t so horrible. I doubt normal teenagers worry they look disabled in sweat pants. Maybe we shouldn’t care so much either.

I thought about this as I dressed him for school today. In a defiant mood, I took his Lucky Brand jeans out of the closet and put them on. After several minutes, they were up. I reached in for the zipper to pull it up and there was the hang tag sewn next to the zipper. It said, “Lucky You”.

*Photo was taken in August of 2005 at age 13.5 years old. This is my favorite picture of Dear Son and is the last photo I have of him, where he was able to sit up straight, even if only briefly.


Anonymous said...

Dream Mom -

He is lucky indeed to have such a caring mom.

Would track pants work? My son (10, non-disabled and very style conscious) loves them because they're less restrictive than jeans. With the stripes they have down the legs they can look pretty good. I banned sweat pants after Kindergarten -- defintely too dorky.

Mete said...

Dear Son is lucky - You're more fashion conscious than I am! Ethan is almost 5 and almost exclusively in sweat pants (track pants or cotton shorts on warmer days). It's just so hard to maneuver jeans or khakis on him, and we notice he doesn't seem as comfy in those rougher fabrics like he does in his sweat pants. Although my husband makes sure to make his shirts make a statement - a bold short-sleeved t-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt, or some other wild combination.

Of course, Ethan is almost completely unaware of the other children or even us, so we don't feel he'd be embarrased by his outfits. If anything, we like to think he'd be above all those name-brand rules.

Dream Mom said...

Thanks. Yes, he has some track pants but they aren't much easier to get on than the jeans, which I prefer or the khakis.

Mete-I am with you on the softer fabrics. It's not only easier to get on, it feels better next to his skin.

Sammy's mom said...

Now that my little one has gotten older and bigger, I've been trying to put him in jeans and khakis more often because he just looks so cute and grown up in the jeans.

Of course, after sitting in his wheelchair for a while, I do have a tendancy to unbutton or unsnap the waist and unzip the pants a bit in case they're feeling snug on his belly. He's using wearing a sweater or an untucked shirt so no one knows but me. The other day, he was getting warm, so my mom removed his sweater and discovered my little comfort measure. I knew she had discovered it when I heard her exclaim, "Sammy, are you practicing for Thanksgiving dinner with your pants unbuttoned and unzipped?!"

wolfbaby said...

hmm i wear micky mouse t-shirts and i'm 31 there ain't nothing wrong with it.. and i way prefer cotton elastic pants to jeans!!! there more comfortable and they let your skin breath better... looks are not everything comfort is... but I'm a dork so ya know you may not want to listen to me;)... i worry that i will embaress my kids someday cause im not a cool lookin mom ya know? so i don't compeltly understand your view point but i have a genearal idea... of what you mean.. looks are so important in society.. and it's such a shame because its whats on the inside that really matters.. Take care.

Ashley said...

Dream Mom,

There are cargo pants that are made out of sweat pants, those are in style. Also if you buy regular sweat pants, buying the one without the cuffs at the bottom, make them cooler!

Little Tigger said...

To The Son. Good luck in high
school, it can be a pain in the
butt, but you gotta keep slogging
away at it to squeeze all you
can out it, don't even think
of "dropping out", besides,
my dad would have "kicked my
butt" if I did, right back
into school. I graduated, and
so can you. I may not have
a physical handicap, but mine
is neurological - did I spell
that right? I had a heat stroke
when I was 15, and the doc
said I would not get past the
braisn of a 5 yr old, but I think
I am past that. Good luck, you
can make it if your stubborn
like me :)

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