Raising Hooligans 101


I have joint custody of two boys, one of whom is disabled due to a stroke at birth that caused significant brain damage. Sometimes the line blurs between who cares for whom because having these children literally saved my life. More on that in later posts.


The older brother is the disabled one, while the younger one is quite advanced (he just turned five and was pointing out examples of sarcasm in a cartoon the other day.) As you might imagine, the dynamics of this relationship can be, well, challenging at times.


For one, the younger brother acts as the older brother even though he’s smaller: he usually wins in fights, enforces some rules with the elder, and discounts the older one’s wild tales to explain what really went down. The older brother mimics the younger one and wants to engage in games created by him. They are at vastly different physical levels, so a trip to the park often ends with the older one exhausted and crying before the younger one can even break a sweat.


Now, I am only one parent (when I haven them), and while I am fortunate enough to have an involved family, the responsibility to raise them (when I have them) is mine alone. I often feel bad that I can only teach one of them my beloved jujitsu; the other simply is not ready. I try to divide my attention and time equally between them, but as any parent with multiple children of varying needs knows, this can be a challenge. For instance, I don’t want to drag my eldest along on an endeavor that becomes increasingly nightmarish for him due to his limitations, nor do I want to rob my youngest of the full experience when he’s not even close to tired or ready to leave.


I try to integrate their play with some success, but their needs and abilities are so mismatched that they often have trouble engaging in lasting play. I’m not a total failure at this: we do nearly everything together and they are becoming better playmates. They often tell jokes I can’t understand but that send them into sidesplitting bouts of laughter—you know the kind: where it looks like laughs are coming out, but the person is completely silent and red-faced.


I guess I’ll do what I always do: refuse to give up no matter what happens and keep plugging along with the confidence that things will get easier and that these experiences will offer all three of us opportunities for growth that will prove to be invaluable beyond what we could ever predict.


About Jeff Opfer

Jeff is a carpenter and freelance writer born and raised in the Reno area. View all posts by Jeff Opfer

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