By Jessica Mills
Maximum Rock N Roll
Losing sleep over not being able to put down a totally engaging book happens from time to time. But then continuing to lose sleep because what you’ve just read is swirling around in your head and making pictures behind your eyelids? Doesn’t happen so often. However, that was exactly my experience when reading My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities.
Edited by Yantra Bertelli, Jennifer Silverman, and Sarah Talbot, this collection of voices from the fringe of the fringe tells the subjective stories of non-conformist parents raising differently-abled children. Parenting itself can be an incredibly isolating experience for many reasons, but more so when coming from what the mainstream considers counter-culture or alternative. Add to the isolation stew parenting a disabled kid and things grow exponentially more complicated.
It was out of this isolation that the three editors found each other’s company on an online community bulletin board for “alternative” parents. A few years later, at the 2004 HipMama.com conference, they offered a workshop on disabilities and parenting. Feeling they’d moved from object to subject, they decided to put out a zine from which this book was eventually born.
The book’s contributors cover a lot of territory here, all gathered from their personal experiences. With an Introduction by Lisa Carver, its six chapter topics include diagnosis, navigating the system, advocating for their kids, being seen, heard, respected, and believed, respite, community support, and transitions, families, and last, an impressive resources section.
Conspicuously, there is an overwhelming female voice throughout the book. No matter how wide the submissions call is cast, it makes statistical sense that it’s mostly female. Studies have shown that women take on higher levels of responsibility in caring for their disabled children than men. It also makes sense that most of the voices here are working-class to middle-class because those who are parenting in poverty have much less time and space to write.
The editors went out of their way to include as diverse a body of contributors as possible. Them doing so makes perfect, expected sense, right? Who else would go out of their way, extending the call for submissions twice, to include such an array of voices? Those who’ve been sidelined by disability, their children’s and sometimes, their own! The disabled, and therefore their caregivers too, are among, if not the most, invisible and excluded segment of society.
Yet the tone throughout the book is not angry. Instead, it’s full of compassion, hope and above all, love. These smart, strong, tender, scared, victorious, sleep deprived, dedicated parents, whether by birth or adoption, will make you cry with laughter, empathy and solidarity. With them, you will ride their ups and downs. You will accompany them to IEP meetings and diagnosis appointments. They will bring you into their homes and daily lives. Overall, you will appreciate the book’s genuineness as a partial antidote to the mainstream’s misrepresented, ridiculing and objectifying stories about disabled kids and their parents.