A few weeks ago, my amazing wife Ashley told me that our nanny needed to take her son to the doctor in the morning. And because Ashley had a meeting of her own that morning, she was going to be unable to stay home with Cora until our nanny was able to get her a few hours later. For those of you scoring at home, that meant the job of watching Cora fell to me, and me alone.
Like many new parents, the thought of being left home alone with my daughter was equal parts exciting and terrifying. I knew it was an incredible opportunity to bond, and that can’t be understated. But, like Homer Simpson in the simulator, there existed a moment of terror where I imagined being completely overwhelmed and causing a disaster.
This latter feeling was magnified by the fact that one of the initial challenges of being a parent with a disability, for me at least, was adjusting to things on the fly. Similar to Ron Burgundy reading the teleprompter, I was pretty good at what I was doing if I knew exactly what I needed to do at that moment, and the next. But adapting quickly was a challenge.
This is why Ashley, and I often talked about “setting me up for success” when it came to watching Cora. Essentially, this meant planning out whatever task I needed to do. If I was going to feed her, we needed to make sure I was sitting in the right position, with my arms supported properly, and Cora’s after-dinner pacifier ready to go.
The photo on the left is an example of what I’m talking about. Sure, I look like I’ve got everything under control, but see the chair I’m in? The pillows behind my head and under my arm? Those are not there by accident. It took a lot of prep work to pull this off.
The thing you don’t see is that after this photo was taken, I had to hand Cora to Ashley to get out of the chair and into my wheelchair before I could do anything else. This was a luxury I wasn’t going to have on this upcoming solo jaunt.
Don’t get me wrong, we still did prep work for that morning. Before my wife left that morning, we took Cora’s Pack and Play out of our room and put it in the living room—I can’t do things while holding her, so I need a place to put her while I pick up bottles, books, or what have you. We also made sure to have water and formula ready to be mixed.
I was feeling confident, Cora was on a pretty reliable schedule at this point. I figured I’d feed her just before my wife left—thus allowing her to help me if needed. Not long after, Cora would probably fall asleep. Also, she’d been pretty constipated* for the last day or two, so I doubted I’d deal with a really messy diaper. Like the Falcons at halftime of the Super Bowl, I was set up for success.
*Dear Cora. If you’re reading this, I’m not trying to embarrass you. But the people have a right to know.
Well, if you’re a parent (or a football fan), you know what happened. Cora took the plan and laughed at it. First, she was apparently not in the mood for an early morning breakfast, so after trying in vain to feed her, I bid goodbye to my wife with a kiss and put the bottle away for future use.
Of course, now, Cora did not need to sleep off her milk bender. And my daughter, above all things is a morning person. So we spent the next hour playing airplane, reading books, and singing songs. The book reading in particular was a new challenge.
Normally, when I read Cora a story, my wife holds her while I hold the book, sort of like how you see on the right. But, like Michael Bay following his split from Jerry Bruckheimer, I was flying solo, so I needed a new plan. After some tinkering, I came up with a solution. While in my wheelchair, I balanced Cora on one leg while holding her with my good arm. My bad arm held the book and tried to turn the pages.
It went pretty well, I guess. Sure, we skipped a few pages of The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name and the narrative may have become a bit disjointed. Whatever. Cora still loved it, and it was still better than Infinite Jest. More importantly, I read a book to my daughter by myself.
You may be asking: “Patrick, why didn’t you put her in a bouncer to read to her?” I’ll tell you why, anonymous reader. Because in our house, story time is also cuddle time. And we don’t half-ass story time. But also, because it was important for me to know I could read to her on my own terms. Don’t get me wrong, if I felt it was unsafe, I would have stopped. But I needed to know that I could read to Cora regardless of whether or not I’d been set up.
After story time, Cora got a little fussy, which could only mean one thing. It was time for breakfast! And for challenge number two. In my wheelchair, I placed Cora in her swing, and readied the bottle, putting it in arms’ reach on our kitchen table. I picked her up from her swing and carefully positioned her in my good arm. With her secure, I carefully reached out and grabbed the bottle.
Success! I slightly repositioned Cora, and she started taking that bottle down like I attack an Ithaca Root Beer. I had now read to her and fed her on my own, and in a way that I never had before. She was happy, I was feeling confident. Suddenly Cora began making strange sounds. And then, it hit me. Yes, Cora had picked that moment to poop. It was now officially the third act of Bad Boys II.
I started to worry. Changing Cora can be tricky, because she really likes getting changed. As a result, she kicks her feet with happiness. What if her feet landed in poop? And then she grabbed her foot? And then touched some other body part? There’d be poop everywhere! I couldn’t give her a bath on my own. Would I be able to pull this off or would this become “Naked and Screaming, the sequel”?
Then I remembered what Ashley always says. Cora will pick up on our mood. If I became stressed, she’d be stressed. If I was happy, she’d be happy. I’m not going to lie to you, I was feeling stressed. Sometimes, I really hate being disabled. Not for me so much, but for Cora. I didn’t want to let her down. Even though she’ll never remember this, I wanted to be a success for her. I didn’t want my first solo dad run to be a failure. But to succeed, I needed to be in the right mindset.
So, I calmed myself down. I took a deep breath (through my mouth), tossed the bottle on the table, rebalanced Cora on my lap, slowly wheeled her over to the couch, and started the dirty work. Cora and I laughed. We sang along to 70’s rock. It was great.
Thanks to my wife’s advice, and with an assist from Steely Dan, I got her into a clean diaper and buttoned up. We were in the clear!
At this point, Cora was all tuckered out from reading, eating, and pooping (to be fair, that tires me out too). So I laid her in her swing, with a woobie, blanket, and her monkey Henrik, and she fell asleep until the nanny came.
Look, what I’ve just described to you is a pretty standard morning for any stay at home parent. But this was such a big deal to me, I cried after the nanny left.I called to brag to my wife after doing something she had done dozens of times. Because this time, for me, taking care of Cora didn’t involve help from others, and a perfect set up. This time, I was forced to make a go of it on my own. To improvise. It was hard. It was scary. And it worked. Cora and I had a great time, and it was one of the best mornings of my life.
That’s when I realized something: Even though being disabled comes with a lot of challenges, and even though my wife and I plan ways around those challenges, often to great success, I don’t need to map everything out to be a successful parent. Like Matt Ryan at the line of scrimmage, I can audible to a new play based on what I see from the defense. This one morning alone with my daughter made me feel like I could accomplish anything as a parent, regardless of my disability. And there’s no greater feeling than that.