In 1991, I spent a semester abroad in Israel. It was the first time I had ever been out of the country and I remember feeling exhilarated and ready for an adventure. However, once I arrived I felt a bit differently. After no time at all, I became extremely homesick and was desperate to be in touch with family and friends. I needed to hear their voices and have them assure me that I would be ok. Eventually, these feelings dissipated and I began to adapt to my surroundings, but keeping in touch continued to be a challenge. It is hard to fathom but there were no easily accessible cell phones or access to email back then. The best I had was a pay phone that was five blocks away from my dorm and as for any written communication – well that was up to the mailman. It was less than ideal but it was our reality.
I think about those days often as I sit here clutching my iPhone in one hand and my iPad in the other while glancing down at my laptop. Traveling abroad or leaving home these days would be so much different. The ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, and at anytime is our new reality. Some would argue that my experience in Israel was good for me and that what we as a society have done to ourselves in terms of our attachments to technology is unfortunate. We are always connected in someway to something or someone. We never have to sit with the discomfort of being out of touch (do they have pay phones anymore?). There is a part of me that agrees with this notion. Israel was an incredible experience for me leading to great personal growth but perhaps it would have been better if I did not have the stress of feeling disconnected. Of course, we will never know the answer but it is worth contemplation.
What I do know is that having the ability to connect at all times has made raising a child with special needs much more manageable.
I can only imagine what life must have been like for a special needs mother back in 1991. She was likely stuck home worried that she might miss a call form the school, the day treatment program, or the group home that cared for her child. She likely had to wait days for service providers to receive her letters of request for much needed items for her son or daughter. Worst of all, her special needs world was probably very small and isolating. As it is special needs mothers often feel alone and have very little time to socialize or connect with others who are sharing similar life experiences. Today, I am apart of many online communities and chat rooms. I have special needs friends from all over the country (actually world) that I can access at a stroke of key. I never have to feel alone or disconnected. I can assure you that it was not like this in 1991. The special needs mother of that time was scared, she was lonely, and she was desperate for communication. She would have given anything to be able to carve out a portion of the day for herself without the fear of missing a phone call.
Today I am never with out my iPhone. I check it constantly (maybe too much). I have numerous alerts on it that notify me of an email, a text, a phone call, or a voice mail. I have had people make comments of my inability to let go of it. I can certainly understand where they are coming from and I agree that I should be able to put my phone down and walk away from it. But more importantly (at least to me) having it at all times allows me the peace of mind to step out into the world and know that wherever my daughter might be I am a mere text message away. I like that feeling. I need that feeling. The connection a special needs parent feels for their disabled child is difficult to explain. It is intense and it can be all consuming, mostly because we are acutely aware that these children do not possess the necessary skills to protect themselves so we feel the constant pressure to do it for them. These feelings are driven out of fear, out of lack control, and most certainly out of lack of trust. An iPhone changes all of that and for that Mr. Jobs…I am so grateful.
I doubt I will ever be able to disconnect myself from it and that is all right. Sydney will always need someone to watch over her. She will never live an independent life and because of that I will never be too far behind her. No matter where I am she is always on my mind and that will never change. But knowing that I can always be reached gives me the freedom to otherwise live my life.