Friday, February 10, 2012

Interview With Shailey Tripp: Parenting Special Needs Children

It’s been a great week for Sarah and Trig. Four days ago, Newsweek published Sarah’s same old platitudes in an article “My Life WithTrig,” and right after that came the announcement by the Clare Boothe Luce Institute that Mrs. Todd Palin has been named their “Woman of the Year.”  I think “Quitter of the Century” would be more fitting, but hey, I’m not part of the Institute so I wasn't asked my opinion. They said she's a role model, and she puts “her special little baby, her children, and her first in her life.”  Obviously they haven't read what we've read these past three years.

Newsweek and the Clare Boothe Luce Institute see something in Sarah that I don’t see. But I’m no expert on raising a child with a disability, so I went to an expert and asked for her opinion. Making it all the more interesting for the community at The Palin Place is the fact that our expert here today is someone who got to know Sarah’s other half intimately during the crossover years when Todd Palin went from father of four to father of five, and through the first years of his being the dad to a child with Down syndrome.

We’ve heard- ad nauseum - Sarah’s version of having a child “the world sees as less than perfect.”  Below is Ms. Tripp’s interview on the subject. And remember, this is a single mom who also lived in Wasilla when she was dealing with babies who needed special care.

 Hi Shailey,

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for The Palin Place readers.  I have some questions based on the recent “My Life With Trig” article in Newsweek; I’d like to ask about your personal interaction with Todd on the topic of disabled kids, and I think that's different than what people have learned so far from your blog or your book or your interviews

For the readers here who might not know you, Shailey, I want to establish that you have two children and both have disabilities. You are a single mom, and for a while, you made ends meet by working at a school as a substitute, a massage parlor as a masseuse, and as a computer tech. All simultaneously and all part-time. Your claim to fame, unfortunately, is that you entered into prostitution and Todd Palin’s name has been linked with yours in that way. 

This past week, Sarah was interviewed by Newsweek magazine on the topic of raising children who have special needs. That’s a subject near and dear to your heart. You live it every day. And Rick Santorum’s recent urgent flight home to be at his 3 year-old’s hospital bedside was  mentioned right up front by Sarah, so it’s in the presidential primary conversation this year, too.

SHAILEY:  Thank you for asking me to participate. I want to start by saying that I read the Sarah Palin interview by Newsweek. My first thoughts are as a parent of special needs kids I do not relate to what Sarah Palin is saying when she says  

"…[the] blessings of raising these beautiful children whom we see as perfect in this imperfect world…Yes, these children are precious and loved. Yes, we face extra fears and challenges, but our children are a blessing, and the rest of the world is missing out in not knowing this.”

This is NOT the mentality of most parents I have met with disabled, handicapped, retarded, special needs kids. Every parent I have ever met that is involved with their kids is tired, strained, extremely stresssed out, has lots of moments of shame in that they are depressed about their child's inability to be normal. They get upset with themselves for having these negative thoughts about their kids, all their family members are maxed out and tired. Parents of special needs kids constantly have to stay on top of their sitters, daycare, and schools.

It is a full time job plus. You are the only one fighting for your children. This is where shame comes in. Parents are human they get tired and they start to resent their kids, resent not having a life, and wonder why they ended up with kids who are not normal.

These parents DO love their kids or they wouldn't put in all the effort; but being tired and worn down and always fighting for your children wears on you.

I will say it again, It isn't that the parents don't love their kids but it is HARD.

It is wonderful when you can find [other] parents who understand what it is you are going through; and yes you love your child and you do think they are special and wonderful, but your heart breaks for your child almost every day when you watch them interact. And tears of joy come out of you like a waterfall when you see someone else befriend your child or show tenderness and understanding towards them.

We live in a cruel world and if people can't see the physical handicap of your child [such as deafness] and you have tantrums, incidents, behaviors out of the norm people judge you, give you unkind words and stares, and basically add to your overall stress and it does not make you feel all lovey dovey. 

ALLISON: When I read Sarah’s words about the bond parents of special needs children share with each other, I wondered if what she said applied to you and Todd Palin during the years you were in each other's lives.
 Sarah Palin said,
Families of children with special needs are bonded by a shared experience of the joys, challenges, fears, and blessings of raising these beautiful children whom we see as perfect in this imperfect world.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, on rope lines at rallies… Todd and I met so many of these familiesThere was an instant connection—a kind of mutual acknowledgment that said, “Yes, these children are precious and loved. Yes, we face extra fears and challenges, but our children are a blessing, and the rest of the world is missing out in not knowing this.”
You met Todd Palin a year before the date Sarah claims she found out she was carrying a child with Down syndrome. When you met Todd, how long before you shared with him you’re your children had special needs?
SHAILEY:  The first time I saw Todd for a massage I had shared with him a little about the disabilities of my kids and how hard it was. I shared with him a picture of my kids that I kept in my massage room at that spa.
 Do you remember how he reacted to that information?
He was surprised. He asked did I have help and was their Dad in their life. I told him how proud I was of my kids and how far they had come; that I was raising them at that time alone but was happy they were with me and growing and improving.
 So, he learned you were a single mom without a supportive family at that time, no family helping you with the kids?
 Yes, from the first massage on forward he knew I was a single parent.
 We know Sarah kept the Down syndrome diagnosis a secret until after Trig was born. In an interview with Jesse Griffin that you were shocked to hear of Sarah delivering a baby in April 2008.  So, after that, did  Todd ever talk openly with you about being the parent of a special needs child?   
 He asked me a few time about names of specialists, places to get help. He asked if I ever regretted having my kids or ever had doubts about them. He wondered sometimes if my kids could ever be independent and I had never thought about that before.
I never once thought that my kids would have to be with me for their whole lives. Occasionally he would also ask how I go out in public with no help.
Did the two of you “bond” over this (like Sarah says happened so often with other parents) ? 
I don't know if we ever bonded over this. It never made me feel closer to him.
Was there ever a time when Todd showed a new interest in hearing about the joys/fears/challenges that come  from  having  children  with disabilities?
 No, not really unless he was asking about doctors or how I managed being in public.
If so, can you remember when this change occurred?
 Well after Trig was born – maybe he was about 3 -4 months, [Todd] started talking about Trig. Except it was always "the baby"
 Sarah also addressed this as a women’s issue:
Every parent struggles with juggling the commitments of work and family. Women, especially, know this well.
And further into the article, this:
Many everyday activities like doctor’s appointments and social gatherings and travel accommodations and even mealtimes and a solid night of sleep are that much more difficult, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade the relative difficulties for any convenience or absence of fear.
… Granted, I know I may be more fortunate than others to have loving friends and a big, supportive family I call on to help, including [Todd]who spends many sleepless nights with this restless little one. (And Todd actually makes Trig’s puréed baby food!) Others aren’t so fortunate, and in our thankfulness I am made more compassionate toward others who have less.
 I read in your book “Looking for Inspiration” that you even lived in a shelter for a while with your two disabled children. You have certainly known a difficult time in providing any and all of the above things Sarah mentioned.  
So my question is, did you feel any of that stuff Sarah’s talking about – that compassion toward the less fortunate - coming from Todd Palin toward you? 
 I never felt more compassion coming from Todd on my end. I felt like he thought everything came so easy for me. And he seemed like everything was so hard for him. But he was not overly personable and often if I shared a story with him he would interrupt and redirect about his own life.
 If so, can you give an example?
I was telling him how hard it was for [my son] to go out in public after his [ear] surgery. Noises terrified him. He would scream. I got thrown out of Barnes and Nobles because I was upsetting the customers when he wouldn’t stop crying. At the end of the memory Todd was like, “well you should have known better.” Suggested I should have someone go with me next time. I just wanted to hit him.
Thanks, Shailey, for taking time to give us a first-person report on  the bonding of two parents with special needs children – one a Palin and the other named Tripp.  Those names have a fascinating history and a future, too. Which is my segue into asking, is there anything you want to tell us about your soon-to-be-released book about your relationship with Todd Palin and the period of time in your past when you were involved with prostitution?
 My next book will be out within the next 20 days and I hope that people will read it with an open mind. I talk about a lot of issues that are personal and to some extent painful and shameful. But I hope this book can help at least one other person.
 There you have it. We owe a big Thank-You to Shailey for giving us her time and being honest.  Sarah may be given a title, “Woman of the Year” but Shailey gets my admiration.
As for Todd, I’m saving up my best comments for a post after we get to read Shailey’s book.
Okay, your turn. Comments and shout outs to Shay (and don’t forget to stop by her blog, it’s open question Friday!).


Anonymous said...

Just one comment. You said, "I never once thought that my kids would have to be with me for their whole lives."

This perplexed me because, typically, that's the one thing parents constantly think about. Is it just because, as a parent, you think of your kids as amazing beings who are strong by nature and will? Were you trying to be idealistic?

There are times I wish Sarah would talk specifically about Trig's behaviors that are typical of a DS child. I can see why she doesn't, as it's personal. I don't doubt her family adores Trig, or that he is the light of their lives. We've heard her speak of his feistiness. and his typical toddler ways.

It's good to see Todd being inquisitive about it all. I remember reading an interview where he said he will let Trig do everything his other kids do: outdoor activities etc. Making things normal for them isn't bad. Treating them as if they're different isn't good. Tolerance is not acceptance.

Thanks Shailey. You just confirmed your relationship with him further, that it was indeed purely business. for his benefit only. I hope you're now happy and thriving.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Shailey for speaking about your time as mother to special needs children. I will always have a special place in my heart for people like you. I am from Palmer AK and have no idea how you survived homeless or even as a single mother here in your situation. Anytime I see a family with a child who has some affliction looking happy, I smile and feel butterflies. It must feel joyous to see someone who faces inevitable struggles in our weird world smile and play as any other child would. On the contrary I cannot imagine how you feel on bad days. I've seen Trig and his sister (the teen one I believe) out and about in town. I would never know anything was different if I didn't recognize her. He seems "normal" playing with other kiddos.
Bless you and all parents. We're all fighting battles.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Shailey.You really do the work of caring for your kids. My son has a minor disability from a birth injury,but the pain, sadness, guilt is always there. I can't imagine how it is for parents will more serious disabilities, but I am sure it is no bed of roses.
Do you know for certain certain crtain that Sarah did not birth RTi-G on 4/18/08 at MatSu?

shaytripp said...

Up until the point Todd (and later in my life a few other people) suggested that I would have to care for them for the rest of their lives, I honestly never thought about it. But during this period of my life I can't say I thought too much about tomorrow much less what the future would bring. But also when I did think abiout their future and even now I like to picture them being married, going to school, being parents, etc.I now give it seriosu thought just in case but whether it is denial or fantasy I believe my children will grow up and become independent.

shaytripp said...

To Palmer, I lived in Palmer from September 2006-June of 2009. If I had to be anywhere I am glad that I was there. I will always love Palmer, AK

shaytripp said...

I am sorry your child was injured at birth. I hope oneday you are able to move past the guilt and leave it behind you. I can empathize on how painful that must be.

Also I have no idea whether or not Sarah birthed Trig at Mat-Su on that date. My instincts say no, she did not.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you lived in Palmer? Interesting. Don't know why other than that I live here. I love it too. Thanks for replying. I hate the negative connotation of the Valley that I hear about constantly. I prefer here over Anchorage any day.

And to comment on your reply to another's question, I hope you don't feel bad about not thinking this way. It's good that you and other parents want the same things for your children, regardless of possible lifelong dependency. You need to feel respected and your children need to be respected.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview. I hope all the best for Ms Tripp and her family. I know god will shine on her. Her interview was honest about life with special needs children. I have to say am happy I never had to deal with that type of issue and I hope I never have to.

myj58 said...

Shailey, I was born with special needs and my mother push me out of the house to have a life. My high school counselor told me that I am not smart enough to go to college and refused to assist me. I found an outside counsellor to help me with a dozen school applications and financial aids. I got accepted into some and needed my HS counsellor to sign some papers, she refuse till my mom went to the board of education to complain. When near time to go, I was afraid because of my hearing and speech, I was afraid people will mock me. I was ashame of my poor reading and writing abilities. My mom told me to either get a job, go to college or get out of her house! I was on that college campus with in two week after gratuation LOL... It was the best thing that happen in my life. It force me to be independence and make choices on my own.

Shailey, your children can have a life of their own... It depend on you, how you raise them. My mom didn't baby me. She force me to talk way beyond what the doctors set... Many doctor I have been to could not believe how well I talk. They said people who hear much better than me, can't talk half as well as I do. You may have to work 10 time harder with them, you can do it and it's best you start while they are young. I have seem even DS adult living independence, with a job, apt/house and having a life of their own.

shaytripp said...

I am glad you shared that with everyone MYJ. I agree. I set standards for my kids, it is extra work, but it is what is best for everyone in the long haul. I beleive in my kids and my parenting. I am not the best parent. God knows I need more patience and more sleep. But then again what parent doesn't? I don't have any regrets.

Marleycat said...

This is a great interview, Shailey - and refreshing to hear some honest emotions about how truly difficult it is to provide the best possible care, nurturing, and love for 2 disabled children as a single parent!

To be a single mom also dealing with poverty and be the only parent there 24/7 - I don't know how you survived, especially during your arrest and difficulties with Todd. I raised two daughters, near your age, neither disabled, and even with a husband - raising children is not easy.

But, it sure is infinitely easier when you have a committed partner to "spell" you from constantly being "on" and give you emotional and financial support! Having the financial resources to pay someone else to do the heavy lifting is much easier, too.

Most people understand the mixed emotions you express in describing the difficulties and stress, the guilt when you feel there's little emotional/physical strength left for you - let alone your children who need you so much! Nevertheless, the love you have for your children shines through clearly in this interview!

Seeing the BIG smiles on your children's faces in the photos you posted makes it obvious, you have some very happy, well-loved children!
I'm sure someday your dedication to your children will enable them to live independently!

Dealing successfully with disabilities is NOT a picnic - regardless if it's children or adults (though children and their parents certainly need much more support)! I would have had more respect for the Trig article had it actually been written by Sarah Palin, and had not turned out to be a remix of old ghost written articles and been really about Trig, rather than Sarah!

Anonymous said...

MYJ58- You could be my sister, except that our family all worked together to see that she could get the very best education possible in those days. Yes, my parents did push her- but she was the only one of us with the guts to speak up to strangers so maybe that was a good thing. You should be very proud of your accomplishments; people have no idea how devastating hearing loss is.

JillyG said...

Shailey, I can totally relate to you on this.I have three children, and my younger two both have special needs. My middle child, a daughter, has Down Syndrome. She is 11.5 years old. My son is 10 and he has CP and autism. (my oldest, a daughter, is 13 and "tries" me in other ways LOL) Anyway, I just want to hug you big time, Shailey. I don't know how you manage without a "partner". I am married to the best freaking man and we still sometimes wonder how we can face another day. Anyway, love to you, girl, get the word out - we need your voice to be heard!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for speaking out on being a parent of special needs kids. I truly appreciated your candor on the tiredness, the stress, the shame and the desire for what is best for our kids.

I'm a parent of two adopted kids with significant special needs. I had the world's most supportive spouse until he passed away last year. We passed the 'baton' throughout our 10 stressful parenthood years, until he was no longer physically/mentally capable to do so.

To this day, I would play Parent Jeopardy and "Alex, please 'Buy a Friend' for my Child for $500". My heart will forever ache for his seclusion for various reasons. Due to our second son's special needs we were able to integrate him into different programs that have greatly improved his adjustments and hopefully he will stay out of jail.

Yeah, heartache, pain, sacrifice, stress and thank you for speaking to the reality of being a parent of special needs kids.

You had a totally different circumstance to relate, as we enjoyed some money, great insurance, disability and great jobs.

My total respect and awe in your survival and love for your children.


Anonymous said...

I don't have a special needs child, but I follow a number of "mommy bloggers" who have them. Shay your story and those of some of the commentors are so similar to the other bloggers I read. It always makes me sad when Sarah talks about Trig so differently, as if she doesn't really know him or anything about how to care for him. I agree that the Newsweek article sounds years old, reflecting her experiences of him when she was "on the trail" or on the book tour. I'd be willing to bet, she's spent very little time with him since then.

Earlier, several commentors said that Moms usually tell little stories about what their child has learned to do recently or some milestone he/she has reached. Sarah never does that. Is it because she is so out of touch, she doesn't know, or is she embarrassed that Trig is so different developmentally than her other children. She implied in the latest article again that she didn't expect Trig to live independently. Why not? Is he profoundly disabled, or does she have such a limited vision of his potential? Many have commented that perhaps he had such a lack of therapies early on that SP has contributed to limiting his future. It's so very sad.

In any case, Shay, I admire the stamina you have in dealing with all that life has challenged you and the lengths you have gone to to take care of yourself and your family. No one ever sets out to prostitute themselves, but I can understand the need and desperation that can drive one to do it. I hope you find only blessings in your future.


Ivyfree said...

"We've heard her speak of his feistiness. and his typical toddler ways."

No, we haven't. We've heard from other people that he hits Sarah. We've heard from her that Todd prepares pureed baby food for a four-year-old. We did hear that he greets the day with applause, but that was more than two years ago, and she's still repeating that as if it's current. We actually haven't heard anything from her that indicates any particular interest in Trig as an individual, or that shows us how he's growing and developing.

Grateful said...

Allison & Shailey,

Thanks for a superb post, also for the "pushback" against Palin trying to re-enforce her mythology all this past week.

I'm really struck by the contrast -- one mother of a special needs child who has all the money and power necessary to ease his situation and yet only seems to regard him as a political prop vs. a mother of TWO special needs kids whose struggles to keep her family together include having to sell her body.

The first spent the past week mouthing talking points as vague as anything you'd find in a book report written by someone who never read the book.

The second devotes her time and energy (and even puts herself at personal risk) to tell the truth of both her struggles as a mother of SNCs and of her relationship with the first one's husband.

That these two women embody the two extremes of parenting special needs kids is remarkable, but that they're also linked by an adulterous horndog ... !

What a great book all this would make -- in case nobody's already thought of that ? ;)

Many thanks to you both for this interview, hopefully the first of many.

Ivyfree said...

It's that damn movie she's acting in her head. Shailey, you write about raising special-needs children from the gut. You know what it's like, and you're honest enough to admit that much as you love them, you get damned tired. Kids with special needs are, first and foremost, kids. And kids can be exhausting and if they have special needs, even more so. It's not a failure of love to admit getting tired of it.

It IS a failure of love and compassion to talk about your kid as if he isn't fully human, and that's what Sarah does. To Sarah, Trig isn't a little boy with special needs, he's her Blessed Angel of God (tm) and talking about him makes her look good, she thinks. There's so much that a real mother would know about her four-year-old. I had dinner with my daughter and her family, and we talked about OUR blessed angel from the gods, my four-year-old grandson. Know what he's doing? He's recovering from a bug and is cranky occasionally. He's struggling to do without a nap- not happy if he gets one, not happy if he misses it. He and his bestie spent Superbowl Sunday playing together, and taking turns running into the house to tattle on each other (She threw dirt on me! He's not my best friend any more!)He's really getting into board games now, and he tries to change the rules but they call him on it- he's old enough to play by the rules. He loves puzzles, and we are all amused by his OCD habit of putting the puzzles together, and then taking out the pieces and lining them up neatly. He decorated a cupcake for Valentine's day at the grocery store. He's been hunting for frogs in his yard, because we can hear them croaking, and they show up every spring. He had a lovely time splashing in puddles today and came in, cheerful, redcheeked and muddy to the knees. While he was slow at potty training (we all agreed he knew what was wanted, but wouldn't cooperate) he is fully there, and working on going to the bathroom without company- he doesn't like being alone. He talks, enthusiastically, about an upcoming trip to Disney World- he's less enthused about seeing his uncle graduate from law school, but that's because he doesn't remember his uncle, even though he can identify him from pictures.

I could go on, but that's the kind of thing that people know about the kids that are close to them. Trig? Oh... Todd makes his pureed babyfood, and he's still, after 2 1/2 years, greeting the day by applauding. Which one of us sounds like we know our four-year-old?

Sarah's acting in a Lifetime movie in her head- the one about the ambitious woman who wound up with a big, adoring family (just ask the trolls) and a special needs baby. And just like a Lifetime movie, it's completely unconvincing.

Anonymous said...

at 9:16AM "I've seen Trig and his sister (the teen one I believe) out and about in town. I would never know anything was different if I didn't recognize her. He seems "normal" playing with other kiddos."

a. You've seen Tripp out with Bristol or

b. You've seen a Trig that is not DS but is a native indian with jet black hair. He could have been with Bristol, Willow or anyone.

AKRNHSNC said...


Congratulations on your tenacity and the accomplishments you've made. There's nothing you can't do without a supportive family and it sure sounds like yours is behind you 100%. I know it must have been hard for your Mom to give you ultimatums but in doing so, she was letting you know she believed in you. She was right, too! Look at all you've accomplished so far and will go on to do even more.

For the Moms of all the Special Needs kids, thank you so much for sharing your hopes and dreams, your fears and disabilities have not stopped you yet and won't do so in the future. It's up to you, keep up the great work and please keep us up to date on your progress. I truly believe the only restrictions on these children with special needs are the ones society inflicts upon them. These children can live life to their fullest potential with the encouragement of their family and friends. Although my cousin died when I was a pre-teen, I've heard the stories about how my aunt refused to listen to the doctors and worked with Danny on her own from the day he came home from the hospital. She didn't treat him differently than she had his brother who was a year older. It took him a bit longer to do things but he did them. On the positive side, she had a loving husband and the finances to hire those who specialized in DS children to work with him from early on. Danny ended up with 7 older siblings and dozens of cousins, so he was just one of the family. I remember him most for how loving he was, the rides he gave where he put the little ones on his shoulders, making us laugh for hours. He moved into a community home with four other young adults with DS. There was very little funding for this type of thing at the time. The state would pay for the monthly upkeep and services but did not have the money to purchase the home so his parents bought land a few blocks from their home and had it built. Danny passed away when I was 13 but his siblings have continued the work in his name to this day. This is why I become so irate when Palin talks about Trig as if his future is already decided. Yes, it is decided if she's not going to work with him, not even willing to use something as simple as eyeglasses and hearing aids. There is no reason why he is eating pureed food at the age of four unless their is a problem with his digestive system. It sounds like there are far more problems than we were aware of or that Palin gave up on him at birth and was too lazy to do the work involved with being a parent to a child with special needs. Which is it, Sarah? Are you going to continue to treat Trig as if he's abnormal, doing him a grave disservice by labeling him and not believing in his ability to reach his full potential? If that's the case, then give him back to his real parents who mistakenly thought he'd be better with you. It's long been apparent that is not true.

Trig has potential, let him reach his along with all the other DS children and children with SN around the world.

nswfm said...

Am I the only one who finds it weird that Todd referred to him as "the baby" not "my baby" "my little boy" or "my son"?

I've never thought Trig was Sarah's but now I don't think he's Todd's at all and is more likely the famous "puppy" of the emails.

Ivyfree said...

Wow, nswfm. I never noticed. And not even "our" baby.

Apparently Sarah and Todd didn't bond over their blessed angel from God (tm).

Allison said...

nswfm and Ivyfree - THANK YOU! I've wondered when the TODD part of this interview would get some scrutiny. I saw that when Shay wrote it to me. It's weird, isn't it?

I remember changing jobs once and getting to know a a co-worker who talked a lot about her two boys. One was David and the other "the baby." Different fathers and David was about 10. Then I learned "the baby" was five! I asked her his name, and it was a nice name - Stephen. I told her she was calling one boy by his name and the other by a title/placeholder. She started calling him Stephen.