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.
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 families … There 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!).