This Is Us

Special Needs Parenting in the Age of Pandemic

This moment is hard for everyone. For parents of special needs kids, it’s harder.

Sean Patrick Hughes
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readMar 17, 2020

--

Photo courtesy of the author

I was on a ship headed out of the Gulf after three months of grueling summertime naval interdiction operations when 9/11 happened. We were extended indefinitely. For months, I spent six out of every 18 hours driving a ship. The other 12 were spent managing an engineering division and trying to find a few hours to sleep. We had no idea how long we would be there. It ended up lasting three months longer than it was supposed to.

I went 103 days without stepping foot on land.

It sucked.

On my next deployment, my team was sent to a remote part of Africa where U.S. forces were operating. We were supposed to be there for three weeks. We ended up staying for seven months. No internet. No running water. Just a cot, some MRE, a tent, and an ongoing war. We ran out of everything at one point or another, including water. My kidneys shut down. I was medevaced out. It was three hours by air to the closest modern hospital.

It sucked.

Some people have the sort of military experience that ends up as a screenplay for a combat movie. Mine was more like a post-apocalyptic survival story: Gilligan’s Island meets Cast Away meets Mad Max. I’m no war hero, but I can say with a straight face that I can face the suck with anyone. We’re old friends. I know the mental framework that’s required to get through things, and the dangerous mental patterns you have to avoid to stave off breakdown. By now, it’s my superpower.

It’s been 72 hours since my company sent everyone home to work and the district closed the schools in my county. It’s starting to sink in now.

This is going to suck.

I love my family. There’s no “but” here. I love spending time engaging with them. I don’t hide from the burdens of domestic life. I spend just about every waking moment of my weekends with my family. When I work from home, I sit right in the middle of the kitchen and feel the mess around me. It took practice to learn how to focus. I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s how I roll.

--

--

Sean Patrick Hughes
Human Parts

Sean Patrick Hughes (www.seanpatrickhughes.com) is a writer, veteran and the founder of the non-profit Care For Us (www.care4us.org)