Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 05:18 pm

What kind of parent puts their special needs child in a home away from home? This kind of parent, says Stacey Vee, who has learned that you need to do whatever it takes to make the sum of your love feel happy and cared for. 

It used to be me, you know, judging. Muttering under my breath at the perceived monstrosity of the parents of children like my son. Special needs parents who weren’t in it for the long haul, like we were. Who would rather put their kids in a “home” and make it someone else’s problem. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

It was easier for us to make these snap judgements back then. Travis was a still a baby, and the doctors said: “there might be some intellectual delay”. They couldn’t tell us more than that, but we were so damn sure that we could fix Travis. If we threw enough time and tears at the problem, we’d prevail. “Early Childhood Intervention”, it’s called in special needs circles.

Complete strangers felt it was okay to tell us stories about their friend’s, aunt’s neighbour who had a daughter who was “the same as your boy”. Then this distant acquaintance put their kid in a “home” and “everything was okay again”.

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Maybe they saw more clearly how we were struggling with our new family. Newly married, with a (as it turned out, very) mentally challenged toddler who screamed, yelled, flapped, bit his hands almost to the bone. But we just saw Travis, our first-born – the sum of our love.

Compounding the problem: my husband and I are proud, and stubborn to the point of pig-headedness. We never asked for help. Or money. Or advice. For the first three years we fended off all suggestion of behavioural meds to calm Trav’s temperament. I won’t bore you with all the medical details; we know how that can make people’s eyes glaze over.

Our relationship with Travis crumbled under the weight of his challenges. Our marriage stretched thin as tissue paper. The good friends stayed. The so-so friends were gone with the wind.

When Travis was age five, we started investigating options for what they call “respite care”. The first place we saw was a farmhouse, and it gave me the heebie jeebies. Just too far away from civilisation for my liking. The second place we saw was exactly how you’d picture a mental institution: cold floors, bare walls, the smell of disinfectant colouring the air.

What kind of parent puts their disabled child in a ‘home’?”

Then, we met Kerry, who had just arrived in South Africa after running a respite and residential care facility in Dubai and the UK for many years. She had also had a special needs child, and knew what a family like ours was looking for.

Kerry opened the incredible Oakhaven in Midrand late last year – a place that puts the “home” in the “putting your child in a home”.

At age seven, Travis started going to Oakhaven over weekends for respite care, and he has never been so happy. So happy, in fact, that he doesn’t bother to hide his dismay when we come to collect him on Sundays.

It’s hard to stick to your guns and say “we’re not those kind of people” (you know, people who put their kids in “homes”) when you are dragging your kid out to the car by his armpits because he doesn’t want to leave his happy place.

It was during one of these car-wrestling sessions that I realised that all this time, I’d been making this search for the right care for Travis about me. My feelings. My guilt. My fears for him. My pride.

When Kerry told us she only had one place left in the residential care side at Oakhaven, we hustled!

Travis is going into full-time residential care on July 1 this year, and trust me when I say, for a “forever kid” like ours, this is like being invited to live in Disneyland. It’s expensive, and we have two other small boys to support as well, but this is what Travis needs, more than what I need.

So this proud, stubborn mom is proudly throwing her first fundraising bingo night on June 25 at Old Ed’s in Rosebank, Johannesburg, so that she can stubbornly make sure her Travis has everything he needs in his new home.

What kind of parent puts their disabled child in a ‘home’?”

I’m that kind of parent.