New Idea



- By Courtney Greatrex

Just like any parent, Thea Calzoni’s life changed forever when she gave birth to her son, Julian, 34 years ago. But unlike most mothers, Thea’s responsibi­lity to her son, who has an intellectu­al disability, did not end when he reached the age of 18 – and at 67, she continues to be his full-time carer.

To mark National Carers Week, a time that celebrates and recognises the 2.65 million Australian­s who support others with a disability, Thea is reflecting on a lifetime of caring for her son by releasing her honest and eye-opening memoir, Dancing with the Maternal Bond.

“It’s really important for carers to feel acknowledg­ed,” she tells New Idea. “When you pause and reflect, you realise, ‘I do have a lot to give.’ And you can feel good about that.”

Thea and her partner, Ron, 64, realised that Julian was different when he was slow to hit his milestones as a baby. When they were sent to a special playgroup by a paediatric­ian, the family’s concerns were confirmed.

“When we went to the playgroup and there were these lovely therapists – they were so cheerful and it reminded me of how I used to be before I had children,” she recalls. “And then there were sad and defeated parents, and I thought, ‘Is that me, too?’ It’s the sadness, disappoint­ment and fear of judgement that I saw in others and I recognised that in me. I felt both kinship and estrangeme­nt.”

As Julian grew older, his needs changed and Thea had to adapt. “Each milestone is a time of grief for a parent in this role of carer,” she explains. “Where other people’s teens are wreaking havoc at puberty and parents are worried about what they will get up to, they are beginning their journey of unfolding their wings.

But Julian couldn’t take care of himself independen­tly and sadness arrived knowing that he wouldn’t have a girlfriend.”

Thea wanted to understand her son’s sexuality and scope for companions­hip.

“I felt I had to find out more about how I could support Julian,” she explains.

So she went to a workshop about sex and disability, and details the experience in her book.

She was inspired to write her memoir when, declutteri­ng, she rediscover­ed all of Julian’s old communicat­ion books. They were used for Julian’s family and support workers to communicat­e with one another.

“Julian doesn’t speak very well, just in single words, and some words can have different meanings. He can’t say what he did the day before, but I can write it down for him so that when he gets to his activity, his peers who can speak will hear and understand, and be able to connect with him,” Thea says.

While Thea didn’t think she could keep all the decades worth of books, she decided to digitise them along with her own personal journal.

“I had a lot of raw material that I could draw on, so I started putting things together,” she says.

“Writing the memoir made me realise that it takes a very


special village to raise a special child. Julian is happy, well adjusted and not a danger to himself or anyone else. That’s not down to just me, but so many people and community that embraces him.”

Thea says her book is for all readers, but those in similar situations could gain a lot from reading about her story.

“It could be useful to parents starting on that journey. If they are feeling similar things I did, maybe they can give themselves understand­ing,” she says.

“It could be emotionall­y supportive and instructiv­e for people who have a child with a disability.”

Writing the book has made Thea realise just how much progress her and Julian have made.

“Looking back, I was surprised to see how much easier my life is now than when Julian was young,” she says. “And I started realising that he was just a little boy and what a sweet little boy he was.”

 ?? ?? Thea with Julian (right) and Memphis (centre) as children.
Thea with Julian (right) and Memphis (centre) as children.
 ?? ?? Dancing with the Maternal Bond by Thea Calzoni, Bad Apple Press, $27.99.
Dancing with the Maternal Bond by Thea Calzoni, Bad Apple Press, $27.99.
 ?? ?? Proud mum Thea, with son Julian and daughter Memphis.
Proud mum Thea, with son Julian and daughter Memphis.
 ?? ?? Thea with Julian (far right), Memphis, partner Ron, and Memphis’ partner Cornelius (left).
Thea with Julian (far right), Memphis, partner Ron, and Memphis’ partner Cornelius (left).
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