Finding Love with Common Ground
By Vanessa Blais, Project Manager with the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities
Two Perspectives. One Future.
Jim Piet and his wife, Pat Vincent-Piet, had very different experiences growing up with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Their story is one of faith in themselves – and the undeniable laws of attraction.
“Pat and I grew up much differently, but we landed in the same place,” shares Jim Piet. “I was in a segregated environment from the age of four because my own community did not have the ability to support a person like me in its public school. There were no services. Pat, on the other hand, grew up in an inclusive environment in public school.”
Jim Piet spent his young life surrounded by professionals and peers with similar disabilities.
Pat Vincent-Piet did not realize the reality of her disability when she was young. She was never treated differently by her family, and never had any special accommodations at school or in her community. However, she knew that she was somehow different from her peers.
Once, when Jim and Pat were on a date, Jim jumped at a loud noise. Pat shared with Jim that she did the same thing. “I didn’t realize that my reflexes and physical quirks were associated with my Cerebral Palsy,” says Pat Vincent-Piet. “Jim became the first person I could talk to. I never had a close friend with a disability.”
When asked how Jim used to feel about the idea of having a relationship and a family he replied, “I had a speech therapist that had a similar disability. He could feed himself and drive his own car. He went to college and got married and had a family. I think he gave my parents hope that life with someone could be possible with the right support.”
Pat was in the process of going through the NH Leadership Series course when she met Jim, who was a presenter. She felt strongly that she needed to talk with him to get information about life with Cerebral Palsy. “I actually tracked him down,” Pat says. “I went to an expo where I knew he’d attend. There is something attractive about being around someone who has an understanding of your experience, and it didn’t hurt that he wasn’t bad looking! He was the first other adult with CP that I met who was living with quality of life on his own.”
Jim and Pat have had some unique dating experiences.
Jim recounts, “The first time we ate together alone she tried to use different utensils for herself and for me. It was too confusing and eventually she asked if it was ok to use the same fork. Now, we not only share our meal, we share our utensils.”
Bathroom mishaps seem to be a recurring theme. The couple tells of a visit to the Chunky’s movie theater men’s room where the accessible stall was not big enough for both of them. They ended up in the middle of the room next to the urinals. A man came in and began to relieve himself at the urinal next to them. They returned to the theater where a dramatic disaster movie called Day After Tomorrow was playing. “We were laughing hysterically when we walked into the theater,” laughs Pat. “I can only imagine what people were thinking.”
Then, there was the first time Pat stayed the night at Jim’s house. “I knew we were going on a date, but I didn’t know how far this date was going, so I didn’t inform my morning aide that she would be there,” Jim shares. “The aide walked into the bedroom and there was Pat”.
“Fortunately, she and I knew each other,” Pat laughs.
Pat’s daughter, Katelin, was four years old when Pat began dating Jim. When asked what Katelin originally thought of Jim, Pat replies, “Jim was not what she had in mind. She asked me if we were going to get married very early on. I said, ‘I don’t know, maybe. Would that be ok?’ She said, ‘No, I want you to marry someone dashing!’ She wanted me to marry my chiropractor.”
Jim and Pat now agree that having two parents with disabilities makes Katelin a very independent person. “It makes you realize how capable children are,” shares Pat.
Most people were very supportive of Pat and Jim getting married. Jim’s grandmother was especially thrilled that Pat was marrying “Jimmy.” Pat had an uncle that expressed concern that she was taking on a lot, but Pat brushed it off because she felt that he didn’t understand. “Everyone who knew us well was supportive,” Pat comments.
Jim’s advice to parents who question whether a relationship will be a part of their child’s future is to ask themselves what they would say to a child without a disability. He adds that becoming comfortable with your disability is very important. “If you are, people will sense it right away,” Jim says. “Don’t make it shine. Don’t make it who you are. Just start a regular conversation.
Let them know WHO you are as a person.”
“Concentrate on the things you have in common,” Jim relates. “Shared life experience is so important. If you believe you can have a connection with someone, then you can have a relationship.”
“There is more and more representation out there showing people with disabilities in relationships,” Pat adds. “You can find them on YouTube, TV shows, and movies. Seeing and hearing from those who have the same experiences – and have carved a life for themselves – is truly rewarding. People living with disabilities should be exposed to these wonderful stories of hope.”
Vanessa A. C. Blais is a Project Manager with the NH Council on
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