Cover Photo: Illustration by Anja Silbar for Catapult
Illustration by Anja Silbar for Catapult

My Son and I Don’t Do Well with Chaos—and That’s Okay

We hate surprises. What we need is to be able to set our expectations properly.

This isa monthly column byKatie Rose Pryalabout family life, mental illness, and raising disabled kids as a disabled parent.

Because of that pressure, because of that chaos, I cried every single Christmas from the time I was old enough to know what Christmas was until I was old enough to no longer care about pleasing everyone around me.

You might think that my parents, when confronted by their child weeping under the Christmas tree, would ask, “What’s wrong?” or would try to comfort me. But they were so stunned, so flabbergasted, by my Christmas tears, my reaction the opposite of what they expected, that they usually responded with aggravation or anger. “Why are you crying?” my mother would ask, an edge to her voice.

I take him to sit outside, around the corner from the entrance, behind some shrubs. He leans into me while he sobs. He feels like he might die because of this misshapen day. But I don’t shame him for his pain. I hold him, I tell him it’s okay to cry, and I tell him I will make it right.

Katie is a novelist, essayist, and law professor in Chapel Hill, NC. Her books include Life of the Mind Interrupted: Essays on Mental Health and Disability in Higher Education, Even If You're Broken: Essays on Sexual Assault and #MeToo, and the Hollywood Lights novels. In addition to Catapult, Katie has contributed to The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Toast, Dame Magazine, Women in Higher Education, and more. You can connect with Katie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all at @krgpryal, and on her blog at