I have to admit something. Something that I have never admitted to anyone. And now I’m telling (potentially) the whole world. Ever since my daughter was born, and even before that, as a kid when I imagined having my own kids, I wondered if my disability would be a point of embarrassment for her. I wondered if it would drive us apart. If the things I couldn’t do, which were less back then, would affect our relationship. If I wouldn’t have the same opportunity to be close to my kids as I would if I didn’t have a disability.
I knew it would probably be ok until she started school. But then, maybe the questions, and probably teasing, from the other kids; mixed with the need to fit in, would turn her against me.
Or maybe. Maybe I could teach her to be different. Maybe I could teach her that everyone is different. That we’re supposed to be different, because that’s how God made us. Maybe I could teach her to be friends with the kid everyone teases. To stand up for him, even when it’s not the ‘cool’ thing to do. That people who use wheelchairs, or leg braces, or walkers are just like everyone else. Maybe I could teach her to be a leader and not a follower. Maybe she wouldn’t see me any differently than she saw the other moms.
Fast forward eight years, and it’s not as big of an issue as I worried it would be. There have been a few times when I wished I wasn’t handicap for her sake. Picking her up from school is like going back in time; all the kids staring at the girl who walks funny. I see the expression on her face and I know it bothers her. She tells me she doesn’t like when people stare because it’s rude and it might hurt my feelings. I’m glad she knows this. I’m pretty used to staring and usually I don’t let it bother me, but I’m glad she knows not to stare. Not to hurt someone else’s feelings.
And when she says she wishes she could walk or ride her skateboard to school, I have to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t walk that far, and you can’t go alone.”
When I imagined being a mom, I imagined taking my kids camping and on hikes, helping build houses in Guatemala, or even just walking them to school. I can’t do any of that now, but I have to remind myself of the positives.
The positives are that she is friends with everyone. That she doesn’t let the way people look or what they can do determine her friendships. That she is just as good of friends with the girl in the wheelchair as she is with the one on the soccer team.
And then there are the times that she has stuck up for me. The time when they didn’t know I could hear them and her friend who had spent the night said “What’s taking your mom so long?! It’s just cereal!” and Romi said “She hurts. She’s in a lot of pain and it’s hard for her to walk. So you shouldn’t say things like that. Besides, we could get our own cereal.” Or the time when the little girl at school said “Why does your mom walk like that?” And she said “She’s right here, why don’t you ask her. She doesn’t mind.”
She’s usually surprised when I thank her. Surprised because she didn’t know I heard what they said, and surprised that I am more glad that she did the right thing than upset at what the other person said.
Needless to say, I don’t usually feel like the cool mom. When my friends are making blue pasta or spider web snacks for preschool out of pretzels and white chocolate, I can usually barely handle heating up leftovers or making a sandwich. While I would love to take them camping or to help underprivileged people in a third world country, there are times when I can’t even get off the couch to take them to the park.
But that feeling changed last weekend. Last weekend our church hosted a ‘drive-in’ movie. They were going to show the movie Cars on the big projector screen in the sanctuary, and the idea was that parents would help make cardboard cars for the kids to sit in while they watched the movie. I love a good, challenging project, and this was fun because the whole family could get in on it, and then we could have some fun watching the movie and hanging out with friends.
After finally finding some boxes the day before, we got to work. One of the boxes was big and long, so Romi decided he wanted a VW bus that she would decorate as a rock star tour bus. So I sat in a chair and directed while Sal carved out the design. Romi also decided she wanted it to be a convertible, so we had to get really creative. After about four hours, we had a convertible VW rock star tour bus, complete with license plates, working headlights and tail lights, a convertible roof, and a VW logo.
I posted a picture of it on Facebook, and my cousin made the comment “Coolest. Mom. Ever.”
Seeing those words was a turning point for me. A realization of something that I already knew in theory, but hadn’t let myself really believe: Being a cool mom, a good mom, a mom that is close to my kids, didn’t have to be determined by what I couldn’t do. I could let it be determined by what I could do. Maybe I can’t spend all day creating a Martha Stewart style dinner. I might never be able to take them camping and on a hike through the woods. But you know what? I can create a pretty awesome cardboard car while sitting in a chair. I can help her find videos on YouTube so she can learn how to do the worm and spin on her head, to work toward her dream of being a rocks star/hip hop dancer. I’m one of the few moms that would let her cut her hair short and dye her bangs red and blue, and I can even help her start her own blog.
So yeah, maybe my cousin is right. Maybe I am the Coolest. Mom. Ever.
Don’t let anything be determined by what you can’t do.