I’ve had physical disabilities for over 5.5 years now. I think it’s obvious: I hobble and limp, swing my arm like a chimp, am lopsided…the list goes on. Sometimes my nerves and anxiety get me so physically wound up that my left arm sticks out like it’s waiting for a proper lady to come slip her arm through it. Sometimes my leg stiffens and it’s like walking on a stick with a shoe at its bottom. I get stuck in doorways, freeze in crosswalks, and anything more than a quarter of an inch high is considered a step to me– one I have to mentally map how to approach and conquer. I think my disability is quite evident to people who meet me standing up, see me walking, or have spent enough time with me to notice that I don’t move my left arm or hand without my right hand’s assistance.
The random “really?”
I spent the first year of my post-stroke life mainly in a wheelchair. I used a quad cane at home or to go places I knew I wouldn’t have to walk long distances. With the chair, people knew I was physically limited. I think the first time someone was surprised to learn of my disability since leaving my chair was a couple years ago, the maintenance man in my complex. I’d been in this apartment a couple years at this point, was familiar with this maintenance man, and thought he was familiar with me. Maybe he finally noticed something on this day but he was really dumbfounded when my response to whatever he said to me was that I’m “partially paralyzed” on the left side. He couldn’t believe I had a stroke or that I had such physical disabilities as a result. I couldn’t grasp his disbelief for days…. How had he not noticed?
Kids don’t see disabilities?
I don’t like other people’s kids. I never have. Even as a kid I preferred older kids and people; not because they made me feel older but because they seemed to respect my silence more. There was no obligation to communicate in a way that entertained them. Older people don’t mind kids that are quiet, I learned, and it gave me an opportunity to observe without interference or ridicule. The kids in my neighborhood that my kids play with are not at all like I was growing up. These kids are annoying and inquisitive in a very loud way. I can’t stand it.
Not liking other people’s kids doesn’t keep me from socializing with the ugly turds, however; especially not when I’m outside with my kids and they come to play with them, too. I may not move around much when people are around me but I still move. One thing I do often with my youngest is draw with chalk on our stoop. He loves when I draw things for him, and so do the neighborhood kids. Usually, halfway through drawing something, I have to chuck the chalk aside and vacate the area before I’m known as the “bitch mom” because these kids really get on my nerves with their questions. So, I know these kids have seen me struggle to get up from the ground, seen me step on and off our one inch high “step” with caution, and seen me use Skas’s shoulder as a cane as I crossed the bumpy yard for one reason or another. Despite all of this, no child has ever acknowledged my useless left side.
When parenting brings you courage
I have a lot of anxiety about a lot of things when it comes to parenting– one of those things being other parents. I believe in children learning to cope and deal with their problems but every now and then, as a parent, you have to step in and protect your kids. That happened to me today. I’m not a very confrontational person but I am aggressive, especially in tone. I worry that I may say the wrong thing and parent’s may not want their kids associating with me, leaving my kid feeling left out because of me. I also worry that my stepping in might teach my kids how to avoid dealing with their own problems. But today, not even my anxiety was strong enough to stop me from stepping in.
Skas came in from playing with his friends and after some prying I found out he had 3 large bumps on his head because this kid hit him with a broken piece of a toy gun. Long story short, he came in so his “friend” wouldn’t see him cry. I told him it was good he walked away because A.) this “friend” doesn’t know he hurt him; and B.) he walked away instead of making it worse by fighting unnecessarily. I’m unsure if this was good advice but I felt like it was the best thing to say so he didn’t feel weak for not hitting back.
I then decided I had to speak to the parent. Some shite hit my kid in the head hard enough to leave 3 large bumps. I couldn’t let it slide. And, I had to show him I have his back and that yes, I will put on my brace and walk my miserable ass across our parking lot, and rat this kid out for being a douche. While I’m waiting for this kids dad to put on a shirt, his annoying little sister comes out and notices my cane. She asks what’s wrong and I just stare at her like there’s something wrong with her. I explain my left side is paralyzed and ask if she’s ever noticed before. She hasn’t.
I tell the dad how I normally wouldn’t intervene in my kids’ yard drama but felt like this was something worth discussing with him and explain how his son hit mine hard enough in the head to leave 3 large bumps.
As a parent, I would trust you to understand why I felt you should know how your son chose violence to handle a situation.
When parenting brings awareness
And that was it. What took me 10 minutes to contemplate how to approach and what to say, was over with in a matter of, what felt like, seconds. I stumbled and stuttered, I sweated and twisted my fingers nervously, but I stood up for my kid. For years I’ve worried about moments like this. How far will I let my anxiety and disability hold me back? What exactly am I willing to risk for the sake of hiding? Apparently, I’m not willing to risk the trust of my son. I’m not willing to risk his health or safety while outside either. And, apparently, I’ll instinctual-y confront other parents about their kids actions, something I worried more about since my stroke. It amazes me how little I considered my anxiety in that moment. It amazes me how little my left body hindered my steps to that apartment. Like, I did some actual parenting…and I totally owned and survived it.
On my way back to our apartment, cane in use and kids in tow, I thought about the little girl’s shock to see my disability. I thought about the maintenance guy, and the people and looks in between. How accustomed have I become to my left body, how much have I learned involuntarily to compensate for my physical losses? Why do people seem stunned to learn I can’t just jog down a flight of stairs? Do I not look or move as crookedly as I feel I do? I’m keenly aware of my disability; am I so concerned with how it appears that I’ve somehow managed to learn to reduce its prominence?