Growing up with a disability can be challenging, this is true. But one thing I knew for sure is that I had the most fierce protector anyone could ever have and this protector helped me rise above those challenges with an innate fighting spirit. That protector with superhero strength was my mother.
My mother fought quite often for my equal rights at school. For example, when the teachers, who were extremely overprotective, appointed other children to run bases for me during a softball game, my mother expressed her opinion to the principal that everyone should have the right to participate in class wide games, even little girls with heavy leg braces. Because she advocated for me, I never had to sit on the sidelines as a spectator. I became a true participant, even though I was as slow as a turtle. My mother’s advocacy taught me perseverance. That perseverance gave me the courage to play little league baseball. Being the only girl on the team I knew I had to be good or else. And I was. I learned to hit with one hand and to catch the ball by putting the glove on my left hand and then quickly sliding the glove off and throwing the ball with the same left hand. Years later I wrote a letter to Jim Abbott, a great baseball player who played for the New York Yankees, caught the ball with one hand and used his glove just as I had. He wrote back, pleased that my second grade class was studying about his life. Even though we were from different worlds, I felt a kinship with him. Someone else played baseball like I did.
Part of my spirit faded when, many times I heard the word “crip”, my nickname on the playground. It seemed that being a girl and being a girl with a disability was the worst part of my life. It didn’t matter that I conquered the challenge of bike riding. It didn’t matter that I learned to throw and catch a baseball. It only mattered that I was female and defective.
It is interesting how these attitudes shaped me into the person I am today. My mother instilled in me a compassionate spirit and a desire to change the lives of others along with a strong sense of independence and the stubbornness to fight for equality. Even today I find it amazing that my mother’s words motivated me to follow my dreams and to survive my peers taunting cruel words with superhero strength. My goal was, above all, to prove how wrong they were about me.
My mother’s desire for me to be the best I could be was the focus of much of her life. Three afternoons each week, after working in a sewing factory, my mother drove me to my physical therapy appointments fifty miles from our home. Back then I thought she was mean to make me endure painful physical therapy sessions.
The summer my mother drove me to a residential summer camp that focused on activities to help me become more independent was my worst childhood memory. I remember clinging to her legs at the entrance while she gently removed my hands. I stood with the camp counselor watching her drive away, tears streaming down my face. In my eight-year-old mind I felt abandoned and scared. However, it was there I learned to become independent and with extensive physical and occupational therapy, gained much better control of my muscles. I also learned how to enact and socialize with others from different backgrounds, creating a strong sense of tolerance. As the years have passed I’ve come to realize that my amazing protector knew what I needed, even when I didn’t. Until next time…