It has been an emotional week. On Wednesday, I went to my 4-year-old daughter’s preschool to talk to three of the classrooms about my disability. I’ve done this before when my son was in preschool. It went pretty well – my daughter accompanied me to each class, including hers. We read “We Can Go Anywhere: My Adventures in Daddy’s Chair” and “Mama Zooms,” and answered questions from the kids. My daughter was engaged and agreed happily when I asked if she rode on her mommy’s wheelchair like the kids in the books.
The kids’ questions were typical… “How do you drive? Can you go up stairs?” Some of them I found amusing – like “How do you brush your teeth?” and “How do you eat?” I have no legs and one arm – but even those with two arms normally do those tasks with one hand. Some of the kids wanted to see my “little arm,” which is a stump (above elbow); I was wearing a sweater, and one the one hand I did not want to feel like an exhibitionist or cultivate voyeurism, but I also wanted them to know I’m not ashamed of my stump. I ended up rolling up my sleeve and showing it to the last class. Impulsively, I asked “isn’t it cute?” The kids agreed. Overall, it felt successful – the kids said hello to me much more comfortably during the last couple pick-ups after I visited their classes (wearing tank tops nonetheless). However, I felt emotionally exhausted after talking to three classes. I don’t know how my daughter felt, other than excited to have me visit her school in the middle of the day. The emotional labor of these tasks is rarely mentioned, but I was tired.
Today I went on a field trip with my 7-year-old son’s class to a science museum. As a professional working mother, the mommy guilt is real. I feel like I’m never *there* for these things. Why must the holiday parties be at 3 PM? I managed to swing this one, though. We started out having lunch on a playground before the museum tour. Just after we took the first graders to take a bathroom break before entering the museum, we had them line up on the sidewalk. Another class from another school went by, ahead of us to enter the museum. I felt like a sideshow – more than usual. The children always gawk and stare at my body – so different from theirs – and they can’t help but look. Most of them smile back or wave when I engage them. I get it; I look like no one they’ve ever seen before. The whispers, the comments about being broken – I greet them each with a friendly smile. One girl walked by and looking at my stump said, “Ew, that is creepy!” I couldn’t help but feel sad… and then angry. Not at her – she is simply an innocent child. But angry at the society that she has been raised in – the society that portrays us as disfigured and therefore scary and evil. It was a good day, though. I took a lot of pictures of my son and his classmates and started to feel like the kids at the elementary school are either getting used to me or maturing enough to tolerate differences – or both.
Last weekend, we celebrated the first birthday of my niece’s baby daughter. It was a big celebration – all the bells and whistles we have all put on for our firstborn – even though they will never remember and it’s really for the adults. I was struck by how many people were there – how many people adore this little girl and her young parents. It felt good to watch my niece being the wonderful mother she has become. Only a few summers ago she babysat my baby, who is not a baby anymore. My husband loves to hold this baby – she is absolutely adorable. When they hand her to me, though, I can’t hold her. At first I thought it was my sadness, knowing I’m done having babies, and that even though I feel an incredible urge to have another baby, it is not the right choice for our family. It’s not that, though. Not anymore. This little baby girl has only ever been held by nondisabled people. When I take her into my one arm, she feels unbalanced. She doesn’t cling to me the way my own two babies did. It makes perfect sense. My children have never known anything but a disabled mother. From the very beginning, they adapted to me even in the tiniest ways, that I never noticed. Even now, my daughter points out what seems odd to her – “that Mommy has LEGS!” When I see myself through their eyes, I’m just perfect. Perfect.