All parents have days that are harder than others, and times when we do or say things we later regret. And kids have accidents – they fall learning to walk, they don’t make it to the potty, and they never think about safety first. As a disabled mom, I think about safety perhaps even more than other parents, who are in general a vigilant bunch. Some parenting tasks are particularly tricky and require me to be extra cautious or seek assistance. A great example is bathing. It’s challenging to get down to the tub level, reach in and wash the kiddos whilst keeping them safe from slipping or falling. When my babies were infants, I did not feel comfortable giving them a bath by myself. Now that they’re getting bigger, it’s much easier. At least I don’t have to worry about supporting their heads plus all the other bath tasks! This summer, we’re getting more confident yet acknowledging my limitations with the kids in the pool. They can’t get enough swimming!
Every time we’ve had a close call or an accident, I’ve felt terrible. My daughter slipped in the tub and her face went under the water, terrifying her. I pulled her out instantly and no harm was done, but it was traumatic for mom and baby alike. When my son was 18 months old, he was toddling around holding a sippy cup when he slipped and fell, knocking out his front tooth! I was devastated. Even though his dad and I were both nearby, we couldn’t prevent his fall. It was chaos – this occurred just two hours before the scheduled closing on our first house (naturally). We put the tooth in milk and called the doctor and dentist. Within 10 minutes my son was acting like nothing had ever happened! His dad and I were still shaking with distress. Turns out, a lot of little kids bust out a front tooth. Apparently the roots on baby teeth are very short and if they hit it at the right angle, they can pop out pretty easily. And dentists don’t exactly re-implant baby teeth in the same way they might with an adult tooth. For a good while, I was upset that he would be missing one of his front teeth, which I thought would look ridiculous for a toddler. He ended up looking as cute as ever (people hardly notice), and more importantly his health was not adversely affected at all. Still, I cringed when a family member assumed the fall happened because of the fact that I am in a wheelchair.
So the other week when our family faced another accident, I felt sensitive. Again, we were in a rush. I had taken only a couple hours off work to take my adapted vehicle in for repair, and my husband drove another vehicle so that we could leave the van there. We had both kids with us, and we were quickly attempting to transfer over the car seats to the other vehicle in the repair garage. My husband was trying to hand me something and I reached out, at at the very same moment my 16-month-old daughter decided to abruptly arch her back and fling herself backward, launching out of my arm and head-first onto the concrete floor. It felt like slow motion. I could see her falling but I couldn’t stop her. I screamed. She hit the floor, then she screamed. I will never forget the sound of CRACK, her head hitting the floor as I envisioned her tiny skill shattering. My husband scooped her up immediately. We loaded her up and headed to the medical clinic, watching her for signs of acute brain injury the whole way.
There were none. She calmed down. She had a bump on her head. The pediatrician thoroughly examined her and told us what signs and symptoms to watch for over the remainder of the day. I cried. I was so grateful she was okay, and so relieved that she was not badly harmed. And at the same time I was scared – would people think I dropped her because of my disability? Would I be blamed? Would the medical providers question my fitness as a parent? My husband reassured me that it could have happened to anyone. He hugged me and told me it wasn’t my fault, that I’m a good mother. He blamed himself for trying to hand me something while I was holding the baby. I reassured him it was not his fault, either. The pediatrician and the nurse were great. Luckily they know us at the clinic. They know our family and how we take care of our kids.
But, the reality for any disabled parent is that you will be scrutinized. And your abilities doubted. I know my privilege as a white, upper middle class, highly educated, married woman with an able bodied husband insulates me from a lot of the questioning and doubting. But the fear is still there. I’ve heard way too many horror stories of disabled parents having the authorities called on them, and even having their children removed from their custody. It’s terrifying.
What I’ve learned from these incidents is that accidents happen to every parent, disabled or not. I’ve also learned that accidents are most likely to happen when I’m rushed and in a hurry. So my take-home lesson: slow down, mama. Yes, work is calling and husband is stressing, and we’re probably late. But being safe is WAY more important than being on time. Work can wait. So slow down. Go easy on yourself. You’re doing the best that you can.