Summer vacation has arrived! With minimal time to catch my breath over the last few weeks of school, I was definitely ready for a little break in the schedule. I’ve always loved summer. I have forever been a big fan of the long days, warm nights and relaxed attitude towards the everyday that comes with the season. But there is now a sense of dread intertwined with the excitement that I feel as summer approaches.
Grief has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. It finds you even when you should be happy; it finds you even when you should be celebrating.
It was announced this week that I have been named this year’s Vancouver Mom Top Blogger! Needless to say, it was a very exciting – albeit overwhelming – Monday for me. Actually, saying I was overwhelmed with the response to the news and all of the comments and messages would be a serious understatement. Insecurity tends to take over me when the spotlight shines in my direction. Saying “thank-you” feels overdone and insufficient but I find myself unable to come up with anything more creative and hope beyond hope that nobody thinks I am inconsiderate or aloof. I spent the day second-guessing my responses while also trying to give myself space to feel proud of the accomplishment. By the time the kids were in bed and I had a moment to reflect, I was left with a feeling I couldn’t quite name. But I’ve got it now. The feeling was guilt.
I went to the grocery store today – thrilling, I know. But I don’t go often. It usually either falls on my husband or we order online for pick-up or delivery. But the dog was out of food this morning and we didn’t have anything planned for dinner, so I figured I could make a quick stop. It may sound silly but grocery shopping makes me anxious. Between the high shelves, navigating carts and getting everything back to my car, I prefer the online method of grocery shopping much more. However, this trip would be easy. We only needed six things of which only one I expected to be too high (damn dog food). No need for a cart – I would just use a basket – and I could even do self-checkout. It would be simple; It should have been simple.
“He’s her lobster”. If you’re a Friends fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you aren’t a Friends fan, well, you should be. But, surprise! Phoebe was wrong and lobsters don’t actually mate for life. What do mate for life? Beavers, penguins and lovebirds (obviously) just to name a few. As humans, we don’t always find ourselves on this list but sometimes we connect with another person who takes the fear out of making a lifelong commitment. You survive together when it’s harder than you ever imagined and you thrive together when life is good. Navigating my spinal cord injury (SCI) while keeping our marriage together has had its challenges, but I never once truly doubted if we would last. He is my lobster penguin.
You and me, we are different. In so many ways, we are different. That in itself is not unique to our situation. From Starbucks orders to philosophies on life and everything in-between, finding a fellow female who checks off all the same boxes that you do would be an impossible task. Even so, there is something about our contrasting physical abilities that seems to set apart my mom life from yours. Early on in my injury that rift between your motherhood and mine felt as wide as an ocean. But as time progressed, I realized that rift–and our differences–is actually minor and insignificant. I think that as human beings, and as mothers, we are more alike than you may realize.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was never destined to be a world class athlete. I wanted to run at a reasonable pace around my neighborhood, keep up in a backyard soccer game, hike a few local trails with friends and buy an inexpensive bike from Wal-Mart to join in on those family rides around the block. Maybe I’d attempt some home workouts now and then. Maybe we would have all tried skiing together eventually. The point is, I liked being active and outdoors as long as it was relaxed and simple. I never did much that required a lot of equipment; I was happy with a pair of good runners and a yoga mat. But then there was that fall – and this spinal cord injury – and getting reasonably active got unreasonably complicated.
What is strength? In the midst of this women’s empowerment wave we are riding, how do we define what it means to be a strong woman? We strive to be them, we strive to raise them and we strive to surround ourselves with them. But what is it that makes them? The definitions are evasive and become skewed by perception and tainted by experience. Strength is a very personal battle. It is having the persistence to go after the things in life that you deem important. It is about knowing yourself and your boundaries. It is about prioritizing your life so that it feels authentic to you. And because everyone has their own idea of what life is all about and what comes easily to one person may require a lot of effort from another, we end up with personal beliefs on what it means to have strength.
Raising our children to be accepting of all types of people has always been a top priority for me and my husband but it was never a personal battle until after my injury. As two young, Caucasian, able-bodied, straight people we were never in an obvious minority. We never felt singled out for attributes we had no control over and we blended in to our community without effort. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself in a wheelchair and we didn’t blend in as easily as we had in the past. With stares coming from numerous directions, our determination to raise accepting children only increased. But how? How do you integrate something into their little lives if it isn’t something you see very often? How do you teach something without pointing it out and bringing attention to it? Then my children – and every child I’ve met since my accident -taught me a thing or two about acceptance.
Have you ever been unable to get to your car because the elevator that brought you up from the parkade is now out of service? Have you ever gone out with your friends or family just to be left at the bottom of a staircase while they figure out how to get you into the building? Have you ever missed out on an event because there wasn’t a bathroom you could use? These are just a few of the too-many-to-count scenarios that come up when you use a wheelchair. Being able to move freely around this world with minimal planning or forethought was something I most definitely took for granted before my injury. I had a very limited understanding of what wheelchair accessibility was all about. I have since been given a crash course on the topic and it is not just about the absence of stairs. No, it is most definitely so much more than stairs.
I’m holding a grudge against Easter and I’m trying to decide if it is justified or dramatic. Spoiler alert: writing this helped me figure it out. Everyone always says that the firsts will be hard when dealing with grief – especially holidays and traditions. And that first year was definitely quite brutal. Every holiday, birthday and season brought about change in how I could partake in the celebrations and events that have always been highlights in my year. But Easter was significant. Easter came just a couple of weeks after my accident and ‘different’ doesn’t really even begin to describe how that first holiday post-injury went down. And even though this last Sunday was the third Easter since my accident I still had a really hard time planning and preparing for it. I still struggle to find the holiday spirit that, in the past, came so easily.