Once we arrived at the hotel at about noon we went to check in. Right away, I noticed the front desk woman staring at my Mom’s right hand, but I ignored it. She then asked how many keys we wanted and I replied two. My Mom interjected and said, “Oh, the room is ready? That is wonderful!” The woman first looked at my Mom in a patronizing way– as though she thought she was superior to her. She then replied, “Obviously, that is why I asked how many keys you wanted.” She was talking down to my Mom as if she thought she was stupid. I was so angry inside, but I suppressed it.
I realized that this anger stems from seeing my Mom being treated differently than I am treated numerous times. I wish people would not assume at first glance that my Mom has a mental impairment just because she has cerebral palsy and looks different on the outside.
As a child, other kids would ask me why my Mom only has one functional hand. When they would first ask, I would shy away because I didn’t know how to answer the question. One example was Girls Night Out at my elementary school. All the other mothers joined in on various games and activities. Then it came time to play basketball and my Mom joined the game. She was able to play with one hand. I was nervous that everyone would stare at her and sure enough as soon as she joined in everyone began to stare. One of the kids even asked me, “Why does your mom only have one hand?” I got nervous and did not know how to answer the question, so I just walked away.
However, as I got older I realized that the best way to manage the reactions of strangers to my Mother’s Cerebral Palsy was to educate them. I therefore began to encourage my peers to ask questions and I was fully prepared to answer anything. I would get the chance to explain to them that although it is neurological disorder my Mother does not have any mental impairments. In addition, I would proudly share her own personal story– how despite setbacks she was able to accomplish more than many people. I couldn’t wait to quash their pity with her reality of success. I would proceed to tell them how she got her masters in childhood education and worked as a teacher for over 25 years. To my delight, I noticed that they were engaged and genuinely amazed by my Mother’s story.
It was in that moment I realized how my role in supporting her had nothing to do with people’s perceived notions of what was the matter, and instead being given the opportunity to provide insight why our lives felt so right. The experience of having a parent with Cerebral Palsy has impacted me in such an important and positive way, I am even considering eventually starting an organization whose mission would be to educate people about Cerebral Palsy.
While I am not so naïve to think that the next time my Mom and I travel together people we meet might treat her condescendingly, I’ve come to learn that what is most important is how proud I am to be my Mother’s daughter, and how comfortable she is just being herself. There is a bit of irony in that sense that as I walk alongside my Mom, people we encounter can’t seem to perceive her as independent and can’t help but feel sorry for her. However, in reality, she is my role model and the strongest and admirable person I know. People’s assumptions about her are often mistaken.
Not only is my Mom smart—but also wise enough to show me the importance of not worrying about what others think anyway.