To him, I am simply just “Mom” and he expects me to be just that. It’s probably been my saving grace all along.
When he started school, a psychologist recommended that I stay away so that he wouldn’t feel different to his classmates. I felt so hurt.
By then, I knew that my disability wasn’t going to miraculously disappear. I could choose to hang my head in shame and give up or lift my head high and look the world in the eye.
Over time I learnt that disabilities evoke fears and insecurities in those not challenged with them. Facing any type of disability is far too traumatic for most adults to comprehend.
Children, on the other hand, have the most remarkable natural tolerance and ability to accept differences. They are not are not born prejudiced. Sadly they learn to discriminate by mimicking the adults in their world.
Luckily I’m stubborn. I didn’t listen to the psychologist. It turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.
I have always been very involved in Chad’s life so his schoolmates are used to seeing me around. Chad and his friends have grown up with me in their lives just like any other Mom.
When he was in the second grade, he changed schools. In the first week he told me that some of the kids were asking him questions about me. It broke my heart.
I asked him if he would like me to speak to the children.
He said: Yes please, Mom!
I made arrangements with the school and spoke to all the juniors one morning, explaining to them exactly what had happened to me and why I was in a wheelchair.
Then, I invited them to ask me questions, which they did. Many. I answered every single one, honestly.
I told them that if they saw me around the school, they were welcome to come and ask me anything, any time.
After that, if any of the kids asked Chad anything about me, his standard answer was: I don’t know, ask my Mom.
No child should ever have to face questions like: How does your Mom pee?
The most difficult thing that he probably has to deal with is questions about me.
Chad has never complained of kids being mean to him because of my disability.
Thankfully my son has a strong character with a keen sense of who he is which definitely helps.
He is presently at boarding school. When I do go to watch him play cricket or rugby, he happily introduces me to his new friends.
People often make unfounded assumptions that he has had a really hard life because of my physical circumstances. That has come to light many times over the years.
Just recently my dad overheard a conversation between one of Chad’s teammates and his father. Chad walked past the grandstand where they were all waiting for the first team game to begin.
Teammate: Dad that’s the guy I’ve been telling you about, Chad Todd.
Dad: He looks a bit small to be playing rugby.
(Chad is quite a bit shorter than most of his teammates yet still quite stocky.)
Teammate: Dad that guy is as strong as an ox. He grew up hard. His Mom is in a wheelchair and he had to push her everywhere.
When the story was relayed back to me, I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Chad has never had to push me anywhere. I’ve always had a power chair. Nobody pushes me anywhere.
The truth is that Chad grew up sitting on my lap, getting a free ride, probably the envy of every other child who was dragged off to the shops by their mothers and had to walk everywhere.
He has never been expected to take any responsibility for my care, in any way. Ever. I’ve been particularly conscious of that, so much so that I seldom ask him to do anything for me.
If anything, he has probably grown up a little spoilt, having my personal care assistants constantly at his beck and call.
Life these days is not easy for many children. Some have to deal with parents who abuse drugs and alcohol or, even worse, abuse them physically and emotionally.
In South Africa, we are all too aware of the dire circumstances of many of our children as a result of crime, poverty and HIV AIDS. There are so many different scenarios worldwide of children living lives of misery and hell.
Chad has the love, care and support of both his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. What more could a kid want?
For him, for us, this is our normal.
He is almost 16, an age where most teenagers don’t want much to do with their parents. On Mother’s Day earlier this month he wrote the following as his status for all to see:
My mom might be different to most mothers, but those differences make her better than all the other mothers. Love you.
I think that says it all.
Chad Ross Todd I love you with all my heart and I am so proud to be your mom.