My life had always gone exactly according to plan. I had never experienced the loss of a loved one, never had emotional or physical pain, never been touched by trauma or tragedy. I suppose I had never appreciated what I had until I lost it all.
Following my accident, the hardest thing for me to come to terms with was my loss of privacy and independence. I had to rebuild a new life in a new body. I still had exactly the same needs. I still needed to be hugged, touched and kissed, to feel attractive and to be loved. Most importantly, I still needed to be a mom to my son, Chad (now 12). I just needed some assistance in order to fulfill those needs.
Much later, I realized how vital my strong maternal instinct was to my survival – both physically and emotionally. God used my son to teach me many life lessons and coping mechanisms. Chad taught me how to dig deep within myself in order to be strong and brave, he taught me how to laugh at myself again, how to look at life without all of its complexities. Most importantly, he taught me to pick myself up and carry on with life and smile, smile, smile.
My idea of being the “perfect” mom was largely motivated by the physical acts that one does for a child. By nature, I am somewhat of a perfectionist and control freak. I have always been a painfully organized person who was never able to delegate very well. This was probably for fear of disappointment on my part. Everything had to be done my way. So being 100% dependent on other people now can be extremely frustrating but it has taught me to become more patient and tolerant, which I now realize are blessings.
Without Chad realizing it, his mere existence in my life pulled me out of the deepest, darkest emotional holes. When he looks at me with those expectant eyes, I am constantly reminded that to him I am just “Mom” and I need to get on with being his mom… to just get on with life.
I struggled for a long time to rebuild my self-confidence and self-esteem. I took on a new career as an inspirational speaker and I worked hard to regain my sense of self-worth. I realized how important it is to have a positive self-esteem in order to get through the many challenges that life may bring. I realized how important it is for me as a mom to build my child’s self-esteem. I constantly remind him how fortunate I am that out of all the little boys in the entire world, God gave me the most special one.
I do miss certain things like not being able to put my arms around him, and other people – a joy and privilege that most people take for granted. Fortunately, Chad is an extremely affectionate boy who, even at 12, is not too shy to wrap his arms around me and squeeze me tight.
Children are so resilient. They are extremely adaptable and incredibly unprejudiced. More importantly, each child is unique. Chad and I have our own way of expressing our love for one another. Another mom may wave, whistle or call her child’s name in order to get his attention. Chad and I simply make eye contact across the room. A wink, a pursing of the lips to blow a kiss and a radiant smile is all that is needed. No words can express a child’s look of contentment knowing that his mom is there to support him, or a mom’s look of pride as she watches her child.
From the time he was tiny, I taught him that there is no better “quick fix” than a mom’s kiss. Whenever I kissed him goodbye, I would always plant an extra kiss behind his ear. This was to appease him if he ever felt sad, insecure or got hurt while at school – he could secretly use this kiss to make himself feel better. It’s still a ritual with us, sometimes he still turns his head for his kiss. We also have a secret code which means “I love you”. He will happily shout out the code no matter who else is around.
My mindset had to go on a journey of complete transformation. I had to learn to look at life simply and positively, as any child would. I have a chin-operated, battery-powered wheelchair. Often when I fetch Chad from school, the children walk around my chair inspecting it. They’ll exclaim, “Cooooool” and “You are so lucky!” Amazing how children can put things into perspective, and I realize that I am so lucky. Most quadriplegics in this country have little or no proper care. I grew to realize that my wheelchair is my tool for mobility and freedom.
The complete openness and honesty in children is refreshing. Often adults will pretend not to notice me and they seldom make eye contact. A child on the other hand, will stop and blatantly stare while the panicked mother reprimands him to “Stop staring!” This is unfortunate as I feel that it teaches children that there are negative connotations to people living with disabilities. I believe that if we expose children to harsh realities in an open way, it will help them to deal with the challenges in their own lives. I usually smile at the child and try to engage in conversation. I have often been asked “What happened to you?” Sometimes they are patient enough to hear my answer, and then usually start with their own “war stories”! I have even been asked by a little boy to please get out of the chair so that he could have a ride. He struggled to understand why I could not do this. I love it!
In life the only thing that you have complete control over is your attitude. So, I decided it might as well be positive. I remember the first time I really laughed again after my accident. I was in my wheelchair, in public, talking to a really nice guy. Chad was clambering on and off my lap, and suddenly lifted my blouse as high as he could, and exclaimed “Mommy, boobies!” I could not get him to pull my blouse down. Needless to say the guy was not much in a rush to help me and we both ended up blushing and laughing our heads off.
I’m very proud that I live on my own in my own home – against the better judgment of most medical professionals! My strong will helped me to achieve the ultimate independence that my physical limitations would allow for. With the help, generosity and support of my family, friends and the Nelspruit community I am privileged enough to employ care assistants to take care of all my physical needs. No amount of money I could ever pay them could repay them for what they do for me. Although they are available 24/7, I remain firmly in control of my home and responsible for my own well-being. Chad never ever questions this either. He always asks me for permission to do anything, and still asks for my help. Interestingly, all of his friends do the same. I always respond by saying “Yes, sure my boy… just hold on a moment.” Then, quietly without them realizing it, I call a care assistant to help.
I remember one of my close friends telling me that her 5-year-old told her that he would like to come and live with me because at my house he wouldn’t get any smacks. We chuckled and I promptly told him that at my house he would get sent to the bathroom for “time-out” if he misbehaved. Having been brought up in an era when a smack on the buttocks was considered the only means to discipline a strong-willed child, I often worried about how I was going to discipline Chad. He is a feisty personality and I soon discovered a whole new world of talking, negotiating, explaining and communicating with my child. It’s important to make eye contact, and to listen to him.
It’s ironic that I had to break my neck for the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom and the joy of spending quality time with my son. However, I have learned the importance of counting my blessings. I strive to live a full, meaningful life and to be the best mom I can possibly be to my son.