Sunday, July 16, 2006

Reflections On A Happy Childhood

I'm happy to know I have a fair amount of regular readers here. Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping in!

Some of you have even emailed me, telling me a little about yourselves and your families. Some are disabled moms, some of you are moms to disabled kids, and some of you are abled bodied moms with healthy, able bodied kids. No matter what your life holds for you - I love you all and really enjoy hearing from you.

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked in these emails, it seems, is, What was it like for you as a disabled child? Did I have trouble making friends, did I feel "different", did I get teased a lot? People want to know.

So, I thought I'd take today to talk a little about my childhood.

Basically, I had a fine, happy childhood. I don't remember feeling sorry for myself about my disability. It's not like I had something and it was taken away from me. I never had certain abilities in the first place - it was just my life and that's it. No big deal.

I was (and still am) pretty shy, though. I had a best friend and some other peripheral friends in elementary school. I always had fun with them and we played and laughed just like normal kids. I'm sure they were confused or maybe even somewhat scared of my differences when they first met me, but as soon as they got to know me, my disability almost disappeared and I became "just Amy". In fact, I've heard my friends say just that to me - once they got to know me, they hardly noticed my limp or braces at all. My disability became unimportant. Or, more accurately, a non-issue.

I did have to have several operations as a child. Mostly my parents tried to schedule these during the summer so I wouldn't miss too much school. But I clearly remember all the times I did have to go to school in a wheelchair after one surgery or another (as opposed to my normal "thing" of walking around in my braces). Instead of being weirded out by my new mobility ways, I had classmates clamouring around me to be my special helper for the day - to push me around, take me in the elevators, and get me things I needed. I loved this too, because it gave me free range to pick the boy I was currently crushing on to be my helper. Cool!

If ever I was teased by other kids, I really don't remember it having anything to do with my disability. The clothes I wore or the way I wore my hair or whatnot, yes. But never my disability. I suppose it was just innately understood that that's just not a subject to touch upon. Either that or, since I grew up with most of these kids since kindergarten, they all had blinders on after awhile to my physical differences.

My family moved the summer before I went into 5th grade. School did become a bit more worrisome for me, what with my shyness and my physical differences. But, again, I ended up doing just fine. I made friends with a small group of classmates. And those who chose to tease me teased about random, everyday pre-teen type stuff - dress, interests, personality and so on - not my disability.

For high school I went to a small, all-girls private school. A couple of my older brothers had gone to the public high school and advised that it was just too big for me. I'd never make it to classes on time without getting special permission to leave the previous class early (and this was something I definitely didn't want. No special treatment for me, thank you very much!).

But, because of the all-girl environment combined with my shyness, I didn't date much. I had neither the access to socializing with boys nor the personality to seek out my own social events. In fact, I didn't have my first boyfriend until the tail end of my senior year.

I wanted to go to my prom, remembered a boy friend I had in 5th and 6th grade (but hadn't seen since because we went off to different schools), and tracked him down. We ended up going to each other's proms together and dating for, I think, a little more than a year. So, as you can see, I did have to come out of my shell a little bit to get the results I hoped for there - I was definitely the pursuer.

When I met my husband, it was so refreshing to me that the roles were actually reversed. He definitely pursued me - and, boy, am I glad he did! I guess it just goes to show that, to teenaged boys (and girls) image definitely matters. You could be the nicest, coolest person ever, but teenagers won't give each other a chance unless you "look" the part. It's not until adulthood that relationships can form more definitely out of similiar interests, complimentary personalities and belief systems. (uuuhhhh, could I have said "definitely" any more times? "Definitely" not!)

So, that's my story. My childhood, to me, was normal. My brothers took care of me, teased me, and helped me out just as much or as little as any siblings anywhere do for each other. My parents always gave me the opportunity to try anything I was interested in - from rollerskating to skiing to swimming and more. If I wanted to give it a shot, then I got the chance. I may not have always succeeded (case in point - the rollerskating. Yeah, not so much....). But at least I got the chance. And for that, I am forever grateful.

I'm also thankful that I was raised to not think of myself as different from others. This allowed me to not make a big deal out of my disability, to answer any questions about my spina bifida with open, honest, straight-forward answers, and to just go on living and being happy. Because I didn't make a big deal out of it, the people around me also were able to quickly move past the physical differences between us and treat me like a normal person.

Because, you know, I am. I'm just me. This is my life.

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