Love lessons

Amy Blanchard lives in Southern New Hampshire in the USA with her husband and daughter Ella. Amy enjoys writing and has written several articles about her experience as a disabled mother. She also writes weekly about her journey into motherhood, as well as her daily experiences raising her daughter in her blog ‘Spina Bifida Moms’.

Started in April 2005, Amy’s blog has already attracted much attention. She is excited about writing her story, reaching and encouraging other women with spina bifida to realise their dreams of parenthood.

Visit her blog at http://spinabifidamoms.blogspot.com

My name is Amy Blanchard. I am a 31-year-old woman living with spina bifida. I wear short leg plastic braces and use a walking stick to help me get around faster and with better stability.

This being said, I am also pretty independent, able to try almost anything I like. I’ve skied, travelled, attempted roller-skating and gone horseback riding. Yet two of the best experiences I’ve ever had were getting married to the man I love and delivering our beautiful, healthy daughter into our lives.

Life lessons

As the mother of a toddler, I realise the awesome responsibility I have of teaching her about life and the world we live in. Along with the basics of letters, numbers, colours and potty training, there are the bigger lessons to tackle, including understanding the consequences of one’s actions, good manners and politeness.

But beyond all this, my daughter has already learned a whole different set of life lessons – lessons not typically mastered by children her age. She has learned lessons in helpfulness, independence, patience and compassion simply as a result of my own physical disability.

As soon as Ella could walk steadily and communicate basic language, I had her start to help with simple household chores. To this day, she happily helps me put away the plastic dinnerware and food containers from the dishwasher. And when she and I began going on short car trips together, I told her that I needed her to be helpful by not fussing, and letting me get her safely into her car seat. Now she often goes straight to the car, and climbs right into her seat. She even asks to click her car seat buckle herself. "I want to do it by myself" is something my husband and I hear all the time.

Being in tune

Speaking of doing things herself, Ella has acquired a great sense of independence for a toddler her age. Her father is healthy and active, often playing ‘chase me’ with her as they run around our house. But I am not able to play so actively with her. I have never been able to carry her and I cannot run or skip. When she and I are together at home, Ella often entertains herself by playing with her blocks, drawing or ‘reading’ a book. Perhaps she has chosen these particular games because she knows they are activities that I can play too. Yet she is often very happy to play them on her own. I am pleased to see she is just as content to spend some quiet time playing by herself or asking me to read her a favourite book as she is to run around and dance with her father.

Along with playing quietly, Ella also understands (usually) that she needs to behave more calmly when she’s with me. On one particular occasion our babysitter dropped Ella off at our work so that the three of us could go home together from there (my husband and I work in the same office). They had arrived a bit early and, wanting to show her off to all my friends, I took Ella’s hand to lead her around the building. Ella didn’t dance around crazily or try to squirm out of my grasp to run ahead. She simply walked along with me at my slower pace. One of my co-workers commented on how impressed she was by Ella’s patience and understanding of what I needed from her. While a typical two-year-old would be practising her silly walks and running down the corridors, my daughter intuitively understood to slow down, keeping in time with me.

Learning to love

My slower, clumsy nature has given Ella ample opportunity to learn about compassion. Not only does she walk calmly with me when I need her to, but she also often ‘looks after’ me, telling me to "be careful, mommy" when she sees my feet slip out from under me. So, while I’d rather not trip and fall so much, I am grateful that my daughter is at least learning to be a compassionate and caring person from my less than graceful experiences.

Countless other examples race through my mind of the different ways she and I manage life together and the lessons she has taken from them. I typically comforted her infant cries more successfully than anyone else as we rocked together gently on the sofa. Later, she learned to sit comfortably on my lap so we could safely scoot downstairs together. And now, when the two of us go out together, she knows she must wear her ‘walkies’ (a child safety tether) so that I can keep a better hold on her.

Yes, she has learned a lot. And so have I. In fact, it hit me recently just how well she understands, and accepts, my limitations. I had gone to get her from her crib the other day when I heard her start to call. As I rounded the corner to enter her room, she very plainly stated "No, I want daddy, not mommy. I want ‘up’ with daddy". She knows that if she comes with me she has to walk – but in this instance she wanted to be carried downstairs. That meant waiting patiently three minutes more until her father was able to come and get her. And that’s exactly what she did.

I am very proud of Ella. She is a joy to both my husband and myself and we are truly amazed to see what her big imagination and great curiosity will come up with every day. But above all, I am proud to see her already developing into a kind and caring individual who looks upon people with loving eyes. Perhaps this lesson – learning to love people unconditionally – is the best learned of all. Ella doesn’t care that I limp or wear ‘silly’ braces on my legs. To her I am her mother, plain and simple. And all that matters is the love we share.

Amy Blanchard

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 51, Summer 2005.

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