A New Perspective by Jane Suter, Illustration by Colleen JohnsonWhen I was in fifth grade we studied Helen Keller. As part of this unit my teacher blindfolded us, led us outside, and allowed us to roam at our peril. My classmates and I bumped into trees, fell in bushes, tripped over curbs, and generally stumbled around like toddlers. But her lesson left me with no true appreciation of what it is to be blind. How could it? I mean seriously, one hour and a tree trunk indent on my forehead does not compassion make.

Flash forward to March 2011. A slip in my driveway and I am now confined to a wheelchair until June. Boy has my perspective changed. Literally! I am now zipper height with most every person on the planet. Let’s face it: I’m talking to pants here! So I tilt my head back and look way up when I want to chat with someone. But all I can focus on is the underside of their chin and right up their noses. How will I ever endure this?

The Harsh Reality

Aside from the ick angle, being crippled has also made me feel less like a mother and more like a child. Even making PBJs is rough for me. So recently I did what any person would do in a similar predicament: I locked myself in the bathroom and had a two-hour pity party for myself. When I finally emerged, I resolved to stay positive. What choice did I have? And so, a few more weeks passed. You won’t believe what I’ve learned so far:

  • Turns out my kids can do way more than I ever imagined they could. You should see them. They take out the trash and recycling, do the dishes, feed the dog, and make themselves lunch and breakfast. And to think I was doing all of these things for them a month ago! Maybe I’ll teach them how to fold laundry tomorrow.
  • I discovered my home, from hip-level down, is absolutely disgusting! Give it a try. Sit on a chair and scoot around your own house. See all that grime? Horrifying, isn’t it?
  • Pain medication and second grade homework do not mix. I can barely do this fancy math when I’m alert and in my right mind. Toss in a few Percocets and it all looks like hieroglyphics to me. Therefore, I relegated my husband to this mind-numbing, MENSA-worthy calculating. Thank goodness the bald man is great with numbers.
  • My kids are taking advantage of my gimp status…and that’s OK. The jig was up when my “knee scooter” arrived. This new device is really easy to navigate, so now I can get around the house a lot quicker. It also affords me access to the boys’ bedrooms, which are, for the record, completely trashed! With the Sheriff on medical leave, the outlaws took over. In a flash of insanity I decided to ignore the mess and let them be slobs for a while. I’ll go back to being the fun-governor soon enough.
  • Mom-friends who come over to help are a billion times better than single BFF’s. In a nutshell: child-bearers get it. While a single friend may bring you some wonderfully trashy magazines and a delicious bottle of wine, a mom-friend will walk in the door and immediately start vacuuming. They will also dust, clean your bathroom, cook you lunch, and feed your children—all without asking!! God bless my mom-friends.

I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more from this whole, hobbling experience. And, because I have an end in sight, I will probably still have little idea of what it is to be truly handicapped. I will say to the parents who live every day with a physical challenge, “You rawk!” And to the caregivers out there, “You are amazing!” I think my old friend, Helen Keller, put it best when she wrote: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Thank you, Helen, for making this grown-up fifth grader finally see.

Jane Suter is one funny mom. To share some of your own parenting experiences with Jane, write to her at janesuter@hotmail.com. Illustration by Colleen Johnson.