Today is my birthday, mom. Can you believe that your youngest child is 43 years old? I’m not even sure that I can believe it myself! Where did the years go? It doesn’t seem like I should be this age yet. Oh well, age is just a number.
Birthdays are the one day of the year that each of us gets to be celebrated and made to feel special. Even though I don’t know exactly what today holds in store for me, I’m sure I will probably receive cards, gifts, telephone calls and good wishes. On my birthday, I wish to honor you, mom, because of all the gifts you gave me through out my life. I thank you most of all for the gift of life, because I know that when you were carrying me was not an easy pregnancy.
First, thanks for always believing that I would survive and even thrive in spite of what the doctors had to say from the beginning. You see, I came into the world two months early and weighed just a little over two pounds. The doctors were so sure that I would not live that they didn’t place my mom on the maternity ward after my birth. Because of my premature birth and low birth weight, I remained hospitalized for quite some time, about two months, I think, before I was at a weight where I was able to be released.
It was around the time that I should have been trying to walk that my mom and dad suspected that something was wrong with me. They took me to various doctors and eventually to the National Institute of Health. It was there that the doctors determined that I had been born with a condition known as moderate Cerebral Palsy. What a devastating diagnosis that must have been for my parents to receive. I can only imagine.
Even after the diagnosis, my parents tried very hard to not treat me any differently from my other siblings. I’m sure, at times this must have been extremely difficult, but they did so nevertheless. If I did something that deserved punishment or a spanking then that is exactly what I would receive. Also, my parents wanted me to learn to do things for myself and not become too dependant on other people. When I became old enough, I helped out with things around the house like dishes, laundry and even cooking.
When I began school, I attended a school for people with different disabilities and was placed in special education classes. I attended there up until I was in the fifth grade. It was at this time that I was “mainstreamed” into the public school system and was no longer in special education classes.
In 1978, my dad retired from the United States Navy after serving for 28 years. We then moved to Orange, Texas, so that we could live closer to my mom’s parents. This was important to my mom because she was an only child and over the years we had moved a great deal because of my dad serving in the military. After being here for a short time and my dad getting a new job, it was now time for them to buy a house. They found the house they wanted and then it was time to get my sister, Karin, brother, Kolin, and I registered for school. Simple enough, right? Not so fast. The Orangefield Independent School District had never before had anyone in a wheelchair attend there before. They were not sure they could meet my needs because of certain issues.
I must say that Orangefield is a very small school district, so I can understand their concerns. The school was so small that many of the classes I would be taking would take place in an older Building which was known as the Alamo. The name of the building is a very accurate description of it. Also, the building was very old and therefore not accessible to someone in a wheelchair. The district wondered what to do if I had a class that was to be held upstairs on the second floor. Also, the district didn’t have a bus that was wheelchair accessible, so how would I get to and from school each day? Then there was the issue of how would I get across campus if a class was located elsewhere on the campus or how would I get to and from the lunch room?
My mom was forever my champion and always ready to stand up and fight on behalf of my rights. She knew just how hard I had worked to attend public school rather then be in special education classes. As a result, for every issue or concern the school district had my mom was able to offer them simple and workable solutions. I won’t go into what the exact solutions were, but the point is I was able to attend Orangefield because of my mom’s ability to provide the school district with reasonable and workable solutions to all issues. She had fought and won on my behalf. Thanks mom for always having been my biggest champion and defender of my rights!
Mom never stopped helping me reach for my goals and dreams in life. After I graduated from high school, my mom made it possible for me to attend the local community college. The public transportation service buses were old, unreliable and therefore always breaking down and weren’t reliably able to pick me up and get me to my classes. Without fail or complaint, mom would drive me to and from the campus whenever necessary, which was far more often than it should have been. She did this Monday through Friday come rain or shine. I can’t tell you how many times we both got soaking wet because it was raining while we were getting me in and out of the car! Mom would be soaking wet and have to change clothes when she got home and I’d be soaking wet and sitting in an air conditioned classroom. It took me almost 3 ½ years to earn an associate degree in accounting, because I wasn’t taking a full course load, but I finally did it! Yea! I was so proud of myself, but I think mom was even prouder of me then I was of myself.
I have always felt somewhat guilty, because I have never been able to put that degree to use. I tried diligently for some time upon graduation to seek employment, but I always found myself up against two insurmountable obstacles: the perspective employers wanted someone with either more actual work experience or more education. After years of hearing this, I finally quit trying to find traditional employment opportunities. That is why I love what I do now so very much because no one can tell me that I don’t have the skills needed to do it.
Just over four years ago, I finally moved into my own apartment and out on my own. Yes, it happened very late in my life, but better late than never! This was a huge step towards independence for me, but it was also quite an adjustment for my parents as well. It seemed harder for my dad to let go then it was for my mom to do so. Mom’s attitude seemed to be one of abosolute certainty that I would succeed at this just as I had all of life’s other challenges. While I knew without a doubt my dad loved and supported my efforts just as much as my mom, I knew the whole situation made him quite nervous. My dad wanted to try his best to ensure that every single possible situation that might arise could be addressed to help ensure my success. Of course, this couldn’t be done and I think this is what made him the most nervous about my living on my own. After all, it is a parent’s desire to protect their child as much as possible from life’s difficulties and challenges. Over the years, I have managed to show everyone that I’m doing great living on my own and thriving with my new found independence.
Yes, today I will celebrate my 43rd birthday, but since I wouldn’t be here if my mom had not given birth to me, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate and honor my mom on this day. Thanks mom for all you did through the years to help me become the self-confident and independent women I am today. I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t be who I am today without all you did to help ensure my success in whatever challenges life handed me along the way.
Mom, I hope that you are aware of all that has happened in my life since you passed away. I hope that you are enjoying watching everything unfold and that you know that you are a big part of all that I’m doing now. These letters to you are my way of sharing all that with you and also with others as well. Thanks for my life mom and for doing all you possibly could to help me become the best and most independent individual that I could possibly become! I only hope that you are proud of the women I am and the life I’ve made for myself.