Real Life Stories from a Disabled Mom: Do you like me yes or no?

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on October 18, 2019 # Relationships, Lifestyle

by contributing writer Kieran Kern

Whether I’m wading through some serious mulch at playgrounds, or parallel parking my scooter next to an adult occupying a child-sized-seat at a library or school function, this question always whispers in my brain. Even now after almost five years of my oldest being in some kind of educational setting, the nervous knot takes over my stomach before I meet her friends’ parents.

The ticker tape of thoughts traveling across my brain include:

Are they

  • Warm, Friendly & a little Sarcastic (That’s the dream)
  • Surprised by the scooter
  • Rocking the Pity Vibe/ Touting My husband as a hero
  • Inspired by my ability to exist in the outside world

But then with a deep yoga-inspired inhale, I remind myself that their deep Kieran-related-thoughts (if any realistically) will be a mystery unless they share them. At this point, I find a mirror, and under the guise of applying last-minute-lipstick, I give myself a little pep talk or affirmation. Anything from “Boss up” and “Be Fabulous” to a very quick “You’ve got this!” I flip my hair, raise my eyebrows and give myself a winning smile. This has happened in bathrooms, car mirrors, store windows, and the ubiquitous selfie mode on my phone.

Wheeling into school events from parties to parents’ nights can tap into your positive and negative memories. Take stock of your own school experience. Keep the good moments and address the bad ones. Write them down, tear them up, share them, do whatever you need to do in order to be at peace with them. So that you can fully participate in the school environment. My school experiences ran the gamut from awesome to awful. I always felt like I was in the way but didn’t want that self-consciousness to prohibit me from actively participating in my girls’ school lives. I gave a speech about my experience and made peace with it. This peace relieved any guilt I may have had about asking for accommodations to be comfortable and engage in events. This means in almost any situation I can show up for my daughter and continue to forge that connection with the other parents.

To keep things as seamless as possible, I introduce myself, and my mobility needs ahead of time. If I’m walking into a classroom or gym to stay, I need a grown up sized chair. With my wheels, I need a parking spot and a clear or easily clearable path. Having access neither distracts nor detracts from anyone else’s experience. Indeed, it puts most people at ease.

Some situations can’t be curated. On the first day of school this year, Beast and I crept slowly through a herd of humanity. A snail would have lapped me in a race. But my glacial pace navigating through a flow of sandaled feet was accompanied by a fast sense of humor. . . “No toes lost yet! I only do that on alternate Tuesdays!” It usually gets a laugh. I smiled at the people who shifted uncomfortably out of my way and gradually passed them by.

Whether on feet, wheels, or a hybrid, I’m showing up. If some people react negatively, they probably do about everyone, regardless of ability.

It’s important to make the move, I don’t always bring my “A” game, but I’m always me, even if I have to remind myself that the other parents are probably not looking for a new BFF, but would love someone to chat or share pictures with at the holiday concert, school fair or Halloween Parade.

Here’s a little truth bomb While I may fantasize about a scooter mounted glitter cannon that would put Guy Diamond to shame to announce my entrance into a room, I’m shy. Making the first move is my coping mechanism. Some connections will be natural and instantaneous, and some will grow over time as your kids are in the same grade, class, dojo, or dance studio. You’ll start with hellos and evolve into conversations and then who knows. It’s one day at a time.

The thing that I realized last year is that it doesn’t take a blood-oath or decades of friendship for parents to help each other. I can’t count the number of birthdays or playdates that my daughter got rides, the last-minute pickups because of a work call or a toddler tantrum. While I can’t trade pick-ups yet, I’m no stranger to hosting the last minute or extended hangout. That shared understanding of parenting is what transforms these people into your tribe.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.