Real life stories from a disabled mom: First day of school

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on October 07, 2019 # Mobility, Lifestyle

by Kieran O'Brien

I steered with extreme caution. The tiller made the smallest motions as I moved the tires centimeter by centimeter through the crush of bodies jockeying for the perfect moment to Instagram. I’m just as guilty of this as I was also trying to capture the moment.

Was I watching a sunset on a rocky cliff or communing with my spirit at a music festival? No.

My husband and I were dropping our daughter off for her first day of first grade. Her dress, shoes, and hair were perfect, and if I may say, her mom looked pretty amazing too. I intended to carry her supply-stuffed backpack on my seat, but my independent daughter donned the bag with determination. With my husband clearing the path, my daughter and her friend in the middle and me shepherding us through the sea of students, parents, and assorted loved ones, our local elementary felt more like a mall during the holiday season. All that was missing was Mariah Carey, the mood was excited, polite and friendly.

Astride Beast, my trusty scooter (which does double duty as Rudolph in the festive season), I can feel like a sore thumb in situations like this. I’ve been laying the groundwork for acceptance and inclusion since my girl was born.

Whether at the playground, park, or library I was visibly beside her wheelchair or walker I showed up played and engaged with her, with other parents with a smile and confidence that didn’t always mirror what was going on inside, but it was more important to have my daughter have me out and having fun with her than to worry what a bunch of random adults thought.

I pushed her on the swings and climbed on whatever equipment I could. If that wasn’t possible, I was next to her engaging as much as possible.

Were we stared at? You bet!

Adults looked away generally.

Kids asked their parents the usual questions:

“What is that?” “Why does she use that?”

If they were close enough, I’d answer in my most pleasant non-threatening voice: “It’s my scooter, it gets me around faster and easier, so I have energy for fun.”

To the point and honest. No one is looking for an in-depth diagnosis, nor are they getting it. I don’t carry around X-rays or Brain Scans (although it would be fun to offer to share that with some of the less comfortable adults).

We chose her preschool because we loved the feel and the curriculum. It was semi accessible. The classrooms and playgrounds were wheel friendly, while the administrative offices and “big room” where most events happened, were not. The teachers and administration were always accommodating of my needs.

I want to stress that asking for accommodations as a parent does not compromise your child’s experience; it only enhances it. Every time I’ve shown up in my daughter’s class or attend an event her day gets that much better. Whether you use crutches, wheels, or a vent, your child wants you there. We celebrate diversity in our house. We shake off the “inspiring” situations when people see me buying groceries or breathing. As for the negative people, we hope that they have a really wonderful day…somewhere else.

So far, her elementary school has been wheel-friendly. In an effort to be involved in her school experience, I volunteered as a classroom parent and co-lead her Girl Scout Troop. Everyone I worked with was amazing, creative and truly a blessing. We all played to our strengths. My wheels stopped being a mystery and were neither avoided nor focused on. The day I read to her class I answered a lot of questions from how to get around my house to how I cook dinner. The basic answer I do everything your mom does only a little bit different.

So, navigating narrow body-filled first-grade hallway, I stopped for quick catch-ups with parents, administrators, and kids and took pics of my amazing girl and her friends. On the way out, I only had one “OMG” when someone saw that they were in my way. I gave them a big smile and exited quickly.

One critical step: I always introduce myself to the teacher(s) ahead of time. I email saying I’m B’s mom and a wheelchair user. Usually, I include that it’s big, red and named Beast. Perhaps at Back to School Night, I’ll reveal its secret identity as Rudolph in case they have a stranded sleigh.

When you’ve punched your crip-card your whole life, or you’re getting acclimated to a new and different physical presence, you don’t stop being a parent. Show up, don’t apologize, you deserve to be there, and your child deserves you to be there.

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.