Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Making a Festive Wonderland

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on December 22, 2021 # Lifestyle

Bunny ornament hanging on a Christmas treeWhen I was growing up, it seemed like every holiday movie and special featured a happy family gathered around the tree sipping cocoa or happily singing as they decorate it. My family is addicted to Christmas, and by family I mean my mom. Thanksgiving week her box of Christmas albums would emerge from the back of her closet featuring a mélange of classics most notably Johnny Mathis who even today embodies the holiday spirit to me. Before the Thanksgiving leftovers were cold in the fridge the decorations would come out of the attic. Once the tree was up and adorned with lights, As a family we sorted through the ornaments and special pieces recounting their provenance learning more as the stories were expanded year after year. But after that the decorating went from a family affair to a party of one. Decorating has always been my mother’s passion, with Johnny Mathis crooning in the background my mom would weave pine, lights, and ribbon into and turn our home into a festive wonderland. It was always amazing to watch her in her element, no special piece had a set location so that every year our decorations grew and changed, with memories, elegance, and whimsy.

Christmas 2002, dating my now husband, he asked if I wanted to help decorate his Christmas tree. Side note at the time he had the double-bonus of both working at an ornament company in selling Christmas trees in his volunteer gig; his tree had to be extra magical. I was elated. The tree was bigger than his apartment, I had to climb through branches just to enter the living room. We sorted through the boxes of bought and homemade ornaments I braced myself against a chair, picked up an ornament and asked, “Where does this go?” When he said anywhere, I lit up brighter than the tree. With me filling in the middle of the tree and my husband getting the top and bottom, the apartment was festive. It started almost two decades of our Christmas obsession.

This year has been challenging for both of us health-wise. I’ve had an injury that worsened with the surgery to remedy it altering my ability and requiring ongoing rehab and a subsequent injury. And my husband was injured right before the beginning of the holiday season. I started looking at table top trees and figuring out the scooter related logistics of the three foot live trees at the grocery store anything to bring my holiday to life. . .One of the best things about being neuro-muscularly disabled, (Cerebral Palsy it’s paralysis with a neuro-divergent twist) is that I’ve never met a problem that I couldn’t see at least three potential solutions for. As I’m regaling my husband with my little tree littlest tree thoughts, he chimed in with the notion that would save the day. What if our oldest daughter put up our artificial tree? This stopped me in my tracks, It made perfect sense. From the time she was old enough to hold a block, she could build anything; she picked up a full sized screwdriver at two to help her dad. The three of devised a plan whereas we’d slide the tree’s storage bag down the stairs avoiding any and all lifting. We unzipped the bag and lifted out the base. Before anyone could help her, she took the helm of the project. Carefully placing the base she dove back into the bag for the bottom half of the tree. A triumphant smile across her face, she was making Christmas happen! As she stacked the tree we fluffed the branches. When the top of the tree was put in place, my angel put the angel on top of the tree. My husband dressed it in lights. Then we recreated the tradition that I have been taking part in since I was smaller than my youngest; we looked at the ornaments and told stories about where they came from and who gave them to us. With Johnny Mathis crooning in the background, all of us decorated the tree. And for an afternoon in the middle of one of our toughest years anyone has seen, it was just Christmas time.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

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.