​Real-Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Thank You for Being a Friend

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on February 22, 2022 # Relationships

Two women laughing together. They are outside and one women is sitting on a bench and the other is next to her using a wheelchair. Thank you for being a friend.

Travel down the road and back again.
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant.

And if you threw a party, invited everyone you knew.
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend.

-Andrew Gold

Like any good 80’s kid, my Saturday nights were spent with various iterations of my family watching The Golden Girls. All the while, my elementary school brain was percolating on how awesome it was to be a grown woman and always have your best friends to lean on, laugh with and have a midnight slice of cheesecake with. It didn’t occur to me that their characters were in the fifth and sixth chapters of their lives and had faced some serious hurdles that bonded them.

Now that we’re turning the page on the third year of the pandemic, there are days that I fantasize about late-night cheesecake with girlfriends... any of my friends, no cake required. The combination platter of alertness that comes from being disabled and a parent of a preschooler who is too young to be vaccinated has left me exhausted and lonely. The big fantasy is a weekend away with friends in a wheelchair-friendly Covid-safe city (I said it was a fantasy… I didn’t say it was feasible). But all this really comes down to needing to prioritize myself, and mental and emotional, self-care.

I’ve seen countless articles recently about groups of visibly nondisabled moms getting together in their local sports fields to scream. They all met on social media bonded over their shared pandemic-related stress, and when their screaming was over, they hugged over their shared catharsis and went their separate ways. I think this was a great thing, for them. But I’d never show up to it. My anxiety would get the better of me. Are my wheels going to get stuck in the field? Is this going to get turned into a very special episode of Crippled girl screams? Will I be able to scream? Will I be able to stop screaming?

When I lock my emotions into autopilot in order to function, only a few people actually get access to them. My best friend is the closest thing to a sassy scooter mom that I have within 25 miles of the wilds of suburbia or barring the fact that she doesn’t actually need or use a scooter. So, while she doesn’t tick all the boxes of crip parenting sister in arms, In our 12 years of friendship, I’ve never felt that backed into a corner need to explain anything, never felt like she didn’t understand event when my shared truth was frustrating or not-so-pretty or even necessarily relatable to her direct experience. I hope she knows I give that back to her.

Recently for her birthday, she informed me that we were having a spa day. I replied that I had a gift card, and let me juggle my services around. She called me back and said no. My massage was part of her gift, and that was that I wasn’t allowed to say no, and I deserved to be pampered with my bestie. Before dear reader, you go through a laundry list of Covid-related reasons to not visit a spa, my friend and I are both vaxxed, boosted, have recently recovered from Omicron, and live in a state where the numbers are going down; otherwise, this would be a nonstarter.

Our appointment was the day after a bomb cyclone/Nor’easter, depending on where you’re from, I put on the easiest clothes, knowing that someone was going to assist me that would be unfamiliar with the way I move. My bestie arrived early both to give me time to get in and out of the car but also so we could have time to talk to each other like people and not over children like our usual conversations... I love our kids. They are amazing people, smart, fierce and fantastic!

The majority of this blog has been typed one-handed while snuggling my favorite four-year-old. But my life needs to also be mine at some point. And I have been compromising myself for fear of not being enough not just in the eyes of the people that don’t know me, but in the eyes of those fierce, fantastic kids… And the truth is the more I appreciate and nurture myself, the more they will appreciate me. (I’m repeating this every day so it will stick) My husband walked me out of the house and got me into the car to maximize the grown up time and minimize exertion while my friend put my walker in her trunk… Barbie has nothing on disabled people when it comes to accessories! As the car slowly pulled away, we talked about everything and nothing, and it was exactly what I needed to feel like a human again.

Was the massage epic? Yes. Am I going to get monthly massages? Not in the foreseeable future. But I will plan on seeing my friend without kids at least monthly and with kids more regularly as our children love each other as much as we do and reaching out to other friends with who I feel degrees of safety being vulnerable because it’s worth it.

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.