13

My room was pink.  I loved my cat Whiskers more than anything. She knew me – when I was happy, sad, when my friends were mad at me. I told her my secrets before I went to bed.  She purred and snuggled close. I had her from age 3 to 18 and I like to think she stuck around just long enough to see me off to college. 

I had a New Kids on the Block pillowcase. I was in love with Jonathan Brandis (RIP adorable boy). I’d wake in the morning, scoot down the big staircase to eat breakfast. My mom often helped me with my socks. I’d eat breakfast and she’d give me a ponytail.

We’d finish and my brother and I would head down the winding driveway to wait for the bus. I’d head out a little before him since his strong legs were faster.

The bus would come to screeching stop and the doors opened. My brother held my crutches as I climbed up and I held on to the seat tops as I walked to my seat. He handed me my crutches and made his way to the back, where the older kids sat.  I always felt bad that he had to help me. I assumed he secretly hated it but our parents made him do it or guilt because his body was perfect. Heck, maybe both.

I was 13. It is a terrible age but even worse when you have a disability.  Hmmm…where to begin…. 

School Dances
I can’t dance and hated watching my friends do the things I couldn’t.  They’d kick off their shoes and dance around in cute dresses. Sitting off to side seemed lame but standing in the center of dancing girls was not any better.  Those were the days I was crushingly aware that I was “different” – it sucked and life was not fair.

Cute Boys
I liked them but none liked me. That is not the age for taking risks. I’m sure even if one did like me he would have never told me – what if others teased him? I was afraid I would never have a boyfriend. Looking back now, 13 is young and who needs boys anyways! {wink} But at that age I felt old. I was missing out on the things other girls were experiencing.  I wanted a note slipped in my locker too. 

What Will I Be
I couldn’t do a job that required lots of standing or a steady strong hand.  That ruled out being a doctor (oh yeah and the fact I took my math/statistics classes over a few times in college). I thought being a teacher sounded fun but I was scared of kids picking on me. Even worse the parents not thinking I would be good enough. I can remember thoughts of how kids might pick on they way I write when using the chalkboard or how every year I would have to explain my disability to a fresh set of kids and teachers. There was no way I was going to subject myself to a lifetime of that.  

School Lunches and Mean Girls 
The hot lunch lines at school and using crutches are not friends. I hated asking people to carry my tray. To top it off, in Junior High and High School it seems like us girls were always in “fights” so there were days when my friends were mad at me and I might not have help. It was easier to bring stuff from home. 

Envy
Dreams of wanting to run, jump, twirl, climb and feel really strong. I would see girls in track. Cheerleaders at football games. My brother climbing a tree. Little girls twirling in a cute dress. I wanted to know what strong legs feel like. That dream hasn’t changed. 

With all that said, I’ve learned something over the last 30-something years. It’s not all bad.  Maybe we are the lucky ones? 

I like to think being born with a disability makes us amazing.

In the end it sets us apart and even though if you are anything like me – you would kill to just blend in – it’s a good thing. Our perspective is beyond the average girl, we can give an hour long presentation on using crutches in all terrains, eating with our feet, opening doors in a wheelchair, using a stick to type, we know pain and we are quick to notice when people hold their bodies funny and are secretly in pain/uncomfortable, we know how to guide conversations and turn awkward back to okay and we know how to ask for help.  

Our compassion is huge and our determination is out of this world. Some will call it stubborn. We will see it as survival.  We will be more than a pretty face and some day boys will want to know us. Our personalities and substance will matter. Employers will be proud to have us because we aren’t lazy and we care.  Mean girls grow up too. They will end up being some of our best friends. Our kids will have mommies with magical walking sticks or hot wheels. They will grow up seeing determination and zest and I pray that they soak it in too.

So for those of you out there who wonder, wish and worry about what’s to come – that is what I’ve discovered in my short time here in this world. And I like to think the best is yet to come.