My relationship with my mother has always been the most important guiding force in my life. And as odd as it sounds, the bond we’ve forged over the years is in no small part due to my physical disability. We were close from the beginning, perhaps more out of necessity than anything else.
When I was born, doctors had no idea what I had and were struggling to find a diagnosis. My mom took it upon herself to pore over countless medical textbooks and journals until she found Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder; the characteristics described me perfectly and her discovery led to my diagnosis.
As I got older, my disability ultimately strengthened my relationship with my mom. In fact, we grew closer in ways I’m not sure either of us could have imagined. We quickly became a team — a fierce duo ready to take on the world. Sure, part of that was because I required so much physical help, but beyond that, my disability also gave us this emotional bond that I’m so grateful for.
Through all the scary medical procedures and uncertainty that came along with growing up with a disability, we were truly there for each other. She’d comfort me in the hospital and make me laugh when I was feeling down. When I was 11, I contracted an infection in the hospital and had to be there for 31 days. Surprisingly, my mom managed to find a way to make the extended stay tolerable, whether we were going up to the top floor of the hospital at night to look out over the Chicago skyline or taking trips to the cafeteria for an afternoon lemonade. I shared this experience with my mom, as stressful as it was, and she’s one of the only other people who know what it was like.
That’s not to say our entire relationship revolved around my disability. We definitely had our ups and downs apart from my medical adventures, but one thing I was always sure of? My mom was in my corner — this is something I never doubted. Whether she was always there with an encouraging word or a stern piece of advice, I knew she had my best interest at heart. Especially after my father died suddenly in 2003, we leaned on each other for survival during some very dark days. Watching the way my mother journeyed through grief gave me the strength to keep going and helped me get to where I am today.
Now, I’m seeing just how important that bond is. A funny thing happens once you become an adult. You realize your mom is human. As kids, we like to think our parents are infallible superheroes, and while they’ll always retain some of their larger-than-life qualities, it’s such a beautiful thing to see them as people — people who are more like you than you might have realized.
These days, it sometimes feels like our roles are starting to reverse and I’m the one wanting to look after her — maybe that has something to do with my dad’s death or maybe that’s just the natural progression of our relationships to our parents. Nonetheless, I hear myself ask my mother, “Did you take your pills?” and I get the feeling that I’m becoming my mother.
We all need someone who is going to stand by us through thick and thin, and I’m grateful that my mother was that person for me. I can only hope that I’ve become that person for her. I have pretty big shoes to fill, but then again, I also had a good teacher. So celebrate the role models in your life this Mother’s Day. Remember how strong that mother-daughter bond can be.