I’m Really No Different

I’m Really No Different

Moving Forward Series

By

Meena Dhanjal

It’s 6:00 a.m. and I am waking up my five-year-old son so that I can get him ready for school.  Today is a little different.  Today he takes the school bus!  He is my youngest child, the last of my babies.  As I get him ready, I keep talking to him about how he must ask the teacher or the bus driver if he has any issues.  I even tell him to sit up front, and not in the back of the bus. In addition I tell him to keep away from the rowdy kids.  In the meantime, through my lecture, I am assisting him brush his teeth and wash his face.  We get to the breakfast table and as I sit to watch him eat his bowl of raisin bran I say,

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

He smiles and replies, “Yes.”

A flood of worries wash over my mind.  What if he gets off the bus at the wrong street when he comes back home?  What if he falls while trying to carry his backpack that seems bigger than him at times?  What if some older kids try to bully him when the bus driver isn’t looking?

It’s now 7:15 a.m. and Daddy tells us it’s time to walk to the bus stop.  So, the three of us make our way there and we stand at the stop with him.  I am taking photos of him and texting them to my mother.

Several of the other neighborhood kids, and a few of their parents, gather at the stop as well.  The bus arrives.  Daddy walks across the road with our son and introduces himself to the bus driver.  All the other parents smile my way.  The driver pulls the bus around and when it drives past me I take a peek at Jamie as the door closes, and I see him smiling a brightly.

Making my way back to the house, I keep thinking, “When does it get easier?  When do I ever stop worrying about my children?”

Back inside, I make his bed and begin cleaning up the kitchen, but I’m sad.  I feel silly.  I have done this before with my two other children:  my twenty-year-old daughter who is working and living on her own, and my seventeen-year-old son who now drives himself to school in the used car I scrimped and saved to get him.  So, this should be no big deal.  Right?

Yet,it is.  Why?  Because even in the midst of the challenges I face every day as a mom on wheels, my biggest blessing in life is being a mother to my children.

My seventeen-year-old will be graduating from high school next year, and then he’ll be off to college.  Once that happens, it really will be Jamie and me during the week.

I knew that when I unexpectedly became pregnant six and a half years ago that it was part of God’s plan for me.  Maybe it was so that I still had a little company around.   After all, this is what I have been used to since I had my spinal cord injury seventeen years ago.  Everything I do is based solely around my children.  So, when they leave I am left with the awful realization of “What now?”  So many mothers before me have had to face.

Therefore, I want to hang onto my moments with my youngest.  I want to enjoy the laughter, tears and frustrations that go with parenting even more.

As the sadness lingers, I begin to think about how far we have come as a family.  My two older children are so independent now.  That came from me.  Sometimes, their lives have not been perfect, however, isn’t that true of any other kid out there?  It has nothing to do with me being in my wheelchair.  I think that in taking care of Jamie I too am like every parent out there wanting nothing more than to make sure he is safe at all times.

The sadness is filling with inner peace.  It’s the type of peace that resonates from knowing that my accomplishments aren’t that much different than any other parent, and another reminder that my disability has nothing to do with this.

The older my children get the more I worry.  That alone tells me that I am really no different.  My underlying feelings and emotions are of any parent.  It just so happens that I am in a wheelchair.

Suddenly, I feel proud of reaching another milestone. Moving forward is growth not just for Jamie, but me too.  Nevertheless, as I tackle my next task, I silently wait for the bus to come back to my street to deposit my youngest safely back to me.

Dealing with the Unexpected

Dealing with the Unexpected

Enabling Series.

Part VI

By

Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

One of the reasons I have emphasized the importance of being self-sufficient and free of any enabling is because in my experience of living with a spinal cord injury I have realized there are always going to be these odd turns in the road.  They also tend to lead us to what I deem as unexpected distractions.  They’re not unpleasant, but they are still something that makes me wonder why such a thing would even happen.

For example, during my Christmas holidays I socialized with some old and some new friends.

On one night, I went out with some ladies and I happened to be the one driving.  It certainly made sense due to the fact that I drive a modified minivan that houses my power wheelchair.  As we arrived at the venue, one of the ladies happened to mention something that had concerned her husband about our outing.  He was worried that if for some reason I drank too much or something else happened that would prevent me from being able to operate the vehicle, then how would someone else be able to drive my van?

My initial thought was, “Ok, that’s a new one”.  Then I went on to explain that, firstly, I don’t drink much, but that under a worst case scenario whereby I could not drive my own vehicle, my friends could quite literally put a regular chair in front of the steering wheel which normally houses my power wheelchair, which is how I drive. I went on to explain that they are able to drive my van normally using the foot pedals.

They were impressed with the answer and the topic of conversation never came up again.  Even so, it was also obvious that her husband was staying up waiting for her and ultra protective because she was riding with me.

I could easily start to think negatively:  oh, don’t they remember I drive my children around everywhere, or how could they think to say that or think that way about me?  However, because I am already secure in who I am and how I live my life, I found my friend’s husband’s question to be intriguing instead of offensive.  It made me realize that I am bringing awareness in all ways and in every sense of the word.

Firstly, I do it by leading by example.  People see me getting in and out of my car, taking my children here and there, and of course managing my house, as well as maintaining employment.  It’s definitely a lot for anyone without a disability to take in.

Many times I am asked, “How do you do all that?”  Yet, I truly have learned to take it as a compliment.  I find peace and solace in answering the questions.  When I do, I also find that I am received well and the level of respect for me is increased.

Another situation occurred when I went into a restaurant and deliberately chose a table that was high.  I didn’t notice until I was situated at the table that the waitress was looking at me with worry etched on her face.  It was then that I laughed and began to elevate my power wheelchair.

She quite literally just let out a breath and said, “I was so concerned as to how you would sit in a higher table, but you had requested it so I didn’t want to say anything.”

In all these situations I am a fascination, even a novelty, to some people.  Yet, I find I receive joy when I am able to show the independent side of me.  I like seeing the change of expression from “oh,” to “wow”.

That doesn’t mean I have not had my share of unpleasant questions, such as, “Don’t they have a website where you could order online instead of coming out here?”

Another “favorite” of mine occurred when I went into a sandwich shop.

When it was my turn to order the person behind the counter looked around and then back at me with great concern.

“Do you not have anyone to help you?” He said, with eyes wide and hands on either side of his face.

I could only laugh because it was really that funny.  Then I went on to reassure him that not only did I get here safely, order safely, eat safely, but also I would get back into my vehicle safely and drive home.

To that he just stood in awe, and truth be told, that’s the most beautiful reaction someone in my situation can receive.

There are always going to be questions and stares, but I have learned that most are truly because they just don’t know.  I have also learned that they don’t mind receiving explanations.

For the one that mentioned the online website, I smiled and rolled on to shop as I had planned.

My takeaway thought from the recent encounters were had I continued to enjoy the ease and comfort of my family taking care of my every need, as was the case immediately following my paralysis, I would have not become strong enough and resilient enough to embark on all the interesting encounters that now routinely occur in my everyday life.  I have accepted that this is part of living life after a spinal cord injury.  As I continue to explain, just as many of my friends do in my situation, then in time society will truly have begun to know us for whom we really are.

Communicating with Children

Communicating with Children

Enabling Series.

Part III

By

Meena Dhanjal outlaw

I am at Walgreens. I am looking at a product in an aisle when I hear a commotion. I wheel out of the aisle to the noise. There’s an older woman that appears to be in her late sixties to early seventies holding her finger towards a young boy.

Don’t hit your grandmother!

The boy looks around and notices that the cashier behind the counter and another shopper is watching him. So he stops and backs off, but then he starts to yell.

“I want ninja turtle now!”

Grandmother replies “I told you don’t have the money.”

The boy goes mad. He runs off then comes back toward his grandmother in an aggressive manner. His grandmother moves around him. She’s still yelling at him to leave her alone. By this time there are several shoppers who are watching in aghast. The boy runs off but cannot maintain his temper any longer. He runs back toward his grandmother to kick her with both feet and legs, just flying into her shins. By now I can’t stand the spectacle.

“Stop!” I say.

The boy looks at me and immediately stops for a second, then goes back to hurting the older woman. So I tell him again and let him know that he must not hit her. He stops and looks at me. Then out of frustration, he runs off into another direction of the store.

As an explanation of his behavior, the grandmother says, “He has ADHD. He does this all the time. I look after him while my daughter goes to work.”

She walks off in the direction of her grandson and I take my item to the cash register. A customer behind me says,
“My son is ADHD, but he’s never done that.”

I had no words. If anything it left to me to think about my kids. If my kids hit me like that being disabled and vulnerable I know for sure I wouldn’t just take it.

I also have a son that was very hyperactive when he was younger. In fact, when he introduced himself he’d always say. “ Hi, my name is Miles and I’m hyper.” A lot of times people would just chuckle because truthfully it was very cute, but at home even within his hyperactive state, I set boundaries.

Raising children from a wheelchair is very different, but it’s similar to the older lady. I’m vulnerable and kids, well, they will test you no matter your disposition.

My children are no exception. They’ve tested me time and time again. I can’t go and pick them up to place them back in their timeout spot so I had to use my voice. At an early age, they learned very quickly when I have a happy voice, a fun voice and what I call my ‘Mommy voice’. It was the only way I could get them to listen. They also learned that that listening to me meant they remained safe.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. On the contrary, I’ve battled many tantrums inside. It took a couple of fits outside for them to realize they won’t be going out with me if they can’t listen or behave appropriately.

As much as I love my children I also knew early on that my type of parenting meant teaching them what it meant to be with me and around me. They couldn’t just jump on me and they certainly didn’t think they could get aggressive with me.

Yet, in our state of vulnerability, we tend to overlook what needs to be addressed. We ourselves either don’t know how to handle certain situations or feel a sense of guilt because of feeling vulnerable.

So what is the right way of addressing problems with your child, and what do you do when you have a child that resorts to punching or hitting you because they know you cannot defend yourself?

No parent wants to put themselves at risk of having a social worker consult with them. In my case, I did everything I could to make sure my kids were always good but eventually, they still got in confrontations at school.

Personally, I was proactive with the teachers and any authority figure. I wanted them to know that though I’m disabled I still can take care of my children.

However, if the child is so aggressive or out of control then it is time to reach out. In my case, I immediately went to my church and they helped me get to a psychologist. They even paid for the first six visits. It turned out to be the best course of action I could have taken. The psychologist communicated to the school counselor. As a result, together we worked on a plan to help my children become happier in the space they were in. We also came to find out that one of my children was being bullied because some kids found out that her mother was in a wheelchair.

Several months later my child’s ability to communicate confidently was evident. Within a short period of time, the bullying stopped.
It doesn’t take an army to raise a family, but it does help to know who is on your side when you are in need of assistance.
In my case, it was important that didn’t have to worry because I happened to be a disabled parent.

Just as an adult can be enabled with certain behaviors so can a child. Even in our disabled state, we must protect ourselves from abuse. When you have a child that’s testing your limits or more here’s who you can talk to:-

http://helplinecenter.org/2-1-1-community-reso…/what-is-211/

They are confidential and will give advice, as well as resources that both your child will find very beneficial.