Disabled and raised by a single mom
Disabled and raised by a single mom
A while back (pre-pandemic), I wrote about what it was like to grow up as a disabled girl with a single dad. Now, I’ve decided I should talk about my mom, since she’s the one who raised me most of the time and is the one who, you know, gave birth to me.
Thanks to ultrasound technology, everyone knew that I was going to be disabled before I was born. That meant that my mom had some time to prepare, but she still didn’t know exactly how I was going to turn out. Shortly after my arrival, I was sent to the NICU. She laughs at how when she wanted to see me, she, still recovering, limped and crawled her way down from another floor, not knowing she could’ve paged a nurse for a wheelchair. Now, she’s a pro when it comes to hospitals.
After my parents broke up, my mom got a job at a restaurant. Even though she had experience working for an African newspaper and an advertising agency, she needed a flexible schedule because my childhood was filled with doctor’s appointments. As anyone who has worked in a restaurant may know, the employees are kooky and you rely on customers tipping you to earn an income. I grew up around an eccentric group of people and understood the concept of money and bills very early on in life.
The area of Charlotte, NC, my parents lived in was on the edge of one of the wealthiest parts of the city. When picking me up from school, my mom would see the fancy, decked-out, totally accessible vans that my disabled classmates’ moms would take, then look at our second-hand, falling apart minivan. There was definitely a hierarchy of privilege when it came to our small community of disabled children and our parents. They would talk about how their houses were being completely renovated to be accessible and how they were going to other cities to see specialists that weren’t in Charlotte.
Then came Facebook and its groups. They allowed her to connect with others who were relying on the government for medical care, but she also met more like those I grew up with. We couldn’t afford a nice van, our house was rented, and we didn’t have the luxury of being able to travel to other states for weeks at a time for surgeries. She sometimes tells me how she wishes she could’ve done more, like take me to these specialists, but I always say that I don’t care. I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got.
Puberty is an awkward stage for anybody, but it was particularly weird being a disabled girl with an extremely sentimental mom. Because I’ve always needed help with getting dressed, bathing, and using the bathroom, my body has never been private. She noticed every little change. And she would get sentimental about it. It was embarrassing. I’ve always been someone who’s hated change that I can’t control, so it was a rough time in my life, when I was also going to her crying late at night because of some petty, growing-up drama with my friends. Seriously, has there been anyone who actually enjoyed middle school?
As a teenager, I still had to go with my mom wherever she went or have someone else watch me if she was going to be away from home for several hours. While I could be at home alone for a little while, it was only a matter of time before I needed something I couldn’t get on my own. Luckily, my aunt lived with us and we eventually got a CNA to come over a few days a week. Still, I was very dependent on my mother. As my classmates were becoming more independent, I still had to ask her for rides to places since I couldn’t drive my own car. Anything I did outside of normal school hours had to be meticulously planned since she often had to work. Even though my mom and I have always been extremely close, I was envious of my classmates, who could just leave their parents whenever they wanted.
I’m 24 now. I realize that I’m fortunate to still be with my mom, but it’s hard when I want to be an independent young adult. In college, I had many benefits that others didn’t have. Home-cooked meals. Living with my pets. My dishes and clothes being cleaned for me. And, of course, having my mom nearby whenever I needed her. Yet, I wish I’d spent at least part of the time in a dorm on campus, like everyone else. As I get older, the more it feels odd to have my mom still taking care of me. I want to eventually get married and have my own house, but I wonder how it would work out. She tries to make sure that I have a life, but there’s little room for spontaneity if you need to organize transportation everywhere. One of the greatest fears we both share is somehow not having her able to care for me and there’s no one to take her place.
But having to be so dependent on my mom doesn’t totally suck. We’re so close that we don’t even have to talk to each other because we know what we’re thinking. Seriously, my mom always knows what I want for dinner before I open my mouth and it’s spooky. She knows what guys I find attractive, then we’ll gossip about them. She can read my mood and I can always tell if something’s bothering her. When shopping, my mom will see something and know whether I’ll love it or not. We watch shows together, or recommend them to each other, then talk about how we can’t believe that one character did that one thing that screwed everything up. Or she’ll guess what guys I think are cute.
Being disabled with a single mom has definitely made our mother-daughter relationship different than most. Because I’ve relied on her so much, we’ve basically developed telepathic superpowers. Even though I long to be an independent adult, I do enjoy always having someone I can be sarcastic with around. Personality-wise, we’re pretty much almost perfect clones.
August Pritchett is a disability advocate, a young adult historical fiction writer, obsessed with the 19th and early 20th centuries.