This First Person article is the experience of Marjorie Onos, a psychologist in Montreal. For more information on CBC First Person Stories, please see Instructions.
I dreamed of being a mother for years. When I close my eyes, thinking how it could be, I literally felt him in my arms. My journey toward parenthood took place on my own, with a community of family and friends around me. Even before my son, Thomas, was born in 2010, I knew he would always come first and longed for all the parent-child activities we’d be doing together, like mommy-and-baby swimming lessons.
When Thomas and I signed up for those lessons at the public pool near our house, there was a sacred base. Only the parents who were meant to go at The pool is allowed into the pool area. All the other parents needed to get away, behind the glass doors. But it felt different for me. I was the mother. But to get in, I needed another adult to be with us to prove it.
Everyone knows that. It was only logical, and much safer. The lifeguards knew and other parents saw that this wasn’t something I could do on my own. Yet every week I had to justify, bargain, explain, and sometimes get angry.
And every week, I had to face everyone’s stare.
To be able to participate in these lessons, I had to get out of a wheelchair, using my arms to guide my buttocks down. I had to keep my whole body from falling to the ground. The whole effort must be done carefully, so that no part of the body is bruised. Then I learned to crawl in a seated position until the bottom of my leg was in the water. Quick turn and I’ll end up on my stomach on the side of the pool, a position where I can slowly move my upper body into the water.
Once in the water, I could float easily and move my arms in a coordinated way to get to where my son was: in my mother’s arms. He was ready to learn to float, ready to put his head under water. And I was there to be a part of it.
I could feel the envy in all those stares. Somehow, it just wasn’t fair for my mom and I to experience the first swimming moves. But I wouldn’t have missed these moments for anything in the world.
But what few people know is that getting into the water was the easy part. After swimming, I had to do everything in reverse, while wet and working against gravity. That was how much I wanted to participate. I wanted to be his mother, to fulfill all those dreams I had while pregnant. I needed him to know he came first. That time in the pond brought me joy. It made him laugh and sometimes scream in fear as it splashed water on his face.
In those moments, I wanted to be the one he could reach for comfort.
I felt like I deserved to be involved in everything Thomas was doing يفعل he is He deserves to have a parent as involved as all the other kids around him. I survived a car accident a few months before doing so. Just like any other parent, I would fantasize about going to the park, playing in the sand, and sliding around with my baby. I imagined myself attending parent-teacher conferences, borrowing books from the library, and bringing him to a Sunday morning hockey game with Timmy in hand.
I never imagined that I would need to check if I had access to these community buildings. I never thought I’d need to be in a position to constantly search for solutions when these buildings didn’t provide a way for my wheels to get in. If the dressing rooms were not very small, it was because there were no adequate toilets. I saw disabled parking spaces that were used to get rid of snow, were used by city employees or not wide enough for my car.
When it came time to find a school for Thomas, I had to send my mom as a scout because I couldn’t get into most of them because of the stairs. When I finally chose one, the only school in my neighborhood that I could get into, I wasn’t allowed to drive the cul-de-sac–closed during school hours–to the school gates. If I wanted to drive my son, I had to use one of the neighborhood’s busiest streets, or have a stranger bring him to the gate instead of where I am.
My accident was a terrible thing that happened to me, but unfortunately it wasn’t the worst. The worst was having to learn to navigate a world that often leaves people like me behind.
Sitting in a wheelchair allows me to move around. It allows me to get places. But I can assure you that had it not been for my stubbornness and my strong belief that I, like any other parent with or without a disability, deserve to be recognized, I would have fallen far behind. Ample numbers. And my son would have missed out on having an encouraging mother.
let’s go9:22Celebrating fathers of all generations
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