When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of love. And this year, I experienced that. But it was also a celebration of one of the principles that accompany love – acceptance. Allow me to elaborate:
Last year, my daughter began kindergarten at a new school. We found ourselves in a community of people where I was the only person, let alone parent, in a wheelchair. She and I both dealt with her peers’ questions. Some kids were curious in an innocent, friendly, compassionate manner while others would abruptly ask, “What’s wrong with you?” “Why doesn’t your mom walk?” “What’s wrong with her legs?” While my daughter and I are used to being stared at, pointed at and either answering or dodging questions while in public, this was her first experience dealing with all of this amid making new friends and finding her place at her new school.
By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around last year, parents were sending out sign-ups and emails for the party that was to take place in her classroom. I helped her pick out treats and cards for her friends. And then, one night during dinner, I mentioned being excited about coming to her party the following week. She glanced shyly at me and asked, “Would it be OK with you if you didn’t come?”
“Why?” I asked her. She said it would embarrass her; that I was the only mom in a wheelchair and she just wanted to have fun. I was crestfallen, yet I couldn’t show her how badly I hurt. I told her I understood and only wanted her to have a good time. I promised her I wouldn’t come. She thanked me. It was the first time she’d ever told me I embarrassed her or told me she didn’t want me to join in on something she was doing. While it hurt my heart so bad, I knew it wasn’t about me. I couldn’t let on how I felt because I didn’t want to make her feel guilty.
The day of the party, I sat out in the carpool line waiting for her festivities to be over so I could hear all about it. A fellow mother sent me some pictures since I “couldn’t be there.” That was my undoing. I started sobbing. I wanted to be in there watching her smile and have fun. I cried harder as parents and kids began coming out of the school with bags full of treats and cards, smiling and talking a mile a minute. But by the time my little girl got in the car, I’d dried my tears and listened as she told me all the fun things they’d done and what she’d gotten from her friends.
Fast forward to this past Valentine’s Day. The same planning began taking place leading up to the holiday. The parents signed up to volunteer time and items and I took my daughter shopping for her classmates. I assumed I wasn’t coming and so made no plans to do so. The night before Valentine’s Day, she asked me if I was coming.
I asked her if she wanted me to and she responded, “Of course! I love you! You have to be there!” I was elated! I realized she’d come to a point where she no longer cared about how I move through the world; she cared simply that I was her mom and wanted me to be present.
Her friends and classmates have also become less shy and inquisitive as the year has progressed. I wonder if they’re realizing I’m just like their moms, except I parent from six wheels instead of two legs. I feel accepted there, even by other parents who didn’t quite know how to interact with me at first.
The party this year was so much fun, and it felt divine to be a part of it; to be wanted there, needed there. The teacher had taken the students out of the classroom so a few other moms and I could set up the party. When the students began filing into their newly decorated room, my daughter spotted me, yelled “Mommy!” and ran into my arms. Our embrace was caught on camera by another parent and it embodies the love my daughter and I feel for each other. This year, along with that love has come major acceptance of our situation and of each other. Isn’t that what love is all about?