By Lynne Gentry
I never intentionally set out to embarrass my children (well, okay, I might have kissed them on the cheek or yelled, “Mommy loves you,” a time or two while I was dropping them off at their junior high). But despite my best efforts to be the “cool mom,” I’m sure my kids often wished their mother wasn’t the crazy lady screaming encouragement from the bleachers…or writing little notes on their lunch napkins…or hanging around far too long during a practice or rehearsal.
Parents can embarrass their children, often without even trying.
I know. Because my mother embarrassed me. Terribly.
My best friend’s mother had beautiful tan legs that could take a stairwell two steps at a time or mount a saddle without any thought. My mother’s legs were brittle toothpicks below her knees. Her toes curled her swollen feet into little balls that could never wear beautiful heels. One leg was longer than the other. She walked like a peg-legged pirate. My mother wasn’t perfect. I was embarrassed.
My mother was a healthy eight-year old before the polio epidemic of World War II. She was immediately hospitalized and quarantined in an iron lung. Her mother was not allowed to visit. Even if she could have, the hospital was hours away from the rest of the family. My mother wasn’t expected to live.
Here’s what the doctors didn’t know: Beneath my mother’s struggling little chest beat a very strong and determined heart. With therapy and proper treatment, she regained the use of her lungs. But when they took her out of the iron lung, she’d lost the ability to sit up or walk. After a year of painful treatments of hot packs and heavy metal braces, she took her first step. It took years of practice before she could give up the cane, but she wanted to walk the aisle for her wedding. So she did.
Going against medical advice, this tough little woman went on to have four children. My mother raised us on two very shaky legs. Without a word of complaint. It wasn’t until years later that I learned she’d never had a day free of pain since they slid her into that iron lung. She brought the same dogged determination and will-to-thrive to her battle against cancer.
It’s been ten years since my mother died.
I should be ashamed for judging this incredible woman by her appearance.
But I’m not.
My mother’s disability has become the source of my ability. Watching her put one withered foot in front of the other taught me that beauty, strength, and resolve come from within.
Whenever I struggle, whether it is with prejudice, hatred, insecurity, or fear, mom’s bold and tenacious gait carries me through.
Find steps of truth you can follow. It is the only way free of shame.
Lynne Gentry authors short stories, novels, and dramatic works. She treasures time spent with family and her medical therapy dog. Her latest book, Dancing Shoes, is the third installment in the Mt. Hope Southern Adventures Series. Learn more on Lynne’s blog.
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