Growing up, I always knew I was different.
Every year on my birthday, my mother would tell me the same story. “When you were born, the doctors told me that you would die.” She would say. “They didn’t expect you to live past your first night. One doctor told me that you would be a vegetable and that I would be better off to put you in a home.” Here she would smile. “You can guess what I told him.”
She tried to explain to me why I was different from other children. “You were born with Cerebral Palsy.” When I was a child, I didn’t know then what this meant, so she tried to educate me in simple terms. “Think of your head like a room full of telephone operators,” she would say. “All the nerves running through your body are the telephone wires. Somewhere, the wires got cut, and the telephone signal isn’t getting through clearly. Do you understand?”
I nodded to show that I did. I always wondered about that one person asleep at the switchboard unable to see that the calls weren’t going through. As a child, I would try to shake my head to wake them up so that the call would make it down the wire and I would be able to walk normally again. It took me years to realize that I would not be able to magically heal myself.
I was born three months premature with Spastic Cerebral Palsy; this made it difficult for me to walk, affected my balance and my motor skills. My body constantly spasmed and I was in pain all the time. I learned to live with the pain, to recognize when my body was about to spasm. My mother said that my body was playing music that only I could hear, except that it was being played with notes that I could feel inside my body instead of being able to hear them. This made it easier to deal with the pain.
I have learning disabilities as a result of being born with Cerebral Palsy including difficulties with math, memory and English. I had difficulties in school and had a teacher’s assistant that would come to classes with me and help me with my schoolwork. Though the assistant changed throughout the years, the care and help I received with my classes and homework was amazing. I had a teacher’s assistant from elementary to grade nine.
This didn’t help me to blend in. It set me further apart from everyone. As a child, all I knew was that I was different, and I hated myself for it. I would look at other kids able to run track or play sports; I would dream of doing that. I watched how others would walk with their feet straight, not pointing inwards like pigeon toes.
Others would tease and ridicule me because of the way I walked or moved. I would run home to my mother, crying my eyes out, telling her of the injustices I had to suffer through. Drying my tears, my mother would hold me. “There’s no use in crying about it,” she would say. “What’s done is done. You were born this way; you can’t change that.”
“I want to be normal.” I would say. “I don’t want to be different.”
“You’re not different.” She would say. “You’re special. Do you know that when you were born, the doctors said that you shouldn’t be living, that you should have died? One doctor came to me after your third night and told me you had defied every medical law in the book; by all rights, you should have died during that first night. He said you were God’s Child now and that he was looking down upon you.”
“I still want to be normal,” I said. “I want to be like everyone else.” I would huff. My mother would smile at this and pull me closer. “Now where would the fun be in that? And what is normal? You’re God’s Child because you were put on this Earth for a reason. No one knows what that reason is but you; only you can know that. But I’ll tell you something else. You have to listen really closely. Are you listening?”
I would nod my head and she would continue. “Everyone else is going to want to treat you differently. You can’t let them. You have to do everything for yourself and you’re going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else. I don’t ever want to hear the words I can’t from you.”
“But there are things I can’t do.” I would say. “God made me this way; I don’t think he likes me very much.”
My mother smiled at me. “Nonsense. You can do anything you want to do, as long as you wish it and work at it hard enough. You have to prove them wrong. You’re stronger than you know.” She would rock me softly, and I would grow sleepy.
“You’re more normal than you give yourself credit for. You yearn for acceptance; you want love, just like everyone else. But you’re special because you’re different, because you’re not like everyone else. This makes you unique.”
Again, it wasn’t until years later that her words made sense to me. At the time, I figured she was just trying to placate me, to make me feel better. But over time, I realized what she was trying to tell me: Everyone has special needs. Some are just different than others.
In the end, no matter what you believe in, we are all God’s Children.