My life is a dichotomy. I spent 20 minutes this morning sorting soccer schedules and 20 minutes scheduling space for a “Social Activism 101 for Kids” class. My daughter and I formed our own mother-daughter running club. It is our happy space and time together, except on the days that I can’t stand up to run. I spent the first 15 years of my career helping people stay active and the last five years managing my own health problems.
I thought at first that I would write about staying active with my kids. If I had a dollar, or even a quarter, for every time someone has asked how our family-and specifically my kids-stay so active, I’d be well on my way towards saving for an extreme vacation. What’s the best exercise for kids? (It depends.) How do I make my kids do a sport? (Good luck with that.) Why don’t your kids play video games? (They do sometimes, but don’t see the need.) How do I convince my kids to run with me? (They like it.) And the most common: How did I get my kids to be active? (I’m active with them.)
I have lots to say and years of experience, because yes, I have two really active kids in an active family. They ski, run, play soccer, swim, enjoy the outdoors, ride bikes and ask for active vacations. And I do it with them. Except when I can’t. How do I explain that my family has learned the value in activity because sometimes, I can’t stand?
This is the first time I’ve said out loud that I’m a person with a disability. Even after 15 years of working with people with disabilities, some of the most amazing people I know, I still don’t like to apply the label to myself. I want to be more. But the truth is, every person with a disability is more. And I believe that goes beyond the standard idea that “we are husbands and wives and friends and workers and writers and….” Yeah. Yeah. But I mean that we are more than we were before we “became” disabled or maybe before we became a parent or a spouse or a friend to someone with a disability.
Like the Grinch, my story made my heart grow three sizes, although maybe not in one day. I am more aware. I know what it feels like to belong to a group that doesn’t have the loudest voice. I am empathetic, knowing that every taunt and every stare at someone with an obvious physical disability could just as easily be pointed at me. I am kind. After going though something like I did, how could you ever wish pain or suffering on another human? I am strong. Yes, it’s true that I have physical limitations. But don’t discount the mental and emotional strength that come from coming through a challenging time, from learning to advocate for yourself or your friend or your child. And sometimes, I’m angry. I’m Pollyanna at heart, an optimist through and through, but that doesn’t make me blind to my own losses, or to the losses and hurt of other people.
It took the last year, the divisions I’ve seen in my family, my friends and my country to decide to stand up and stand out. It took watching a candidate for President make fun of a disabled reporter, a reporter who I’m willing to bet works harder than most to do his job well, to show that he is smart and capable and more. It took a rise in hate crimes and a philosophical Continental Divide to realize that if I plan to Be the Good, first I have to be honest. Because when that reporter was mocked, I bet not one of my family or friends thought of me. And maybe if they had, they would have been just a little more horrified, just a little louder.
So here I am, with the two halves of my life colliding. I’m choosing to tell my true story. How do I balance the two things I find most important, and how do I pass those values on to my children? I want them to live an active life, one filled with family fun, laughter and wild adventure. While they are on that adventure, getting buffeted in ways they didn’t plan, I want them to be aware and empathetic and kind and strong. And yes, when they see something degrading or hurtful or dangerous to those who have a quieter voice, I want them to be angry.
I choose to teach my kids that they can be athletes and scholars and activists and adventurers. They can be more. We can all be more.