Eight words that I bet my mom never thought she’d say when she and my dad received my diagnosis of CP, but always expect the unexpected when you have two adventurous daughters.
I grew up in a residential neighborhood in the Midwest, where many families had children around my age. During summer vacation, all of the neighborhood kids, myself included, would gather outside and play from sun up ‘til sundown, taking breaks only for lunch and dinner. Even then, we would eat as quickly as possible so as not to miss out on the latest game or a trip to the candy store. One of the favorite past times of the group was climbing the tree in my family’s backyard. Ordinarily, we would ride our bikes and big wheel(I was rocking a lovely pink big wheel- sadly, the store didn’t have a purple one), to the base of the tree where everyone would climb the tree and I would stay on the ground to be the lookout. Technically, we weren’t quite allowed to climb that tree but hey, what is childhood without bending – ok, breaking- a few rules.
However, on this particular summer afternoon, I decided to say something that was on my mind. As everyone got off their bikes, I announced “I want to climb the tree too.” At age 7 or 8, I understood that climbing trees required strength, balance, fine motor skills and gross motor skills- things that I had but not necessarily in abundance, definitely not enough to climb a tree. But, in that moment, I didn’t care. I wanted the thrill of climbing that tree too. CP or no CP, I wanted to break my parents’ rule like everyone else.
After my proclamation, my big sister, who was the oldest of the group therefore the understood leader, looked at me and simply said “ok.” Then commenced the meeting of the elementary-school-aged minds! Just how were we going to get me up in the tree? After a few minutes, we had a plan. Three kids strategically placed themselves in the tree. My sister and one other child stayed on the ground and lifted me up. Two kids in the tree grabbed me under my arms, pulled me up and sat me on a branch and the third helped me wrap my hands around a branch.
I WAS IN THE TREE!!! I couldn’t believe it! I was no longer on the outside looking in; I was in! I was in the tree, in the conversation; I was a full participant in the experience and I loved it! I finally got to see what they saw… A lot of leaves. But, beyond the leaves, I saw the top of my house and my neighbors’ houses. I saw my entire street from above. My big wheel, that I had been on just minutes earlier, looked like a small vehicle for one of my dolls. My perspective of the neighborhood changed and my sense of belonging with my sister and our friends grew with that one act.
As I sat in the tree, I chatted with the other kids and prayed like crazy that I would not fall out of the tree(as it turns out, sitting on a tree branch is not very easy when you have trouble with balance and muscle spasms). Meanwhile, my mother was preparing to make dinner. As she went to the kitchen sink, she looked out the window to see an empty big wheel and the feet of her youngest daughter dangling from the lowest branch of the backyard tree.
My mom, who is not one for raising her voice, opened the window and yelled “Is that Allison in the tree? ROBERTA, GET YOUR SISTER OUT OF THAT TREE!!”
“OK MOM!” answered my sister.
In a blink of an eye, I was back on the ground. Since my parents received calls from my school fairly regularly saying that I had lost my balance and fallen at school and was being taken to the hospital for stitches, my mom’s reaction was quite understandable.
A few weeks ago, my sister and I were talking about this memory. Only after that conversation did I realize that my time among the birds taught me two valuable lessons. First, anything is possible if you are honest with yourself about what you want, have the courage to ask for it and the faith to believe it can happen. I was able to soar among the birds because I had the courage to speak my truth. Second, siblings of those with disabilities are among the best at inclusion. So often, people think disability is synonymous with can’t. For many siblings of people with disabilities, disability is a synonym for how, as in we want to do this activity, so how is my sister or brother going to do it too. Thanks to my big sis who gave me the boost I needed to soar on that day and so many times since! I love you, Bert!
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