I’ve decided to take a career break from work. Six months, to be exact. It’s something that I’d been toying with for a while but couldn’t quite bring myself to do. I work in the area of Independent Living and I’m passionate about the rights of people with disabilities. I love working with my fellow leaders. But I also love writing, and I want to have more time with my daughter, so I’m off. And it is blooming scary, I tell you. Not only because I’m not bringing in a wage, but because I’ve always worked, it’s a crucial part of my identity.
That said, I will never regret all of the time I’m enjoying with my daughter, who is now three-and-a-half and great fun to be around. She’s energetic, imaginative, cheeky, and growing up all too fast. I admit that there was a time when depression clouded my time with Ali; everything seemed hard, an effort; I didn’t think that I was enough for her. But now that I feel more like my old bubbly self again I intend to enjoy every second with her.
Since Alison was born, I’d always been afraid that I’d never be good enough for her. I was overly conscious of how I was perceived as a parent with a disability. I worried that Ali would resent me for having her, that I would become a burden on her. I’m not at all afraid of this now. Today, Ali and I walked to the shop alone together for the first time, me in the wheelchair holding her hand, her on the inside of the path. It was the best feeling in the world, because heretofore I wouldn’t have trusted myself to do this. I am finally starting to see myself through my own eyes again, not through the eyes of others.
It’s amazing how we expect so much of ourselves, but we never step back to admire what we have done. We don’t have time, we are too busy, it’s not enough. For example, I told myself that I would be an established journalist with my first novel written by the time I was thirty. I wanted to be fit and able to walk everywhere unaided so that I could keep up with Ali. Since turning thirty, I’ve been bitterly disappointed in myself that I’ve done neither of these things. It was more than disappointment, it was pure disgust, self-abhorrence. It sounds dramatic, but for months I could barely look at myself in the mirror without this disappointment washing over me.
Recently, however, something changed. And for all the things I teach my daughter on a daily basis, a month ago, she taught me the most important lesson of all.
It was evening-time. Ali and I were watching telly and I said to her, ‘I love you,’ to which she replied, ‘ I love you too mummy’. I thought for a moment. Lately, I’d been feeling grossly inadequate: I’d been in too much pain to play football, too tired to play chasing and I’d say she would have baulked at the sight of another defrosted spag-bol, cooked in bulk about a week before. ‘Ali,’ I said, ‘how would you like a new mummy?’
Ali was intrigued. ‘A new mummy? Is she nice? Who is it?’
I replied, ‘I don’t know yet. But this mummy would be super cool and play football and basketball and chasing and tie up your hair and do your buttons and go for walks. Well, what do you think?’
Ali shook her head and looked at me, placing her small hand gently on my shoulder. ‘I don’t want a new mummy. I just want you.’
Pathetic that I should need such reassurance from a three year old, but little does she know that those four words, ‘I just want you’, have changed my life so dramatically. Physically, the aches and pains seem to have faded significantly. I have more energy and a new positive outlook on life. I feel I can do anything because this little person looks up to me. I just want you.
And being so happy has made me realise that my fantastic husband is still my best friend. He has been incredibly supportive and just wants to see me happy. He is more than happy to see me tapping away on the laptop, trying to come up with literary masterpieces. He never tells me that I am crazy or deluded, though I am probably both!
From an early age, we are encouraged to compete against each other. In school, we are encouraged to study hard in order to be the best. Even under-tens partake in handwriting competitions, poetry competitions and art competitions, we have sports competitions. When we are eighteen, we sit the most competitive exam invented, the Leaving Cert, in order to get high points, to be accepted into a course so that we can pursue a challenging career. We push ourselves to be the best employees, the best friends, the best partners, the best parents, often to the detriment of our physical and emotional health.
And now, I’m saying enough, or more specifically, that I believe that I am enough. I will still give my all to everything I do, but I won’t be beating myself up if I don’t succeed. Today, at least, I feel happy and free, and if my daughter and husband still love me in spite of the self-berating and toing and froing I’ve been doing over the last few years, then I must be doing something right.