School lessons

So, Alison is back to school on Wednesday. I know not every parent will agree with me but I for one cannot work out where that summer went.

Kids have a tendency to surprise you, though. Just this morning Alison had expressed trepidation about going into Senior Infants. ‘The work will be too hard,’ she moaned at me while I scoffed at her. Ten minutes later she had orally completed the first twelve pages of her new Phonics workbook. With Alison, I’d be more concerned about her getting bored than struggling. If she were to get bored, she’d lose interest and thus would begin the descent of a slippery slope into delinquency and mischievousness.

I suppose I’m still aghast at how much she’s learned in the last year.  Her reading skills are better than mine were at her age (it pains me to admit this), and she spent the summer doing Tullamore library’s Summer Reading Challenge. (This is where kids are challenged to read ten books over the summer. She read forty, easily). She’s retained most of her Irish and has been randomly coming out with statements such as ‘Six plus five is eleven’.

So she’s doing well which is a relief, because I had concerns about her starting at just four and a half. But of course academia, mathematical prowess and literary genius is not the be-all-and-end all either.

As the daughter of a wobbly mummy, Alison has learned that it’s good to ask questions about disability, and boy does she!! ‘How come you could walk before without a walker, but not now?’ ‘Why do you use  a wheelchair when you can walk?’ ‘How come these footpaths are not ramped? That’s very dangerous.’ I’m raising a mini activist. Together we are becoming a force to be reckoned with.

In addition, Alison has learned to deal with having a sort of celebrity mummy. If she thinks people are asking too many questions, she’ll change the subject with a kind of ‘who cares about that auld has-been in the wheelchair’ attitude. It’s so normal to her that she can’t work out what all the fuss is about. I used to worry that my disability would drive away some of her friends, but actually I’ve established a rapport with them all and subsequently lost my wondrous tinge.

I’d also consider her to be kind. I’ve tried to teach her empathy, sort of ‘how would you feel if’ scenarios. She can identify if people are being unkind to each other and she tries to include people. Sure, she’s not perfect, and if she’s part of a clique she’ll get caught up in it. But she also knows when she’s in the wrong – she’ll look at me with her big blue eyes that say, ‘sorry mum, please don’t give out, I love you!’

And what have I learned? I’ve learned that there’s more to being a mum than the ability to run around after your child. I’ve learned that I am in fact not an alien and am just the same as other mums. This year, I’ve made the nicest mum friends whom I love chatting to and I no longer have any qualms about asking them to help me out with lifts to birthday parties. I’ve learned how to let go and share my hilarious parenting fails with them instead of constantly being worried that they will judge me as a parent or report me to social services!

I’ve learned to enjoy motherhood – I mean, really enjoy it. I’ve learned to love myself, and take care of myself. Whereas before I felt like a fraud, I now know that Alison and I mean the world to each other.

And isn’t that the most important lesson of all?

 

 

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Flying Low

Readers, this summer my husband, the little ‘in and I decided to ‘staycate’ in Ireland. We spent a lovely week in Galway and then the two of us went north for a wedding towards the end of July. It’s been a nice summer, but now my husband wants to go abroad later in the year. And while I’d love to, part of me couldn’t be bothered with the rigmarole. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with flying with our  five year old daughter – she’s more sensible than the two of us combined – but rather the worry about bringing the wheelchair with us.

Don’t bring the wheelchair, we’ve been told before. Rent one instead. Well that’s all well and good, but the truth is I like my wheelchair. I’m used to it, I personally don’t think it’s overly bulky or heavy (125kg),and it means in the airport I can take my time, if I check in early. Admittedly, however, I’ve only brought it once, when we went to Salou in 2015.

This was with Ryanair.

I am not exaggerating when I say I rang their customer service a thousand times to give the specifications of the wheelchair – the weight, make, dimensions and the fact that it had a dry-cell battery. Oh, and the fact that the back folded down. And it was, after all the phone-calls and emails, a hassle-free experience.

I have an Invacare Kite. The same wheelchair as my friend Dani McGovern.

Dani was in my house last Wednesday. She’d called over with her husband John and son Logan and we chatted about how excited she was about little Logan’s first time on the plane (they were going to Birmingham for the weekend with her sister, her brother and their kids). They’d only been away as a couple in Lanzarote  a few months before so they had no reason to believe there’d be any issues this time either.

But when I read Dani’s sister Sharon’s Facebook status yesterday afternoon, I immediately felt sick. The story, which Dani shared with the Irish Independent today, was that there was no issue with Dani’s flight over to Manchester, but on the way home she was asked for the voltage of her battery which she was unsure of (Neither of us have been asked this before. You’re normally asked if it’s a dry or wet cell battery. Wet cell = no flysies. Ours is dry cell). She was given the option of flying without the wheelchair (Dani can’t walk, unless she’s harbouring a secret I don’t know about) or getting off the plane.

Can you imagine being told that your legs were going to be amputated or somehow decommissioned? I’m talking shite now, aren’t I? That’s how much sense flying without Dani’s wheelchair made. So really she had no option but to disembark the flight, leaving her husband and her young son (who, like any two year old, went beserk without his mammy in his eyeline) and wait for the next flight, an hour later, where by some miraculous intervention her chair suddenly wasn’t a ticking time bomb and she could fly! Makes sense, doesn’t it? (Just like my handwriting).

What wasn’t detailed in the article was that this isn’t the first time Dani’s been messed around when flying. We went to Mallorca in 2007, Dani, John Paul and I, and we’d brought Dani’s manual chair for me because taxis over there don’t take electric wheelchairs of the size Dani’s was at the time so we thought we’d have her small one for taxis (and for me if I got tired). Good thing too, because when we landed, the cabin crew arrived with the manual chair but there was no sign of the electric one! Panic is not the word, lads – it was like we’d lost a limb. Eventually it reappeared on the carousel – how it got there I haven’t a clue. In the meantime. our accessible taxi had threatened to leave without Dani, in a foreign country where we knew no-one.

Dani never went to the media about that, and she was within her right to. But if she had not gone this time around she would’ve inadvertently been saying that this treatment is ok, that it was somehow her fault. But it isn’t, and was not.

In short. Dani is more than ‘a girl in a wheelchair’. She’s a college graduate, a woman who’s been living independently since she was nineteen, a woman who’s worked hard to prove herself in every way, and in spite of some negative running commentary is a fantastic wife, loving mother, loyal friend and passionate advocate. She certainly didn’t deserve that treatment.

And in telling her story, she is reminding us that none of us do.