When my students and I discussed race, I told them I never wanted to be described as a “white woman.” I am a white woman, but those are just mere details. I wanted them to be more descriptive, to paint a more vivid picture of who I was as their teacher than simply by looking at the color of my skin. My upper-grade students got it. They began to see that describing someone by their race was not telling the whole story at all.
Now, that I am a stay-at-home mom, I don’t want my son to grow up defining me by my “boo-boo leg.”
Because that’s what he knows. That is how I have explained my autoimmune disease to my son. Ryan knows I have a boo-boo that doesn’t heal the way his skinned knee did, a boo-boo that is inside my leg and can’t be seen.
It is this disability that dictates so much of my life -- it’s why I can’t work and can’t go for long walks with my son. It’s the reason for regular doctor’s appointments and bottles of medications.
I don’t know how to accept the fact that I am “disabled” without letting my disability define me. On good days, my disability is an inconvenience I can manage. On bad days, it is a permanent dark cloud creating a storm over my head.
Recently, my son was playing on the playground jungle gym with a kindergarten schoolmate (I’ll call her “M”). In the way that kids do, each one was taking turns accomplishing some sort of climbing feat and asking the other if they knew how to do that too. M then turned her attention to me and asked if I could do her trick. Before I could answer that I was too big for the jungle gym, my son piped up with, “No she can’t. My mom has a boo-boo on her leg.”
My son didn’t say anything wrong or untrue. Yet, his innocent words stung and felt like a branding iron had stamped “Damaged goods” across my forehead.
A short time later, M asked if she could see my “broken knee.” In her mind, a boo-boo meant something must be broken; certainly there must be something visible, something clearly wrong. I told my son’s friend that my knee wasn’t broken, and that my boo-boo was not on the outside of my leg, but in the inside part and couldn’t be seen. Because, again, how do you explain to a child the randomness of pain generated by an autoimmune disease?
My son is approaching his sixth birthday. Who knows what he will remember from these early years of his life? But, undoubtedly, his memories of me will include my boo-boo leg. And with those memories, I hope my son will also include images of us on our “dates” to the museum, playing basketball outside, and our weekly visits to the library. As much as I didn’t want to be the “white woman teacher,” I don’t want to simply be the “mommy with a boo-boo leg.”
Occasionally, my son will ask more questions. He’ll ask how I got my boo-boo and he’ll ask when it will go away. I don’t have answers for either question. But I tell him that even with my boo-boo leg, I am always trying my best.
Hanging above my door in my classroom was a banner that read, “Do your best.” It was all I ever asked of my students. Not perfect test scores. Not perfect attendance. Just your best effort in every endeavor.
It’s all I ask of my son. It’s all I can give him.