In 1993, while skiing at Mt Hutt, I slipped on a sheet of ice and broke my back damaging my spinal cord. I don’t think of myself firstly as a paraplaegic but this has changed my life, and the lives of my family, so dramatically that it often comes at the top of the list of describing who I am. Anyone who wants to find out more about spinal injuries will find this site useful: http://www.spinalinjury.net/html/_spinal_cord_101.html
I am the mother of three grown up “children”. I have been blessed with loving, caring, clever and healthy children who are responsible for helping to build a strong family. I am extremely proud of them and absolutely love them.
Before I broke my back I was a working mother at a time when it was rare for women with children to be working in management (actually it was rare for women to be in management). I had been working since my two oldest boys were nearly three, and took time off nearly seven years later when my daughter was born. I was often criticised for putting the two boys in child care but they were very sociable and extremely independent. Work and family were important parts of who I was and with the help of my husband, we spent lots of time with our children, reading to them and doing simple things like walking in the bush and playing in the garden.
Breaking my back changed all that. My daughter, who was four at the time, does not remember a time before I was in a wheelchair. My sons, almost eleven, had to adjust to being seen with a mother who was either in a wheelchair or struggling to walk with a walking frame or crutches. They developed their own coping strategies. One son initially admitted to being embarrassed to be seen with me, the other wanted to help in any way possible. I had less energy, and even if they were not consciously aware of the difficulty I had in managing pain I believe they were intelligent and sensitive enough to understand that things were difficult and they needed to adjust their expectations of me. The fact that they had a nanny to care for them while I was in hospital in a different city for four months, then she continued to care for them when I got home, I believe had a profound effect on the children. Our family became very close.
I focused on two things: loving and caring for my children as best I could, and struggling to walk. Children and husband were incredibly supportive and that I can walk now with crutches is due largely to their encouragement and unquestioning assumption that I would be able to walk, even if it required sacrifices from everyone. Children have a wonderful way of finding comfort and humour in any situation. Their wheelchair skills are far better than mine; they can all spin on the back wheels and negotiate steps and kerbs. When I was using FES (an electric pulse that causes a reflexive muscle contraction) to walk, they had fun trying it on themselves. They were generous and caring then, and they still are.
My daughter wrote me a poem when she was in her mid-teens, then another a few years later. I keep them beside my bed and read them regularly. When I find things tough, just thinking of my children motivates me to keep going. They are my inspiration, and much of my world has come to be viewed through their eyes. And I wouldn’t wish for things to be any other way.
I think in metaphors involving the sky, flying, looking upwards and so on. The English language and literature makes much use of these metaphors. We reach for the stars; we look up for inspiration; when we are achieving we speak of flying – we want our children to reach their potential, we want them to have wings and fly; “shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”; “though we are on earth we can touch the sky with our determination”. When we look up to the sky we see infinity and we are reminded that we are a tiny part of something much bigger than ourselves.
I spend much of my time looking down at the ground, putting one foot and one crutch in front of the other. Without proprioception I have no idea where my feet are so I look at the ground to see where I am and to keep myself upright. Perhaps because I spend so much time with my physical senses connected to the ground, I let my thoughts soar to the infinity of the sky and what the human spirit can achieve with determination and the support of others. Urging my children to dream and to turn those dreams into reality, has inspired me to keep dreaming. Hence. “Look Up At The Sky”.