PSA: No-one gets to tell me what I should be

Full disclosure: This mum is not having a good week. Several things have been said to me directly and otherwise that have made me increasingly annoyed that the wider world feels entitled to cast judgement on my identities and how I handle these is my daily life.

Let’s start with something that has bothered me since the dawn of time. I am an ambulant disabled person. I am fortunate enough that I do not (yet) require the use of a wheelchair. But I am still a disabled person. I have spent much of my younger life completely denying this and being reduced to tears at the sight of my scissor pattern staggering in shop windows. It is undeniable that even if you have no awareness of cerebral palsy, you’d recognise that something was not quite typical about me.

On Tuesday night, I went to the theatre. My friend parked her car using my blue parking badge. Her ticket came free because I am entitled to a companion ticket to ensure that I can get safely up and down the steep stairs most old theatres have. Hooray, let’s have ourselves a lovely night.

At the end of the evening, I queued at the disabled loo that was occupied. A lady in a wheelchair pulled up in front of me and tried pulling the locked door.

“Is someone in there?”

“Yes.” I answered. “I’m waiting too.” (Because this clearly hadn’t occurred to the lady at all, but whatever.)

“Are you disabled?”

I have never in my 33 years on this earth ever been asked that question so directly. Probably because it’s none of her damn business. My immediate response was one I kept in my head, but have been wondering since if I should have snapped like I wanted to. Would you like to see my medical records?!”

“I am.” I told her firmly. She clearly looked uncomfortable and I can take a stab at why. I don’t carry my diagnosis round in my bag to whip out to appease nosy, rude and affronted strangers because I don’t bloody have to. But more than that, I think it’s because, standing still, trying to be the queue for the disabled loo, I don’t look like what society has been saying for over half a century what disabled should look like.

Ta da. The International Symbol for Access has been in use since 1969. Because, those with access needs obviously have wheels! NO! NO, NO, NO! This symbol does not represent the entire disabled community and it sure as hell is not representative of me. It’s 2022 world, let’s get with it a bit more shall we? I am sure as hell going to keep using the disabled loo, even if rude ladies like that one seem to think it’s entirely appropriate that because I do not have her access needs, that I should simply leap over her and the toilet’s previous (seated) occupant when they stop right in front of me for a chat!

So yes, this week I have been affronted as a disabled person, but also as a mother. At a playgroup where the “thought of the day” was to go out and be the best mum I can be, in spite of the recognised tiredness and busyness, because “they are only little for such a little while”.

Pretty sure I speak for all tired, overworked parents out there when I scream “What do think I spend every damn day of my life trying to do??”

It is not helping anyone to hide behind cliches about how quickly time goes. We know, we’re constantly chasing our tails trying to keep up with it. We do not need the guilt heaped on about how soon our babies will grow. We know that too. That is why we are always trying so damn hard to be everything to everyone. Being a good mum is not about putting up and shutting up whilst time runs away with us. This job is the hardest in the world. It is about surviving. And only once you’re doing that, about finding your feet. And only once you’re up on those can you think about putting a smile on your face.

And to the person who told me they were “so glad I’d found a job” when I told them about an upcoming interview I had (for a voluntary position to support my Masters application by the way, but I didn’t bother to share that bit!) I have a job. I’ve been working at it tirelessly for the 1,977 days since my eldest child was born, something which I’m staggered you don’t seem to appreciate since you are a parent too.

Work does not only occur behind desks or at the ends of phones. It happens in kitchens, on sofas, in laundry baskets, in medical appointments and meals made and clubs attended and church halls for playgroup and bathtubs and bedtimes. That is my job.

So, saying it loud and clear for those at the back, one more time. Your words of wisdom, your judgements or your unwarranted opinions do not get to question or define or criticise who I am. I’d like to tell you where you’re welcome to shove them, but my hope is my daughters will read this someday and say: “That’s our mum!”

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