Growing up with a physical disability, I was always the "sick kid" in the family. My parents were both protective of me, but my mother found it especially difficult not to make my health her number one priority. Even though I don't like to admit it sometimes, my parents had good reason to worry about me: I have vocal cord paralysis and wear a tracheostomy (trach) tube at all times to help me breathe. When I was young, my mom took it upon herself to take care of me as much as possible, from washing my bed sheets to get rid of germs to chaperoning me on school field trips. Years later, I realized that those constant concerns were actually my mother's lessons about independence, even if she didn't know it at the time. Now, I realize that I wouldn't have come this far in life without them.
Besides my trach tube, I also have severe acid reflux and other health issues that required me to have multiple procedures before I reached the age of 3. I had nurses follow me everywhere for 19 years, even though most of the time I was fine. My immune system isn't the best. Whenever I got a cold or even just a headache, my parents would hold their breaths until I felt better again and they were sure that I was in the clear. They constantly needed to make sure I was safe and healthy.
My mom was the one who made me soup, brought me a wet cloth to bring down high fevers, and told me to stay home a few extra days even when I'd seemingly fully recovered, "just to make sure." She also cut my meat into bite-sized pieces, told me not to go out after dark, and complained to the school whenever a kid bullied me.
One time in elementary school, a kid accidentally smacked a sponge football into my face in the middle of gym class. I went home that afternoon looking as red as a beet, and I had no choice but to tell my mom what happened. The next day, she marched right into my classroom and demanded to know how the teachers could have let me get hurt and how dangerous it would've been had the football hit my trach tube, because I would've stopped breathing.
By taking care of me for all these years, my mom taught me how to take care of myself.
At the time, I felt so embarrassed about having to get my mom stick up for me. I didn't want the other kids to think I was spineless or a tattle-tale. But now that I'm 24 years old and living more than 400 miles away from my parents, I've realized that my greatest asset on the road to true "adulting" is, in fact, my mother's unwavering love. Her overprotective nature has always felt like a shield or barrier keeping me from being independent and understanding the world, but in the end she'd simply been preparing me for it all along. By taking care of me for all these years, my mom taught me how to take care of myself.
As I go about my daily life in New York City, more often than not I'll end up thinking about little things my mother did for me as a child — how to give myself acupressure therapy for headaches, for instance, or how to spot warning signs of the flu. My mom taught me that following the mantra "it's better to be safe than sorry" makes you stronger, not weaker.
I still remember the first time I came down with a fever in my New York City apartment. I was terrified of letting my parents know. Especially my mother. I knew if Mom thought that my health was in jeopardy, she wouldn't be able to sleep at night. I worried that perhaps they might fly up from my home state of North Carolina. When I finally told them about my sickness after my recovery, my mom was aghast.
"Are you mad that I was sick?" I asked, hesitantly.
"No! Of course I'm not mad. I'm just glad you're OK," Mom said. "You need to tell us next time you're not feeling well so that we can help you get better faster."
It hit me then that my mother didn't want me to remain dependent on her or baby me as I'd often thought. She simply wanted me to recognize my own limits and know that it was OK to reach out for help. She wanted to remind me that protecting my health was an essential step for maintaining my independence. Without a clean bill of health, you can't work, go out with friends, cook, or do much of anything. Above all else, she wanted me to know that she'd always be there, whether or not I needed her.
So here's a Mother's Day shout-out to all of the amazing moms out there who have a bottomless well of love to give and continue to nurture their children well past age 18. If you're anything like my mom, you'll do whatever you can to make sure your kids are healthy, happy, and secure for as long as possible. And for that, your kids will thank you someday.
These days, whenever my mom tells me to stick up for myself or says over the phone, "Don't let other people trample all over you. You're worth a fight," I'm reminded of the way she strode into my school and complained about the football fiasco. When she tells me to take it easy and rest well instead of going out on a Thursday night, I think of how she told me the monkey bars were off-limits because my trach tube might fall out. It's the little things I took for granted as a little girl that have served me so well as a grown woman.
So here's a Mother's Day shout-out to all of the amazing moms out there who have a bottomless well of love to give and continue to nurture their children well past age 18. If you're anything like my mom, you'll do whatever you can to make sure your kids are healthy, happy, and secure for as long as possible. And for that, your kids will thank you someday. I know this because no matter how old I get or how "adult" I become, I'm always going to need my mom.