I imagine when I meet new people, they often wonder about my childhood. Maybe they do. I can’t climb into their brains and find out, but some people have asked what it was like having a disability and being a child.
I look back on my childhood and think about it. To me, it didn’t seem that different. To others, it may be something ready for its own sitcom.
When I came into the family, I was the 12th child. I believe my parents ended up with so many kids because they were waiting for the perfect child, so naturally, they stopped when I came into their lives (don’t ask my older siblings).
As the first child in the family born outside of the United States (to be exact, Russia), my family was captivated when I came home. According to my older brother, I said his name first. They took turns trying to get me to say their names in my strong Russian accent.
I was adopted a year after my sister, Gina, and we were the youngest ones and closest in age (separated by seven months). Gina was born with cerebral palsy and has a cognitive disability. We quickly became “the little girls,” and, much to my chagrin, it’s still what people call us. In this picture, Gina and I are with our Aunt Gina, after whom my sister is named.
I had a partner in crime. She was my hands and legs, and I was her misleading conscience. I would convince her to do various things, such as getting up to play at 3 a.m. (because clearly, the sun wasn’t working that day) or sneaking downstairs to rummage through presents early Christmas morning.
My older siblings were less moldable. One of my brothers made a habit of stuffing me between couch cushions and sitting on me. One of my other brothers would do strength training throwing me across the living room to the couch on the other side of the room hoping I would reach the couch. Of course, I thought he was helping me learn how to fly.
My older sister, Beth, would take Gina and me for walks in a gardening wagon with Sammy, our family dog, pulling. Imagine this miniature poodle — roughly 15 pounds — pulling a wagon with two little girls. It was a good time until he spotted a squirrel.
Beth would also take me sledding during the winter. One time we climbed the biggest hill in my life (OK, maybe it wasn’t that big, but tell that to my 8-year-old self) to sled down. Climbing uphill in the snow without any legs is a terrible idea. My four layers of pants were weighing me down and didn’t provide much warmth. It was worth it in the end to slide down the hill by myself, only to collide with a cute boy at the bottom and go flying. The only thing that got me through all the snow was knowing I had a warm bath waiting for me at home.
Back to Slammin’ Sammy, my family’s dog. I always joked that you know you live in a big family when even your dog is a hand-me-down. Sammy first belonged to my oldest sister, and then, after about a year, he went to Beth. She had him for a while and then I got him in middle school.
Sammy was my best friend and cuddle-buddy, as you can see. That picture is an accurate depiction of our relationship. My favorite things were feeding him peanut butter and crack up laughing at his exaggerated smacking and screaming, “squirrel,” and watching him scramble to the closest window to defend his territory. He was there for me through middle school, high school and all of my undergraduate degree, and as my first dog, he’ll always have a special place in my heart.
School wasn’t any different for me. I would socialize too much during class and blew off my homework much too often. I had a little square blue scooter with four wheels that took me through the school. Sure I had a power wheelchair, but my scooter was more fun.
I took that scooter with me through elementary school and middle school. I would use it to scamper across the room to the computers or to read a book from the reading circle. I also used it to get between classrooms and for activities in P.E. Looking back, I don’t know why I avoided my wheelchair like the plague, but I miss scootering (is that a word?) around almost undetectable. Plus, after years of using my scooter, my upper body strength was comparable to The Incredible Hulk.
Would Paraquad be opposed to me going through the halls on my scooter? I’d probably get stepped on, so that might not be the best idea.
The teachers would hover until they learned better. Multiple times, while out on the playground, I would climb to the top of the jungle gym and pretend to fall so all of the teachers would rush over in a panicked manner. Then I would smile and proceed with my playing. After a while, they were probably hoping I would actually fall so I’d stop messing around. The jungle gym was the best place to observe everyone at recess but to also socialize beyond the ears of the teachers.
So maybe my childhood is a combination of the average and the strange. My disability wasn’t the only contributing factor to the strangeness. The number of siblings might have played a role. There’s also the possibility that my childhood would have been strange even if I didn’t have a disability. I’m naturally strange (and this is where you defend my honor by saying something along the lines of, “No, you’re just quirky!” or “I never noticed you’re anything but average.”).
For those people who wonder what my childhood was like, I imagine it wasn’t too different from everyone else’s. There are weird things that happened that are unique to me. There were things that were the same as your family, such as blaming something that you did on a sibling or fighting with your parents. And some things happened that we don’t like to acknowledge, as I’m sure all families experience to a certain degree.
All of these weird and not-so-weird experiences have helped me become the peculiar person I am today.
Anna Corbitt is the Youth and Family Specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.