Don’t get my wrong, I love my parents. I just don’t always love having them around, especially post-disability.
I became a full-time wheelchair user after a terrible car accident two years ago. At the time, I was a (fully able-bodied) magazine editor living solo in New York City, 2,500 miles from San Francisco (where my mom lives) and 6,800 miles from Seoul, South Korea (where my dad lives).
Understandably, being so far apart has made dealing with our new post-accident life doubly difficult for my parents. But too often, having them around is almost more difficult for me to deal with.
My dad flies out to the East Coast about once a year to make sure I’m okay. To be sure, we have bonded over dealing with the events of the last two years. But so much of my life has revolved around never being vulnerable in front of him. Getting over that and relying on him is still not something that sits well with me.
The fact that my dad seems to think I need help with everything doesn’t help. Any time I move at all, he leaps to his feet, barraging me with questions about what I need. On the one hand, it’s sweet. On the other hand, having someone constantly trying to take over whatever I’m doing, even when it’s just pouring myself a glass of juice, gets old fast.
My dad, who’s borderline obsessive compulsive, also takes it upon himself to give the apartment a deep cleaning every time he comes. There are several issues with this. For one, my dad and I have very different ideas of interior design. For another, my dad doesn’t realize that the reason certain items in the household are placed the way they are is because I’m a tiny Asian girl with short arms who’s sitting all the time.
Sometimes I’ll go into the kitchen and find clean countertops, only to realize all my condiments are now sitting above the fridge. Or I’ll go into the bathroom and find my shower chair has been moved to the bedroom closet. My transfer board also pulls disappearing acts with noticeably greater frequency when my dad’s around.
Things with my mom are easier, because we’ve always just understood each other better. But we’re not free of our own conflicts.
My mom has a hard time watching me push my chair, especially because she saw me back when I first left rehab and was stuck using a hospital clunker for two months. Even though I now have my custom TiLite, she can’t help but to grab the handles to my chair whenever I’m having even the slightest difficulty on the road.
I realize that part of the fault lies with me. As someone who’s always been very independent, I’ve always had trouble relying on others, including family members. I also just don’t know how to explain the difference between things I need help with, things I only accept help with from certain people, and things I don’t ever want help with.
I think to able-bodied people who haven’t experienced what it is to have most of the world assume they’re helpless, it’s hard to understand that help is just as much about the provision of assistance as it is about the acceptance of it. For example, my dad always insists on lifting me into cars, the same way my boyfriend often does to spare my arms. There’s something about a strapping young man gallantly lifting you in his arms that’s comforting in a way that an older gentleman nearing retirement who’s grabbing any part of you (like your ass or thighs) to keep you airborne and still buckling under your weight just isn’t. It’s an all-around lose-lose situation. I feel guilty being lifted, and I feel guilty refusing his lifting, because his lack of a poker face makes it clear he can’t comprehend why one guy is okay while the other isn’t.
By far the hardest thing about having the ‘rents around is having to restrain my emotions. In theory, I imagine that parents act as emotional safety nets for their children. But when I’ve cried in front of my dad, he sobs harder. When I had a massive injury-related panic attack in front of my mom, she snapped at me for being rude.
When I was first injured, I reasoned with them by asking whether it’s the parents or the injured child whose responsibility it is to stay mentally level. Two years in, I’m not sure I can still get away with the same argument. (Theories on whether two years is sufficient for mentally coping with an injury aside,) it’s not that I want to have to keep using that excuse. I’d like nothing more than for us to go back to where we were before the accident, disagreements and all. But since that’s not an option, it’s up to us to get back to whatever normalcy we can get back to, with whatever we have right now, however long it takes.
So a little patience, Mom and Dad, and I’ll try to be more patient too.