Ryan Rae Harbuck is a new author, swim coach, speaker, wife, and mom.
The following is an excerpt from her book, "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Chair."
In it, Harbuck recounts putting her child to bed and getting a question about her wheelchair.
The following is an excerpt from Ryan Rae Harbuck's book, "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Chair."
"My heart does a lot of work. Sometimes I talk to my heart," uttered the softened voice of pure innocence in the half-darkness of the night. The glow of the translucent turtle night-light was strong enough to radiate against the other wall. It showed off hand-painted grass stalks of multiple greens, made with my own acrobatic maneuvers of painting so close to the ground from the height of a wheelchair.
It wasn't perfect by any means, but it quietly displayed the pure love I had for this particular 4-year-old lying next to me.
"What do you talk to your heart about?" I whispered in a matched tone. I loved these moments so much that I wished to grab them with my breath and inhale them directly to my heart for safekeeping. Throughout my life, I often told myself, "Remember this moment, please remember this moment forever." Those moments had enormously flourished since Roo was born.
I had hoisted myself onto his tiny twin bed, propping up both of my legs as if I were planning on sleeping there too. That's what he wanted, at least. And each night, either I or my partner would spend anywhere from half an hour to two hours putting this sweet yet stubborn little man to bed. Tonight was my turn.
"Mom, why don't you walk?" he sighed, apparently something he had talked with his heart about before. I sighed too.
I knew this day was coming, but I didn't quite know it was happening tonight lying in bed with him. My only plan for the evening had been to get this boy to sleep in the least amount of time possible, all while making him feel special for the attention and care in the process.
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We had already talked about my legs
Being well into my 30s, chasing 4-year-old curiosities, I was tired. I combed my hands through his mess of blond curls and equally through the leftover mess and dirt of his very sticky preschooler day.
Being a mom was something that I had always wanted but never put too much weight on, likely for fear of never attaining such a dream. It wasn't until I met James that it transitioned from something I thought about wanting into something that my soul actually ached for.
"We've talked about it before. I don't walk because my legs don't work."
"How old are your legs?"
"Sweet boy, they are the same age as the rest of me."
"OK, what about your arms?"
"All of my body is the same age … my legs, my arms, my tummy, and my head. Maybe my legs look like they are a different age to you because they don't work the same as other mommies'."
"All the other mommies walk and are tall."
He often liked to point out how short I was compared to other grown-ups in his life. I'm not sure if he took the moment to realize that it was because I was sitting down, or if he believed that my chair made me smaller. Either way, I know that 4-year-olds are really into size and age, and I wasn't going to be bothered by his inquisition. I had heard similar things most of my life.
"Yes, they do. Yes, they are. I'm just a different sort of mommy."
He broke in — "with two belly buttons!" That was something I am certain he bragged to his preschool friends about.
I cringed a little, thinking about it. He was referring to a scar on my belly from my first emergent days at the hospital after my accident when they sliced a small hole and sewed in a GI tube that flowed greenish, grayish food straight to my belly for the nourishment to keep me alive. Thank goodness all that remained from those days for him was my super spectacular second belly button.
"Yes, baby. You got it." There was a long pause of silence, one that I have heard before. I thought I may be off the hook and that the sandman whisked this sweet boy away for the night to dream of those favorite things of his — swimming and school, naked mole rats, and his beloved teddy bear, Goldilocks.
As I, too, had closed my eyes, he whispered abruptly, "You were in an accident a long time ago, but not when the dinosaurs were living." This concept is strange for even some adults to grasp, and now I was trying to rationalize with a 4-year-old that I was in a tragic car accident that broke my spine.
In the past 20 years, I have been asked by countless children, with shushing moms and dads in the background, the very same question. However, this time was the first time that it truly made my heart sink to where I feared it may be lost beyond me forever.
From "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Chair," by Ryan Rae Harbuck, published by Old Goldie Press. Copyright © 2022 by Ryan Rae Harbuck.
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