MWhen I was two years old, my mum had a heart attack. I didn’t know what that meant, and I don’t remember much of it, apart from dad sitting on the edge of my bed. I’ve decided to start here because maybe this is the first tangible memory I have of realising something was wrong with my mum.
When I was in primary school, mum got a shopping scooter. A big red one with a flag on the back, and a box which I could put my backpack in when she picked me up from school. When I was young enough, I would sit on the seat with her, wedged between her legs and sometimes even allowed to steer. As I got older, I eventually started to walk beside her or race a scooter which could go a maximum of 10km per hour. There was nothing about this which was odd to me. She was just mum, with her scooter and lopsided walk, who liked to cook and sing in the kitchen and dyed her hair red even though it must have originally been brown, like mine.
In year 2, two girls asked me why my mum walked funny. People also used to ask why she talked funny, but one of the girls had a Chinese family so I knew she wouldn’t go there. Something about this, the singling out of my mum from all the other mums as odd, stung and I began to cry. The teacher took me outside, told me to calm down, and left me leaning against the green wooden railing, trying to catch my breath. I didn’t cry for a while after that.
I don’t know if I realised how much I envied other kids growing up. Mums who would take them shopping or could easily converse about boys and troubles. But I do know that, the older I grew, the less that envy was. Because I realised I had a mum who loved me, and I knew that for certain. Surely that was something to be envied by others. I had a mum who thought she’d never have kids, and who rejoiced to get married and find out she was pregnant. I had a mum who was overjoyed just to see me healthy, my strong legs and chubbiness as a kid. I had a mum who thought I was beautiful on days I didn’t. I had a mum who was and is ferociously protective of someone precious to her. I have a mum who loves me.
My mum contracted polio as a three month old in Indonesia. As an adult, I ache at the unfairness of this. That she is disabled due to a virus that, somewhere in the world, was already being cured. That she can’t have any more children due to the risk of it when she loves kids. That the kids she loves so much stare at her in the street. I wept as she explained for the first time last year she struggled to hold me for a year after I was born, her body torn apart from the pregnancy. But recently, as she’s moved from a shopping scooter to a wheelchair, I’ve learned to put aside the pain and just love my mum back, as best I know how.