How Do You Do It? … On being a one legged mama

Each year in Seattle, there’s a show called “Mama-logues,” a comedy cabaret about motherhood, for people who are mothers, have mothers, or know mothers. This is a piece I performed in 2013 and again in 2017, on being a mom with a “disability.”

I know about a developmental milestone that you won’t find in any book. At exactly three and a half year old, all children notice that I only have one leg. Really. Universally, if a child points me out in Starbucks (“mommy, look, that lady only has one leg”) they are guaranteed to be three and a half.

Past the age of four and a half or so, they’ve learned not to say anything out loud. But you all have a 3 year old in your brain, that couldn’t help but comment when I came out on stage…. “hey, that lady only has one leg.”

When some people see me, especially on the stage at Mama-logues, they may wonder… does she actually have kids?

Why yes, I’ve got three of them – a 23 year old, a 20 year old and a 6 year old.

People ask me “How do you do it? What is it like to take care of a baby when you only have one leg?” I’m like “I don’t know…. What is it like to take care of a baby if you have two legs?”

But really, having one leg has rarely seemed like an issue to me.

I had two legs for the first fifteen years of my life, then I had bone cancer and an amputation, and now I’ve been an amputee for over 35 years… This is my body, and this is just how I go through life.

And as for parenting and caring for my kids, I figure things out as I go along, just like you all figure out parenting as you go along.

It started 23 years ago, I was pregnant with my first.

Sure, there was a little trepidation going in… what would pregnancy be like? How would I carry a baby? A toddler?

It actually turned out that the whole pregnancy thing was easy for me. I remember going to my childbirth classes, and getting down on the floor for relaxation exercises and breathing practice [hoo-ha, hoo-ha]. When we finished, I’d stand back up – no big deal. Then I’d look around and see all these other two-legged mamas struggling to their feet, needing their partner’s assistance to get up off the ground. Oops… should I make it look harder for me next time?

When I’m carrying my babies and toddlers, sometimes well-meaning strangers approach me to see if I need help. I appreciate their gesture, and I hope they also make those offers to parents who do need help.

But, I have to also laugh sometimes. Like when I am getting my toddler out of the car at the community center, and this lovely older couple offers to carry him inside for me… I say thanks, but I’m good… the couple says “Oh, can you carry him by yourself??” I’m thinking – “y’know, if I couldn’t carry him inside by myself, why would I have brought him here by myself??”

I’m tempted to tell them: “you know, not only can I carry a baby by myself, I can walk upstairs while carrying one. And not only that, I’ve walked upstairs on my crutches while holding and breastfeeding a baby… how many people on the planet do you think can do that?”

Do I do some things differently than I would if I had two legs? Almost certainly. But I don’t feel like there are many things I CAN’T do – I just have to adapt and be creative sometimes.

Once when our older kids were little, we took them ice skating at Christmas time. The plan was for Peter to help the 3 year old skate – but it turned out the 7 year old needed help too. So, I was helping Izzi. Can I walk around an ice rink on crutches while holding up an ice skating pre-schooler? Sure, you bet.

But then, the staff at the rink came up and told me no one was allowed on the ice without ice skates. I pointed out our situation, but they insisted. I said “Seriously?? You really think it would be safer for everyone if I were to put on an ice skate??” They said that was the policy and they couldn’t let me on the ice with Izzi unless I had skates. The 7 year old was worried, my 3 year old was sad. So, I just said to my kids: “No problem, I can do this.” And I went and put on one ice skate, made my crutches three inches taller, and back we went to the ice rink.

And it was fine. A few years later my kids wanted the family to go roller blading. We tried it. The kids and my husband both fell LOTS of times when they were learning… Me? Piece of cake. It’s actually easier to roller-blade on crutches.

Do my kids need to adapt to the fact that I have one leg? Nope, it’s all they’ve ever known. By the time my son was 11 months old if he wanted me to go somewhere with him, he’d go get my crutches and drag them over to me.

There are some things we do differently… My kids know we don’t play the chase game – the run away from mommy in the parking lot game – Because I couldn’t catch them if they ran from me. They know when I say stop, they stop, or we go home. Period.

My son’s kindergarten math problems are more complicated to figure out in our household than they might  be in yours…. “If four people want to go ice skating, how many skates will they need?”

My kids are experts at answering all the questions that kids in the playground ask about “how come your mom only has one leg? Did she break it… right off??”

Are there perks to this life with a one-legged mom? Yep – has your child ever dropped his Thomas the Tank Engine in a parking lot, and had it roll away so it’s way way out of reach under a monster SUV? Ever had to figure out how to get it out before the toddler melts down? You know, it’s really easy if you carry a four foot long pole with you everywhere you go!

Works for knocking frisbees down out of trees too. Or pushing a kid on a trike.

Plus I bet your kids would rather go to Disneyland with me than you! At the airport, we get skipped right past those long lines at security…. We board the plane early… we get to park our car really close to the park entrance, and yep, we get to skip all the lines… wanna do Space Mountain again, kids?

People ask me all the time “how do you do it?”

I do it because I have to for my kids.

I know that out in the audience, there’s a parent of twins, or a parent of two kids under two, or a parent of a child with autism or ADHD, or folks who face plenty of other challenges. And people say to you all the time “I just don’t know how you do it.” Right?

Here’s the thing: we do it because we’re parents. We do it because our kids need us to do it. And every day we figure out how to do something new, because our kids need something new. It’s just what parents do, whether they’ve one leg or two.


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