Today we head off to wheelchair tennis camp in Portland. Finley played for the first time at this camp last year and it was one of those breath-of-fresh-air moments for me as his mama. I met other disability parents, saw other kids in wheelchairs kicking ass and doing great. He met professional athletes in chairs—grown men he could look up to and admire.
This year he wrote a “how-to” in kindergarten for wheelchair tennis. Bless his phonetic spelling of everything—”weeol” is the best.
Having a kid like Finley, I’ve learned more about myself in a few years than I had in the 27 before his birth. My first lesson was this: **Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.** It is a quote I’ve heard said several different times in various ways. But the truth of it is so raw. It is one reason I signed him up for wheelchair tennis. I wanted his “can do” to be his own. Something he could be proud of.
Now, for today’s lesson. Having a kid playing wheelchair tennis? Yeah, that seemed pretty cool. Like, “hey my kid is so freaking resilient and solid that he’s taking this wheelchair thing all the way to the paralympic village, bitches.” I got caught up in the idea of my child achieving beyond his expected outcome. I mean, what a story! “You weren’t supposed to walk, dude, but you are headed to the US Open via wheels so take that, universe.” It made me feel special that I had a kiddo doing this thing that was unique and fighting his circumstances.
I was putting my dreams on him, expecting him to shine brighter than the rest of us because that’s the only way I thaughty I would feel good about his situation. I wasn’t living by the code I had come to respect. Something my disability idol Stella Young taught me early on. Lesson number two. **Disabled people are not an inspiration because they are born different.**
In fact, I should expect no more of Finley than I do of my able-bodied child, Emerson. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing. It seems like maybe this is something many of us wish for our disabled kids. That they might rise above their circumstances with a big middle finger to the thing holding them back. That they execute something great because they are super special and that this disability, in a heroic turn of events, was a good thing.
So when Finley told me the other night he wasn’t so sure about wheelchair tennis and that maybe he wanted to try golf I felt disappointment. I thought about why and realized that I had been doing the exact thing I knew I wanted to avoid. I had idealized my kid’s disability. I had wanted something “more” from him simply because of his lot in life. Maybe he could do great at golf, but maybe not. Whatever the case, golf didn’t seem like the same kind of flashy disability sport like wheelchair tennis. No visual reminder of the odds he’s had to overcome. Also I don’t like golf, so, you know. Priorities.
I admit this because I want to openly discuss my own feelings on disability more than I have in the past. Deal with my emotional struggles openly in the hopes that it helps someone. For anyone else who has a child born with different skills, circumstances and abilities, I wonder if they also dream of something more and uniquely excellent for that child. That they will become great. And that their greatness will wash away what they lack.
But it doesn’t and it doesn’t need to either. Because Finley is enough as a kid who sometimes uses his chair and sometimes doesn’t. He is enough just going to school and playing games at home. He is enough when he tries different sports, like golf, that don’t showcase his resilience with a chair.
He is enough. And while he doesn’t need to be my inspiration—or yours—he’s still a great kid with a whole lot to offer the world. Chair or no chair. Whatever success looks like.
I realize how much this admits my own faults as a person, parent, disability advocate. But hey, I’m learning. To be clear, Finley is still going to tennis. Because they have snacks and cookies there. And because the amazing people who run the camp have some kind of surprise for him. Winning.