Monday, April 19, 2004

More stuff about me

So this morning I returned to my normal happy-go-lucky self. Aren't you glad? I know my family is. Actually, I don't think anyone would ever describe me as happy-go-lucky. I'm more of a kind of laid back happy. But now that my mood has improved, I'll post the post that I was too cranky to write yesterday.

Two nights ago, while I struggled to sleep, I had a revelation. My husband always says that I'm naive. He says that I expect people to be like me. And by that he means down-to-earth,accepting of differences, and unconcerned with appearances. I usually tell him that he's wrong about that, but I think he may be right.

So I got to thinking. How did I end up this way? I really wasn't raised to be this way. My father, while he loves me a lot, is not an accepting man. He couldn't be more prejudiced. He tried to teach me to be as aggressive as possible. I remember one college softball game where he yelled at me for not pitching the ball at a girl's head. (She deserved it but I don't play that way.)

My mother is eternally sweet, but a total doormat. I said to a friend recently that she would have missed the women's movement even if it had camped out in her front yard. She is nervous and uptight almost all the time.

But it hit me. There is something different about me. There is something that I went through that most people don't. But it never was a big deal to me, so I rarely think about it.

When I was very little, I had an extremely hard time walking. It's not that I couldn't, it was just very painful. I have no memory of the pain though. I think I was probably just used to it. My parents took me to a bunch of doctors, and finally, when I was 3, I was diagnosed with Legg Perthes disease.

Legg Perthes disease is pretty rare. And it is much more prevalent in boys. When you have Legg Perthes, the ball and socket joint of your hip disappears. Doctors still don't really no why. But recent research shows that it is a genetic disposition aggravated by second-hand smoke. (My dad smoked 6 packs a day.) When I was diagnosed, most sufferers would spend years in traction, years in braces, and then end up in a wheelchair as an adult.

My parents decided that they wouldn't go that route. They shortened my time in the hospital, but I still spent a few months at home in traction. Then they moved me into a newly designed brace much sooner. And most importantly, they encouraged me to be as active as I could. They signed me up for swimming lessons and a tennis program for handicapped kids.

It was the tennis program I was thinking about the other night. Linda from Sesame Street was the founder of the program. The participants ranged from kids with mental disorders to kids with missing limbs. I remember that my closest friend had only one arm. There were blind kids and deaf kids. I had a total crush on my very cute coach, and it was fun.

But being in a situation like that surely teaches you something about life. I learned to answer questions about my disease without blinking an eye. I learned about the troubles other kids face, but I also got to know them as people. I went to public school (My dad had to threaten the school board to get them to let me be in a "normal" class.) and never felt out of place or different.

By the time I was 6, I was out of the brace. By the time I was 8, I was completely healed. I had a decent career in both high school and college athletics, and I'm not in a wheelchair now. I was lucky, but mostly it was my parents doing. They decided to let me be a kid, and it worked to my advantage. They also made sure I was properly diagnosed.

To my parents, my "illness" (as they called it) was a very big deal. They decided not to have any more kids, and they put themselves in debt to pay for everything that insurance didn't cover. My dad once punched out a guy who made a disparaging comment about those kinds of people. It was devastating to them. But they didn't let me know that. To me it was never a big deal.

I haven't even thought about it in years, but I guess it really shaped who I am. When you accept being different at a young age, and learn never to care what you look like, it affects who you are as an adult. I learned what was important in life very young, and I'm glad that I had Legg Perthes. It taught me life's most valuable lessons.

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