What I Wish My Boyfriend’s Parents Knew About Me and My Disability

J&I_MyGrad 2015

My boyfriend and I have been together for about five years. He is able-bodied, and I walk with canes. He’s never been phased by my cerebral palsy (CP) and actually seems to enjoy assisting me throughout our life together, such as carrying my laundry, tying my shoes when there’s no place for me to sit down to tie them myself or dreaming up ways to make activities accessible for the two of us — something that I appreciate and feel is quite nice.

Not wanting it to ever seem like he may have been hiding it, my boyfriend was very up front with his parents about my moderate cerebral palsy after our first few dates. I’m not sure why, but they were immediately devastated that their son would choose to date someone with such a permanent, restricting condition, which they assumed could only ever negatively affect his life. Although we have met a few times over the years, for the most part, I have been kept on the outside of their very close family. They refused to accept or acknowledge my being in their son’s life. I’ve faced discrimination for my disability before, but never had it held in such a constant position, dictating a large aspect of my life.

Only recently have they begun to come around to the idea of our relationship and allowing me to participate in family activities. I’ve only ever wanted them to get to know me as more than my CP. Simply put, here are 12 things I wish they understood about me:

1. I’m in love with their son; he’s my best friend.

2. A disability is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also not optional, so I have to live my life.

3. My disability is a part of me, but in a lot of ways, I am just like everyone else, and thus, deserve to be treated as such.

4. But the things that make me different (I’ll never dispute the fact that I am different) have also made me a stronger and a more open-minded person with a unique perspective.

5. I will never be completely bedridden and dependent.

6. My having a disability will not get in the way of their son’s career.

7. My disability is not genetic; I have just as much chance of birthing a child with disabilities as anyone else.

8. If they have questions about my condition, or me in general, they should just ask me.

9. How they have treated us, as well as the at times outrageous assumptions they have made about my abilities, or lack thereof, have hurt me in ways I never expected.

10. However, I am not going away, so we should just work on, at the very least, coexisting.

11. I love the love their family has for each other, and all I’ve ever really wanted is to be a part of it.

12. They have raised two smart, great men with an endless ability for love and compassion, which should make them proud.

I came face-to-face with my boyfriend’s parents this weekend for the first time in about four years, since I was a plus-one at a retreat thrown by his family’s business, with the intention of reintroducing me to his parents. Although they were not the most welcoming, we’ve made progress in that they politely tolerated my presence. Not wanting to rock the boat too soon, I didn’t approach them about these things or their concerns — speaking for myself for the first time — but I’m not giving up. I’ll respectfully bide my time at family events until, hopefully one day soon, we are comfortable enough with each other to have an open and honest conversation.

This is the only thing I can think to do. Fighting and rudeness would only give them a real reason to disapprove of me. And obviously, hiding didn’t work because you can’t get used to someone you never see. I hope my dream of being accepted will come true with time.

Originally published on The Mighty.

What I Wish My Boyfriend’s Parents Knew About Me and My Disability

What I Realized About My Disability and Life at 13,000 Feet in the Air

JGeboers_NZSkydiving

This time last year, I was in the middle of a semester as an exchange student at AUT University in Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. I’ve wanted to travel ever since I watched my aunt stuff rolled-up socks into her boots to make room in the suitcase she was taking to England. As cliché as it may sound, I wanted go everywhere and see as much as possible. I have cerebral palsy, and I’m physically unable to carry a backpack large enough to accommodate a trip longer than two weeks. So taking part in a school exchange program to New Zealand gave me the perfect opportunity to travel light within my host country.

My time in New Zealand was a turning point. I left some of the most challenging aspects of my life behind in Toronto, leaving me free to be a happier, more authentic version of myself. I don’t pretend to think that this is unique; who wouldn’t feel this way in a new place with new people and fewer responsibilities?

Despite the years I had previously spent living in student housing, it wasn’t until I was at AUT that I had a more conventional social student experience: bonding with roommates over food and TV, attending parties, dinners, movie nights and study sessions with friends in the building. Having a large support system of fellow exchange and international students around me at AUT was one of the best experiences I have ever had. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel misunderstood and alone.

Often, groups of us would get together on weekends and days off from classes to sightsee and travel around the fairly small country. As such, the two-week mid-semester break was our opportunity to take the bus to the South Island, particularly Queenstown: the adventure capital of New Zealand and the birthplace of bungee jumping.

Bungee jumping was a dream of mine. But after making inquires, I was told I would need a doctor’s note, saying it was safe for me to jump, even with a waist harness, given my cerebral palsy. But when the bus driver announced skydiving as one of the available activities, I thought, why not tick this off my bucket list and see the sights from the air?

All things considered, I gave jumping out of a plane the least amount of thought and preparation of all my New Zealand adventures. I figured that as long as I was strapped to an expert and landed on my butt, all would be well. They assured me when arrived that my disability was not a problem. In fact, they had a monthly repeat jumper who was a paraplegic, so someone as light and able as me would me a piece of cake. 

The only seemingly intentional accommodation they made was to ensure that I was the last to get onto the plane, which meant I would be the first to jump out. A cameraman helped me get my legs over the edge of the plane before jumping himself to videotape my fall.

During the first 15 seconds of jump, I was a bit disoriented and had to remind myself to breathe. But in the moments after that, I realized I could do just about anything. If I could move to the other side of the world, travel around one of the most inaccessible countries alone and jump out of a plane, then everything else was at least manageable.

Originally published by The Mighty.

What I Realized About My Disability and Life at 13,000 Feet in the Air