Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Little Dancer

When I was three years old, I wanted to be a ballerina more than anything else in the world. I was undeterred by the fact that my legs didn’t work the way that they were supposed to; it didn’t bother me that I could hardly stand in one place without toppling over, much less twirl and execute movements with grace. I watched ballet videos for hours while sporting a frilly pink tutu, mesmerized, and imagined myself someday performing perfect pirouettes in front of an adoring audience.

Me in my ballet outfit, age four :-)
At age four, I took ballet lessons alongside my friends and was determined to keep up with the class. I wasn't graceful by any stretch of the imagination, and I couldn't perform all of the moves, but I loved everything about ballet. I felt like the prettiest girl in the world with my tights, slippers, and leotard, and sometimes, to my delight, my mom would put my hair up in a bun for class. There I was, a petite four-year old with stiff, crooked legs and a dream that defied my cerebral palsy.

I don't remember exactly when that dream faded away, but at some point I decided that I'd rather be a writer than a ballerina. And so it began; I discovered that I loved words even more than I loved ballet.

I was still a dancer, but now, instead of putting on my slippers and dancing with my feet, I picked up a pencil and danced with my words.

Stumbo Family Story

Monday, January 28, 2013

Letters on a Page

"You have beautiful handwriting," my seventh grade English teacher says one day as we pass in the hallway.

I meet her eyes for a moment. I want to tell her that my occupational therapist was worried about my penmanship when I was in preschool.

I want to tell her how my mom tried to make me a lefty because I was having trouble using my right hand, but I refused to cooperate.

I want to tell her about the hours I spent at the kitchen table, grasping a crayon and trying to write an "x" on the page, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the lines to cross.

I want to tell her how I scribbled stories on pieces of printer paper, over and over and over again, practicing.

But I don't. I look into her eyes with a smile and wish that she knew how much that casual, offhand comment meant to me.

"Thank you."

Friday, January 25, 2013

If I didn't have CP....

Sometimes in my dreams, I am running. I can feel the wind beneath my feet, and I am in awe of my body as each step propels me forward with ease and grace. It is breathtaking, freeing, exhilarating.

And then I awaken, and I am faced with the reality of a body that can't run, legs that seize up whenever I try to move quickly. I am faced with the reality that I probably never will run. I will never know exactly what it feels like. And that hurts.

I remember when I was three years old, and I asked my physical therapist why I had to do exercises.
"Because you can't run," she said, and I was crushed. 

I listen to my brother complain about cross-country practice."You wouldn't understand," he says, and then he sees my face.
No, I don't understand. But I wish I did.

If I didn't have CP, I would run until my legs gave out on me, run for the sake of running. Because I could. 

Yet at the same time, I know that I do run. Not in the physical sense of the word, but through my writing. When I write, I feel that same exhilaration and freedom that I experience in my dreams. And I guess that is what having CP is all about: discovering new ways to accomplish the impossible.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

He Spoke Up For Me

I was five years old, standing in line to get on the school bus, inching my way towards the stairs. I took each step deliberately, careful not to fall on the pavement and scrape my elbows as I had done many times before. 

Then came a voice behind me. 


Each word was pronounced slowly and loudly, and together they took the breath out of me like a punch to the stomach. I turned slowly to face her, my face hot. I was stung and lost for words.

That's when my brother, my five-year-old, daydreaming, soft-spoken brother arrived at my side. I don't remember what he said to her, but what he said doesn't matter. He spoke up for me. He left her in stunned silence, and in that moment, he became my superhero.

After that day, I realized that we all have superpowers. We all have the ability to become someone's superhero. 

All we have to do is speak up.

{Linking up through Ellen's writing prompt.}

Monday, January 7, 2013

What Comes Up Must Go Down:
Cross-Country Skiing With CP

It's been so long since my last post! Every time I thought about sitting down to write Part 3 of "The Day That Changed Everything," a feeling of dread rose in my stomach. Maybe I'm just not ready to confront that post and the pain that goes with it. For now, I'm going to leave that story unfinished and focus on something else.

About a week and a half ago, my family and I went on a short vacation in the mountains. We decided to try out cross-country skiing. I was a little nervous because my impaired balance means that it usually takes me a lot longer to get the hang of sports, but I was willing to try. 

The first day went fine; I stuck to the flat areas and skied slowly and carefully. For those of you who don't know, when you cross-country ski, the main goal is to glide along the trails. I had a lot of trouble getting the glide in my right foot (my right side is my worse side), but otherwise, I was able to ski just fine!

The second day challenged me both physically and emotionally. I decided to try out some of the more difficult trails, and for the most part, I was okay going uphill, but as we all know, what comes up must go down. And "down" I went. I must have fallen fifteen times, and getting back up is no easy feat when you are wearing two skis and your feet slide out from underneath you every time you try to stand up again. 

Each time I tried to ski downhill, I instinctively leaned backwards and lost my balance. At one point, I was so physically and emotionally drained that I sat at the bottom of a hill in tears because I knew that somehow, I had to find the strength to finish, and I didn't know if I had that strength.

Apparently I did, because I made it, even if I was shivering, shaking, and sore. 

And then I went back on the third day. There was a part of me that wondered if I was crazy because the second day was so miserable, but I knew that I had to try again and conquer my fears. 

By the end of that day, I managed to ski down a hill without falling. 

Take that, CP! ;-)