My Best Job Ever

In Everyone has one, Opinion by Amy Blanchard

I cringe as I sit here realizing that it’s been almost a decade since I graduated from college. Back in the summer of 1996 I enrolled in the 2 summer courses that allowed me to finish my degree. Because I transferred colleges between my sophomore and junior years, I had a bit of catching up to do credit-wise.

These 2 summer courses – both electives, mind you – prevented me from walking with my class at graduation that warm May weekend. Instead, I received my diploma rather unceremoniously in the mail in September, after the new fall semester began. But I was happy. I did well, earning cum laude status, and I finally had my BA in English that I knew I wanted since freshman year in high school.

To celebrate my achievements after finishing summer school, my parents sent me on a week-long trip. I was going to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. This world-renowned festival, held on the campus of Iowa University, is full of workshops for writers of nearly every genre imaginable.

Just what I craved as I set off into the big world of post-graduation wonder. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew I could write well and that I had an interesting story to tell. The particular course I chose, on memoir writing, was just the push I needed to boost my confidence and hone my skills while making new friends and associates among the hundreds of like-minded writing enthusiasts.

However, as a young woman with spina bifida, I was both excited and anxious about going off by myself for an entire week. Would I be able to manage the campus okay, getting myself

to the different activities on time? Would I get along well with the other attendees and not feel like an outcast?

I was sure that I would do just fine and have a terrific time, and I was thrilled to have the trust of my family to give this opportunity a shot.

On the first day of my selected course my instructor asked my classmates and I to introduce ourselves to each other. Tell a little bit about ourselves, she said, and why we chose this particular workshop. But, she warned, do not say anything about what we do for a living. At the end of our seven days together we would have a chance to guess what the others did in their careers. Then, and only then, could we reveal our secret identities.

As it turned out, I found that I had shared the week with nurses, office managers, and, yes, even professional writers. But what were people going to guess about me, a freshly graduated college student who had subsequently increased to full time status at her local Barnes and Noble. They thought I was a nutritionist (absolutely not). They thought I was a student (well, yeah, I guess). They even thought I was a writer (yay!). But what I said, as I opened my mouth to reveal the truth, is that “First of all, I really don’t define myself by what I do for my job. I just finished college and I work at a bookstore.”

My life’s goal was not to spend my days shelving books and ringing up purchases. My dreams were much loftier – I wanted to write one of those books sold at the store! I also enjoyed teaching, editing and publishing, as well as so many other things. No, I hardly defined myself as “a bookstore employee”. I was Amy – with her whole future ahead to explore and discover as I go.

My classmates seemed to appreciate my take on life. The next woman to speak after me said she also didn’t like to define herself by how she occupied her weekdays between 8am and 5pm. We are, she agreed, so much more than what we do to maintain ourselves financially. We are daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. We are ourselves – with all our hobbies, interests, talents and flaws.

Now, 9 years later, I still believe this. My interests have changed. Some have become more intensely sought after while others have fallen by the wayside in exchange for activities more important to me right now. I am also now, in addition to being a daughter, sister and auntie, a wife and a mother.

I was lucky enough to find and marry a wonderfully supportive, healthy man who loves me for who I am and what I believe in. Together we have an adorable, active and healthy toddler daughter. Today a happy, healthy family is, to me, one of the most important and awesome aspects of my life – especially considering the physical disability with which I was born.

As I still don’t define myself by my job, likewise, I do not – have never – defined myself by my disability. For my entire life I’ve often felt like the pet project of well-intentioned, able-bodied people. Was there anything they can do for me to make my situation a little bit easier? From carrying my book bag to carrying my cup of hot tea, people have always felt the need to help me out in any way they can. But for me, my life is what it is – always has been, always will. I’ve always had this disability, so I don’t know any differently.

Yes, I wear short-leg braces, walk with a limp, use a cane to help with stability, and am clumsier than the average person. But that’s just me. I can take care of myself quite nicely. Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate peoples’ concern and I do allow some help when I see that assistance can make a task that much easier. But for the most part I don’t even think about the “poor, pitiful me” whom others recognize as not having it as easy as themselves.

Now I watch my daughter grow and learn, and I am proud to see that she too, even at 2 1/2 years old, doesn’t “see” my handicap. Yes, she realizes I use a walking stick and she often likes to use “Mommy’s stick” for herself. She knows that I cannot pick her up and/or carry her.

If she and I go downstairs together, she sits on my lap and we scoot down together. And outdoor excursions with just the two of us always mean that she must wear her “walkies” (her child safety tether).

Yet none of this has ever fazed her. Given all the little adjustments she and I have to make for each other, to her I’m still simply Mommy. She doesn’t seem to notice my limp. She doesn’t care about my braces (“what are these on Mommy’s legs?” – “Mommy’s shoes”, she hastily waves off as the silly question it so obviously is). And if I can’t pick her up, well, gosh darn it; she’ll just go find Daddy or somebody else who can!

She knows I’m good for a cuddle anytime she needs one – I just kneel down to her level to give it. And no one can make instant macaroni and cheese or play like her Mommy!

No, I don’t define myself by my career. And I don’t define myself by my disability. I am a conglomerate of all my interests, beliefs, talents and flaws, influenced by the many people I’ve been graced to know, many of whom I still hold dear to my heart.

But of all the different roles I’ve played in my life so far, being a mom is the one that makes me feel most complete. It is a role that is defined by the love I provide for my daughter and the love she returns to me, unconditionally. No, you don’t have to be rich, poor, able-bodied or disabled to be a mom – it just helps if you have a lot of patience and understanding, and, of course, you must have the ability to love and be loved. Yes, this is the perfect job for me.

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