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  • Writer's pictureScarlett Murray

Mummy's Arms

Whenever we go anywhere, and my daughter gets too tired, she wants me to carry her.

‘Carry you,’ She mopes, stretching her arms up to me, pout on. ‘Please…’

What I’ve always found strange is that Cassia makes this request, of me, even if we are with someone else.

‘But your Dad has strong man arms…’ I’ll protest (excuse the anti-feminism), as I hold out my weak, skinny arms, one of them bent and particularly light on muscle because of my cerebral palsy.

My daughter doesn’t care. She loves her Dad but she still wants me to carry her. It’s the same if we’re with grandma, or an aunty, or a friend.

Physically, I become much more exhausted by carrying a toddler around than a non-disabled person would.

When she was smaller, it didn’t make so much of a difference, unless it was for long stretches. But now that she is almost two and a half, I thought she would go for strong, sturdy arms over my spindly, slight ones.

Physically, I may be exhausted by her requests for me to carry her. Emotionally, it touches me.

Because my daughter may have an awareness that others have a solider grip, but that isn’t what matters to her, what matters to her is that my arms belong to me. They are Mummy’s arms.

To many, this might sound unnoteworthy. Of course, a young child clings to their mother, first and foremost. They have an extra nine months of getting to know each other, after all.

But before I had my daughter, I feared that I would drop her. I feared carrying her up the stairs. I feared being left alone to take care of her. Many parents have these fears but mine were compounded by the limitations of my body. There was a strong chance that lots of parenting-related tasks, I simply would not be able to do.

For me, it was a revelation that my daughter was not born with an ableist checklist focusing on all that I Could Not Do. It was almost as if I expected her to be born, realise how flimsy my arms were, and cry until a non-disabled person picked her up. Never to be held by my flimsy arms again. But, of course, she didn’t. When she was born, she did not come out looking for an able-bodied person. She was born looking for comfort, familiarity, home. My disability was of no consequence to that criteria. I was Mummy. And that was all that mattered to her.

Cassia’s automatic confidence and love in my body inspired me to remember its unique, fine-tuned ability for adaption. I have never dropped her. Once, I tripped, scuffed my knee. But I held her up: she was totally unharmed and bemused. As soon as I needed to take her upstairs, I did so, unproblematically. I had spent so much of pregnancy fearing that I would not be able to do that. Many of the parenting-related tasks I assumed would be impossible turned out to be just fine.

It gave me pause to think. The brain damage is done; the diagnosis of cerebral palsy is a fact, though the symptoms may change over time. Unquestionably, my body has limitations. But how many of those limitations are self-created? How many are related to a fear and a lack of trust in my left side and its capabilities? I cannot say. And cerebral palsy is not something that you can think or diet or pray yourself out of.[1]

Still, I am grateful to my daughter for challenging my perception of my left arm. I have always separated my left arm from my right. Always seen it as lesser. Always spoken about it as more incapable than it is.[2] Always viewed it as a hindrance. I have not protested when people have referred to it as my ‘bad arm’.[3] Instead of all this negativity, my daughter saw my arms with fresh eyes. She saw my arms together. She has given them new meaning. She has validated my arms as givers of comfort, love, tickles, carries. Both of them. Mummy’s arms.

Incidentally, we went out for Mother’s Day yesterday. My daughter enjoyed a series of doting arms. She adored them all. Gobbled up the attention like it was sweets. She was also intent on chaotically walk-spinning-climbing-running more than ever before. But in the moments when the exhaustion hit her the most, she curled up into my arms. Finding that perfect rest-bite in them once again.

[1] So, no weird suggestions, please. [2] Until this blog, where I’ve started to hold myself more accountable to my own body. So sorry left arm for the dissing. [3] Arms don’t deserve moral judgements.

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