What surprises you most about being a mom?
I was surprised by how difficult it was to connect emotionally with my first daughter. The natural mother came naturally, but the emotional mother was more difficult to create. Maybe every mother with any physical/emotional/social/mental barriers has this challenge. My wheelchair seemed to divide us and there was a real physical distance that affected our emotional closeness. Though challenging, I worked to close the gap by getting on the floor to play and seeking other opportunities to physically reach out. It took a while, but I was able to create the beginnings of what has become the closeness I wanted.
Who has been impactful in your journey as a mother?
Before I had kids, I watched good moms. I’m wheelchair-bound and was afraid to have kids. What kind of mom would I be? Then I met a mom in a wheelchair. She happily answered my questions. Her openness sparked hope that I could be a good mom. I now recognize that the “good” moms I watched struggled to feel adequate. The lesson is that we shouldn’t just watch each other, we should watch out for each other. I try now to not just be a good mom, but a good example of how an inadequate mom has a good time.
What continues to inspire you in your motherhood journey?
I founded the Princess Pageant, a nonprofit that crowns little girls in wheelchairs. Each participant has multiple physical disabilities. The moms of these girls touch my heart. I recognize that, to them, I’m living the dream. I am the one in the wheelchair and my daughters run free; no one stares or asks about their disabilities. These moms would trade places with their daughters if only they could. But they can’t. So they hold up their daughters to let them shine their unique light. These moms inspire me to be the kind of mom they would give anything to be.
How has being a mom shaped your life?
I thought I’d give up speaking when I had children, but I felt compelled to continue. Being a working mom is tricky. I try to give my kids my full attention, but this means I wake up before they do so I can work. Sometimes I’m away from them to travel. But my experiences with my children enrich, not just my life, but my speeches. They have made my presentations funnier and my audiences bigger. Trying hard to fit the mold of what I think a mom is has made me into a person I never imagined I could be.
Share one of your favorite stories from motherhood.
“You go to the mall when I’m at the dentist,” said my 4-year-old. No. What? No. But when I tried to get my wheelchair out, it broke. “Yay! Go to the mall,” she said. I had no choice. I parked and instructed her to go in and that I’d call. I watched her. Sad, but proud. My heart took courage—my disability could make room for her abilities. I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or worse, but when I called, the receptionist was quick to say, “Oh, Mrs. Johnson, we thought you went to the mall!”