One of the abilities cerebral palsy affects in me is balance. There are different types of balance, balancing my body as a whole, and balancing things using the small muscles in my wrists and hands. I spend hours strengthening my core and stability muscles to improve overall balance, but my wrists and hands still have little ability to balance items. When I sit down at a large family dinner table a feeling of dread arises. The fear comes because of the struggle I have in using my hands. The dinners everyone enjoys like Christmas or Thanksgiving bring a mixture of emotions. I love spending time gathered around the table with family, however anxiety comes with the desire of functioning at those tables like the family that surrounds them. Everyone appears relaxed to me with the knowledge they can pass each dish and fill their plates with ease. It doesn’t matter what kind of drinking glass they have or what’s inside the glass, they have the ability to simply pick it up and take a drink. Dinner isn’t like that for me, I have trouble passing plates full of food, dishing food onto my plate, or drinking from a glass full of anything without ice.
Upon sitting down to dinner the physical aspects of the meal fill my mind. The anxiety of attempting to pass food and lift my glass for a toast clouds my thoughts. Early in life I would attempt doing everything myself, without asking for help. With shaking unstable hands I would try holding plates, setting them down in small gaps around my plate and dish up food on my own. Usually someone around me would hesitantly offer help at the last minute or at times I would struggle through the process on my own. It was overly important for me to function like the others around the table and it seemed my family understood. I wanted to prove I could overcome cerebral palsy no matter how difficult the task may be in order to feel part of the family. I had this feeling growing up that everything had to look perfect. Asking for help presented vulnerability to others and that vulnerability was the sign of weakness. So, I would attempt hiding my pain and frustration as I tried passing and dishing food onto my plate like everyone else.
Passing food around the family dinner table was one thing. I’ve found the solution to that problem is the maturity of asking for help. With age I’ve been able to let go of the frustration, finding family members willing to pass dishes over me and dish some food onto my plate when it looks appetizing. Surprising to me I feel more a part of the family when allowing them to help than I did when struggling in silence. Drinking from the glass placed beside my plate is a different story. I have spent many family dinners just staring at my full glass of water or sparkling cider wishing I could pick it up without the fear of spilling. A glass of wine isn’t even an option, as I still can’t figure out how to hold a wine glass, let alone balance one with wine in it. There are times at dinners I’ll find ice in my glass of water. The positivity of having ice is it stabilizes the liquid and makes it far less likely to slosh and spill when I pick it up to drink. Finding ice in the water gives me the ability to drink something with dinner. The thing about ice though, is it usually melts away during the course of a meal. It’s a great feeling sitting down and finding ice in my glass, but I’m still hampered with the knowledge the cubes may not be there long.
One of the best things happened to me when sitting down for Thanksgiving Dinner last year. Thanksgiving is often spent at the home of my relatives and one of the first things I look at on the table is the drinking glasses. I think about whether they would be difficult to handle, then I look to see if there is ice in any of the glasses. It is hit and miss, sometimes I find ice and sometimes not. It tells me whether I will have the opportunity to drink water with dinner. I was raised not to cause a fuss and request ice in my water if it isn’t there already, feeling it isn’t polite to be an inconvenience when I’m a guest in someone’s home, but I digress…
When looking at the Thanksgiving Dinner table last year I found a glass I could handle, making me feel hopeful. When I looked closer at the glass I found water inside with no ice. Immediately I felt a little bummed realizing I probably couldn’t drink during dinner. It wasn’t too big of a deal, as it happens more frequently than expected. The surprise came when we all sat down for dinner; I found a slice of lemon floating on top of the water in my glass. I had never really had a slice of lemon in a glass of water before. When I went to pick up the glass there was no sloshing around of the water. I took a drink and set the it back in its place. The slice of lemon floating on the surface acted like a lid on the water. It wasn’t like ice and going to melt away on me limiting the time I may have to take a sip. I was able to pick up my glass and take a drink whenever I felt like it. That little slice of lemon made my Thanksgiving Dinner the most comfortable I’ve had. I was able to feel less anxious and more fully enjoy the meal along with the company of the family.