I often meet parents of kids with Cerebral Palsy who are afraid to let their children try to walk. When I ask them why they won’t just let their kid give walking a shot, the overwhelming response is that they are afraid their child will fall. No human being has ever learned to walk without falling. Maybe there is one person, but they would totally be the exception not the rule. Fear of your child failing is not reserved for the parents of disabled children. Folks need to put their fear aside and allow their children to try instead of insisting they can’t-can’t. Let me be clear, there is no shame in not walking. We often hear the phrase “wheelchair bound”, but mobility devices are not binding, they are freeing.
I was born on Labor Day Weekend and rumor has it that the doctor who delivered me was drunk as a skunk. He had delivered all three of my older sisters and they had, apparently, just slid out for him. He thought my birthday would be a piece of cake and that he’d be back down the shore in time for happy hour. I came out fist first, ready to fight the power so I was never actually born. Instead, the doctor had to perform an emergency C-section which is not an easy task when you are sloppy wasted. He nearly suffocated me to death. I lost several minutes of oxygen in the process and as a result, I have brain damage. The doctor gave me a very special birthday gift that day. It’s called Cerebral Palsy and I never leave home without it.
CP is a spectrum like different strokes on different folks. In my case, the CP makes me shake all the time. Messages from my brain to my body go in all the wrong directions. I’m like Muhammed Ali meets Shakira. It’s fucking exhausting, but way better than being dead, I think. I often hear parents of disabled children whining about how they mourn the loss of the normal child they dreamt of having. My parents didn’t mourn the fact that had a disability. They mourned the fact that I wasn’t a boy. My father had already sired three daughters and he did not think God would be cruel enough to curse him with another. My parents had only picked out a boy’s name. They were going to name me Muhammed in honor of the prophe, but since I was a girl, they decided to name me Muhammedia. Muhammed is a great name. It’s a powerful name. Muhammedia is like being named Smurfette. Luckily the doctors told my parents that I might not make it through the night and they did not want to waste such a good name on an angel baby. They chose, instead to name me Maysoon, which means lemur in Arabic. Much to everyone’s surprise, the lemur lived.
After my horrific birth, the doctors told my parents that I would never walk. My dad was determined to beat the odds. His mantra was, “You can do it, yes you cancan.” My father taught me to walk by placing my heels on his feet and just walking. I walked miles on that man’s shoes. Another trick he used was dangling a dollar bill in front of me and having me chase it. My inner stripper was very strong, and by the first day of Kindergarten I was walking like a champ who had been punched one too many times.
My parents didn’t just want me to walk, they wanted me to dance. We couldn’t afford physical therapy, so Dr. Aron (who had been in charge of my well-being since the day the doctor who delivered me tried to kill me) recommended my parents send me to dancing school instead. Since my mom was busy with college, my father dutifully took me to tap class on Tuesdays. He was the only dad sitting in a sea of moms who were painting their nails, gossiping, and selling black market Cabbage Patch kids while they waited for their offspring.
Being the only man made my dad quite popular at Dawn’s School of Dance. I too was very popular. I got standing ovations at every recital and was convinced I could out kick any of the Rockettes. Ignorance is bliss and I blissfully danced oblivious to the fact that the audience was crying and clapping because I was special rather than spectacular.
Dancing school was no joke to me. When I was twelve years old, I was chosen to attend the Dance Educators of America’s annual conference in New York City. It was hands down the best day of my tween life, until it all went bad. We were sitting in a room with one of the greatest Broadway dance captains to ever choreograph a count of eight. He went around the room and asked each of us, “What’s your dream?” I knew exactly what my dream was and I proudly shared it, “I want to tap dance on Broadway in Savion Glover’s ‘Bring In Da Noise, Bring In the Funk’,” I squeaked. His response was a shot to the heart. “Girl, you are a cripple. Find another dream.”
I did find another dream. My dream was to be on the daytime soap opera, General Hospital, which was much more realistic. I never gave up my OG dream of being on Broadway. In 2010, that dream came true when II tap danced at the legendary Town Hall Theatre on Broadway. I wasn’t starring in “Bring In Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk” though. I was headlining the Arabs Gone Wild Stand Up Comedy Tour. When the host introduced me, I tap danced onto the stage thinking, “You can do it, yes you can can.” I got a standing ovation that night, not because I was inspirational but because I earned it.
Having parents like mine is a privilege. Not everyone is blessed with great parents. If your family doesn’t support you, you can still make your dreams come true. Having advocates helps, but if I didn’t give it my all, if I wasn’t willing to fall, all of the cheerleading in the world would not have gotten me to Broadway. Don’t let your physical body or other people’s treatment of you, define you. Create the person you want to be and be that person. You cannot make people clap for you if they do not want to. Block them out and cheer for yourself. If you are your biggest fan, others will join the fun.
Never say you can’t do something without trying it first. In most cases failure will not kill you. It is important to use common sense, though. Please do not try to perform open heart surgery without training and say, “Maysoon said, ‘I cancan.'” If your dream turns into a nightmare find another dream. Your dream is yours. It may not impress others and they may not believe you can achieve it. None of that matters. It is your dream and no one has the right to wake you up but you.