A tribute to Mom, the strongest woman I know

I was raised by a strong woman. Rosalinda Martinez is my mother. I am her Goose. 

There is a photo in my baby book that I absolutely love. It was taken a day after I was born. I was packaged like a burrito, face scrunched up, and my mom was looking down at my face. It was taken 40 years ago, but each time I look at it, my heart flutters. Love pours out of the photo. I look at it whenever I’m feeling defeated. 

Underneath the blanket and clothes was a mangled mess. Inside that little body were complications — dislocated hips, feet, and leg abnormalities. My mom had been told I wouldn’t live through the night.

“I prayed that you would be all right,” she said. “I knew you were a fighter.”

I am her third daughter. My sisters were 4 and 2, and had no complications at birth. I had a birth defect, spina bifida, in which the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. 

Doctors told Mom it would be complicated to raise me, and I wouldn’t live beyond childhood. 
Rosalinda holding Lucia, when she was a baby.

After three months at C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, Mom took me home for the first time. I asked if she was scared. She said no.

“I decided to raise you like any other baby I brought home,” Mom stated. “My priest told me God gives special babies to special parents, so I always considered myself special because I had you.” 

Raising her Goose

My mom knew exactly what to do. There was no manual on parenting a child with a disability. No support groups, no Google to answer questions. She went on instinct, reminded of her cousin Jose Luis. He had cerebral palsy, and Mom said he taught her that he was his own person, with thoughts and personality. He was 16 when he died, but my mom still remembers how much she adored him. 

“I knew I couldn’t baby you or I would make you weak,” Mom said. “I knew from the beginning I had to make you strong.”

She didn’t back down from her commitment. 

This amazing woman made me feel loved and accepted. She brought what everyone viewed as an abnormality into the world and taught me never to view my disability as a limitation. Mom admitted she got scared any time I was sick. If I coughed, she rushed me to the doctor’s office. If I didn’t take my medicine, she pried my mouth open to get me to take it. I was a stubborn child. 

I told my mom one day I wanted to jump rope. Mom didn’t say, “You can’t do that, you’re on crutches.” She went out and bought that jump rope. I remember attempting to jump rope in our kitchen, unsuccessfully, but I tried. All my friends were roller skating, so I told Mom I wanted to do that. She bought me Fisher-Price skates. Putting on those skates and slowly moving my legs while on crutches was tricky, but I did it. 

As I grew, so did my mom’s encouragement. I was mainstreamed in kindergarten, and Mom always advocated on my behalf. In middle school, I had a bullying incident. She marched into the school and spoke with the principal. She told him I had enough to deal with as a person with a disability, and that being made fun of because of my condition was not allowable. Fortunately, the principal agreed and it was taken care of. In that moment, Mom taught me I should never let anyone treat me differently. She showed me that speaking against injustice matters. 
Lucia with her siblings, Tony, Maria and Anna.

At each milestone, Mom was my biggest supporter. She enrolled me in Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp and driver’s education. Mom toured two colleges with me, pushing me up and down the hills of Western Michigan University, where I would attend. She took me prom dress shopping, and hemmed up my long white graduation gown. 

The Future

The first time I lived without my mom was when I started college. We cried in my dorm room and held each other. That night, she called me.

She gave me the foundation, taught me about strength and not to be scared of challenges. Without that, I would not have survived the challenges of college. Mom encouraged me through calls, telling me how proud she was of me. Her love gave me hope. 

When I graduated, Mom cheered as I accepted my Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Comparative Religion. She threw a big party for me that night. 

I could go on all day about the ways my mom supported me. How she raised a girl others in the world didn’t think had a chance. Her simple declaration of raising me like any other child was the best way in the world for me. She may still be overprotective, but it’s because, she said, I’ll always be her Goose. 

My mom is the strongest woman I know. She went back to get her GED in her 30s, later becoming a medical assistant. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, and had complications from surgeries that resulted in more surgeries. She is a survivor. 

Last year, I was in the hospital for a week. Mom was by my side the entire time. I encouraged her to go home each night. One night, she took my advice. Before she left, she wrapped me in blankets so I was snug in my bed. That was the first night I slept in the hospital. I awoke and thought that’s what it must have felt like in that 40-year-old picture of me in my mom’s arms. Safe, secure, and wrapped in love.

Thank you, Rosalinda Martinez, for being my mom. For showing me endless amounts of love and encouragement, and never putting up with my stubbornness. I wouldn’t be who I am today without your strength and support. You say I’m stronger than you could have ever imagined. It’s true … because of you. 

Lucia Rios is a writer, disability activist, and a contributor to The Lakeshore. 

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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