A Life Defined Not By Disability, But Love
When Bonnie Brown was pregnant with her daughter, Myra, she says she felt a mix of joy and anxiety.
"I hadn't ever been pregnant before," she says. "I never had really an idea of how to take care of a baby."
Brown, who is intellectually disabled, works at Wendy's while raising Myra as a single mom. Despite her disability, she says she never felt like her daughter was too much to handle.
"I think because I'm different it might seem hard for me, but I was going to give it all I got no matter what," she tells Myra, now 15, during a visit to StoryCorps.
Myra says she never realized her mom was "different," until she told her.
"I said to you, 'Myra, I know I am not like your friends' mothers, but I'm doing the best I can.' And you said, 'It's OK, Mommy,' " Brown recounts. "And that made me feel so good."
Myra remembers a time in third grade when her school held a parent-teacher conference. Before the meeting, Myra told her teacher in confidence that her mom's disabled.
"But the day after the interview, my teacher, she said that you seemed really intelligent. And that made me feel embarrassed," Myra says.
"Why?" her mom asks.
"Because I felt bad that I had said that, and then you had gone and you'd been fine," Myra says.
"No offense taken," she responds.
Today, Myra is enrolled in gifted and talented classes at her high school in Lansdowne, Pa., and hopes to attend the University of Cambridge when she graduates.
As a single mom raising Myra, Brown gets help from Community Interactions in Philadelphia, an organization that provides services for her, like cooking and running errands.
Yet Brown says the hardest thing she's had to overcome is emotional hurt. People often blatantly stare at Brown when they're out in public, Myra explains.
"And I would say something [to them]. I guess I am kind of protective," Myra adds.
Brown admits that she's also very protective of her daughter, but only because she cares about her so much.
"I am really thankful because you understand me, and you love me, and you accept me. And ... thank you for that," Brown tells her daughter.
"I don't know, you kind of make it seem like I tolerate you — I love you. You're a good parent, and just because you're disabled doesn't mean that you do anything less for me," Myra says.
Just like other parents, Brown says she wants to see Myra succeed and go on to college. "I want you to make something of yourself," she tells her.
"I want you to know that even though our situation is unique, I'm happy that I am in it because I am happy that I am with you," Myra says.
"Thank you, Myra, and I feel the same way. And I won't never change it for anything in this world."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And it's time for StoryCorps, the project that records everyday people talking about their lives. And today, a conversation with Bonnie Brown, who's intellectually disabled with a low IQ, and works part time at Wendy's. She's a single mom, has a teenage daughter Myra, and they recently interviewed each other for StoryCorps.
MYRA: When you found out you were pregnant with me, like, what did you think?
BONNIE BROWN: I was very happy, and I was also scared.
MYRA: Why were you scared?
BROWN: Because I hadn't ever been pregnant before. I never had really an idea of how to take care for a baby.
MYRA: Did you ever feel like I was too much to handle, like, ever?
BROWN: No. I think because I'm different, it might seem hard for me, but I was going to give it all I got, no matter what.
MYRA: When I was a kid, I didn't realize that you were different, and you actually had to tell me, because I wasn't figuring it out.
BROWN: I said to you, I said: Myra, I know I am not like your friends' mothers, but I'm doing the best I can. And you said: It's OK, Mommy. And that made me feel so good. Has my disability affected your life?
MYRA: I guess, like, when I was little, you had to go in for my parent-teacher conference and, like, as a disclosure, I was like, my mom's disabled. But the day after the interview, my teacher said that you seemed really intelligent. And that made me feel embarrassed.
MYRA: Because I had felt bad that I had said that, and then you had gone and you'd have been fine.
BROWN: No offense taken. You were just giving her a heads-up, right?
MYRA: Yeah. What's the hardest thing that you've overcome?
BROWN: Being hurt from people. Not physical, but just like...
MYRA: Like, emotionally?
BROWN: Yeah, yeah.
MYRA: There were times when we would go out, and people would just blatantly stare. And I would say something. I guess I'm kind of protective.
BROWN: I am really thankful, because you understand me and you love me and you accept me. And thank you for that.
MYRA: I don't know, you kind of make it seem like I tolerate you. I love you. You're a good parent, and just because you're disabled doesn't mean that you do anything less for me. You want me to succeed.
BROWN: Yes, I do. I want you to make something of yourself.
MYRA: I want you to know that even though our situation is unique, I'm happy that I'm in it, because I'm happy that I am with you.
BROWN: Thank you, Myra. And I feel the same way. I won't never change it for anything in this world.
INSKEEP: Bonnie Brown and her daughter Myra at StoryCorps in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Hey, she's enrolled in gifted and talented classes at her high school, hopes to attend Cambridge University when she graduates.
Goodness, excuse me. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Go to the podcast, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.