When I read the first Mamas Who Inspire post by (and about) Rachel Coleman, I was awe-struck at the challenges this mama has risen to meet. Two special needs children, one deaf, one with spina bifida/cerebral palsy. Nobody would blame her if she had given up; instead, she carried herself (and her children, literally!) gracefully above the obstacles!
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with her about life and motherhood – here’s more about this inspirational mama!
Motherhood is so all-consuming at times, it’s easy to forget the person we were before we had children – what was life like for you before kids?
I was a musician. About halfway through my first year of college I borrowed my sister’s guitar and taught myself to play. In 3-4 months, I wrote 30+ songs. I dropped out of college…with the full support of my family. I gave myself a year and within the year had radio jingles, was on a Disney Made For TV movie, recorded with local bands, and put out my own album.
I got married and had Leah and played guitar the whole time. We found out she was deaf and it was a crossroads… I realized my little girl couldn’t access [my music]. Music seemed like a big waste of time; I wanted to sell my guitars. We jumped into learning sign language and helping Leah communicate.
Was having your own business in your plans before you became aware of Leah’s hearing needs?
Not at all. My husband was going to school for a Degree in Parks, Rec and Tourism. We were crunchy. The music fit right in. We were very unstructured, Leah slept with us in our bed, I carried her in a sling. We didn’t own a stroller till she was two years old. She’d been right there, feeling our heartbeat. So Leah had our viewpoint when she couldn’t hear anything. That was the one saving grace, at least she was “right here” – not far away in the stroller.
You babywear and tandem breastfed your children – do you consider yourself an Attachment Parent?
Yes, without a doubt that is how we parented Leah. Lucy has other stuff going on [spina bifida/cerebral palsy]. We still carry Lucy and it’s not as much about attachment parenting, but about functionality. We don’t just say, “too bad Lucy you don’t get to go.” We carry her into places wheelchairs can’t access.
[Editor’s Note: Rachel was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Babywearing International Conference in Washington, DC.]
I think every mom is curious how other mothers manage their days. What’s a typical “mom day” like for you?
[Rachel’s daughter Leah is 15 and in 10th grade, mainstream. Lucy is 12, 7th grade, mainstream.]
6 am – We get up and get Lucy ready. She doesn’t walk. Aaron and I tag team and take care of her daily needs. Leah’s alarm starts vibrating – you can feel it through the whole house. Lucy’s canine companion, Willow, goes out.
[After the girls leave for school] Aaron and I have some time to go to the gym or take the dog out. We drive separate cars to the same office – we leave at different times … [after work] we are home in time to meet the bus, make dinner, do a lot of stuff with the dog.
10 pm – I hop onto social media. I answer everybody on Twitter personally. Because I’m a mom, it’s not just a job for me. If I can provide support for somebody else going through something tough – I think that’s maybe what I’m here to do.
A huge topic I see in Facebook streams and mom groups revolves around “feeling like a failure” as a mom, or being a “do-it-all” mom. What is your saving grace as a mom?
One of the first things to go when you have one child let alone two with disabilities is the taking care of yourself time. When Lucy was born we were on high alert because she might die. There was constant assessment of our child. Getting to know a medically fragile child, all of our focus was on her. Is she okay?
[Aaron and my] relationship suffered because our entire focus was [Lucy]. She got very sick at 9 months and almost died.
When Lucy was maybe 2 years old I called my husband and said “I am not strong enough” – it took everything just to make Leah a grilled cheese sandwich. I was so overwhelmed with the decades in front of us.
I crash and burned just like anybody else. You put everybody first and that ends up with you last and that doesn’t work for the long term. You put yourself last for too long you can’t manage anything well.
[Now], I register for half marathons and it forces me to take care of myself… there’s no way I’m going to run that thing untrained. I know I’ll start training and I’ll eat better. It’s conscious – [taking care of yourself] has to be something you put in place.
You’ve inspired moms with your creation of the Two Little Hands / Signing Time brand and your energy trekking into mountains with a child on your back! Who inspires you?
My kids. 100% my kids. I wouldn’t do any of what I do if it weren’t for my kids. I wouldn’t be physically where I am at age 37 if it wasn’t for Lucy.
You can look at your circumstances and make up whatever excuses you want. I think as a culture the default way to go is, Woe is me. How could this happen? And I was there. How could this happen to me? I’m a musician, I have to give up music. I thought that [was] the truth: I can’t do music anymore Leah’s deaf and she’ll never be able to experience it.
Then I had Lucy and I was like, We need our hands to sign and now I’m pushing a wheelchair…
We all have things that have happened we didn’t expect. I never saw this coming. I thought I’d be a soccer mom. I knew I couldn’t handle [disabilities].
When I saw my circumstances are mine – I could spend my whole life wishing it was different …and I’d be wasting a couple of perfectly good lives. I saw I had made up that, Deafness plus a wheelchair equals life is hard.
Byron Katie said, “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.” That quote woke me up.
I can suffer over it. Or I can do something amazing! I can come up with something brand new that nobody ever thought of before. Rather than, Woe is me.
I get to make up my own story. We decided we would be strong enough for Lucy – to lift 57 pounds and carry her to a waterfall. I am stronger with Lucy on my back than when she’s not because I’m not going to let her down.
Lucy can hear my breathing change and she’ll lean into my ear and whisper “you can do it.” There’s not an option to not do it. She is that inspiring! I’m powered by Lucy.
Do you have plans for more Signing Time videos?
There are 26 Signing Time shows available. I think we’ve hit every subject. If someone comes up with something we haven’t covered, I’d consider making it. But right now I feel we’ve covered everything.
Our most recent release was Potty Time. It’s been a huge hit (there’s a free app where kids get a phone call from me congratulating them on going to the potty!).
As your kids are getting older, what are goals you have for the future?
We’re about to release a brand new product October 15. The pilot for a show we’ve been working on for over 3 years: Rachel and the Tree Schoolers. It’s very different from Signing Time. It incorporates sign but is not all about sign language. There’s a lot of music. We’re creative writing songs – we don’t dumb it down for kids. The series teaches values, emotional intelligence, science and a complete Level 1 Preschool curriculum.
It’s a preschool show that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any preschool show out there. Our perspective is a mom’s perspective. You can count that anything Two Little Hands puts out is wholesome, safe, appropriate, and highly educational.
And there you have it! Rachel Coleman – Mama, writer, singer, actor, hiker, and inspirer!
[Editor’s note: Rachel uses an Ergobaby Organic Carrier, as well as other carriers, to carry her daughter. Read more here on Rachel’s blog. Ergobaby recommends a weight limit of 45 pounds (20 Kilograms) for our baby carriers; however, the carrier has been tested up to 90 pounds (41 Kilograms). Our carrier will accommodate you as long as you and your baby are happy using it.]