"Growing Up Without a Mother"


Maria is an activist and poet, and she's written a moving poem about the complex relationship among her mother, her sister, herself, and her disability.

a mother holds her two daughters

Growing Up Without A Mother

You grew up without a mother
because I stole her from you.
I stole her by being disabled 
although at no fault of mine,
she decided to dedicate her life
to the one child, she felt, needed her most
—kind of like the way Jesus
left the ninety-nine sheep 
to go after that one 
that got lost.
I guess I was 
the lost 
who eventually became 
the black sheep 
when I refused to conform to expectations
that oppressed me and forced me to see myself
as broken and as the reason 
why you 
grew up without a mother.

Your entire childhood 
was scarred by separation 
and every time we left,
your soul was broken, and you were left
feeling alone and abandoned
because although you were 
in the care of “loving family,”
in the life of a child, nothing is more needed 
than the presence of a mother
because a mother loves, and forgives
and understands,
and instead you were left
with a stern grandmother who was afraid
you would become a loose woman 
of your outspoken ways.

You had a tough childhood.
I don’t think you ever recovered
from the last time we left 
when we came to the United States
and never went back.
We left, but with the promise
of bringing you soon
-a promise that took ten years
to come true….ten years
that turned little girls 
into women,
and childhood dreams
into the memories 
of a painful past.

By the time I saw you again
I was married
and in my mid-twenties
and as always, you still were
the outspoken one,
the one 
with the balls 
to do anything,
and even though years had come
between us,
the minute we saw each other again,
we connected
as if we had never been apart.

We connected and laughed and cried
and tried to fill the hole that had been left empty 
by separation...
by a decade of distance that had led us to become
the women we had become, 
and although we were still young,
we knew
there was nothing we could do 
to recover the lost time,
to re-live the childhood we lost,
to heal 
the hole in your heart in the shape of a mother,
that sorrow that never went away
because to this day
the wounds of growing up feeling so alone
seem to have made themselves at home in you 
and your persona.

My childhood was not easy either, 
but I know
out of the two of us,
had it tougher
because no matter what physical pain I survived,
I always had the comfort and the love 
of a mother by my side
-a mother that I took from you
because she, 
like Jesus
wanted to save that one sheep...
in this case,
the crippled one.
And I guess in so many ways she did 
save me.
She saved me from growing up 
in a culture that would have kept me hidden
and shamed ,
hidden and blamed
for differences I did not choose to have.
My mother, our beautiful mother,
made the ultimate sacrifice 
when she chose to leave her little girls behind
to save the one 
whose life was the one in danger
-in danger of ignorance and oppression,
in danger of being wasted and thrown away 
by a society that refused to understand 
that disabled kids still have a future.

Her leaving you
all that to me.   I owe 
my freedom, my pride, my self-confidence
to the fact that I had a chance to blossom
in a culture that was beginning to emerge
with the notion of disability rights.
It was fertile soil, and I was one of the seeds
that grew into the crip mother tree
I have become.

I am sorry.  I am so sorry 
for those ten years you waited
while you imagined an American dream
like the ones you’d seen on TV,
the high-school life 
and freedom you lacked.
—a dream you didn’t get to live 
because by the time we came together again
your teen years had already passed
and both of us 
already had started living 
some version 
of being adults… 
a version that involved jobs
and life 
beyond the childhood dreams we had 
when we got separated.

We don’t really talk about that any more.
We have both grown into women and mothers,
and we both have
very different views 
about almost everything.

In so many ways, we have grown apart,
but none of that matters
because in my heart
I know that although there’s still a lot of pain,
and wounds that haven’t fully healed,
there is also immense love
and that 
is what I hold on to,
and I hope that you do too.

Thank you 
for being who you are.
Thank you 
for your generous heart.
I hope one day you look back and realize
that although it might not have seemed like it,
you were always loved.
You were always wanted.   

Some things
are hard to understand 
until we become 
mothers ourselves…only then 
can we feel 
 the anguish and the pain
felt  just by the thought of having to choose 
to save one child.
We tell ourselves, we wouldn’t do it.  
We tell ourselves, there have to be other ways.
But we know 
it’s always easier said than done.
We don’t have the right to judge.
We never 
have the right 
to judge,
and the one thing I know for sure,
is that the day will come, 
whether we like it or not,
when we look in the inner mirror of ourselves
and, as women, we learn 
we have become
our mother.  


Thank you to Maria Palacios for sharing her poetry with AbleThrive. Maria is a poet, author, spoken word performer, public speaker, professional presenter and workshop facilitator, polio survivor and disability rights activist, and a mother of two. Her work is spirited by her own woman experience and embraces and promotes self-acceptance, empowerment, and social justice surrounding people with disabilities, gender and sexuality, teen girls and women, and a wide spectrum of issues as they relate to diversity. Her hopeful message of pride is consistent throughout her raw and often sensual work. Known in the artistic world as The Goddess on Wheels, her multicultural background and passion for onstage performance have come to life through numerous events over the years.


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