I say this having chosen my words very carefully: I'm a bad cripple.
I must be, everyone seems to think so.
I could see that judgement, that sentiment, in the eyes of almost everyone yesterday. It started at breakfast. We'd gone to a very popular local restaurant and waited in line for a table. Once in place, once ordered and served, once the kids were done eating but we weren't done talking - I decided to make use of the large empty space behind our table. First Ruby and then Sadie, climbed on my shoulders and I held on to them with my hands and used my feet to spin the wheelchair around. They giggled and giggled and giggled some more. Each wanted turn after turn. I whispered to Mike and Marissa that I was the kids personal 'fairy go round', they giggled and giggled ...
On one of the rides, with Sadie on my shoulders I noticed the looks of others. I thought they'd be approving. I mean who could not find this unutterably cute? An adult having fun with kids having fun. We weren't making noise enough to be heard over the din of a full restaurant. We weren't in anyone's way. But, most of the faces were simply disapproving. We all noticed, save the kids of course who were way to focused on 'my turn, my turn, my turn-ing' their way through breakfast, the stares and the tut tutting. None of us could figure out why they were annoyed en masse or what it was they objected to. On our way out, Ruby had climbed on to the two foot petal thingies on the back of my chair and held on as I pushed up to the front door. At one time she loved pushing the chair, now that she's discovered that she can ride she prefers to hold on and smile at everyone like she's on a float. Again with the looks.
Then we were in the Rideau Center mall and at the top of a very long ramp. Ruby was on the struts at the back holding on tight. She loves going down ramps because we can get up to some considerable speed. I control the chair carefully, using my gloved hands as breaks. She screams in delight as we sail down the ramp. Sometimes she calls out 'faster! faster!'. This is the longest ramp we've ever done and the mall was busy. We waited til it was clear and Joe waited at the bottom to make sure people waited until we were down. Then I pushed and down we went. I concentrated hard on moderating the speed and Ruby roared approval behind me. As I slowed to a stop, I saw an elderly woman scowling at us with a face that would have been sweetened if she bit into a lemon. She muttered loudly about how 'inappropriate' what we had done was. I didn't get it.
Later on, on our way out. Ruby was again riding high behind me. We passed a fellow wheelchair user, he saw us and actually broke into a smile. When I went by, he said, 'That's how to do it, that's how to do it!' It was nice to get some approval. I don't know exactly what he meant. Was he referring to getting a child so comfortable with a wheelchair that it's a toy to her? Was he referring to being an active and fully participating part of a family? Was he referring to my Independence in pushing myself AND a nearly five year old child around? I don't know.
But I think he was approving of the 'way' I was being disabled. I was having fun in my wheelchair. And I think that's exactly what people were disapproving of. I wasn't being a pathetic, mournful, cripple. I wasn't being their stereotype and I think that bothered them. Let's face it, when people think I'm confined to a wheelchair - it isn't comfortable for me to be using it as a joy ride down a ramp for a kid.
Interestingly the kids around responded differently. While their parents disapproved of me, the other kids often envied Ruby and Sadie. When I was pushing out of the restaurant, one little boy, who'd been watching the girls ride on my shoulders and was now watching Ruby sail out of the restaurant, said to his dad, 'Dad, why don't you have a wheelchair too?' I wanted to turn and say, 'Now be nice to your Dad, poor guy is confined to walking.'