There was a whack of us having dinner. Ruby and Sadie each had given me huge hugs. Everyone had settled and Ruby was sitting beside me and we were working on a WordSearch puzzle that had been provided by the restaurant on a kiddie menu. Two men had come in, both in wheelchairs, and had been seated at a table nearby. I admit that I had barely registered that they were there. We were all wrapped up in the happenings of the moment and bringing each other up to date on news.
After eating, the kids were a bit restless and occasionally wandered a bit around our table. They were being quiet and they weren't roaming far and, most importantly, the restaurant wasn't busy so they weren't disturbing anyone. They looked out the window. They played with a couple of toys brought with them. They giggled with each other. Over maybe twenty minutes they alighted at the table in their seats five or ten times.
We were wrapping up and getting ready to go when I turned and saw one of the two guys smiling, quite genuinely, as he watched me get a couple of big 'goodbye' hugs from the girls. I smiled back. It was just a small little interchange that I was totally OK with being 'caught on film.'
In the car, driving away, Joe said, "Did you notice anything about the girls?" I admitted, that other than it was great to see them, I didn't notice anything in particular. Well, Joe had been sitting on the other side of the table facing out into the restaurant and was in full view of the girls as they played and of the two men in wheelchairs at the other table.
"They didn't notice the two guys." Joe said, leaving that to hang in the air.
Joe knows that sometimes I tense up when kids come into a restaurant or a theatre or a mall, almost all of them almost always, as they glance over the place, stop short when they see me. They stare, they point, they make note of my difference. Few parents parent about this, perhaps because many of them stare too. I had thought for a long time that it was more about my weight than my chair, but in talking with others with disabilities I find this not true. It's simply about difference. I am 'dually different' but that isn't, I'm told, really an issue. With difference, one will do.
But here, in the restaurant were two kids completely reacting to two diners at one table with a difference apiece. They were both in wheelchairs. Yet the kids incorporated them into their experience as if they were simply two people in the room. They are used to wheelchairs being in their world. They are used to seeing people sit to eat. So, they saw but didn't see, the two men.
That is, I suppose, one of the great gifts that including kids with disabilities in school will give us, as a society. Broadening the perspective of what's human and narrowing the definition of 'difference'. It takes a long time for social change to happen. But it will, I believe now, happen.
I thought the guy was smiling at the hug. And maybe he was. But also maybe, he was smiling in thankfulness of the gift of being in the presence of children who could see him without staring at him. Who could play around him without stopping, their gaze sticking on the adhesive of his difference, and continuing on.
I got hugs, others got a gift, it was a nice evening.