It sounded, from a distance, like a typical row between parent and child. Child wanted. Parent said 'no'. A conflict began which will be repeated millions upon billions of times throughout all time. I pushed round the corner and found that the parent was sitting on a chair, holding those kind of running shoes which flash lights, in her hand. She looked defiant. He, her son, a wheelchair user, looked equally defiant. He wanted them. She didn't think they were a good purchase.
I didn't remark on this at all. Ordinary. Typical. Big deal. He then said something and she said, 'Like you aren't stared at enough.' Suddenly I froze. Actually stopped rolling. A chill ran up and down my back, probably in flashing sneakers. His voice rose, there were unshed tears in the tone of his voice, 'I don't care if they stare at me, they'll stare at me no matter what I wear. I like those shoes, I should be able to wear what I want. I should not have to get permission from anyone else to wear what I want.' She tried to calm him, cause he was very upset, 'It's you who don't want to be stared at, isn't it, well, then you better get a different kid.' Now she was crying, he was crying, and in truth, there were tears in my eyes too.
I don't know if sneakers were bought, I trust they probably were, but I do know that this is a conversation that they will both think about and both tell in the future, she in her way, he in his. But I wonder if she will ever think that this very conversation meant that she had done a hell of a job in parenting. He was clearly coming into his own. He's clearly moving into a 'disability pride' frame of mind. He's clearly beginning to see that others who stare are staring because they are starers - not because he is who he is. He's clearly coming to see that he needs to make decisions, not based on hoped for acceptance of others, but simply and only for himself. He's going to be a strong voice in the world, I know that because he already has one. I wonder, too, if he will regret those words spoken to his mother. I wonder if he'll understand the hurt that was caused. I wonder if he saw her desire to protect him was not the same as her acting in complicity with those who stare at him. I wonder if he saw that he had a mother who allowed him room to fight and arguement - a mother who gave space to dissent. I wonder.
Later, I thought about what the mother said, I realized that something like that was said to me somewhere. I don't remember where, I don't remember the situation ... but I do remember what it was about. I wear hats when it's cold and hats when its too hot. I have purchased these broaches to wear on the hats. One is a crown. One is a bright red hat. They are small. They are fun. Hat on hat. I like them and I get a surprising number of compliments about them. But one day, somewhere I don't remember, someone said to me, upon seeing my hat with crown, 'Like you don't get stared at enough.' I was startled by the remark and stored it somewhere inside, then forgot about it.
Until I heard it said yesterday. That kid got it right. I'm not going to be stared at more because of my hat, and, I need to remember, staring is a result of another's rudeness not because I exist. It's so easy to blame yourself for another's behaviour. It's easy to think that I need to captulate to the opinion of others. It's easy to think that my difference is my shame, that their staring is a valid social judgement. Easy. It's much harder to hold others responsible for other's behaviour. Self hatred requires accepting the verdit of the world. Pride means facing down a world who's got it wrong.
Several years ago I did a two hour documentary interviewing leaders in the disability community. CBC radio played it and it received all sorts of recognition, Life, Death and Disability it was called. In it I managed to interview leaders in the disability movement about how disability is perceived and their views of the world as it's socially constructed for people with disabilities. It was a life changing experience for me. I think, that if I was to do it again, in five or ten years, I'll be interviewing that kid. And I hope if I ever do, he'll be wearing sneakers that flash.