Saturday, March 16, 2013

Parenting With Vision

"I hope you didn't mind," he said to me, his voice soft, his face full of concern.

I told him that I thought he was a good dad and that I wish more parents would do what he did. He responded that he wants to raise all of his children to understand, respect and value those around him. "He is going to live an a very different world than I grew up in. It will be a world where difference is the new normal. I want all my kids to be ready."

Here's what happened:

We pulled into the Duty Free shop just under the Blue Water Bridge, Joe got the chair out and we headed straight for the washroom. Joe had drained his tanks just after filling the cars tank up at the gas station, so once he got me through the door, he went off shopping. A young boy was leaning against the wall, he'd have been about Sadie's age, 3 nearing 4. His dad was standing at the urinal. I rolled up to the accessible toilet and, of course, it was full. Those are the most popular stalls.

I noticed the boy staring at me when I rolled by but, unusually, so did the dad. As he was washing his hands he said to his son, "staring at someone is the same as calling them a name." The boy began to protest that he didn't call a name, "I know you didn't call a name out, but when you stare at someone it's the same thing." The boy again protested, a little less fervently though. "That man in in a wheelchair. That man is big. But that man is doing the same thing as everyone else. There's nothing to see but another person doing what everyone does." This whole thing was explained without anger, without a lecturing tone, Dad's tone was gentle and caring, like he really just wanted his son to understand.

The door to the stall opened. I rolled in. When I came out, of course, everyone was gone. Later in the store as I was picking up a couple of toys that I thought the girls would like, the boy noticed me again. He came over and said, "Are those for your kids?" I told him that they were for two little girls who I know will like them. He nodded. Then he looked at me and smiled. It was, perhaps, the nicest apology I've ever gotten.

On my way out dad stopped me and spoke to me, worried that I might have been offended by what he had said and done.

As we spoke I got the sense that I was talking to a parent who loved being a parent. More than that, I got a sense that he had a vision of the kind of world that we could have if children were gently taught that kindness and welcome were the easiest gifts to give.


GirlWithTheCane said...

That's a lovely story.

Anonymous said...

"He is going to live an a very different world than I grew up in. It will be a world where difference is the new normal. I want all my kids to be ready."

Such wisdom and gentleness...
I would love to live in such a world. In so many little things people are trying to achive exactly that.

But there is another part of future world that idolizes the strongness of ability and the normativated beauty where those reign who are able to be as egoistical as possible.

I so hope for the dads version of a future world to come true.


Tara said...


Belinda said...

What a wonderful dad.

Rachel in Idaho said...

Aww. Good on him.

One of my favorite parent/child interactions concerning me happened almost before I noticed it. I didn't hear the child say anything to Mom but she obviously did as I heard, "Yes, she's a little person." (We will ignore any issues I have with the term itself, intent is everything here!) And that was it. They went on shopping. So did I. That kid learned that there are some unusually small people around, but it's nothing to make a huge fuss about, though curiosity is okay too. Another learned that there are some unusually large wheelchair users around, and no big deal was made. We just exist! No extremes of either negativity or pedestal-placing, just a simple acknowledgement.

I can't think of a better way to handle a situation like that. I really can't.

Mike said...

Just another example of the fact that children can sometimes spot the obviousness of stigma much better than adults. It is a beautiful, and wordless, apology, but it makes all the difference. It's the reason we need MANDT and training such as the kind Dave offers. Adults sometimes can't see what their eyes see. Do you remember the quote I shared with you in 2004? "Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries," by Truman Capote. What I've learned about living with DID is that I'm labeled a "threat." I presented something last semester on the notion of double-consciousness, which is a term familiar to those who encounter racism. WEB Dubois is said to have coined the term, but it actually is an early term for DID. It means that people cannot always see what is before their eyes and treat others as hostile when they have no cause. I know a lot of people who could benefit from hearing you speak. Dave, as I mentioned before, I had that stuff about the R-word that was brought to my attention posted to the dept. list, and I hope it had an effect in the university community. The chair of my department posted it on the department list, as I requested. Just wanted you to know that you make a difference.

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

This is exactly what I needed to read today. This afternoon, my sons and I wandered the aisle at our local dollar store: I was looking for crafts, they were scoping the toys.

A middle-aged couple were deep in conversation in one aisle, so my son waited patiently for them to notice him and shift out of the way, but they didn't.

He glanced once back at me before tugging on the man's sleeve: "Excuse me?"

The man startled and used M's shoulder for balance: we hadn't realized that he is blind. M gamely stood until the man shifted past him but L piped up: "Why are his eyes like that, Mummy?"

I wanted to die a thousand deaths and cast feverishly about in my mind, managed to stutter: "I think he's blind, Luke, but you should ask him maybe?" (The question, of course, was for the man and I mentally crossed my fingers that he would answer)

"I am blind, son. But I can hear that you're an observant young man. Hello!"

What he could not see, but I hope he sensed, was how my son's chest puffed up with pride as this unexpectedly gentle compliment.

In one sentence, that man eased my mind, made M feel helpful by leaning on his shoulder and L feel important by blurting out his mind.

Luke gazed up at the man, half-smiling. "We're looking for toys," he offered and I snorted behind him.

"Ah yes," said the man, as his friend took his arm and they turned to contineu on down the aisle, from where we'd come. "Toys are fun, aren't they?"

"Yeah. If you can't see them, do you choose them with your hands or does your mum pick them for you?"

"If I had a little boy like you, I'd let you choose."

"Welllll..." Luke paused to consider. "I could choose one for you, if you want. Do you like swords?"

Sometimes kids just get right to the heart of the matter, don't they? "Oh, you're blind. That's cool. Wanna pretend to hit each with sticks?"