Thursday, March 13, 2014
The Tiger Beetle and Me
A Letter to the Parents of Young Children I Met Today,
Just as you teach your children to share their toys, it is important that they learn to share space with those around them. Several things happened today, as I ventured out during March break into a world full of children. I'd like to make a few suggestions:
1) Don't yank your child away from me. So many children today were frightened when they wandered near me in my chair and found their arm grabbed and pulled, sharply, away from me. I am afraid that they will associate their fright at being startled with me and my wheelchair. I did nothing to cause them alarm, I was simply sharing space. I know that some of you did it out of concern that they not be in my way or the way of my wheelchair but maybe you should trust that I managed to get myself out and into the world without leaving a trail of bruised shins behind me and that maybe I won't run your kid down either. Your concern may instill fear. I deal with that enough. Let's stop that now, shall we?
2) Don't cover your child's eyes when they look at me. I am big and I am in a wheelchair, I am different. Children look at different. Looking at me and staring at me are different things, looks just look, stares linger and evaluate and measure and value. Covering your child's eyes is telling them that there is something wrong with what they are looking at not something wrong with what they are doing. It's like you are protecting them from the sight of me. Let them look at me as they look at anything in their environment. If they are staring, that's different, just distract them. They're kids, that's pretty easy to do.
3) Don't tell them that what they are seeing they aren't seeing. A little girl said, 'That man is big mummy.' Mom flushed and said, 'No, he's not. Don't say things like that!!' The girl looked confused and then started to cry. She didn't call me a name. She simply described me. That's OK. I am big. I'd rather her know that it's OK to notice difference, but by denying my difference you demonized it. It's something that's so bad it can't be spoken of, something so real that it can't be real.
4) Do encourage curiosity. A child whispered something to his mom, she said, "Ask him, I'll bet he will tell you." Then with a bit of fear and a bit of a shake in his voice he asked, "How fast can you go in your chair?" I love this question from kids and I have an answer all stored up, "My chair goes just over 5 miles an hour, that's the same speed as that a tiger beetle can run and it's the world's fastest insect." Sound like a weird answer, kids love bug stuff. This is proven by the fact that I later heard him ask his mom if they could Google a tiger beetle.
5) Do watch where you put strollers. I could not enter a section of the bookstore I went to today because three (3!) strollers blocked the entrance. The clerk didn't want to move them, she whispered to me that some parents get really touchy about their strollers being moved, so I waited while the clerk went in to find what I wanted. I didn't like having to simply hang around, looking suspicious, while kids and parents flowed around me. I got what I wanted, I got out of the area, but I would have preferred that you thought about access, you left your stroller in a public space not a parking space.
6) Make connections. A little girl was looking at my wheelchair and I saw her mother notice her notice, mom said, "He's got a wheelchair like Auntie does! Isn't that cool?" I've never heard a parent do that before but, I liked it. She made a connection between me in my chair and someone the child obviously knows and loves, she made it just a normal thing to see. Just like Auntie! The little girl said, "Auntie's is red, his is blue." And that was that. Cool or what?
So that's it. Those are my thoughts and my bits of advice after being out today, in a crowded March break mall, surrounded by parents and kids. For the most part we all did well together but I'm hoping that these half dozen hints might be helpful the next time you are sharing space with someone who's wheelchair is blue.