Monday, March 10, 2014
(Photo description: Sadie, a four year old, in heated light saber battle.)
I was giving Sadie a ride up to the restaurant where we were all gathering for dinner. I sped ahead, leaving the others in the dust, something that made Sadie squeal with delight. I slowed down at one point and Sadie asked why we were going so slow. She was afraid that the others would catch up.
I told her that I had to go slowly because there were lots of people out and I didn't want to run into anyone or have anyone run into me. She nodded gravely. She understood. We sped up again when the crowd dispersed and as we headed towards the intersection, Sadie said, "You better go slow now because you don't want to hit a car or have a car hit us." I thanked Sadie for the alert and slowed down as she asked.
After we crossed the intersection Sadie, who'd been mulling over this safety thing, asked me, "Why don't people watch out for wheelchairs like your wheelchair?" I wasn't sure of exactly what she meant so I asked her to clarify. "You watch out for people who are walking but people who are walking don't watch out for you. How come?" I began rummaging around in my mind for an answer when she went on to explain that she had seen someone walk right in front of us and they weren't paying attention. This did not make sense to her.
You see, in Sadie's 4 year old mind, people need to watch out for themselves and for each other. For her, independence and being responsible for herself and her movements, are a highly valued and sought after goal. She sees the need for being aware of where she is, the risks in her environment, and for taking care to avoid hurt and to avoid inflicting hurt.
Now let's be clear, Sadie's a kid, she understands these things but yet is still learning them. But the important fact here is that she UNDERSTANDS at 4 what many people will forget by 24 - that there is a personal responsibility involved in caring for self and caring for others. That it is equally the responsibility of me in my wheelchair and you on your feet to watch out for each other.
Sadie doesn't know that she's asked me a question that is hard to answer because it's a complex answer. It's an answer that would involve discussing how people see but don't see people in wheelchairs and about the assumed privileges that come with walking not rolling. So you can understand that I was relieved when we turned a corner and saw a wonderful ice sculpture. I didn't have to explain why it is that I am often in an unequal relationship with casual strangers.
But now I know that 4 year olds know about responsibility and equity.
Now I know that this information is in the head of every one I meet -- the job isn't teaching, it's getting people to remember.