Monday, February 15, 2016

Love, Anyway: A Celebration of Radical Family Love

Today, in Ontario, and various other parts of Canada, it's a holiday. The real reason the government instituted another stat holiday was because our Februarys are so bleak that we all needed a day off to both lighten and brighten our souls. The day, here, is called 'Family Day.' This was instituted to celebrate families. There is, they believe, strength in families and power in the family unit. I couldn't agree more.

My first lecture this year was for families and I spoke about the Ring of Safety, the skills their children needed in order to have a shot at a safe life. The idea of 'protection' doesn't work when most of the abuse comes from those who are designated to 'protect' does it? Power needs to be learned, power needs to be practiced and power needs to be actively encouraged. Everyone has power, so no one is empowered by another - a ridiculous concept as power isn't gifted, but needless of the fact we all have it, we may not have dared use it.

That day, with those families, was fabulous. They got up on a Saturday morning and came to a lecture so they could better parent their kids. Talk about an audience that's motivated. I left moved by the experience, as I am always when I work with families in groups.

Families of people with disabilities have not been credited with the work they have done. The concepts of  'community living' and 'inclusion' and 'integration' didn't pop out of the pages of a book written by a professional visionary. It didn't fall out of the mouth of a lecturer, of renown, standing at a podium. It didn't result, as I think would be obvious, from a committee meeting. It. Just. Didn't. As much as organizations and professionals may attempt, some don't, to the birth of these ideas, their claims disappear in an instant. Watch ...

Image description: a historic photograph of a family, a mother, a father, an unidentified other adult female and three children, one of whom has Down Syndrome

This family probably never thought of  'community living' they just got about with family living. Do you notice that the girl with Down Syndrome has her hand resting on her father's back? Do you notice the lack of 'distance' in this family? In that lack of distance, in that touch, in this picture, is defiance and lack of shame. They are publicly a family.

Look at another photo, from Victorian times, of another family, another act of defiant, public, love.

Image description: A Victorian family, in clothing of the day, a mother, father, and two daughters. One of the daughters looks tiny sitting in a large wheelchair.

Forgive me, my lovely two footed readers I don't mean to offend, but I wonder if non-disabled people would understand this picture in the way disabled people might. When Joe walks down the street with me with his hand resting on the back of my wheelchair, it's an act of real intimacy. When friends sit and talk with me and, unconsciously, rest their hand on the hand grip for my wheel, I feel incredibly close to them. The touching of my wheelchair is an indication of closeness, even love, and complete acceptance. Each person in the picture is touching the girl's wheelchair, she is touched too, by each of the three standing around her. She as a disabled child is fully embraced. the wheelchair not hidden away, the picture not taken with her balanced on a kitchen chair, she is there publicly, proudly, part of a family. A family living in the community with their child.

Pride, 'disability pride' isn't new either.

Image description: A little girl, nicely dressed, sitting in a wheelchair, looking directly at the camera.

Do you see how this child looks out at the world, a world where she feels loved. Realize who's paying for this picture, realize who decided that they wanted a picture for an album, a family album, and who took their child to a photographic studio. Realize how they must have searched for a place to take her, there were no laws about accessibility, the word accessibility probably didn't even exist then. Behind this picture is deep profound love. Behind that gaze is strength, and that strength may just come from the people standing behind the photographer, her parents.

And, of course, people with disabilities are more than children, loved, and the recipients of family care. We also have families ...

Image description: A family photo from the 1950's of a family, a mom, a dad, and three small children. The baby sits in her father's lap, a lap formed because he's sitting in his wheelchair.

Families come in all shapes and all sizes and move in a variety of different ways. People with disabilities did not spring into existence with legislation that promoted or required access. People with disabilities have always been and have forged their life, legislation or no.  This man, with this family, probably did more for the cause of 'community living' than any slogan, any poster, any 'inspirational' advertisement. This is a family who simply ARE, when families like this were not supposed to BE.

Family Day.

A day to celebrate families.

All kinds of families.

Families of blood.

Families of bond.

Families of belonging.

I celebrate all who have lived, courageously.

I celebrate all who live, courageously.

I celebrate, especially, parents and partners, who love, anyway.

3 comments:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Happy Family Day, Dave and Joe.

Anonymous said...

I certainly appreciate that living with those with some sort of disability is not new, I think we need to be careful not to impose this into the pictures unless we know the story behind it. Not to project what we want to see. For example, the 50's family posing around the fellow that we assume is dad in a wheelchair. For all we know he is returning home from a hospital stay. His cowboy boots look dusty, perhaps he is returning home after an accident (rodeo). I'm making this all up, but in a way, so are you. We don't know if the young people in wheelchairs even lived at home. I'm all for family love and inclusion off all family members in all celebrations, but I feel we need not to do what others do with those with a disability, lump them together.

The Shorter Bloggess said...

Another great post.

If you look carefully at the photograph of the little girl in the wheelchair 'on her own' , the second to last photograph , you can see that her Mum is probably in the photograph. Above the girls left shoulder there is a blanket which has an odd shape and if you look carefully you can see an arm and shoulder sticking out.

This was fairly common in early photography because capturing an image took a relatively long time and children couldn't be relied upon to sit still for long enough. Also it would have been a fairly odd and possibly distressing experience for a child given the noise and the fact having a picture taken was pretty rare.

So it's very possible that the little girls Mum is giving her a soothing hug while the photograph is taken.