Joe zipped off to go to the bathroom. It's amazing how, as we've gotten older, a lot of stories begin this way. I headed to the car and was pushing myself towards the elevator. I saw ahead of me a Mom with two small children. Her son, the oldest, looked to be about 5. He saw me and his eyes went wide. There was curiosity all over his face and his grin was cute and infections. I grinned back.
He headed towards me without a thought of his mother, in that way that kids do when they become suddenly singleminded, when they have not yet learned the dangers of this world. He wanted to see my chair. But he only got a few steps and his mother grabbed him and pulled him back. I think she thought she was clearing my path. But I had already begun to slow and I'm good enough in my wheelchair that I don't leave a trail of dead children behind me.
It was what she said.
"Don't go anywhere near that man!!"
"I said DON'T."
The sharpness of her reply cut him and he began to cry.
I know better than to intervene in these situations. And besides, Mom had her hands full in just managing his tears and upset all the while watching her daughter. It's not a learning moment.
I think she scared him about me and people like me.
I think she planted a seed in his heart about disabled people and our place in the world.
I don't think I'm over-stating it because I believe that prejudice is taught. I believe the lessons we give kids, intended or not, are learned.
His friendly attempt to talk to someone different than him ended in pain.
I hope one day an innocent encounter that he has with someone different doesn't end in pain again.