Sunday, January 27, 2008

18 months

(Let me get that for you.)

It was huge, miles and miles of buttons and bells. A video arcade that covered acres and acres of land. There was a surreal dreamlike quality to the whole thing. I don't really get video games, although I like some of the more carny games, but it was fun wandering around watching people have fun. Joe and I were asked to babysit Ruby for a while as her mom and dad went off to play some games. We agreed and Ruby toddled off with us, her eyes full of wonder at all the sights and sounds.

(I'll reach that for you.)

Ruby was born interested in buttons. Forget games, she loves a remote control or a telephone. Not quite a year and a half and she's already better at operating the television contols than I am. So it wasn't hard to keep her distracted. She would just go up to various machines and push buttons and then stand back and laugh. A couple of times she seemed disoriented with excitement. It's great to see someone enjoying the world without having to interpret anything.

(Let me move that.)

She's settled on a game that she can't quite reach. There are huge stools bolted down in front of the game so Joe picks her up and sits her on the stool. She immediately begins banging on the four huge buttons in front of her. Joe is concerned that she will slip and fall so he holds her gently around the waist. She stops banging the buttons and a look of annoyance crosses her face. She reaches down and pushes his hands away. He lets go of her and as she reaches back to hit the buttons she begins to slip. Too young to recognize danger she pays no attention to the imminent fall and Joe takes her again in his hands to keep her from falling. Again she pushes his hands away. He realizes what she wants so he pinches the back of her blouse in his fingers so he can ensure that she doesn't fall. She goes on banging buttons.

(I'll help.)

Ruby doesn't yet speak, well a few da da's and ma ma's and a really cute hello. But she knows what it is to be independant. She is in love with her own self reliance. What she can do for herself, she does. Don't try to feed her, she can do it herself. Don't try to carry her, she can walk. Don't try to hold her steady, she can balance herself. She is a master at pushing away the helping hand and asserting her will to do it on her own.

(Here let me get that.)

The drive for independance comes early and stays late. I saw an elderly man in a store glare at a young pup who offered to help him carry bags to his car. "You think I'm an old man?" is what he said but "You think I can't do things on my own?" is what he meant.

(I'll carry that for you.)

There is no question that there are things I need help with now that I'm in a wheelchair. There are things I could do before that I can't do now. But what I can do, I still enjoy doing. What is still under my control - is still mine and I won't reliquish it for blood nor money. I have learned to ask for help when needed and do it on my own when I can. It's a very simple process.

(Here, let me move that.)

I didn't really understand, until watching Ruby play, how important it is to feel that one is competent to do what one is wanting to do. How much of our self esteem is wrapped up in pushing another's hands away and doing it ourselves. How much of pride and worth comes from knowing that we, in that moment, are all we need.

(I'll get the door.)

I didn't really understand, until watching Ruby play, why I got so annoyed when people would intrude into my life with offers of help. Wanting to get something for me, carry something for me, reach something for me ... sending me messages of dependance and trompling all over private moments with myself. I love people's helpful attitudes when I need assistance - I love it when I ask for help and someone does it without making me feel useless. But I don't love their NEED to help me, to build up THEM by diminishing me. I know sometimes I brushed hands away abruptly, maybe even a little rudely, I need to be careful of that - but now I know why.

Because Ruby isn't two.

And she wants to feel able.

So why wouldn't I?


Kei said...

Funny how a child so young can help to clarify things for us.

Glad you were feeling well enough to share this today.

Anonymous said...

Since I lost some of my mobility and strength there have been things I just can't do but still try - often to my disadvantage and my husband's irritation when I do. The thing is, as good a man as he is, he just isn't a carer. You ask him to do something he looks irritated or says he'll do it later so often I stick to my independence and do it anyway. So I can understand Ruby too, it's hard enough being humble enough to give up your independence but when faced with a poor attitude you feel of less consequence.

You've given me a lot to think about again tonight Dave. I hope you are feeling better.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Hope this post is a sign you're feeling better from yestearday's malaise.

Too many people seem to have difficulty grasping how fundamental the drive for independence and ability to control one's environment can be. I guess people who have the ability and freedom to consistently assert their independence (because they are fortunate enough to be in an environment optimally designed for their physical, neurological and emotional needs) learn to take it for granted. This essay I think could be useful in starting dialogue with people who have particular trouble grasping these concepts.

Joyful Fox said...

Dave, you've summed up so beautifully the little independent heart of Ruby and our human need to do for ourself -irregardless of age or (dis)ability.

My 2 year old twins have many eager helping hands at our house.

There's 6 year old Olivia, 8 year old Joshua, and 9 year old Hannah and there's my husband and myself.

It's a learning, to know when you honour the fierce desire for independence and when, in spite of strong wills, you intervene as Joe did for the sake of health and safety.

We have read a lot of Franklin at our house. He is a turtle and has a friend, Snail. Franklin learns in one of the books, that "helping" is not taking over and doing something for someone else (in this case Snail)that they can do for themselves.

That was a lesson, I had to learn along with my children. Sometimes its faster, easier, and seems like the right thing to do, just to help...well it's easier for me than you so...
...yet it robs the dignity of the person you are trying to help.

You have summed up something I never thought about before...the need it meets in ourself...interesting how when we think we're is a selfish offer at the core.

Thanks for your words...more valued because they mean, your well enough to write.

Shan said...

Hope you're feeling okay now Dave.

I had this whole long comment typed out, then I decided instead of writing the annotated cross-referenced Coles' Notes on your post, I should just say "good one".

So, Good One.

Anonymous said...

I've just realized that I do this with everybody, disabled or not - push my help on them. And yes, my motivation is usually to make myself feel better. Mmmm... Thanks for writing this.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I think I am clear - where Dave is concerned. If we are ever in the same place at the same time (which has happened on occcassion at trainings)and it appears to me that Dave might need/want/benefit from assistance I shall bite my tongue and wait to see if he that is his want.
This works for Dave.

Does it work for everyone - able or no?

I've worked with people with various intellectual disability labels for over 20 years. I had trouble asking for help - as it was my job to be helpful. And I never wanted to push help on anyone. So, I learned to gently ask if "would you like" information/help/assistance/etc.

And this is not about any particular ability or disability, it comes right down to the simplest things -like holding a door open for the person coming in behind you, or offering to pick something up off the ground when a person has their arms full and has dropped something, or heaven forbid - actually sincerely offering someone your seat on public transportation.

Sometimes I got a good result and sometimes not. I learned that there are as many responses to these questions as there are people to be asked.
Some people are offended if you ask. Some are offended if you don't. Some reply with hostility, others with appreciation.

When I need and ask others for help......some people are offended, some reply with hotility, others with appreciation.

So, I know what to do if I run into Dave again, I wait....but what about everyone else.

I suppose I have rambled, and this one is just so much more complicated than do or don't do don't ya think?