Wednesday, September 01, 2010

What Outsiders Know

It will not surprise you to know that I can be assertive. I've cultivated the skill of being firm without being angry. I use this a lot on children who stare at me. It astonishes me that parents often do not intervene in situations like this. Don't tell me they don't notice, they do. I am old enough to now begin to bemoan the lack of basic social skills training in children who stare at strangers, in children who play video games during breakfast, in children who whisper on phones in church. OK, sue me. Typically I look at the child, without hostility, and say in an informal but educational way, 'Don't stare, it's rude.' Then I break gaze and go about my business. It works one hundred percent of the time. Not once have I had a parent say anything to me about what I've said. I figure it's my contribution to the future.

Anyways, the other day, before coming down here to Boston we stopped in Belleville to celebrate Mike's birthday with his son Joseph, his girlfriend Marissa, and his two daughters Ruby and Sadie. We went out to a Chinese Buffet place and were eating and clowning around. It's sensational the way, 'I got your nose' and 'pull my finger' are such great games. Ruby was sitting next to me and I managed to figure out a broccoli game that actually got some of the stuff in her mouth and down into her tummy. We laughed, a lot. There was pandemonium at the table, babies being passed from lap to lap, little girls crawling over people and under chairs, teen aged boys finally getting some of the innuendo's we'd been making over the years.

It was so busy that it took me a while to notice a boy of about 10 standing and staring at me. When I saw him I immediately went to my 'teacher voice' but I did not speak, something in his eyes stopped me. I just went back to having fun, very conscious that the stare continued. I glanced up and I noticed the table with his parents. They were fighting, viciously. I heard faint sounds of swearing, while their voices were soft their body language was hard. These were people in the midst of a huge fight. They didn't even notice their boy leaving the table and standing staring at a big man in a wheelchair with a little girl's nose in his right hand and a little baby smacking him on his left side.

I saw his eyes again. There was such deep sadness in his eyes, no, no, there was longing there, no, no, there was a painful envy there. He wasn't staring at me, he was wishing he was there, part of it, he was immobilized by his imagining of having dinner where people ate, not fought, talked, not argued, played, not hurt. He was imagining being part of a family.

I hate being started at with hostility but it hurt to be looked at with envy. I knew what that boy wanted because when I was that age, I wanted the same thing. To be included. Odd how we in the disability field fight for the inclusion of people with disabilities into everyday lives, we fight for what we assume everyone else has. But it's not true. We need to fight for the inclusion of all. That people with disabilities might use the language of exclusion and the fact that we have articulated the meaning of inclusion - to bring these concepts forward so that they can be used to begin to heal a society wherein loneliness begins at home. Where family exists as a flicking figment on television. Where belonging is a marketing strategy. We as people who have known what it is to be separate need to use what we know to lead ...

not to follow ...

but to lead to a world where 'all' means 'all', where no-one is assumed to be part of the whole, where welcome is extended.

From the frontiers of bias we discovered the need to live within the community. We came home only to find that community no longer exists. Instead of wanting in, we need to build, to create and then finally, to welcome.


Even lost little ten year old boys, who live with the unfulfilled desire that someone will sit down for supper and steal his nose.


Sher said...

Dave, this has always been my point about labels. We label people....certain people....and they are easier to advocate for giving purpose to the label. We will be a progressive society when we stop advocating and shift our societal thinking to include ALL people; when we stop looking for ways to include people and start making sure that no one is EXCLUDED. When this becomes the way we do things, I will rejoice....and be out of work! I will gladly, in that case, look for a career change. The young man that you encountered may not have had a label, but I'm sure could have benefitted from some consideration.
BTW, until we live in the progressive society that doesn't exclude anyone....let's continue to advocate for those who maybe struggle to do so for themselves. Maybe we can just be more intentional about who we advocate for.

AkMom said...

I've worked with the very kid you describe many times over.

Your post brought tears to my eyes.

Inclusion. For ALL.

Kristin said...

Inclusion for ALL would be a beautiful thing.

DownTownDan said...

My favorite blog posts (on all the blogs I read) tend to be about seemingly insignificant little moments that go unnoticed by all but the writer. These little encounters can be incredibly powerful and thought-provoking. And they are the little slices of life that would be lost to time were it not for the creative outlet that a blog provides.

Also, Dave...

I've got your nose.

Shan said...

The whole post is good, made me tear up, but....the first paragraph - HEAR HEAR!

And personally I think it DOES take a community to raise a child! If those wretched parents can't teach the child manners, it becomes the responsibility of everyone s/he interacts with in society.

Don't stare!

Don't text during a father-of-the-bride speech!

What is this world coming to.


Sher said...

And for goodness sake, remove your ball cap at the table, in church, etc. My husband made the observation the other day while we were at our local theatre (not a movie theatre) watching a play. At least 1/3 of the "under 30 crowd" had a ball cap on.

Cynthia F. said...

Thanks as always Dave, and this is a great reminder to me as the parent of a three-year-old to start being aware of this behavior and make sure he's aware of its rudeness when it starts manifesting.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Just to extend the meaning of inclusion for all people, I have to mention that I stare. I don't do it because I'm being rude, or because I'm gawking, or because I mean any harm at all. I do it because I'm autistic and I'm trying to make sense of the world around me. And I have to admit that I find myself doing it with other disabled people for the additional reason that I'm just so freakin' happy to see them in the same universe with me.

So far, no one has ever had a problem with me doing it, probably because I've been told that I have a very innocent face with no trace of guile. There is no hostility or judgment in my look, and it's possible that people pick up on that.

Perhaps that lack of guile is what you picked up in the face of the child looking at you. I hope you would pick up the same look on my face, because I often feel the same kind of longing to be away from the cruelties of the world and part of something more welcoming.

Anonymous said...

Sniff, sniff, sniff, Old age emotional. Anyway a few years back we went to camp with some kids.
As we were leaving an Autistic Girl came through the door and stood with her bag and simply said "Camp ...."

We were not allowed to take her to camp that year, lots of reasons including "why bother" from some quarters.

The next year we ventured into he complete unknown and took her to camp. Hopefully with every possible risk assessed and eventuality covered including having a vehicle to take her home if need arose.

She was sent to us with every aspect covered including "special food which were the only ones she was expected to eat.

From the time we arrived at camp we hardly saw her or the Autistic lad we had with us either.
All they wanted was to be one of the kids, no special support no special food they ate what the others kids ate and we simply kept our distance and were there if needed, almost embarrassingly redundant.

So the unknown proved to us to be that such people just want to be part of the community and treated equally.

We have heard since the camp that the child has grown remarkably in independence and self assuredness

My wife some years ago took another Autistic Lad on a camp and we have heard that in 8 years of schooling it was the only camp he ever attended, and still recalls!

Forget the unknown, forget the "why bother" forget the "they are so obnoxious" sooth sayers.

I can say take any Autistic spectrum or any kid looking forlorn under your wing to an outdoor camp, or just any outing and expect to gain an entirely different outlook on the world never underestimate anybody and never leave them standing forlornly saying "Camp.insert name.?"

Sorry to be long winded

Anonymous said...

Ok one more, The "normal" kids had crossed a Sea filled gap in the rocks with a Teacher.

Autistic lad sat down and removed his shoes ready to follow.

"Sorry Son you cannot go" says Wife

"Why not give me reason!"

Wife gave him an explanation of why she considered he could not go and he replied....

"I don't like your reason...."

Now Years later when I find something against me I find myself saying "I do not like your reason give me another!"

Camilla said...

Thanks for the reminder that things aren't always what they seem: people who stare are not always being rude, and people with disabilities can have advantages that others do not. I've learned from my daughter, who has cerebral palsy, never to take things at face value.

Tracy said...

I stumbled onto your blog and loved it. I added it to my favorites. It was a place to come for wisdom, knowledge, comfort, and sometimes a very good belly laugh. And then I got busy. I stopped reading blogs. And I came back today and read about this little boy. So sorry I ever left you! BTW, I copied your post and quoted you on my blog about People who are the R word. I hope you approve, but if not I will take it down.

Stephanie said...

Beautiful message! There are so many lost and hurting in this world, there's no one group or cause big enough to fit them all. Except one: humanity.

No matter how conscious of it we may be, we all need reminders.