I got on the bus, heading to my work's annual holiday party, looking forward to the evening ahead. It's nice to spend time with people without the pressures of day to day demands. The driver wasn't chatty. At all. I asked him how many pickups and drop offs before we got to where I was going, he never acknowledged the question and simply kept driving. OK, I can live with mystery.
Eventually we stopped and picked up a young mother and two girls. The girls raced on the bus and raced to the seats they wanted. It seems it was a race. It was the first of many races and competitions they would have throughout the portion of the trip that I shared with them. If I closed my eyes and listened, they sounded just like Ruby and Sadie, so, therefore, I loved it. Mom was helped on to the bus by the driver. She was in a very cool looking manual chair, she nodded hello and before she could say anything else I said, "The sound of kids having fun never gets old does it?" She smiled and said, "Well, maybe sometimes." I laughed and we were off to a good start.
We didn't chat much, but somewhere in there I told her that her wheelchair was cool. The girls, both who had been listening to us talk, immediately spoke up, "Cool! Wheelchairs aren't cool!!" Then a lively debate happening. Mom didn't enter in, she just listened to me and to her kids. I explained about how much fun it was to go down hills and to quickly turn in a circle and to get your wheels wet and then draw on pavement. The conceded that some of that did sound found.
I got a little more serious, while keeping it light, and I told them that my wheelchair set me free and said, "If that's not cool, I don't know what is?" The freedom idea caught them and I knew they understood. Then we make an awkward turn into an awkward parking lot and the bus rocks. I wondered if they were home now but I didn't think so because of their reaction to the rolling of the bus.
The driver gets out and an older gentleman, using a walker due to a life long disability, struggled up the ramp. He got on, grinned at all of us and made his was to the back to sit in one of the seats in the very back. It turns out he is a teacher and he entertains himself by chatting with the girls. He has a real ease with them and the fact that he's probably 70 years older than the girls didn't matter. They chatted with him about school and other stuff.
Then he said, "Which one of you takes care of your mother?" The woman beside me, the girls mom, turned and looked at me in shock. The girls said, almost at the same time, like they've said it before, "We don't take care of her, she takes care of us." He pushed a bit and they acknowledged that there were things the did to help out. Finally he said, "Well, if you've not taking care of her now you will be one day, so you have to practice."
We'd gone from "wheelchairs are cool" to "people in wheelchairs are burdens," in the matters of moments and both messages were given by disabled people to these children. Their mother, shushed them when they began discussing, 'cool or burden' in the back between themselves.' "We'll talk about this at home she said," with an anger that I knew didn't stem from anything the girls had done.
We pulled into the banquet hall and I said my goodbye's. I rode down the ramp saying to the girls as I got off, "See, cool?"
I really hope it is your message that those girls hold on to, that wheelchairs mean freedom and that they can be a lot of fun. Part of me wants to dismiss that man's awful view point as a generational difference but I know that's not true, I've met people a quarter of his age who see people with disabilities as burdens. My partner gets so annoyed when people insist on telling me how lucky I am to have him, that he "stuck by me" when I became disabled. He's never known how to respond because he just couldn't understand why anyone would say something like that. To him it's simple, he loves me so there wasn't a choice to be made.
That man's words were even more hurtful and my heart breaks for that mother. She was obviously taking care of her children, she was out with them with no help. Just because there are a few things the kids need to do for their mum, that doesn't mean they take care of her anymore than other children take care of their able parents. We all do things to help our loved ones, it's how families work.
A man that old grew up in a time when everyone reinforced how much of a burden disabled people were - it's sad that nothing has softened or improved for him.
But he isn't the only one in that boat.
If we hadn't picked up those messages when we were young (I'm 67), would WE be trying so hard to pass as able wherever possible? And not cause undue burdens - when possible?
I've been disabled 27 years. It cost me my planned life as a research physicist. And it's only been these last couple of years that I can even say I'm disabled, because the stigma is so huge.
The mental part is so hard, as you keep telling us.
oh dear! this ride could have ended so differently. sometimes those lovely moments turn into teaching moments....i hope that mom and her girls were able to sort this all out.
Kids help their parents in all families, teaching kids the idea that we are responsible for and help each other in this world is an important part of being a parent.
the expectations on kids do need to be developmentally appropriate to the age/temperment of the child. the man using the walker clearly was judging on a back/white scale and all of human life are shades of gray.
The kids are going to run up against this attitude over and over...this time on the bus gives the mom a chance to start the discussion and teach them what she believes and how their family works.....will maybe help her girls respond to the stereotype when it happens again.
hope you enjoyed your work party, Dave.
I am afraid I would have asked where his helper was since he obviously needed assistance from his walker. To me they are one and the same -- an assistance that makes it easier to do everything that needs to be done. Hope the mother was able to help the children learn that.
And hope you had a great time at the party.
I hope that mom was able to continue the conversation and turn it back around so that her girls would understand that the elderly man who made such insensitive comments was wrong, wrong, wrong. Ugh....
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