Two days ago I was killing a little time before picking up a friend at the airport. I have a new-found love of old clip earrings so I thought I would stop in at a thrift store near in the area and see if they had anything good.
Charlie was riding nicely in a cast-off grocery cart, but was getting a little tired as we headed to the check out. As I stood at the check out line, a woman walked up and started engaging Charlie. She smiled and talked to him and started touching his hands. I’m wasn’t exactly loving the situation, but I was standing in a line, so what could I really do?
After what felt like an eternity, she asked, “is he handicapped?” Well, I put on my brightest smile and said yes, gave her a few sentences of explanation and then just let it go. She kept playing with Charlie and I kept waiting for her to go away. She got Charlie’s attention, though, and he started grabbing her hand, which is his version of hello. I warned her he might try to put her hand in his mouth and she quickly withdrew it and said, “I don’t want his slobber on me.” That pretty much felt like being slapped in the store. I was so upset that I immediately took out my phone and tweeted my frustration.
She walked off after that and I continued to stand there glancing secretively at the woman who had so quickly ruined my day. As she walked off I spotted some tell-tale signs of disability–a shuffle in her walk, an arm held close to the body and bent at the wrist. I’m no doctor, but I would have bet cerebral palsy.
I felt pretty bad about being so irritated. Actually, I felt like a jerk.
And while I definitely need some sensitivity training, I also thought about how you would go about teaching your disabled child about the fine art of being mannerly. I could tell him not to touch people, but at this point that’s one of his primary ways of communicating with others. I’m sure there are times when I let him get away with things he shouldn’t–just because I’m proud he can do them. Who needs to be reined in–him or me?
I know that physical disability and social awkwardness don’t necessarily go hand in hand. There are plenty of socially-adept people out there with physical limitations–just ask Oprah.
I ‘m not even sure where I’m going with this. Just hoping out loud that when the time is right I’ll figure out the sweet spot–pushing him to be his best, but accepting him as he is; keeping expectations high, but acknowledging his limitations. Really, it’s the same goal that every parent has, right?