Whilst at the checkout in Sainsbury’s this afternoon, a little girl about 6 or 7 years old told me she liked my earrings, and whilst I was thanking her she spotted my Blue Peter job* wheels and then squeaked that she loved them! She was adorable and I smiled back and thanked her graciously for her compliments. Whilst waiting to be served, it occurred to me that the reason that she’d spotted my earrings before my wheels was because she was the same height as me (I often joke that I always wanted to be shorter, be careful what you wish for!). She saw me first, and the chair afterwards but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s children’s innocence that allows them to look past an obvious disability.
It’s not the first time a child has totally ignored a mobility aid and spotted something else about me. I was once making my way somewhere and a child called out “Look, that lady’s got green hair!”. That “lady”, also had bright purple crutches, but they didn’t seem to notice. Back when I still volunteered with Cubs, they acknowledged my stick, but they didn’t seem to care why I had it, they just thought I looked like Nanny McPhee (hopefully it was just the stick) so I used that to my advantage and would bang it on the floor for quiet.
Of course, children stare as children will do, they lack the social skills not to. I don’t mind if a child stares, or asks an innocent question like Why am I in the chair?, or What’s wrong with her legs? I’m quite happy to answer or explain in child friendly terms, and if a child is staring I find a smile goes a long way. Back when I could still walk a little, I used my old chair for a site visit for a Scout Camp, and when I stood up to put the chair in the boot, my friend’s son gasped as if he’d seen a miracle and announced “You can walk!” He was delighted! Do that in the supermarket, and people think you’re a big fat faker.
Adults who should know better are often worse culprits than children, for every child that’s stared or asked a question, there’s been 10 adults. Children stare without thinking about it, adults will try to disguise it, or when they blatantly do it and I just stare back, they’ll try to pretend they were looking at something else (nice try 🙄). When it comes to rude questions, they’re totally oblivious. It doesn’t occur to them that they they don’t get to know why I’m in the chair, or using crutches to walk. People will say that they’re only being friendly, or polite, but when you’re asked regularly it’s just intrusive. I’m more than happy to explain my complex medical history to close friends, and even write about it online, but it takes time to explain, and I have to be in the right frame of mind to talk about it. So, when strangers ask me I sometimes make up crazy reasons for my disability;
- Indoor Skydiving Accident
- Played Chicken & Lost
- Bitten by a Shark
- Vietnam/ Lost it in ‘nam
- Mauled by a Tiger in Indonesia
- Fell off a diving board
Or, you can just look them dead in the eye and say “nothing, why?” 😁
Ironically childish, I’m well aware. But if you can’t have a laugh at the expense of your own disability, it’s becomes entirely too morbid.
If more adults thought, and behaved like the children I’ve described above and saw past my mobility aids, I think the world would be a much happier, less prejudiced place. Of course, that’s completely idealistic, but it’s a nice thought…