I’ve been using crutches since I was eight years old, but before that, I’d use a walker and a special stroller to sit and travel in when I got too tired or fatigued. As you might imagine, a seven year-old sitting in a big stroller got some stares from the other kids, some of them from school and some I’d never met, but who passed me on the sidewalk. I understood at that age that they were staring at me because I was different. I felt it even then. I tried hard not to let it bother me, partly because my parents always told me to “walk with my head held high” and ignore the stares.
Except, nowadays I think I’m hyper aware of the stares I get walking down the sidewalk using crutches, some of them coming from other adults, but most of them coming from children. I just want to preface this by saying I know children are naturally curious, and I applaud that. I really do.
Yet, strangely the stares I get from the kids irks me. I’ll be walking down the sidewalk, minding my business, and children being tugged along by their parents’ hands will literally crane their heads back to stare at me for wildly long distances. So much so that for a few moments I’m actually afraid the kids will trip, fall and hurt themselves because they’re not looking right in front of them. A lot of the time their parents don’t even notice, presumably preoccupied with the busy lives they lead, or perhaps just trying to get to their destination.
I’m just trying to decipher why all the staring still bothers me….I have been dealing with it for years, after all. Perhaps it’s because staring can make one feel alienated, isolated, and like “the other.” Perhaps because staring is the simplest way to me feel different from anyone else, like some sort of strange confirmation that I am in fact, separate from the rest thanks to the crutches, and my gait without them.
Back at Christmastime, a young relative who I didn’t get to see often, but was around for the holidays, asked her mother why I walk the way I do. I overheard, and I didn’t like how I felt afterwards. Almost like my feelings were hurt. Yes, I think that’s weird. The relative is only eight. She’s so little! It’s as though I’m more bothered by questions from kids than from adults. Although, just because this relative may have meant no harm by her inquiry, doesn’t mean it still didn’t hurt.
Now, I ask, do I even have a right to be bothered by this? They are children after all, wonderfully innocent children, who may have never been exposed to someone who uses crutches before. That’s OK. I can’t blame them for what they have and have not yet been exposed to. The staring, however, I can do without. I really, really wish I had it in me to tell their parents that it’s rude to stare in my moments of frustration, but honestly I feel like it’s not my place to criticize the moms and dads of the world when I am not yet a parent myself. Which means I don’t even feel comfortable giving parents advice on how to talk to their children about staring at those who may be seen as different. I will, however, say this: perhaps instead of parents telling children not to stare, they should address their curiosity with informed answers about how everyone is completely and totally unique. That there’s not a single other person who is exactly, 100 percent like you…and that’s what makes life so beautiful and exciting. You never know who you’re going to meet when you turn a corner.