Lots of moments from my childhood have made lasting impressions on me, some stronger than others. Today, one particular memory comes to mind. I was in grade school, second or third grade, maybe. At that time, I was using a special stroller to get around and was always accompanied by my lovely paraprofessional. For whatever reason that I can’t remember, I walked across the schoolyard without assistance. While it’s clear that I don’t remember all the details, I do remember what was said to me as I made my way across the schoolyard for class in the gym building. A physically non-disabled boy and fellow student watched me walk across the yard and shouted, “Oh, you can walk.” It was tinged with surprise and what felt like hurtful sarcasm and condescension.
Yes, Boy Whose Name I Can’t Recall, I can walk. Let me say this one more time: just because I used a special stroller for long distances and eventually began using crutches DOES NOT mean I can’t walk. I can walk, it just might look a little different than someone else’s walk who doesn’t have CP.
I know, I know, this boy was just a boy at the time…but guess what? I was just a kid, too. I don’t think his age should excuse what was being said in this situation. Kids should be taught tolerance and acceptance at an early age. He should’ve known that what he said was not OK. I was embarrassed and felt defective somehow. In reality, whether or not I could or couldn’t walk was none of his business. My abilities and challenges were/are none of his business. As you’ll see by my reaction back then, I didn’t care about his opinions or observations, and I definitely don’t now. He is nameless to me. You might be thinking, “If you don’t care, why are you blogging about it?” It’s because I’m trying to make a point.
“Shut up,” Was my response to this boy. I realize that this reply is feisty, but as my godmother once pointed out, I’m “feisty for a reason” and I agree. I’ve been confronted with many challenges, and have had no choice but to face them. It’s definitely “toughened me up,” so to speak. It’s given me character. It’s made me feel brave and strong, at least on the outside. Feeling brave and strong on the inside is another matter. Sometimes those feelings on the inside have to catch up to the feelings on the outside. This is OK. I’m an adult and I feel like I still have some catching up to do.
I gotta say, though, the boy’s reaction to me telling him to shut up made the whole scenario totally worth it. Sticking up for myself felt good; so why not keep doing it?
It reminds me once of my old babysitter who frequently took me to the neighborhood park for play time. She had me climbing, running and jumping all around without infantilizing me, which I really appreciated. Frankly, just because I am disabled doesn’t mean I am made of glass. Anyway, when I saw this babysitter years later and we began to reminisce, I asked her, “I was pretty laid back, right?” She then laughed and exclaimed, “Laid back?! You owned the park!” Hah. I guess that means I was pretty bossy? In charge? In command? Dunno! It was a long time ago.
It’s always interesting to reflect on what we choose to remember or emphasize in our memories, and in turn what can trigger such memories. Inevitably certain events can push memories up to the surface. I suppose that’s what writing this blog has done–in a good way! A healthy, conducive way…at least, that’s what I sincerely hope.