“Mommy, why did the woman say ‘it’s not polite to stare’ to me?”
“Who said that?” I asked.
“The woman pushing the wheelchair,” Little Miss replied.
Ah. The moment of clarity.
Today, we decided to head over to the Markham Fair. We had never been to this time honoured tradition, and we decided to give it a last-minute whirl. Folks, we had a great time! There was lots to see and do there. There were plenty of animals to see. We got to ride up in a cherry picker (the machine that allows the hydro company to work on hydro wires)! And, they had a demolition derby (that we unfortunately weren’t able to attend). It was great.
Today was the first day of the fair, and there were lots of school children there. It was also “homeschooling day”, so we got to see some of our friends, too. There were also several people there with special needs. Fantastic! I have worked with individuals with special needs, and I know the need for these folks to get out and enjoy a community event. Wonderful! And, it appears my daughter (4.5 years young) was curious.
We all have a natural curiosity to those who are “different”. It’s human nature. Children are trying to make sense of the world, and in this case, she was trying to understand why a person was in a wheelchair. I’ve been behind the wheelchair, dealing with the curious stares. You want your client to be respected. I understand that. However, I think that this could have been taken as a learning opportunity, rather than a scolding.
My daughter did not know it was rude to stare. Again, she 4.5 years old. She did not mean to be rude, but it clearly came across that way. Instead of scolding her, the caregiver could have said, “he (or she) needs help to get around. That’s my job. They aren’t able to walk on their own, but they still want to see everything that you do!” Connection and dignity go a long way on this two way street. I also told Little Miss that the nicest thing she can do, if she sees someone in a wheelchair, is smile. There’s a takeaway that she can carry with her for the rest of her life, as opposed to being scared to look at the people around her.
When I was in grade 6, I experienced a pivotal moment. I was doing a biography on a classmate, so she came over to my house. When her family came to get her, her brother came to the door. He had Down Syndrome. I suppose I asked something insensitive like, “why does he look different?” I really can’t remember. However, I do remember her explanation.
We were in the gifted program at the time. She explained the situation that we (students in the gifted program) had an IQ of 101. Other students, in the regular stream, had an IQ of 100, and her brother had an IQ of 99. This was not (and I didn’t take it as such) an explanation that he was “dumb”, but that he thought and processed information differently. So, when I was speaking with him, I may have to choose my words more carefully so that he understood me. I found her explanation to come from a place of love and respect.
As I grew older, and I took psychology courses, I learned that the IQ disparity was greater, however that didn’t change how I viewed those with special needs. They are people who deserve love and respect, and who are all too often underestimated. This is something I want to pass on to my daughters. I don’t want them to be afraid to interact with these individuals. This is an opportunity to show love and compassion!
So, let me encourage you to view every day as a teaching day. Help those around you, especially these precious little ones, to make sense of what they see, through eyes of compassion and love. And I hope and pray that the next time she sees someone in a wheelchair she won’t avert her eyes, but meet those eyes with a smile.