Couldn’t decide what to name this post… “How Parents Make Their Kids Scared of People in Wheelchairs” or “Kids Think Wheelchairs Are Freaking Cool!”. Since I always try to take the positive road I figured I’d go with the latter even though the first title would probably be the best way to describe this behavior.
Let me start by painting a picture of what happens to me at least 95% of the time when a young kid is checking out my wheels. Little kid is walking through the aisle of some random store (let’s say Armani since I’m a highroller and it seems the uppity parents are the worse about this) and the little guy spots my wheelchair and his eyes instantly light up. I can read it across his face… “Holy crap! That dude is riding around the store in a frikken racecar.” Little kid is so amazed he actually starts smiling, laughing, pointing across the store, and walking over to meet this supercool guy in a race car. Two seconds later the self-conscience mommy/daddy reaches down, grabs the little buggers arm, and whips him away, across the store, avoiding eye contact the entire time and muttering sorry underneath their breath.
SORRY YOU FRIKKEN SHOULD BE! Not only are you depriving your little one from like the coolest thing in the world (yeah… someone so awesome they can actually drive a race car inside!!!) you’re also reinforcing a deep rooted fear and uneasiness for people in wheelchairs/with disabilities. I mean think about it… What is so dang wrong with the cute little kid smiling/laughing/acting curious about something there little minds are trying to figure out? They’re probably thinking about how they got in trouble the last time they ran their motor buggy inside, and how much bigger and cooler that guy’s motor buggy is. They might even want to beep the horn or crawl underneath it to check out shocks/wheels. BIG FREAKING DEAL! Even better, they might ask a question that you were all wondering and you could both grow, become better kiddies/people, and more comfortable/accepting of people in wheelchairs from this little encounter.
NOW THAT WOULD BE COOL! Wait, there’s an idea, let’s reinforce acceptance with our children when they’re so young and impressionable by showing them that curiosity and people in wheelchairs are an okay thing!
As another picture, and to end this on a positive note, let me explain a time when the parents and their little kid did it so totally right. I can remember it just like it was yesterday, even though it happened over 5 years ago, because it touched my heart so closely. It was way back during the early times, when I was still at Craig Hospital recovering from this crazy injury, and on a field trip to watch a Colorado Rockies game. You see, this was a fragile time in my life when the injury was still new and I wasn’t yet comfortable in my own skin/with this disability. We were walking through the concession area and as you could imagine many people were staring. I can’t say that I exactly blame them because I still looked like a hot mess, but it wasn’t the easiest thing and I was starting to feel down about the people that were staring and the ones that kept jerking their kids away. It wasn’t until midway through the game that I was rolling around to catch some air, get a change of scenery (i.e. check out the hot ladies) that I had this truly wonderful encounter.
I see this little 3-4-year-old waddling next to his parents really checking out the dude in a wheelchair. He looked up at his mom and asked her, “Mommy, why is that guy in that funny chair?”. And instead of jerking her kid away or telling him not to stare she said, “Why don’t you go over and ask him?” And the little guy walked right directly over to me and said, “What happened to you… Why are you in that chair?” And he and his parents looked at me and really wanted to know, and treated me just like I was any other human they wanted to ask a question. And one question led to many more, and we talked for several minutes. It was really an amazing, refreshing thing and I have no doubt that this little boy will be a wonderful, accepting, compassionate person towards people in wheelchairs for the rest of his life.
Moral of the story… It’s okay to be curious, it’s okay to wonder what happened, it’s even okay if your little kid doesn’t know how to contain his curiosity. Just don’t be the parent that rips your kid away and makes them scared of people in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.
Oh, one more thing… If you’re curious, just ask!