My Son, the “Life Lesson”

I debated whether or not to re-tell this story about a particular incident that happened last weekend. Realizing that it’s still on my mind several days later is notable and in the end, was the reason for ultimately blogging about it. If anything, writing it all out will most likely feel better. 

I’ll preface this post by also saying that I’m probably over-reacting…

Last weekend, on Fathers Day, the whole family went to the baseball field where Shane plays rec softball on Sunday mornings. There were other teams there, as well as fans cheering on those teams. Because this is an adult league there are usually a few spouses and kids running around, watching the game. A woman was there with her young daughter who appeared to be a little older than the boys. As we were getting situated and setting Caleb up with his walker to walk around, the little girl became quite interested in Caleb’s walker. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Wyatt has always shown an interest in “Bubba’s walker” and the kids at daycare know it’s for Caleb and not a toy. 

Caleb was walking around as I supervised closely and after a few minutes he became tired as is expected. I scooped him up and we walked around while he had a chance to rest. The little girl made her way over to the unused walker and figured it was her turn to take it for a spin. Since this we’ve only taken this walker (our previous borrowed one) out in public a handful of times, I wasn’t really sure how to handle the situation. I explained to the little girl that she could look at it and touch it but it wasn’t a toy. The little girl’s mom was apologetic and I told her she really didn’t have to apologize. I didn’t expect the little girl to know that walkers aren’t toys. 

What happened next seriously made me cringe. The mom pulled her daughter close and very slowly and deliberately explained to her that some people can’t walk and they need things like a walker to help them. “Remember the lady yesterday who was in a wheeeeeelchaaaair?” She spoke loudly and enunciated every word like she really wanted to be a good mom and teach this 3 year old a life lesson. On and on she went… Caleb and I were standing less than 10 feet from her and to say that I felt awkward was a huge understatement. The whole situation made me feel icky. It’s one thing to have a conversation about people with disabilities and it’s another to do it right in front of them. Luckily, Caleb is young enough not to understand anything she was saying but I can’t imagine if this happened when he’s older. Would this exchange have hurt his feelings? 

My reaction to this situation has made me rethink my whole outlook on being a special needs mom. After Caleb’s cerebral palsy diagnosis, I just knew that I would be a vocal advocate for my son. I would strive to educate others about the disorder. Heck, I started a blog in order to allow others to see life through the eyes of a special needs parent. But here I was, listening to a stranger use my son’s disability as a life lesson and I was so uncomfortable. I stood there paralyzed and unable to do anything except flash a fake smile at the woman and her daughter.

Part of me feels like a hypocrite since I’m always claiming to want people to educate their kids about others who are different from themselves. Maybe the caveat should be that it not be done in front of said person with the disability? Another part of me wonders if maybe I was uncomfortable since this was truly the first time I’ve ever encountered a situation like this and I’m just not sure of how to respond. 

Shane was also nearby when it happened and when I brought up the exchange a few days later, he had a totally different reaction. He was happy to see the woman talking to her daughter and didn’t think much of the situation at all. This led me to believe that I’m probably overreacting and maybe a bit sensitive.  Caleb’s inability to walk can no longer be explained as simply being a “late walker,” especially with an identical twin brother who is running and jumping around like a, well, toddler. With our new walker going everywhere with us, I’m anticipating many more of these interactions with strangers and I’m hoping if I will myself to have thicker skin and not take things so personally, that I won’t be constantly be over analyzing events several days later like I did this week. It’s all part of the process, I suppose. 

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I'm a working mom of three fantastic boys: Caleb, Wyatt and Parker. My husband, Shane, and I live in the Washington DC suburbs where we enjoy playgrounds, pools and never getting to sleep in. This blog is a journal of our day-to-day lives as well as a chronicle of Caleb's progress after a recent spinal surgery to alleviate the effects of his cerebral palsy.

Posted in Caleb, Cerebral Palsy, Special Needs
2 comments on “My Son, the “Life Lesson”
  1. Sarah Gostenik says:

    I agree with both you and Shane…I think it’s good that the mom didn’t just say something like “that’s his toy”, she at least tried to address what the walker is used for, but I completely understand why that’d be upsetting for you to hear right now, especially since the walker is pretty new. I have quite a few friends who have disabilities and what a few have said helped them is just having something ready to say, beat people to the punch. Some keep it very lighthearted, others really use it as an opportunity to educate others. I think a lot of people just don’t know how to explain disabilities to others, especially to young children, they really don’t mean to sound insensitive. I know it’s easy to say don’t take things personally and that it can be really hard not to, especially when you want to protect your child’s feelings. You guys are doing an amazing job and I think this blog is more helpful than you may realize, for you and for your readers… 🙂

  2. Debbie says:

    Oh Alison…you and I need to get together sometime and just talk……there have been so many times that you’ve written about something that has been identical to situations or feelings we have also gone through. I completely understand your hesitation when the mom was talking to her daughter and that frozen feeling. I always feel so guilty…especially because I work in Special Education as well! I think as time goes on….we’ll become more accustomed to the comments and situations and have a script prepared 🙂 You are an amazing mother and your boys are so lucky to have you 🙂

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