The summer is winding down and as such it signals the beginning of a new school year. In preparation for this new beginning, I took my three children shopping for new clothes, backpacks, and shoes.
We ventured into a favorite store of my girls, not mine per say due to the narrow aisles, making it damn near impossible to navigate a wheelchair through it; but we managed pretty well considering. While looking through a table of t-shirts, a young girl probably around five years old walked over and stood in front of Olivia. She didn’t smile, just stared. I smiled at her and said “hello”. She looked up at me, expression unchanged, looked back at Olivia and then ran over to an elderly lady that I assumed was her grandmother.
“What’s wrong with that little girl?” I heard her ask while pointing in our direction. Waiting to hear the grandmother’s response, I seen her grandmother take her by her hand and say, “Shhh! She probably can’t walk. She looks disabled.”
I could feel my cheeks burning and could feel a lump form in my throat. I took a deep breath, gathered up my kids and walked out of the store.
Kids are kids and what they say is out of pure innocence. I have long known this fact. Questions I get from children curious about Olivia are usually formed this way. They don’t always have the vocabulary to choose “softer” words and that’s ok. Our job as adults is to teach them. We have the ability to instill compassion, awareness, understanding, respect, and love. That’s what got to me. That’s what initiated the lump in my throat and the blood rushing to my cheeks. The child’s grandmother hushed her question, as if she had said a dirty word. She failed to see that this action planted the seed of ignorance. She taught her my daughter’s difference was something to be ashamed of, something that should not be asked or understood.
I would have been kind and gracious had she approached me with her granddaughter. I would have been all too happy to introduce her to Olivia and let her know how they were both close in age, probably with many similar interests. How both of them were probably entering kindergarten and I would have asked if she loved the show “Sofia The First” as much as Olivia. This child could have seen that they were not so different.
The stigma surrounding special needs is something we can rid forever. It’s ok to be curious, to want to learn more. When we educate, we eliminate ignorance. Talk to your kids. Let them know it’s ok to ask about the things that make us different. After all, what makes us different is what makes us all beautiful and unique creatures.