Not Contagious

Don't worry.  Limb differences are not contagious.  

Though sometimes I think some people would really benefit from experiencing life with a difference.  Perhaps they would be more sensitive or compassionate or generous or kind or accepting.

As we get close to our neighborhood pool, Will (aka "The Senator") likes to count the cars.  He then counts the people and if there are lots of people, he gets excited as he can hardly wait to meet them.  He does not get this social nature from his mother.  I prefer zero cars - less people to wear a swimsuit in front of, as far as I'm concerned!  If there are few cars or few people, he becomes somewhat despondent.  Seriously, I think he may run for office someday.  

Recently, at the pool, the Senator was so happy to see several children.  He quickly introduced himself to two little girls, showed them some toys, and began creating some game with them.  They were happy to play with him even though they seemed a few years older.  They were quite friendly with me and Ellie and Will.  Everything seemed fine.
Except then their mother happened to look our way and notice Will's differences.
And she demanded that her daughter move to the opposite side of the pool.
Her daughter asked to keep playing with Will. The mother insisted she stay away from us.
My blood boiled.  (Considering the temps in Texas, it didn't take long to reach the boiling point.)
My child's differences may not be contagious but you know what is?
Ignorance.  Stupidity.  
By not allowing her child to play with mine, that mother instilled in her daughter that something is wrong with someone with differences.  In fact, nothing is wrong with Will.  He is different - not wrong.  
That mother prevented her child from making a friend... a friend who will probably go on to be in high power in office someday.  Just saying.
That mother taught her child that it is okay to be judgmental and intolerant of those who are different.  
That mother did not allow her child to ask questions and satisfy a natural curiosity.  
She passed on her own ignorance to her daughter.
And I pity them.
She missed out on making a very good friend.

A few days later, we were once again swimming.  (Have I mentioned it is hot?  Pretty much if we want to play outside, we are either swimming or slip n sliding or sweating profusely.)  Will has been working on his dive so he was repeatedly diving in the water and swimming to the stairs.  When he wasn't perfecting his dive, he was swimming laps.  He recently figured out that he can swim all by himself across the pool.  Wears him out.  And also, he likes to practice his newest trick - flips.  Hanna W taught him how to do back flips & front flips.  He got the back flip on his first try but the front flip is a little more difficult to master.  He is three!  I don't know if this is typical or not for other three year olds but I am pretty impressed with his swimming this summer.  (Admittedly, I am biased.)
So, Will was swimming laps across the pool, practicing flips, & repeatedly diving in the water as Ellie & I swam around him, when suddenly, a little boy (who had stared at Will for a moment) went running off.  Before I could formulate a response plan, he came back dragging a friend by the hand and saying, "Look at him, he doesn't have hands or feet."  Not, "look at him - he can flip or swim across the pool."  Not, "look at him, he can swim the freestyle."  Not, "look at him - he has great hair."  Not, "look at him, let's make friends with him and play some game of mermaid/water warriors."  
Nope - they were there to gawk.  
I froze.
I didn't know how to react because I was stuck in the water.  
Their mother was nearby (but too far away to have noticed.)  I am intimidated sometimes and don't want to correct a rude child in front of their mother.
And more importantly, my child was blissfully unaware.
I make it a point to not react when I notice Will is unaware.  I do not want him to see me angry or sad and to associate that with his differences.  (I am not angry or sad about his differences - I get angry or sad about prejudice or rudeness or people that notice a difference and not a child.  But I'm not sure that at his age he would get the difference.)  I try, therefore, to not react or respond if Will hasn't notice someone staring or pointing or making rude comments.  If he notices, it's another story as to how we respond but I've already addressed that here.
He was happily swimming.  
So I just stood there, holding Ellie, as tears welled up.  I was furious and couldn't believe the way these children were staring and gawking.
I wanted them to notice my child and his amazing swimming skills.
I wanted them to look past his differences.
He is a person with value.  That is what I want them to see.
And I couldn't force that.  
So I just kept cheering on my child and praising what I know is amazing.

What else could I do?

These kind of scenarios don't happen often.  But when they do, the hurt is deep... I so want people to see my child and all the ways he is just like any other child.

And whoever said "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?"  They are wrong.  Words and stares do hurt.

9 thoughts:

Mike and Christie said...

I'm so sorry. :(
Ignorance is the worst of impairments...
And NO Will is NOT NORMAL, most 3 year olds do not do flips and swim laps in pools! The best you usually see is a reluctant child with swimmies on their arms (which do no good btw) refusing to jump to daddy or mommy and running off......

So YES, The Senator has MY VOTE for most awesome 3 year old around!

Kelly said...

Way to go Will for swimming all the way across the pool! What a big great accomplishment!

kelly said...

katie! that SUCKS. i'm sorry for those kids not to know the FABOULOUSNESS of will! ohmygosh - that child! swimming & flipping & diving @ 3???!!! i do believe you're in for it, mama! that child is going to be a daredevil senator!!! what a doll!

kelly said...

ps: i'm still giggling about "lion king impressive!". heeheee!!! what a cutie stinker!!

Ellie said...

I'm curious about how you knew that the other mother asked her child to stop playing with Will because of his limb differences?
Did she say something to this end?

Is it possible that there was another reason? For instance, I know there have been times when I've asked my kids to stop playing with a younger child because they play too rough.
I've also asked them to stop playing with other kids in other instances (e.g. if you invite a friend and then ignore your friend to play with another child -- that's very rude.)

I guess I just have a hard time accepting that a parent would ask their child to stop playing with Will because he has a limb difference. That's really frightening, actually. :-(
It just doesn't make sense. I have a hard time understanding.

I also wonder if perhaps that mother really *did* think it was contagious? From a distance, perhaps Will's differences could look similar to those that are associated with leprosy.

Perhaps I'm just trying to find a logical explanation for something that defies logic.

As for the kids, that's a difficult situation. I too would be tempted to ignore them if Will is oblivious.
But on the flip side, they need to be educated. If their parents aren't educating them, someone needs to. And while it sucks that you may have to be the one to teach them, but it would be self-serving in that I know I'd walk away feeling a bit better about the situation. Sort of turning a bad situation into a learning experience. *shrug*

I'm sorry you have to deal with these idiots. I wish I could say that you'll get used to it, but I'm not sure that's the case.

Katie - a Blessed Mommy! said...

Ellie - thanks for your thoughts. You make some valid points... I should clarify that there are some details left out of the story - my point was really to share the hurt I experienced recently, without going into every detail.

Of course, you are correct in that there is a possibility that a parent might pull their child away from playing with others for any number of reasons. I too have done that when I felt like kids were discussing something inappropriate while playing or were breaking rules or whatever...
But, such was not the case here. Without going into too much detail, it was quite clear that the parent was pulling their children away due to Will's differences. We've had enough experiences over the past four years to be able to discern rather easily when something occurs because someone is uncomfortable with our child's differences.
Most likely, she didn't actually think Will was contagious - I was simply making the point that she rather dramatically moved her child far away from us. It was clear to me that she was uncomfortable with his differences and therefore removed her child from playing with us.
(I don't think she thought he had leprosy - I believe she just wanted her kids away because it made her nervous/uncomfortable.)

Thankfully, this doesn't happen often, usually parents are fine with their kids getting to know and playing with Will. Within seconds they realize he is just like any other kid. But, we have had a few times in which the parent removed their kid from playing with him because they noted his differences.

You are right, it is scary that someone would prevent their child from getting to know someone simply because of a difference. However, I don't find it shocking. It's simply another form of prejudice and for people who haven't grown up around or worked with someone with physical or mental differences, they are often very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, a few try to remove themselves from the situation rather than overcoming their initial discomfort. I would venture further to say that is since inclusion that children with differences are more commonly seen with their families in public or with "typically functioning" peers... so a generation or two ago probably would be more uncomfortable simply due to the fact that they didn't see many children with differences. During my pregnancy, a woman once mentioned putting my child in an institution - because this was common several generations ago (& still is in many countries.) I think that that mindset may have a role in making people uncomfortable too. Just a guess.

While you are correct that there are instances in which a parent removes their child from a situation for totally benign reasons, this was not one of those instances.

Katie - a Blessed Mommy! said...

Ellie (continued)-
To some extent, we do get used to it. Stares and questions used to really bother me. I would end up in tears often. That doesn't happen very often anymore. Now I may notice the stares or whispers but I kind of blow them off & focus instead on my child. I prefer to focus on him anyway. :)

As to educating others... that is definitely a goal of mine. Most times, I do stop what we are doing and answer questions. In public, it seems as if I am often educating and spreading awareness. This is very important to me and I agree that it serves me (& my kiddos) well to educate others.
Maybe you are right... perhaps I should have stopped to tell the boys to stop staring or to introduce them to Will and point out how similar he is to them.
As I said, I kind of froze. When Will notices, a bizarre sense of empowerment often takes over & I respond in ways that will hopefully educate while also protecting him.
But, in this instance, he didn't notice. He was happily swimming. The children were on the side of the pool and I was in the water holding Ellie (& supervising Will.)
I don't really know in these situations what to do - when Will doesn't notice, I hate to pull him out of blissfully playing to focus on answering questions. (Had I said something to the kids, Will would have heard me & I'm sure joined in the conversation. I try to include him when appropriate.) And the kids weren't asking questions - they were behaving as if I wasn't even there. And though their parents were present, they weren't paying attention as they set up their lunch at a table off a ways... and I was nervous to correct with parents nearby.
And Will didn't notice and sometimes I want to protect that for him - to just let him happily play.
And while I do care about educating those boys - I care more about my kiddo... and sometimes I just want to give him a summer swimming experience that doesn't include answering any questions or responding to someone's observations about his differences.

Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. Love your name, by the way. :)

Mike and Christie said...

I don't think you ever get used to rude people or rude children. We went to the park yesterday. It was a water park for the community. Had a great time, for the most part, but FRANKLY I don't think my daughters should be subjected constantly to STARES, GAWKS and OMG's..... the entire time we are there. GET OVER IT THEY HAVE LIMB LOSS....THEY WERE FAKE LEGS... PROSTHESIS.... WHY are people NOT teaching their children? THEY WERE NOT TAUGHT THEMSELVES... we have a DAY CARE society RAISING a DAY CARE society! Parents are NOT involved. I sat and watched literally HUGE KIDS 8-12 years old walking UP to my kids and POINTING at them! It was awful. This has not happened in a while. They girls handled it well... they answered questions and went on playing, but in the car, they were FRUSTRATED and don't want to go back to what they called "the snooty neighborhood where nobody is out of the bubble they live in."

I however had enough and when my girls didn't know, I told two girls to stop staring and play... rather firmly actually....Sometimes I just don't care anymore.
People need to teach their children some manners and have them themselves. Some lady almost turned her neck around backwards just watching my daughter roller skate! UGH....
She reminded me of the guy who took out a rack of clothes at Target.

I don't have a hard time thinking somebody would pull their kid away. I don't have a hard time seeing prejudice against those who are different.... IGNORANCE rules in our society.....

Unfortunately as they get older, it gets WORSE, not better. Our own son who is a CERTIFIED PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER faces it every single day.
He faced it in college with professors actually saying, "WHY DON'T YOU JUST QUIT!" They didn't like the idea that a handicapped person MIGHT be smart.
That would put him at the same playing level and frankly, people don't like that!

No, I have no DOUBT at all Katie that the woman you describe pulled her kid away.

LEOPROSY? Really? I don't think so.
Good heavens, would somebody REALLY be silly enough to believe that a leprous child would be swimming?

off soap box. Sorry Katie.

Christy@pipandsqueak said...

I am a friend of your friend Laura K in Dallas. I have been reading your blog for awhile when she linked to it. It has done a great job of educating me. I have a 5.5 year old and a 3 year old and they do notice and do ask questions about kids that are different. Your perspective has helped me know how to answer some of those questions. We do have a close friend with special needs (in utero stroke) and my kids love to play with her. I pray that my kids show no prejudice when they are curious and that we can be sensitive to differences. I saw your pictures at the KayCee pool and hope you are there again and I run into you. I would love to meet you.

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