Do you ever catch yourself staring at a child who looks a little different than you do? Maybe they are moving in a strange way, or there’s something unusual about their features. I know I do, which is why I shouldn’t hold it against anyone. But all the same, it is uncomfortable to be on the receiving end.
I think the stares started a few months ago when we had the girls in swimming lessons. C could barely lift her head when she was lying on those floating mats. Other toddlers in the class were balancing on them and doing flips. We still take her swimming frequently, and while keeping her head up is not such an issue, we still get stared at as we coach her with unusual enthusiasm to do mundane things like reach for a ball.
Interestingly, the only time we do not get stared at is when people are using the accessible shower. I have never once gotten to use the accessible shower stall, which has an extra bench, a hand shower and a little more space. The bench would be very useful for washing C, who is quite heavy, and cannot sit or be propped on the hip as easily as her sister. Whenever I’m waiting, that shower is invariably being used by someone who is washing every part of her body, leaving the conditioner in for the allotted six minutes, and possibly even laundering her swimsuit. It’s guaranteed that this person will never once make eye contact or notice that your child is a little different. I did confront someone on this once, but confronting someone in a shower stall is never a pleasant experience, so I’ve mostly sent C to shower with J who finds her easier to maneuvre in the cramped little non-accessible stalls.
The other week I was at a local coffee shop and C was grinning away at someone. He waved at her and asked her to wave, which of course she did not. Then he asked me if she could wave and I said she could not. Since just answering “No” feels a little abrupt, I said it was because of cerebral palsy and smiled in a way to make sure he knew that I was not bothered by it. And then he politely asked me what cerebral palsy was, and waved a few times more and went on his merry way.
Probably a week later I was there again (I drink a lot of coffee. I have four children.) There was a starer. She was not a waver. She just stared. At C, and her orthotics and then at her again. And when I stared back she’d look away for a moment and then continue to stare. I considered confrontation but she was also taking pictures of Garfield cartoons in the newspaper with her phone, and I was not sure I wanted to confront a lover of Garfield. As we left, I noticed that she had a cane tucked under the table. She was not of an age where one would typically use a cane – she was younger than I am. And so perhaps she has what C has? Some milder version? Then again, it still doesn’t give her the right to stare, does it?