Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don't Stare!!!

I heard this over and over as a child... "Don't's rude!".

I was a naturally inquisitive child. And very observant. When I saw someone different from me, I would stare. I didn't think I was being rude...I was just checking it all out. I was also very shy, and wouldn't ask questions, I would just try to get behind a doorway, or countertop to take in my observations without having to interact with the person or event I was taking in.

With Max in our lives, we get a LOT of stares. In fact, every time I take him outside, at least one person stares. They stare at his chair, they stare at his wild kicking legs, they stare at us lifting him into his van, they stare at the van. Mostly I smile, and usually they smile back...sometimes they shift their gaze and hurry on past us. Sometimes I return the disgusted look they're giving us, then smile. ;)

But with kids, I don't care if they stare. Really, I don't. Two of my favorite lines from kids upon seeing Max are from a little guy, maybe 4 or 5 while we were in a waiting room at my mom's eye doctor, "Oh my gosh...did you see how skinny that kid's legs are? He's like a REAL skeleton!". (He was no bigger himself, but he was really taken at how tall Max was and how skinny his legs were!), and most recently a little guy, around the same age as Max falling over trying to get a look at Max while his parents were looking at shoes for his older brother. He said to his brother, without taking his gaze off of Max, "Holy COW! Look at that HUGE baby!!". I cracked up! In both situations, the children's parents hushed them and told them to not be rude. But how were they being rude? That's when my happy bubble bursts, and I get upset at the parents.

It happened again last night when my sister and I walked to the grocery store with Max to get some ice cream. We walked in, and Max was in his big blue chair. A little girl, about 8 years old was stopped dead in her tracks staring at Max. I may as well have been pushing a pig in a stroller. When her mom caught on to what she was so enthralled with, she grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her along, loud whispering to her "Don't stare!! It's RUDE!".

Such a moment lost there, for the girl, for the parent, and for all people with differences. I guess I could have tagged the little girl down and let her know it was okay to be curious about Max, introduce her to him, let her ask questions, or touch his chair. But honestly, the reaction of the mom made me feel so uninterested to educate the masses on disability awareness.

And mostly, I was there for my ice cream.


KD said...

this is really helpful. as a mom with little kids who likely do this, it's hard for me to know how to handle the situation. I definitely feel ~ in general ~ that the "don't stare it's rude" thing is true.... We live in a place w/ lots of weirdos ~ and I mean TRUE weirdos who have chosen to be that way ~ so there are lots of "sights" to see around here. Those kinds of people do it for the stares, I think, which really irritates me.

Wheelchair users or other folks who "look" different from my kids... I still don't want them to stare because I still have the "it's rude" feeling. I always like to follow up with my children that some people are different, and it's just how it is. So I may say the "it's rude" thing but it's certainly not with any sort of animosity or disdain for who (or what) my kids might be staring at.

Deana said...

Thanks for your comment KD!

It's totally natural for us to recognize someone different from ourselves. It's what we do after that initial recognition that's important. Our kids will see our own reactions, and learn.

I think where the frustration on my side comes from, is that it seems that the parents of these children don't want to feel uncomfortable themselves, so they hurry their children away to not cause a scene of sorts with the staring.

I think the thing to do is, if you want to look fine, but smile, say "hi", teach them to make conversation..."I like your son's neat chair". I think kids are programmed to not approach other different from them, for good reason sometimes (like the "weirdos"), but it's hard for them to know how to approach anything different.

We have taught our daughter, who is not in a wheelchair, and looks very similar to all of her peers, that looking is okay, asking questions is okay, but you don't like it when people stare at Max, so you don't need to stare at other kids, or adults in wheelchairs.

ferfischer said...

Oh, how I get this too - and I also am totally fine with kids, they are curious! It's when the adults hush that I get kind of upset, because that's also what MY OTHER kids see, that talking about their sister is to be "hushed" and that is really not the message I want to send to them. I think most people just don't know what to do (and we're still in the "why is that baby so sleepy, oh wait, that's not a baby" stage). And my kids also stare too, and I'm so surprised since they seem so used to our life, but then again, others are different. So I explain, and do what I want others to do. It's hard. Being an introvert and all. It would be easier if I was more outgoing!

Jackie said...

oh this is such a good topic. I do not have a child with a disability, but have "curious" boys ages 5 and almost 3. It can be hard to find the right words to explain things, especially in ear shot of the person they are staring at or asking about...but I agree that kids will see our reactions and probably mirror that. And I love your simple idea of complimenting their chair to spark a conversation.

Deana said...

Hi Jackie!

I don't know that we always have to "explain" within earshot. We can have a quick hello, or a smile and move on without having to make it fit inside an explanation.

The happiest moments for us when we're out with Max are when people say, oh he's having fun! Or say they like his cool chair. Or just SMILE at him.

I think there are always moments outside of earshot to explain, but in the moment, a smile will do.