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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The One Question You Should Never Ask a Parent Ever

     Holden and I went grocery shopping at Walmart today.  As usual, when we are out in public and he's using his wheelchair, he gets a LOT of attention.  People will tell him, "Nice wheels!" or "look how well he can move that thing!" or "Wow, I've never seen a wheelchair that small before".  We even see flocks of teenage girls point and smile and say, "oh my goodness, look at that little wheelchair, he is sooooooo cute!"  We smile and gladly accept all of this attention.  Sometimes it gets a little exhausting.  I mean, we could literally have 50 comments and/or mini conversations with people in the course of one morning of errands.  Yet overall, my impression has been that everyone is so very kind and supportive of Holden and essentially, he has this little cheerleader section wherever we go.  Yay, everyone!  Thank you for being so kind to my child.

     A few times people have asked, "So he can't walk?" to which I'll just kindly respond, "No, he's unable to stand or walk.  He has a condition called arthrogryposis which affects the joints, muscles, and nerves in his legs."  I'll be honest, it feels a bit nosy to me for a stranger in Walmart, but I can tell that people are just curious and have kind intentions.  I have always responded back kindly.  Once the word arthrogryposis comes out of my mouth, people just kind of leave it at that!  Today at Walmart, we even had a few guys in their early twenties who asked if they could take a picture of Holden and post it on their facebook page with the caption, "Respect".  Since these guys didn't know our names and couldn't easily turn into stalkers or anything, I said, "You can take a picture of him if you can catch him.  He doesn't stay still in his wheelchair for long!"  Holden realized what was happening when the guy took out his phone, and he sweetly posed for the camera with a smile.  It was a little bit awkward, but again, these guys had good intentions.  They were essentially saying, "We think this little kid who is different is cool.  He gets around the world differently and that's ok.  Respect."  Good intentions, and they treated my little boy kindly. 

     As we're nearing the egg section, we pass an older couple (early 70's maybe?).  They don't smile or wave.  They just stare at Holden blankly.  I think nothing of it until the man stops and walks over to me as I'm looking at eggs and says, "Excuse me, what's wrong with him?" as he is pointing to Holden.  I cringe.
Can I pretend he didn't ask this question?  Can I pretend I didn't hear him?  As I'm trying to compose a response, he asks again, "Did you hear me? I asked what's wrong with him?"  (still pointing at Holden and has yet to say hello to him or acknowledge him as a person). 

The root of this question just hurts me.  Chris and I think that Holden is perfect.  We believe that God carefully creates each life and values each human equally.  We believe that everyone is "fearfully and wonderfully made" Psalm 139:14.  We also believe that God, in His providence, chooses to give disability to some, not because He loves them any less, but because He has plans and ways much bigger than ours.  This is illustrated in Exodus 4

     10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past      nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

Some may say that God is cruel or unfair to make some with disabilities and others without, but we disagree.  I know with my whole heart that God looks down upon Holden and sees a beautiful person created in His image, and I will protect my son with everything I have from a world that will point their finger at him and ask, "What is wrong with him?"

My adorable owl at Halloween.  He is fabulous and perfect and everything wonderful and right about the world.

I took a deep breath, and composed my response:

"I think he is perfect, but he has a condition called arthrogryposis.  I think your question is inappropriate.  You don't ask someone what is wrong with their child."  

The man stares at me blankly, then raises his hand to his ear, and says, "What? I didn't hear you."

So again, I repeat my spiel a little louder.  This time I just lead with, "Your question is not ok.  It's not ok to ask someone what's wrong with their child."  I am visibly flustered, but I am saying this in a direct and calm way.  My voice is raised to a loud talking voice so that he can hear me (no yelling or shouting, just talking).  He still looks very confused.  His wife, who is 10-20 feet away, says, "Are you done getting your lecture from the smart-mouth, honey?"

At this point, my eyes widen in shock.  I am frozen.  Since when did telling someone that what they said was inappropriate make you a smart-mouth?  I used no offensive language.  I stated my case plainly.  I was not sarcastic or sassy. 
The man starts walking away, as he does so, he turns to say:

"You know what you can do? You can go to hell."

My eyes nearly popped out of my head.  I was standing there mouth open, in absolute shock.  Where had all this anger come from? 

My eyes started filling with tears.  Another lady was nearby and heard what this man said.  She asked, "What was that about?"
I briefly explained and at this point tears are coming down my face.

She said, "You are absolutely right.  Your son is beautiful and perfect, and that man was out of line."  

Then she gave me a hug.  

(Holden chimed in with "Mommy no hug!" I don't think he likes seeing me hug anyone but him.... rude awakening when Daddy gets home, buddy!)  

I pulled it together and we quickly finished our shopping trip.  

In my head, the whole interaction just keeps running over and over.  What did I say?  What did I do? Should I have humored him?  He could have asked that question 100 different ways and I would have graced him with a response.  How about, "Why does he need the wheelchair?" or "What is his diagnosis?"  (Again, it's a bit nosy to be doing this with strangers in Walmart, but still, I would have obliged.) 
Conversely, if this had been a child asking, "What's wrong with him?" I would have gladly responded.  I would have said, "Well, we think Holden is just great, but he has arthrogryposis...."  
This was a very, very grown man who knew better.  This was a grown man who acted like my son was an object or a spectacle and not a person.  A child has never treated Holden that way.  Honestly, I love it when kids ask questions about Holden.  They're curious.  They want to learn.  I love sharing more about him!  

Again, this was a grown man who knew better.  

Yes, we have all said things we wish we would have phrased differently.  We have fumbled over words or realized later, "Yikes, that was hurtful and I totally did not mean for it to be!"  Even when normal people are confronted with someone who they might deem oversensitive or easily offended (I don't count myself in this boat, but still, for sake of comparison, let's say I am in the boat.)  If said person states that they were offended, said offender usually says, "Oh my goodness!  I'm so sorry!  I completely did not mean it that way, but I see what you're saying.  What I mean to say was...."

Said offender does not tell the other person to go to hell.

I began thinking, "Is there ever a situation where it's acceptable to point to a child and ask their parent, "What's wrong with him or her?"
I cannot think of any.

If a child was throwing a temper tantrum in the store, this would not be an appropriate question.
If a child is unable to speak or see or move in the way that we are used to seeing others move, this would not be an appropriate question.
If a child is way shorter than his or her peers, or way taller, or way thinner, or way larger, this would not be an appropriate question.
Even if a child is on the floor having a seizure, the appropriate question might be, "What's wrong? How can I help?" Yet it would still not be appropriate to point to said child and ask, "What's wrong with her?"

If after this older man told me he couldn't hear me, and I said, "What's wrong with you? Why can't you hear?" This would not have been an appropriate response. 

It's decided, then.

There is no case ever no matter what in any universe or realm or state of altered consciousness where a person should ask a parent of their child, "What is wrong with him or her?"

Not allowed.


I'm putting this one in the rule book.
But wait, guys, this story gets better.

                                                                 I know, I can't believe it either.

I promise you, this really happened.

 I'm putting my shopping cart away in one of the parking lot "corals" if you will, and all of a sudden, I hear a quick, "beep beep!"  I turn to look.  The older lady (wife of man who likes to damn people to hell for caring about their children) is flipping me off.

I am not even kidding you!  

Again, I am in absolute shock, and at this point, my eyes are popping, and I just have the biggest grin on my face as I'm shaking my head back and forth because I'm in disbelief that any two people could be this angry about what happened in that discount superstore.  I just had to smile.  I mean, is this for real? 

The best part of the story is this:

I was fortunate enough to be right behind them waiting at the stoplight, so I kindly memorized their license plate.

So to all my dear, local friends.  If you ever see a gray Toyota Tundra with South Carolina license plate EFC-149 , please pray for them!

And keep your children far, far away.