I was standing around with other parents – mostly dads because that’s what you do at hockey rinks – and the kids were staring. When they’re this age, they usually don’t say anything, but their gazes rested too long to be polite.
The wheelchair attracts attention. Sometimes it is the iPod we have mounted on Deane’s tray. But usually, it is the fact Deane drools that other kids find grossly fascinating.
We’ve all been there. Those socially awkward situations that are just part of life with a disabled kid.
When Deane was younger – and still every now and then – little kids will ask their parents “What’s wrong with him?” Usually the embarrassed parents whisk their children away. I often wonder what they say out of our earshot.
After 14 years, we have pretty quick answers for all the standard questions. I’ve even heard my daughter use them in response to her friends’ questions. “His muscles aren’t as strong as other people’s.” “He has a hard time keeping his mouth closed.” “He needs the chair because he has a hard time walking.”
We try to make it easy on people, give them an out to change the topic. But sometimes people just don’t take the hint.
A friend who was quite close to us used “retarded” as his favourite descriptor. To him many things were “retarded.” He’d tell his kids, in front of us, to not be “so retarded.” Finally, he said it once too often. My husband told him he to stop using that word. “Why? What’s your problem with it?” Patiently, my husband explained that Deane’s developmental delay is still referred to as retarded in some medical books. I haven’t heard the r-word from him since.
It’s Canada. Everyone plays hockey
My husband is an athletic guy. He is an avid fan of hockey, basketball, football and certainly able to keep up the office banter on most other professional sports. When Deane was young – two or three – a work acquaintance of my husband’s would ask regularly if we had Deane on skates, were we out on the rink on the weekend and then was he playing hockey yet? The questions became more and more direct and could no longer be avoided. Finally my husband said, “He’s got cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair.” The next time my husband saw this person, he had a Toronto Maple Leaf jersey, autographed to Deane.
My workout regime
I was buying a dress for a gala event – not my forte – in an upscale store – not my milieu. I ended up selecting a sleeveless dress with a wrap. When I tried it on, the sales woman commented on how I had the arms to carry off this dress. “Thank you.” As I was paying for it, she again said my arms looked great in the dress. “Thanks.” “Do you work out?” she asked. “A little bit.” “Do you do weights?” “No. I spin, a bit of core.” Folding tissue paper around this dress took a long time. “You must lift weights,” she said again. “You have such strong arms.” There was no getting around it. “I have a disabled son who I have to lift a lot.” Suddenly, the dress was ready to go.
All kids, disabled or not, put parents in awkward situations. Anyone else have embarrassing stories? Maybe some that are only funny in retrospect? Share yours with us. We can all use a laugh.