“Mommy, why does she walk so funny?”

9 Nov

I don’t remember the day when I became uncomfortable with myself. I just know that I went from being a kid that wanted to experience every part of life with no regard for the opinions of others to a girl who viewed herself based on the ways others thought of her and treated her. Though I may not remember the specific day when my attitude about myself began to change, I know that it started with the staring.

Being physically different from your peers is especially hard for an obvious reason: since you’re not like your peers, you’re “different,” and being different isn’t “the norm.” Even though I find it sad that the concept of being “different” is primarily a culturally constructed concept that is perpetuated by societal attitudes, it’s not surprising. Due to “differences” being culturally constructed concepts, it makes sense that the act of staring is at the center. The center of making those who are different actually feel different, even if they may not think they are that much different from those around them (at least in the beginning). Having others openly stare at them automatically separates them from the crowd that they are trying so hard to fit into.

In the early days of noticing how others would stare at me, it felt like a punch to the gut, causing me to feel like the easy target, unable to move or even breathe. The moments that hurt the most were those in which my differences were noticed through staring as well as through vocalization. I remember one specific day that I was in the grocery store with my mom. As we came to the isle of milk and eggs, there was a little girl who walked past us with her mother. I watched the little girl as she moved past us, knowing that any second she’d turn around and her eyes would lock with mine, her mouth hanging open in shock and surprise. The girl saw me as she was walking towards me, and the staring began. The stare started at my feet, and the girl noticed the way that my feet pointed slightly inward as I walked. The girl then looked at my legs, focusing on the way that my knees knocked together as I walked. Eventually, the stare landed on my face, and the curiousity that I saw in her eyes was mirrored in my own. By the time the stare reached my face, the little girl couldn’t look away, not even for a second. Even as she and her mother walked past me, she would turn around and look back at me, still holding her mother’s hand but so engrossed in me that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was walking. Then, ever so slowly while trying to keep her eyes on me, she’d turn to her mother and ask, “Mommy, why does she walk so funny?” The words stung, and I walked away before I could hear the mother’s response. I followed my mom through the grocery store, thinking back over and over to the little girl’s question, wondering what the answer was. That simple question as well as the sadness and uncomfortable feelings that were associated with the staring has come back to me on a daily basis throughout my life, and even now, it’s no less painful than that early memory in the grocery store.

In the early days of the staring, if my mom caught someone staring, she’d look at them, smile and say “Hi, how  are you?” Even though I knew that my mom was implementing the “Kill them with kindness” approach, I could never make myself do it. For reasons I can’t quite explain, the stares were such a shock that I couldn’t even speak. Over and over, the stares of little girls and boys, and even adults, seared into me, searching for answers. Since I was as far from the answers as they were themselves, I looked away, not wanting anyone to see the pain that was reflected in my eyes. It wasn’t until I was home in the comfort of my bed with a stuffed animal in my arms that I allowed myself to cry. I allowed the tears to fall over and over, hating the kids who stared at me so much and hating myself for letting their stares have such an effect on me. After I couldn’t cry anymore for the night, I’d look up at my ceiling fan, watching the shadows of the blades reflected on the ceiling, wondering if there would ever be a day when I’d feel normal.

Even today, at the age of 20, the stares still affect me. Though I no longer cry at night because of them, they make me angry. Angry at the people who can’t accept that there are people in the world who look different from them, angry that the parents of kids who are gaping at me don’t explain to their children that it’s not polite to stare, angry at the adults who are in their 40s and still gape at me from across the grocery store, not even trying to hide their surprise at the way I walk. Angry at myself for still being so far from the answers as I was as a child, silently hoping that one day it will all make sense.

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12 Responses to ““Mommy, why does she walk so funny?””

  1. szuccaro2003 November 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Amelia. Thank you for sharing your pain around people staring and commenting. As I read your post for today, I began to wonder if something I do when I am with my three year old daughter, is somehow hurtful to her. You see, she had a stroke in the second trimester of pregnancy and was born with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. She can walk, but has very poor balance, vision problems that we can’t yet diagnose because she is too young and can’t tell us what she sees and does not see, very limited use of her right hand and arm and she wears a brace on her right foot to help her walk. She wears glasses and sometimes wears a cast on her left hand/arm to constrain it so she will try to use her right hand more. She neglects using her right side because it is difficult for her. So, when people stare, I interpret it as curiosity. I believe that most people are just curious by nature and if given more information, they find connections and similarities rather than differences. I use the staring or comments as an opportunity to educate them and most of the time, they really engage with me and Sierra and connect. I can see them relaxing and they ask more questions and they sometimes tell a story of someone close to them who has a similar situation or they express how they did not know that unborn babies and small children can have strokes; that they thought only elderly folks had strokes. So, the thing I worry about is that as Sierra gets older, this thing that I do may cause her discomfort in some way. Perhaps she does not want me to share this intimate information about her. Perhaps she feels/will feel different than I do about all of this. Time will tell, but I do hope my openness on her behalf does not cause her any harm. What are your thoughts about this? It will be a while before she can communicate her feelings to me since her speech and language are delayed.

    • ameliaclaire92 November 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      Because I know how my parents reacted to kids who stared, I know that there is no right or wrong way to deal with it. In all actuality, no one has a rule book to deal with a concept that is driven so much by society. I think that parents (and mine included) just do as best as they can. Even though I can’t necessarily know exactly how the staring impacts your daughter, I do know that it didn’t begin to really affect me until I realized how I was different. The staring increased that realization, and I focused on it. I focused on it because I was confused and didn’t understand and it hurt. However, the sad part is that no matter which way I view it, it’s still present. I know that no matter what anyone else did, it wouldn’t make it any less painful for me (at least that has been my experience). Though I have made friends throughout the years who accept me and love me for who I am, finding them took a lot of time, and there were times where I was unsure whether I’d ever make friends who could feel comfortable around me. In my experience, it’s very much a mental thing, and it’s much harder than a lot of people think to just not let the staring get to you, especially when it causes you to feel singled out compared to many of your other peers. I’m not sure if this helps, but either way, all situations are different, and what works for one person may not work for another (which is something that I assume you’ve definitely realized with your own daughter).

  2. jnine0712 November 9, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Beautiful post Amelia and can tell you this I was taught early to treat everyone the same. If I was that kid staring at you, my mother would have killed me. She truly believed treating others they way they would want to be treated themselves. And time and time again she would go out of her way to explain to me. I can only tell you this I admire your strength and your determination, as well as how you have used your words to put out this out there to educate the uneducated. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your feelings and your story here with all of us. I truly applaud you. and by the way, as a mother myself now, I am raising my girls the same way to respect everyone and to treat others the way they would like to be treated, too!!

    • ameliaclaire92 November 9, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

      I’m glad to know that there are still people who make a point to go out of their way to explain the importance of accepting others just the way they are. Though it seems like a very small gesture, I know from experience that it makes a world of difference.

  3. colee112 November 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    wow, a beautiful post, thanks for sharing that with us all.

    • ameliaclaire92 November 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      Thanks for reading. I’m glad you liked it. 🙂

  4. anewdayrising79 November 10, 2012 at 2:12 am #

    This should be freshly pressed, seriously.

  5. LA Edwards November 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Wonderful post Amelia.

  6. PixieP November 22, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    I feel your pain Amelia. I have CP as well and it gets better. There are awesome days and not so awesome days. The little children don’t bother me as I find it rather hilarious when they say in super loud voices ‘Mummy/Daddy, why does that lady walk so funny?!’ and the parents just die and go bright red and try to shush them. Then I can’t help myself I start to giggle. Its the teenagers that annoy me, If I have a bad day I swear and tell them to P*SS off, but the anger is there when I least expect it.. I Guess the best thing to do is use it, don’t run from it or mask it… use it to fuel your fire and make something beautiful out of it.

    You are not alone dear lady… there are more like us
    xxx

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Mommy, why does she walk so funny?” « eclectic camel - November 10, 2012

    […] “Mommy, why does she walk so funny?”. […]

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