Tag Archives: Staring

“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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Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten: More Than Just A Book Review.

16 May

A few days ago I finished my fourth pleasure reading of the summer, Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten. This book was an amazing read, and I simply couldn’t put it down. Here is the synopsis according to Amazon,com:

Max Parkman—autistic and whip-smart, emotionally fragile and aggressive—is perfect in his mother’s eyes. Until he’s accused of murder.

Attorney Danielle Parkman knows her teenage son Max’s behavior has been getting worse—using drugs and lashing out. But she can’t accept the diagnosis she receives at a top-notch adolescent psychiatric facility that her son is deeply disturbed. Dangerous.

Until she finds Max, unconscious and bloodied, beside a patient who has been brutally stabbed to death.

Trapped in a world of doubt and fear, barred from contacting Max, Danielle clings to the belief that her son is innocent. But has she, too, lost touch with reality? Is her son really a killer?

With the justice system bearing down on them, Danielle steels herself to discover the truth, no matter what it is. She’ll do whatever it takes to find the killer and to save her son from being destroyed by a system that’s all too eager to convict him.

I connected most with the character of Danielle, Max’s mother. Even though there were certain times when I didn’t approve of some of her choices, ultimately she did what any good mother of a special needs child would do, she fought for him. For me, reading this book reminded me of all the people who have fought for me as I was growing up and throughout my life due to my Cerebral Palsy. Whether it was making sure that I was placed in the same classes as other kids my age in middle school or making sure I could get a single dorm room in college or be able to register for college classes early so I could make sure the classroom buildings weren’t too far apart in between back-to-back classes, I’ve always had people fighting for me. When I was growing up, and even now, that person has been my mom. It took me a long time to realize that her tough love was her way of fighting like hell for me to get the same opportunities as all the other kids my age. Nowadays, one of my previous physical therapists, Meredith, has acted as my biggest advocate in terms of getting a single room for college, etc. However, the strong realization over the past year is that I’m reaching an age where I have to be my own advocate, or at least figure out who the person is that I need to talk to in order to get a certain thing done, has been a little scary. Though I understand that it is because I’m getting older and I have to “take the reins” in a sense, I’ve always had others fighting for me. Though I know that they won’t go away simply because I start being my own advocate, when I was growing up, I was my own fighter in a different way. I fought to get up in the morning and not instantly start crying because of the pain that came so suddenly. I fought to try to keep a smile on my face because I knew that if I didn’t I would just break down. I fought to ignore all the stares, even when I would have liked to just scream at those kids that would walk by with their mouth gaping open, and who would turn around and look at me more even after their mothers had walked them past me already. I fought, every single day, and I still do. And I’ll fight to be my own advocate. It’s just been interesting to realize that I have to switch gears, while also realizing that I’m just fighting for what I have always deserved: the same opportunities that other kids my age have been given.

That being said, read this book. It’s amazing.