One of the things I love about kids is that they are unfiltered. They don’t know about being polite or politically correct or not asking certain questions for one reason or another. And in my job as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Hagan, Rinehart & Connolly Pediatricians in Burlington, VT, I have 1-on-1 interactions with a lot of kids!
I often have kids reacting to me in ways that would, to most adults, seem inappropriate. For example, I walk in the room (I use the verb walk as anyone else would, I see no point to change just because technically I’m rolling and not walking) and before I can even introduce myself the 5-year-old says, “Why are you in that?”. My response is usually the same, “What do you mean? [pause] Oh, my wheelchair?”.
The responses of kids vary greatly based on their age. Young kids, under age 3 probably, often just stare at my chair, too shy to say anything really but clearly fascinated or curious. Older kids, about age 7 or so, stare at my chair but look away when they see that I notice to try to try hide that they were staring but not doing a very good job of it. And the age I love the most for their reaction is the 3 to 7 who have the, “Why do you need that?” reaction.
I much prefer kids—and adults—to ask about my chair than to either stare or just wonder silently and not ask. People are curious because it is something different that they don’t understand. They aren’t trying to be hurtful or inappropriate, they are just trying to learn and understand. I love that! I want to explain!
My answer to my patients varies based on their age usually. It is typically some variation of, “I hurt my back a long time ago so now my legs don’t work well so I use this to get around.” Rather than having them feel sorry for me, I immediately show them something “cool” about my chair like, “It can go really fast,” or “I like it because it’s blue”. Most often parents then chime in and say something like “Yeah isn’t that cool?” If a parent or older kid asks I sometimes elaborate more about how my spinal cord was damaged. Often that’s followed by, “Oh, I’m sorry” or “That’s too bad,” for which I respond, “It’s not bad, I’m still able to do everything I used to do.” Even though I like these conversations I usually don’t try to let them drag on too much and I fairly quickly turn the conversation back to the patient and what they came in for.
What I’m really interested in seeing–and will only play out over time–is the reaction of kids who know me well. I have 3 nephews ranging in age from 2 and a half to 4 months. And, obviously, my 6 month-old daughter Dylan. Dylan will have grown up riding on my lap and having my wheelchair around. She will know no different. Will she someday ask why I use a wheelchair and other people don’t? I wonder when she’ll get there and what will make her think of that. Often time kids will ask if they can ride on my lap or push me around (usually in social settings, this happens less in my office in a professional setting). I wonder if Dylan will want to do these things or if it will kind of be old news to her.
I’m sure one day Dylan will ask about my chair and I bet there will even be a day that she’s embarrassed that I’m in a chair (I mean, I’m her mom, it’ll just be one of many things that will embarrass her…). I also hope there will be a day that she’s proud. But most of all, I hope that when people ask her about why her mom is in a chair she comes up with an answer that she’s comfortable with and explains it simply, just like I have with my patients. I guess that’s on me to guide that conversation as she starts to recognize and contextualize the difference. Just one of the unique parts of my relationship with Dylan!
Just a quick one today. Dylan is a happy kid! It’s funny to hear the “teachers” at daycare remark on how far she’s come in the 2 months she’s been there. She’s gone from being one of the most high maintenance kids in the room to one of the easiest and happiest. We feel the same way at home. She has a jumper that she LOVES. She’s sitting up fairly consistently and making new “human” discoveries every day. We have started giving her solid foods as well which has been a lot of fun. She isn’t the best at eating them but certainly enjoys the process. It’s fun to see what foods she likes and which take a few tries for her to warm up to. We have yet to find anything that she really won’t eat.