Dear Mom on the School Ground,
Are you a mom? I’m not sure. I don’t know you, but I’m not sure what else to call you. “Dear Lady” sounded a bit harsh, so I’ll assume you’re a mom of someone, since you were at the school. I know some of the kids you were with, so maybe you’re a friend or family member of theirs.
You don’t know me either, but apparently you know my son. I know this because when his dad and sister wheeled him past you, I heard you ask the people you were with, “Does that little boy have Cerebral Palsy? I’ve been asking about him.”
According to your statement, you’ve seen him before and this is not the first time you’ve asked about him. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe you’re a busybody who likes to be in the know about everyone and everything. Or maybe you’re just a gossiper who wants the inside scoop about the only child in the school with a notable physical disability.
No, I really doubt you’re either of those things: that’s not the vibe that I got. I don’t think your question was gossipy or malicious, I think you were just interested. Maybe you even personally know someone with CP, and you’re trying to relate it to my son.
But whatever reason you had for asking about him, you were careless today. You thought that he and his family were out of earshot when you asked. You were sort of correct. They were. But you didn’t realize his mom and twin brother, also with Cerebral Palsy, were stumbling a few steps behind on a morning when walking was particularly difficult. Do you see how this might be a bit of a sensitive topic? Because we heard you loud and clear.
You didn’t intend for us to hear you; I saw the look on your face and the changed tone in your voice when you realized we did. You didn’t see the look on my face because I kept my head down and concentrated on not bursting into tears. Instead of breaking down, I took my stumbly little boy by the hand a little bit more firmly and moved past you quickly.
I know you weren’t trying to be mean, but the question you didn’t intend me to hear still hurt. It was, in fact, a milestone. Today was the first time I ever heard someone talking about my perfect boy and his disability. You see I’ve seen it before—the staring at him. But hearing it is a first. You weren’t talking to us, you were talking about us, and that never feels good.
So let this be a message to you, or anyone who makes an off-handed comment without enough regard for who might hear (come on, we know we’re all guilty of it). Be careful of what you say and of who might hear you. If you have a question or a comment about someone, ask them. Sure, it may have caught me off guard if you had said “Does your son have CP?” But had you asked kindly, I would have appreciated your interest. If you have a question that isn’t appropriate to ask directly to someone’s face, then you should be more careful about who may hear you when you’re asking it. It will come off as hurtful no matter how you intended it.
Although you were the first person I overheard, I know you won’t be the last. I know a child in a wheelchair is something that most people can’t stop themselves from staring at and talking about, so I’m just hoping for a bit of sensitivity. I know I need to work at growing a thicker skin, so it doesn’t bother me so much, but forgive me—I am just learning the ropes too.
A Sensitive Mom
About the Author
Tracey Trousdell lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband, daughter, and identical twin boys. The twins, born more than three months early, have Cerebral Palsy. A former Project Manager turned stay at home mom, Tracey uses her organizational and time management skills to enthusiastically boss her family around. Her blog, www.traceytrousdell.com, is a sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, all-the-time authentic look at her family living life to the fullest through adversity.