The other morning at school, Zoe was navigating her pink power wheelchair around a corner , heading for her classroom door, when we came upon a Mom & Dad. I nodded to the Mom as we headed through the door. But when the Mom passed Zoe , she let out this melodious kind of crooning sound - something in between an " Ohhhhh" and an " Ahhhhh" - It was lilting and drawn out, ending on a high note. It was similiar to the sound you make when you see a newborn baby or a cute, cuddly puppy. Definitely, the same kind of " Ahhhh" my girls use when they are lucky enough to spot a pup they want to pet. And so, yes, I am saying that this seemingly well-intentioned , probably very nice Mom gave my kid ( who she does not know, and no Zoe was not remarkably dressed, or doing anything unusually cute) the same kind of " oh-how-cute-let- me-pet-it" salutation that you give an adorable dog. And why did this bother me .. you might wonder? Because all my kid was doing, was what she does every day, driving her wheelchair into her classroom.
Please keep reading, and understand. I do appreciate the sincere kindness of strangers and friends. Those who sometimes ask if I need a hand, when I am loading Zoe's power chair or walking with backpacks and her walker slung over my shoulder. I usually don't need help, because I do it all the time. Because I wear mostly jeans and t-shirts, and comfortable shoes for the job and I am used to shlepping my kids' stuff around. Every once in a while though- I do need help. But this story is about my daughter. My 7 year old, sweet, smart and socially capable little girl. The same little girl who sometimes will turn to me and ask me why someone is staring at her, or why someone asks me questions about her -while Zoe watches from nearby and later questions why they didn't just ask her.
Zoe is a complex kid, I know. Her speech and vision are affected, and sometimes she is slow to recognize a far away face or a child who runs past her quickly calling hello. Sometimes strangers can't understand her speech- and I get all of that. What strangers may not know is that Zoe has been raised to believe she can do anything. And although she sometimes asks tough questions about what she is able to do, she also asks me to teach her ballet, take her ice skating and buy her a bike. All things that would be very challenging for her to do since she is unable to stand up unsupported for more than a couple of minutes. In many ways, Zoe sees herself as who she is, just another little girl in second grade. She embraces life .
And for the way she embraces life, she deserves high fives. For the way she loves to sing and dance, she deserves the well earned compliments every little girl with a microphone yearns for. And when her hair is done with her sparkly pink headband in place, and her lips are shiny with her favorite lip gloss, she deserves the affirmation that " yes, she IS beautiful." She also deserves the extra hugs her friends sometimes offer, because they miss her for all of the time she is away from them, learning braille, or doing speech or physical therapy. And she also deserves the extra kindness from her teachers and therapists, who know how hard she works each day and how much more effort she exerts , what simple tasks may require of her-yet she never gives up and rarely complains. And there are other extra kindnesses she receives from those who know her, who know what she has gone through while ill, how her seizures affect her or the details of her labs and medical testing- things other 7 year olds know nothing about. All of these kindnesses she has earned, because they are given with respect from people who know how truly amazing Zoe is.
That mom the other morning.. .well, it may have been pity or maybe even compassion in her voice, I'm not sure. I know that she does not know Zoe and I know what it wasn't. It wasn' t what Zoe deserved. Because after all, my kid was just doing what every other second grader was doing that morning- going to class. She just wasn't walking in ...