It’s been almost three years since I experienced someone taking the time out of their day to come over to me in the street, stop me and comment on Sullivan sitting on my lap whilst I was in the wheelchair, here is the the blog post I wrote about that back then if you’d like to read it or refresh your memory: He Should Be Walking.
I’m referencing that in today’s post because a similar experience happened to us this afternoon and if I’m honest, I’m still really mad about it.
We decided to spend an afternoon in a local gorgeous area called Crystal Palace Park.
If you know us and our family situation, you know that often this kind of thing is difficult for us. IF our lift is working in our high rise block of flats so we can actually leave, getting about in a wheelchair with chronic pain can be extremely challenging and draining. Getting an autistic child who has severe anxiety about leaving the house and being around flying things and bugs outside is really difficult. Travelling to and from somewhere that isn’t a 2 minute stroll can be pain inducing, exhausting and in Sullivan’s case really scary. So when we decided to go and spend a few hours in the park today to catch Pokémon, encourage Sullivan’s passion for nature photography and have an over-priced but delicious Whippy ice cream I never dreamed having to factor in a stranger going out of their way to criticize us.
I saw her coming as I finished catching a Darumaka, we struggled to get me and my wheelchair up another steeper, shingle-covered incline and as she approached to pass us I shared a happy smile. She stopped. I’m not sure what I was thinking at this point but I’m kind of used to people stopping and moving really far out of the way for my wheelchair (like I’m suddenly going to run them over or something!) or just taking the time to stare at me as I pass but people are curious naturally about things different from the ‘norm’. As a mobility aid user, you get used to the gazes and awkward reactions.
She took a couple of steps closer to us and it was then that I knew she was going to interact with us. I was hoping for a friendly smile or perhaps a comment on how my wheelchair looks great/fast/one lady owner – all the usual stuff I get… but not this time. This stranger chose to come over to myself, my husband and my 9 year old son and say “You should be talking, you should all be talking as a family!” I realised after a few seconds she was referring to the fact we were playing Pokémon Go.
There are a million things I could think of now to say back to this woman but at the time I was genuinely shocked that this stranger had chosen to come over and share this infinite piece of elderly ‘wisdom’ with us. Our immediate reaction after the confusion/shock was to defend ourselves and I really wish it hadn’t been, looking back. We shouldn’t have to say we were playing a community game that we’ve played together as a family and with friends for 5+ years or that we do actually talk as a family. I feel I should have questioned her. What gives her the right to smugly judge a family out trying to have quality time together? What gives her the right to demand how that should be done? Why did she think her opinion was so important that she had to confront a young disabled family with it? What did she get from that? A sense of pride? Happiness? Or is she really just angry that she’s a jaded old relic, clawing at other’s happiness in a world that’s leaving her behind.
I’m sorry to my readers for that last sentence as I try to see the best in people and I try to live my life with chill and positivity but would never, ever dream of approaching a stranger to tell them how to enjoy themselves, communicate, bond or how I think they should live their life. Especially not in front of a child.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a stranger’s un-wanted judgement in public? If so, let me know below.