Kids Say the Darndest Things

As a person who uses a wheelchair, I get all kinds of comments: strange, funny, inappropriately personal, roundabout, and just plain baffling. And probably a whole lot more adjectives that I can’t think of right now. Some of my favorite encounters are with kids. One of the great things about children is their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness. They see the world through un-jaded eyes that haven’t been strangled by societal norms or biases. So I typically welcome and engage their questions, which might otherwise be strange or offensive from an adult who would be asking from a different frame of mind, in the hopes that I can turn the experience into one that helps them grow up with the idea that people who have different physical abilities are just like anybody else.

Several years ago, while working in a pediatric and adolescent clinic, I was examining a boy somewhere between four and seven years old. His parents were alternately talking to me or to the attending physician I was working with. The boy was particularly inquisitive, and he was asking all kinds of questions about my ride. Why I use the chair, what happened, why I wasn’t able to walk - things like that. I did my best to explain the concept of a spinal cord injury to a child, using the analogy of a cable that connects a video game system to a television. If that cable doesn’t work right, then you can’t play the video game. Well, the cable that allows my brain to tell my legs what to do doesn’t work right, so my brain can’t play my legs. Something to that effect.

His parents watched the questioning apprehensively, concern and embarrassment washing across their faces. I smiled and tried to communicate that his questions were appropriate and welcome, and they had nothing to worry about. He continued, tugging at my arm.

“I bet you can really walk. Stand up! Walk with me!”

Their faces turned beet red. I laughed, and explained to him that I couldn’t, and that I was, in fact, serious. His parents did their best to silence him and apologize, but I just smiled and told them it wasn’t a problem at all. And it wasn’t. And it still isn’t. It is, in my mind, pretty freaking hilarious, and demonstrates a level of comfort and ease in discussing a disability that is nearly impossible to have as an adult.

Out of the mouths of babes, indeed.


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