Saturday, September 22, 2007

Laundromat Tableau

I went into a Radio Shack two weeks ago to purchase a back-up battery for my alarm system. I had to go back and forth between my car and the store to get the correct size and volts. It seemed this battery had to be exactly right. I passed in front of a public Laundromat each time I went to my car. There was what seemed to be a family outside-two older white males, one younger white female, and one little white boy. When I first passed by one of the men was being rather fatherly to the young boy until he threw his juice cup on the ground and he told the boy "he wasn't gettin' it back til he learned his lesson." I just went into Radio Shack. The last time I can out the older white male gave a look to the other white male and they both started staring at me as I went to my truck. At about the same time the young boy started to run after something, down the sidewalk and the white male who tried to teach him a lesson a few minutes before yelled out, "boy you better get your ass back ova' here!" I was again cringing at the parenting but it wasn't any one's business until the child is physically injured in public so I kept making my way to my car. I wondered what it was like at their house. I started to get into my truck and break down my wheelchair when I looked up and all four of them were standing completely still each looking at me, staring, watching me get into my car. They were in this perfectly positioned tableau. The light outside was hazy and orange from the setting sun and they were back lit from the fluorescent lighting of the Laundromat. I was angry at first: they were watching so intensely and I started to mumble something under my breath and smile and shake my head but then I stopped because the young boy that was being treated so poorly by the male was standing in the front, down stage center of the tableau watching me. He saved the adults. I couldn't yell at a child's curiosity. But then I thought why would I yell at an adults-because I assume they know better? Or that they know at all? They all now know how I get in my car, they now know that a person in a wheelchair can drive. They would go back to how they behaved before they saw me, but at least for a moment they know how someone else exists and by me being visible-just out trying to get this special lead battery- they know something they didn't before. Because if they saw a person of a mixed ability get into a vehicle before they wouldn't have frozen in place so beautifully and watched with eyes so wide.

Start with the Children

I was substitute teaching last week in an Elementary School. I only had three classes of students from Kindergarten to Second Grade. Children are brave. They see something they don't understand and they ask a question. They have this gift to question until they are socialized whether by parents or teachers alike. The elders then decide for the children via their own views what is polite to ask what isn't. However if a small child sees someone in a wheelchair, asks a question, and their parent tell them they were rude they will never ask again. Today while subbing these young students all raised their hands and asked why I was in a wheelchair, could I drive, how I got dressed, could I walk. Then they started commenting on how they were injured at one point or their grandmother was hurt and now uses a wheelchair or a walker. I enjoyed answering their questions and I asked them to spread all the information they learned today to their friends. I also asked them to always be brave and ask questions. When outside in the hallway waiting for my last class this spunky librarian from across the hall walked over to me while classes were changing and she started saying to me how cute it was the kids asked so many questions. I wasn't sure how she knew, but I agreed and said it was very important for them to get all the correct information they could so they wouldn't make assumptions. She then said while laughing-"you should just tell them you have no legs!" She said this while the last class was walking into the classroom. All I thought of at first was twenty children crying while I told then I had no legs and them thinking my legs were ripped off by a monster. I said to the librarian, "would that comment be made as a joke or for real?" She said it would be funny as a joke. Then she walked into the library after her class. I then wondered if any Iraqi Vets, specifically amputees would suggest I break the ice at my next substitute teaching job with that "joke".