A very lively and curious 3-year-old was running through Starbucks, making her sparkly neon shoes blink. She nearly landed in my lap when she overshot the spot where she planned to turn. As she backed away, she noticed that I don’t have feet … Her eyes got wide and she spun around. “Mommy!! This lady doesn’t have feet!”
Mommy was looking mortified but was balancing a baby in a carrier while trying to say “I’m so sorry” and get the child to come back to her. But, the bright little spot of energy had already spun around to me again and was studying the bright knit socks I wear over the stumps.
“Where did your feets go?” I told her I’d been in an accident.
“Will you grow new ones?” Nope. They don’t grow back. But that’s ok because I have the chair to let me get around.
“How fast can your chair go?”
This turned into a discussion of who was faster: me in my chair or her with her pretty, neon shoes that lit up when she moved!
We ended up having a race across the store and she won! She was so excited and showed me how her shoes sparkle when she dances too.
Then she suddenly stopped and got a seriously sad look on her face.
“You can’t dance can you?” I had to admit, no I can’t dance as she does, but if she holds my hand while she is dancing, then it is like we are dancing together.
So she grabbed my hand with a big smile and danced with me.
Everyone was just delighted watching her — because she was just delightful.
Mom still looked uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure how she, as the parent, should respond. When the dance ended, Mom came over to apologize and I told her there is no offense in the honest innocence of a child. I had enjoyed our talk and dance.
I was really glad Mom had another child to tend to so that I had the opportunity to have such a positive interaction with the little girl. When a child notices me and my invisible feet, all too often the parents pull them away and tell them they are being rude and teach them to avoid interacting with people like me. I understand the parents think they are being polite and teaching their children manners, but what they really are doing is teaching their kids to ignore the existence of disabled people. I’d much rather have them see me just as someone who is a little different.
Cecelia Smith is a retired ASL interpreter and para-legal and is active in her local community as a volunteer and observer of people.