We went out to dinner last week (a very rare occurrence for us, but this was a special occasion). Max had been wanting to use his walker all day, so when we arrived at the restaurant, he insisted on taking his walker inside with him. We obliged. And, as we were being seated, I noticed several patrons watching us with great interest. And, as we happened to be seated at a table, rather than a booth along the sides, we were easily observable. Several times throughout our dinner, I noticed people glancing over, their eyes drifting to the walker, then to our family, then back to their fellow diners. It appears that a walker that small is quite a novelty in public.
When dinner was over, Max chose to use his walker rather than be carried out of the restaurant. Mind you, Max is a very slow walker, and he hasn't quite mastered steering so he tends to bump into things, and people. So I made sure to stay fairly close to him in order to avoid any major collisions. As we were walking by tables and patrons waiting to be seated, several people stopped in their tracks and made comments such as, "Oh, how cute!" or "Look at him go!". All very positive and very encouraging. One little girl noticed Max as she was getting out of her own car, and was very curious about his braces and his walker. Without hesitation, she asked, "Why does he have those on this legs?" I explained that he has trouble walking and they help to support his feet. Then she asked about the walker. I gave her a similar explanation. Then her father, who had been standing very close by, chimed in, "And he's doing a great job, too!"
What I found interesting about this outing was people's reactions to my son's physical challenges. In general, they all seemed very positive. But, my mind began to fast forward to when Max is a teenager, or a young adult. What if he still needs a walker, or crutches, or even a wheelchair. Will people have similar reactions, or will they simply smile and avert their gaze? I'm guessing it will probably be the latter, because even I have done this. But, why? Why is it that a small child with physical handicaps can elicit a warm response, while an adult elicits avoidance?
My son has taught me to be much more aware of those around me who have any form of disability, and to meet their eyes without fear, but with openness and understanding. And I am grateful for that. But, why was I one of those people who chose to avoid, rather than embrace?