childhood teasing

Special Needs

Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. ~ Wikipedia

I made the mistake of reading comments on an Instagram post in favor of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They were mostly positive. But, there was one naysayer who stood out for his initial lack of vitriol. He was just mildly snarky. But, it was like he had committed some heinous sin, instead of posting a disagreement rooted in ignorance.

He was immediately under attack. Mostly the responses remained as snarky comebacks. However, one of them made me cringe.

It sounds like your boss is good at hiring people with special needs.

I couldn’t scroll past without addressing it.

Back in the day, the insult used was, “retard,” frequently accompanied by a physically mocking action. Much like 45’s mocking actions regarding a reporter who experiences a physical disability.

Another one is, “riding the short bus.”

However you frame it, it’s showing a prejudice toward people with disabilities, especially intellectual ones.

How about how mental health challenges are referred to?

What are you, crazy?

Man, that was INSANE!

She’s so bipolar.

That one’s not right in the head.

Or the fact that so many movies and TV shows portray mental health patients as dangerous killers and all the shootings being reported as someone with mental illness, before an evaluation can be done?

The stigma and prejudices against people with physical, developmental, and mental disabilities is real and insidious. Just as we need to recognize, call out, and address racism, in all its forms, sexism, genderism, and sizism, we need to call out ableism.

It isn’t about political correctness, it’s about human rights.

For more on my perspective on ableism, go here.

Diving In: Facing fears, being reckless, or caving into “peer pressure”

Keith and I took Luna to the community pool next door during Family Swim time yesterday. About an hour after we got there, it turned into Open Play Swim, when kids can swim without having an adult supervising them as long as they meet a height requirement.

During Family Swim, there were five lanes reserved for lap swimmers while families had use of the shallow bay and one swim lane, which runs under the diving board. Three of the lap lanes go away during Open swim and the diving board is lowered for use.

Once he realized the diving board was available, Keith got a huge grin and decided he was going to dive. He is long and lanky, so even if his form isn’t perfect, he still dives well and looks pretty good doing it. He goes straight to the end, bounces a couple of times then takes off, gaining some good height, arcing beautifully, and going in at a perfect angle for a smooth entry.

As Luna and I watched him go off the board, she clapped really excitedly, cheering him on, and giggling her happy laughter. Then she says, “I want you to dive, mommy!” Repeatedly.

I’m seven inches shorter and outweigh him by 100 lbs, give or take. I used to be really self-conscious when we go out in public together. I feel like we are the real-life representation of Jack Spratt and his wife. You know? The nursery rhyme, “Jack Spratt could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean.” So, it’s still a pretty big deal for me to put on my three year old, sagging, faded, WalMart swimsuit, with the shoulder straps tied in knots to keep the thing on and wearing the two sizes too small, exercise shorts to keep my bottom section modestly contained, and get into the pool with him and Luna.

But, I’ve learned to do it because it’s more important for Luna to experience us enjoying time as a family than me not participating because I’m ashamed of my physical being and the fact I can’t afford a decent swimsuit. The truth is, I am continually battling the inner voices from the childhood taunts from Summertime at the local community pool when I was 8 – 10 years old:
Fatty, fatty, two by four
Can’t fit through the bathroom door!

Whale on the beach! Whale on the beach!

Always followed by the hysterical, maniacal laughter of the boys leading the chorus of whooping and hollering.

Add to that, all the tabloids and internet memes and videos of overweight women being mocked and ridiculed for daring to wear “revealing” clothing that shows their cellulite and rolls of fat in public, means the fact that I’m ashamed and embarrassed to be in a public pool with my family shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really. I choose to go anyway and just try to hide how I’m really feeling.

Now, here is my little girl, who hasn’t learned that mommy is too fat to be seen in public with, much less to get up on a diving board, wanting to watch mommy dive the way she’d just seen daddy do.

I had a lot to think about and not much time to do it.

1) I was already in a pain flare from both the fibromyalgia and the lower back/sciatic pain that is getting worse again. What if I do it wrong and hurt myself?

2) It’s been well over two decades since I dove off a board. So long, in fact, that I don’t actually ever remember diving from an actual diving board, ever. What if I do it wrong and make a huge splash?

3) How will I look to others? Will I see smirks and looks of embarrassed pain on the faces of the teens and other adults in the pool?

“Please mommy, I want you to dive like daddy!”

I watched Keith jump into the air, arc, then angle, slicing into the water like it was air.

“Ok. Tell daddy you want mommy to dive when he gets to us.”

She did. He smilingly agreed.

I reluctantly climbed out of the pool and made my way to the board. Three short steps and the short blue plank suddenly narrowed by six inches and grew two feet longer. The closer I got to the end, the more wobbly and unstable the surface under me felt. Then I was at the edge.

Fear of hurting myself fought against the fear of how I would feel about myself if I didn’t do this.

I sort of bounced up and pushed forward, feet barely leaving the board before I aimed arms and head into the water.

Coming up, I knew I hadn’t done my back and body any favors. “Never again. That hurt my back,” I declared as I swam over to Keith and Luna.

I did wind up experiencing more pain throughout my entire body and worse back and sciatic pain for the rest of the day and night. However, while it made things more difficult, it didn’t stop me from doing a little grocery shopping, fixing a spaghetti dinner, or cleaning up after.

In this case my “peer pressure” was the pressure of going outside my comfort zone and doing something I was afraid of doing in order to please my daughter and not be the family “downer.” Knowing my physical health issues and my lack of insurance and still choosing to dive was probably a reckless decision. Somehow, though, I can’t help but believe that I made the right choice.

Luna may not know that she saw mommy being brave and courageous. She may not realize that I was acting as a “feminist” and choosing to go against what society pressures women who look like me to do. It may never enter her awareness that I lacked self-confidence or felt self-conscious and ashamed.

But I know. I also know that by doing those things in front of Luna, I created a new normal for us both.

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