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.


The Croods, Charlie, Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman

The last time Keith was home, our weather had gone from upper 60’s to low 90’s in less than a week. One of the things about Portland is that we tend to have cool – cold, wet weather, with sporadic and intermittent encounters with the sun. We joke about liquid sunshine, webbed toes, and growing moss on ourselves. Sandals and shorts can be year-round attire for some (along with flannel shirts over t’s, stocking caps, and puka necklaces). Others break out the shorts, tanks, and neon white skin after 65 moves toward 70 on the thermometer. Every Summer, we manage to get into the 90’s and sometimes the 100’s for at least a week or two, occasionally we get a heat wave and drought.

After so much cold, damp, wetness you’d think we would relish and enjoy the heat, and we do . . . for about a minute. Then the complaints about the heat start coming. We seek the shade, shelter our eyes and sunblock our skin. That usually happens when external temperatures match internal ones in the mid-80’s. Reaching the 90’s, and the 100’s sends many of us indoors to malls, WalMart, and movie theaters seeking the cool, recycled air of the A/C set to freezing.

The second day of high temps had our little family at the indoor pool for an hour or so before everyone had to vacate for scheduled swim lessons. Then we decided to head East into the city of Gresham to the little third run movie theater where a family of three can watch two movies, share a large bag of popcorn and two 32 oz sodas for under $25.

The matinee movie was, The Croods, a fun animated, fantasy about one prehistoric family’s fight for survival in a land filled with a lot of dangers and competition for scarce resources, and subsistence living at a time when their very world was about to end and their lives transformed forever.

The key tension in the story is between Grug, the dad whose role is to keep his family alive and safe; Eep, the teenage daughter who wants to stop hiding in the dark, pushing the limits of the light, and pursuing her own interests; and Guy, the newest evolution of the human species, on a journey to escape the end of the world, seeking the land of Tomorrow, full of innovative ideas, bringer of light and fire.

Grug has kept his little family safe and alive, when all the others around them perished and were destroyed by predators and natural disasters. He’s done this by leading and training them to be a well-oiled hunting pack, each member in the role and position tailored to their abilities, strengths, and character. The baby even has a role in the hunt.

The initial sequence of the family hunting and competing for the same resource as every other creature in their area is hilarious and exciting. It is probably the most entertaining point of the movie. It’s also a pretty perfect representation of generational, chronic, subsistence living in poverty and lack.

The lessons Grug has learned and teaches his family are:

• The outside world is full of danger and others who are trying to get the one thing you need to ensure survival, before you do.

• The thing you need to ensure survival is almost impossible to attain unless you stick together as a family and everyone sticks to his or her part.

• The thing you need to ensure survival is rare, well-guarded, and has to be taken by any means necessary.

• Once you get it, there won’t be enough to go around and sustain everyone in the family.

• The time, effort, and energy expended to attain the one thing leaves no room for anything else.

• The only way to survive is to always stick to the one way of attaining the one thing and never deviate from that. Fear is good, change is bad.

Grug’s mantra is, “Don’t ever NOT be afraid!”

Eep is tired of being afraid and hiding in the dark. She craves the light and pushes the limits and boundaries established by Grug, simply so she can touch the very last bit of light with her fingertips. Somehow, with a deep longing and yearning, she understands that staying alive by hiding in the dark and existing on fear is not living. She can’t get her dad and family to understand that and she feels stifled and stuck, knowing there’s got to be a different way to live, but no idea how to do it.

You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it all plays out. This is where I want to talk about the dynamics of girls and women trying to break out of the poverty cycle, from my own personal experience.

I didn’t grow up with a Grug or a strong family dynamic. So, I never had a strong sense of belonging, an understanding of my strengths and talents, or the structure and support of people I knew loved me and had my best interests at heart and just wanted to keep me safe and alive.

However, I did have the same sense that the life I had in the family I grew up in wasn’t living and something better and different had to be possible. I grew up when Charlie was a strong woman who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man. Lindsay Wagner as The Bionic Woman and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, an Amazonian Princess in modern America were the icons for women and girls: Intelligent, strong, capable, and feminine. Mild mannered and traditional in their employment as teachers and assistants to the men in their lives, but heroic and capable of solving problems and averting disasters the men around them couldn’t.

Yeah, you know I wanted the tiara, bracelets, lasso, and invisible plane.

There was all the hype about women’s equality and the possibilities were endless. The problem was I didn’t have the stability and didn’t know how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I never learned to plan or set goals. I only learned how to survive and react to and adapt to the ever changing circumstances around me. I became a master at avoiding disaster, navigating shifting sands, and surviving. But I never learned how to live.

That is the journey I am finally on. It’s taken 44 years, but I’m learning how to live. I might even learn how to fly that invisible plane someday.