Do you ever feel self-conscious when out and about with your special needs child?
In the lead up to getting Ashlea's first wheelchair, I was very apprehensive about going out in public in it for the first time. Not because I was in any way embarrassed or ashamed of her, but because I felt like it was such a public 'coming out'. I felt like it would be like going back to the beginning again and feeling like I had no skin. Prior to having the wheelchair I was under the illusion (delusion perhaps?) that it was possible that people didn't realise Ashlea had a disability. I felt like I could duck through the shops fairly anonymously, without too many stares.
But the arrival of the wheelchair meant that it was bloody obvious that my child has a disability. Someone commented on my blog earlier in the year that something about the age of 4 is hard for parents to cope with. I agree - and I think it is because it is the age of 'coming out'. Before that your child just looks like a young child - the differences aren't so obvious. But when they hit 4 and start going to preschool and getting ready for big school, the differences smack you in the face.
Anyway, back to my original point. The wheelchair. I have been surprised at how quickly I have adjusted to being out and about with the wheelchair. I often don't even think about it - except for the when people stare, but mostly people just smile because Ashlea is so cute with her pigtails and sunglasses as we potter around the shops.
The one time I DO feel self-conscious though, is when I see 'before' friends. People who knew me before Ashlea, before disability. All my current friends know our situation. At the birthday party last weekend, I bumped into a 'before' friend. I haven't seen her much since the girls were born (due to circumstance - nothing deliberate). Then I saw her a year ago and she asked how the girls were going and when I said they were really good she asked:
So, they're both walking now?
It's kind of shocking to tell people that your child can't walk. And they probably never will. Not many places for the conversation to go after that clanger.
Anyway, I felt self-conscious seeing her on the weekend. Not because she made me uncomfortable in anyway (the opposite in fact), it was just that it reminded me of how confronting it can be to see a child in a wheelchair. Of how confronted I still am by the fact that my child is the one in the chair. There is no denying that Ashlea can't walk when she is out and about in her chair. The thing is that the denial doesn't belong to anyone else but me! I can't deny that I have a child with a disability as I carry her to her wheelchair. I can't deny how different my life is now. I can't help but think back to life before. Before disabiltiy and wheelchairs and heartache.