Something I've never gotten used to is The Look. The Look happens when I pull my van in to a disabled parking space, and people look to see who is driving. The Look happens when I get out of my van and people see that I am not elderly. The Look happens when I then climb in the back to get my child out of the van. The Look happens any time that anyone else is judging whether or not they think I am disabled, or they wonder what my problem is.
The Look says "how dare you?" How dare I take up this parking space, I am not old or in a wheelchair. How dare I have a child if I'm supposed to be disabled. How dare I be out in public, taking up space and living my life. How dare I be in their way.
I move slowly. I move purposefully. I try to conserve movement and energy, because I never know exactly how much I have or how much this trip will take out of me. And The Look says "you are in my way, my time and my life are more valuable than yours."
Because of all this, I also move at the pace of my child. My son is 2 year old. He is also quite large. He is 36-37 inches tall and weighs 38 pounds. He is 97th% for height and 99th% for weight. While I can pick up and carry my son, it is not something I want to do often in public. I don't like to carry him far, or when I have nothing to brace against. He puts me off balance and I do not want to drop him or fall over. I only pick him up and carry him when I must. I conserve my energy for just that reason. I always want to be able to carry him if it is necessary.
My son is accustomed to this. He does not ask me to pick him up unless he needs me to. He is awesome at holding hands and understands how we behave in public, he knows our routines.
So we walk at his pace and at my pace. Holding hands across the parking lot, ever vigilant for cars not paying attention. And then we pause inside the store, where I get The Look again as I catch my breath and start the process of getting my child in a cart.
It is not an easy process. I put everything in the cart first. Then I have to convince my son to help me get him situated. He doesn't always like the cart, but it is imperative that he sit in it. So we talk. And I get The Look as I am bargaining with my 2 year old about this. They don't understand. If I pick him up against his will he's going to flail and twist and I am afraid I will drop him or hurt him or fall over. I need him to be cooperative, because that is the only way I can do this safely.
When he agrees, he lifts his arms up and keeps his legs slack. I say "1-2-3-Lift!" and he pushes off with his legs so I get added help from him. He stands in the seat of the cart so I can pause and evaluate. He helps get his legs through the holes and finally, we are done. I thank my son for his cooperation. Which usually gets me another Look. Then I lean on the cart and we go about our business.
The Look is being judged for trying to live life with my child. We do not do things the same way. My 2 year old has a lot of responsibility in his life. He is expected to do a lot of things and to help with even more. Part of why this works is because I treat my son with as much respect as I treat another adult. I keep him fully aware of what my expectations of him are. I thank him when he does what I've asked or when he is helpful. I bargain with him to get the desired behavior. I completely ignore his tantrums because I haven't the energy to address him when he is in that state. I am known for saying "I know you're upset, but this is how it is. When you can talk to me, we'll figure this out."
I hate The Look. Because people have no idea what it is like to live my life. They make judgments based on their biases. They don't even try to comprehend that life may be very different for someone else. I do not give in to my son, and I am not too strict with him. At home, he pretty much has free-reign to do whatever he wants. He knows this. Because at home I can sit in my chair or on the couch and interact with him without worrying about if I'll have enough energy to get us back home safely. At home I know that everything has been made safe for him and I know what he can get in to. At home I have arranged things to be easy for both of us. At home I am in control of the variables.
In public, I am not. In public I am at the whims of everything and everyone else. I don't know if what I want is at the front or the back. I don't know if I'll have to spend time searching for what I need. I have to deal with my son getting distracted and wanting to do other things. I have to be prepared for standing in one place in line, which is harder than walking. I have to be aware of so many more dangers. I am on edge and I'm also getting The Look constantly.
If you've ever given The Look, I just want you to know that I feel it. I'm sure other people feel it, too. I feel your judgment. I feel your scorn. I feel your dislike. And I want you to know that I deserve none of it. Maybe you'd like to live in constant pain with your muscles spasming and your movements being stilted and jerky because your brain can't send signals to your limbs? Maybe you'd like to feel unsteady on the ground because your feet are mostly numb and you can't tell what you're stepping on or where you're stepping? Maybe you'd like to deal with the guilt that you can't carry your 2 year old everywhere? Maybe you'd like to feel the terror of not knowing for sure if you could catch your child if he chose to run away from you? Maybe you'd like to be judged for anything and everything because you just wanted to get out of the house with your child, no matter how much it takes out of you to do so?
But people who give The Look don't care. That's all I can assume. They don't care who I am or why I do things the way I do. And I can only assume that my life, hard as it can be, must be much more fulfilling than theirs. Because I never have the time or the energy to judge someone else so harshly.