When a Little Girl Called My Daughter 'Sad'
Yesterday after our church service, my husband, Wes, and I picked our daughter, Julia, up from Sunday school class, put her in her wheelchair and started down the long hallway back out to the common area.
As we passed the first grade classroom, a little girl waiting in the hallway pointed at Julia and loudly said, “Look at that girl in the wheelchair. That’s SO SAD!”
Before my brain could register what to do, my legs took over, and I walked straight up to that little girl, bent down to look her in the eye and said, “No, no, no she’s not SAD! She’s happy! She’s a very happy girl!”
Wes fabulously followed my lead by rolling Julia up behind me so the little girl could get a closer look. “This is Julia,” he said. “Did you see the cool wheels on her chair? They light up!” The little girl looked at Julia’s wheels as Wes spun Jules around and nodded hesitantly. By this time the little girl’s parents were paying attention, probably wondering why strangers were harassing their daughter. “Oh, they do light up,” her mom said. “How cool!”
I asked the little girl her name. I told her we were so happy to meet her and Julia was happy to meet her! I also thanked her for noticing Julia and talking to us (that might not have exactly been her intention, but that was my reframe because I do appreciate when people see Julia and acknowledge her). I ended with saying again, “We are so glad to meet you and tell you about our happy, happy girl. She is not sad at all!”
I’m not sure if I made a positive impact on the world with that intervention yesterday or scarred a small child for the rest of her life — I hope the former. It was just one of those moments I couldn’t let pass. I spotted the little girl before she spoke, she was staring at Julia, and I could tell she was going to say something. When she pointed her finger at Julia and said, “Look at that girl in the wheelchair” I just figured I would smile and wave, but when she added the “That’s SO SAD” part I was completely taken aback. It’s just not accurate. And I couldn’t leave it uncorrected.
I don’t in any way blame this little first grader for saying what she said — she clearly has been taught from someone in her life, maybe even with good intention, that being in a wheelchair is sad, or being different is sad and that pity is the right emotion to feel when you see someone like Julia.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Julia isn’t sad. Julia doesn’t make us sad. Nothing about our lives with Julia is sad. She is a joy!
We don’t want her to be different. We don’t wish for a different version of her. We want her, exactly as she is, wheelchair and all! We celebrate Julia! And she celebrates life to the fullest! She embraces the moment like no one I know! She is joyful, she is silly, she is spunky, she is busy. There is no room for sad in all that amazingness!
The message that people with special needs are sad has to be corrected, not only because it is wrong but because it perpetuates isolation and bias. When we think something is sad, we stay away. When we pity someone we are actually thinking of ourselves as better than that person. Pity and sadness are barriers to being curious, being interested, being involved and being changed.
Please don’t pity Julia. Admire her! And get to know her. You won’t be sad you did.
This post originally appeared on I’m Julia’s Mom.