10 Disney Characters Parents of Kids With Disabilities 'Meet' at the Store
“I go school shopping to get advice from strangers,” said no parent, ever.
So why, when our children defy us, scream for candy, or simply dare to look disabled in public (gasp!) are we suddenly surrounded by vigilante sages with overflowing founts of helpful advice?
Well, as Marjorie Pay Hinckley once said, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”
Here is some of my “favorite” parenting advice as it would sound coming from some of Disney’s most classic characters (along with some tips on how to respond):
1. Tinker Bell
“Fairies have to be one thing or the other…” – J.M. Barrie.
This light-hearted, optimistic little sprite really believes that, “faith, trust, and pixie dust” is all you need to get you through the tough times. She prescribes prayer, herbs, protein shakes or essential oils for everything, from temper tantrums to cerebral palsy. That’s right, just one flick of the magic wand will do the trick!
Good news is they’re easy to deal with: a simple eye roll can usually deflect the fairy dust.
“Splendid! Absolutely marvelous!”
Cute and clueless, these little emperors are so busy enjoying their own perfect lives that even the most challenging circumstances always meet with their pleasant surprise. When one Sultan recently learned that my friend’s 9-year-old signed instead of speaking because of genetic deletion, she shared how her little nephew learned sign too and now he can talk just fine!
The only thing to do with Sultans is to laugh: they’ll probably laugh with you whether they get the joke or not.
“C’mon, think positive!”
Ah, the eternal optimist, and the Queen of Denial. The fact she actually wants to help doesn’t make her ignorance hurt less. Gems like, “You’re such an amazing person!” “But she looks normal!” “Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it,” “It could be worse,” “Kids with autism have genius abilities!” and the ever-ready, “At least…” marginalize real struggles and are especially hard for parents of children with disabilities.
Joy also enjoys learning new things, however, and information delivered with respect is usually well-received, even if it’s not assimilated right away.
Too busy admiring himself in the mirror to be bothered with anyone else’s troubles, Maui only comments if he feels someone else is getting more attention than he is. Whether he sighs audibly in line as you pull out a second WIC check, or glares at the back of your head over his steering wheel while you gas up your minivan, his message is clear: “You’re making my life hard.”
A scowl and shake of the head as you walk away is all the response he deserves.
5. King of Arendelle
“Conceal, don’t feel.”
Allergic to big emotions, this guy says things only a King could get away with. He might butt into a heated debate about whether T-ball should have Sunday games to tell you he got a football scholarship to college, or he might send his 6-year-old to tell you something your kid did, rather than delivering the message himself. It’s possible he’s just innocently clueless, but he could also be a creeper.
Trust your Mommy Sense and keep your kids at a safe distance if he makes you nervous. If at any point you become worried about his kids, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD to ask an expert whether what you’ve heard or seen merits a call to CPS. After all, if the Trolls in Frozen had made that call, the whole movie would have gone very differently!
6. Evil Stepmother
“Oh. Pay no attention to her.”
Often a friend or family member, it can be hard to tell whether the Evil Stepmother is more interested in helping you, or in making sure everyone knows she was a better parent than you will ever be. With so-not-OK comments like, “Stop babying him,” “Don’t play the autism card for sympathy,” “I made my children eat their vegetables,” and “If she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat,” it’s natural to respond initially with shocked silence.
Once the disbelief wears off, “You’re being unkind and you need to stop,” is a good way to reassert your rightful parental authority without starting a fight. If that doesn’t work, you might be dealing with…
“You poor, unfortunate soul!”
When Ursula scolds you, it’s as personal as taking your voice away. Ursula yells to her child across the splash pad to “stay away from the gimpy kid,” asks in the foyer at church how someone as fat as you could have such skinny children, or speculates in the checkout line who the “Baby Daddy” of your mixed race child might be. No doubt about it, this one’s a witch.
It’s fine to shoot an “Are you serious?” at the Ursulas in your life, but it’s also fine to let them go unopposed. Either way, be sure to gather up your children as soon as you can get calm for an emergency family council on what they heard (because she made sure they heard) and what it means. That debriefing could be as simple as: “It’s never OK to say what she said to anyone, and she knows it. It’s called bullying. If anyone ever makes you feel like they made you feel, it’s bullying and I want to hear about it so I can help make it stop. And don’t you do it to anyone else, or you are so busted!”
8. Mulan’s Grandmother
“Who spit in her bean curd?”
This wise old soul always knows what to say to diminish the hurt of another’s unkind comments. Her presence is a beautiful reminder that most people are good, and some of them have your back whether you know them or not. They might tell Ursula off for you, give you a “Who does that?” look as the King of Arendelle walks away, or even flip Maui the bird.
She’s always having fun, so a simple “Thank you,” or even a shy smile of appreciation, is all she needs in return for her support.
“Ten thousand years will give you such a crick in the neck!”
The Genie knows how it feels to face impossible odds and feel trapped by his circumstances. He knows he doesn’t know what you’re going through, and this gives him the perspective and the grace necessary to keep judgmental comments to himself. Whether he’s the bus driver who always smiles and waves, the store clerk who talks to your children like equals, or the old man on your street who works all day on his lawn but never criticizes yours, crossing paths with the Genie can bring a smile out even on the hardest day.
“Everything’s going to be fine, you’ll see.”
Belle has a heart of gold, a sharp wit, and knows better than to judge a book by its cover. Maybe she grew up with a sister with autism, adopted a child from China, goes to therapy to recover from an unhealthy relationship or teaches math at the alternative High School. Whatever her backstory, she knows what it means to be “in the trenches,” and she believes in paying it forward. She might silently pay your check as she slips out of the restaurant, or insist on pushing your over-full grocery cart so you can carry your toddler in both arms. If she gives you her number, save it and give her yours. Your future self will thank you.
Now, next time you walk outside and wonder who taped an “Advise Me!” sign to your back, you can imagine you’re part of an impromptu Disney movie shoot only you know about and enjoy the bloopers.
Ashley Nance is a mother of many, communication advocate, author of Crystal Puzzle and Sunny Says, “No!,” and a mormon, who lives in rural New York. If you like what you’re reading, you can subscribe to get more of it — and a free eBook — by clicking here. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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