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When My Daughter Asked Me Why People Always Stare at Her

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When Zoe was little, I spent a lot of time thinking  (and writing) about about how different she was. Through her grade school years, Zoe blossomed with the encouragement to try and do her best. I made sure she was always included and treated just like everyone else.

Zoe will be starting sixth grade next year. She is growing into who she is meant to be. Zoe is quick to laugh and smile, and she’s full of pre-teen sass.

I have always maintained my own set of rules for mothering Zoe. Many of them involve not making a big deal about her disabilities within our family… even in small ways.

When she was in preschool, I still carried her from the front door to the car, and as she grew, I began grimacing from the strain of lifting her. Realizing this one day, I resolved to not let Zoe see, and wanted to find a different way to do things. Open family discussions about outings, which car we are taking and the choice between Zoe’s wheelchair or walker remain private between my husband and me. We know what a hassle it is to strategically plan for parking and other challenges that arise—but I don’t want Zoe to know. I never want her to feel like she is too much trouble or effort.

Yet, suddenly, my smart and sensitive girl sees everything. The way I huff and puff pushing her wheelchair up the hills on the walking path through our neighborhood… as she alternates her comments between, “Are you okay, Mom, pushing me? Are you sure?” and “Give it MORE muscle, Mom!” On a recent afternoon trip to the mall, she weighed the excitement of window shopping against accepting the fact that “people will look at me!”

The other day, I held her hands and we traveled up the stairs at our neighborhood park. She smiled as she led me onto the play structure, my hands supporting hers, providing balance where she has none of her own. And I heard her say softly to herself, “It’s okay if they look at me, this is funnnnnn.”

So I wasn’t too surprised when Zoe asked me the other night why people always stare at her. “When?” I asked, curious. “Where?” “Everywhere, all the time,” came her easy reply. Then “Kids… a lot.”

“Hmm,” I began, buying some time, biting my lip. “I suppose they stare at you because they are curious. You’re cute,” I added, tickling her. “And maybe, because they don’t know you, haven’t seen you before…” My voice faded, as I reached for the right words I would have to say next.

“Do people ever stare at you?” Zoe asked. “Yes!” I began, excitedly. “Sometimes they are surprised that I am so tall, and they look at me longer, noticing that.” I paused then, unsure which words to use to explain to my daughter just how insensitive strangers can be.

“It’s because you’re different, Mom.”That’s why they look at you.”

And I looked at her knowing… what she already knew.

girl in a wheelchair

This post originally appeared on Special Needs Mom.

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Originally published: April 20, 2015
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