is that you, optimus prime?

If you are a person with a disability, [or a friend, significant other or family member of a person with a disability] you may have realized something over time. People can say some crazy things to each other. Many times, well meaning people have approached me-with a kind smile and outstretched hand-only to say some of the most bizarre things I have ever heard.

Whether it’s being told I am “so brave” by my hairstylist, or having people say they are “glad I am out doing things” like having dinner,  I am consistently amazed by the demeanor of the people who approach me. [Example: my friend being asked if my wheelchair was a bicycle by an intoxicated bystander in a bar bathroom]

What does THAT button do?

I alternate between being appalled, amused, and just kind of weirded out by these kinds of interactions. My peers in like circumstances often exchange similar stories with me: faith healings gone wrong, fielding awkward romance-related questions, and inquiries about how we sleep, to name a few.

But just when I think I’ve heard or seen it all, one bunch throws me for a loop. The approach kids take with disability is quite different from that of their adult counterparts.

Adults see THIS.

One day, I was shopping in Hillsboro Village, when I noticed a small girl near me. She was close enough to me that saying hello seemed proper, and I did so. She returned my greeting a bit shyly, but I could see her eyes moving over my power wheelchair with unmistakable curiosity.

“Want me to tell you what the buttons do?” I asked her.

She nodded. If she said “yes”, it was just above a whisper, and I didn’t hear her.

“Well,” I began, in my best trying-to-be-simultaneously-cool-and-instructional tone, “This one is for the headlights. This one is for the turn lights. This one is for the horn. This one makes the seat go up and down so I can reach things” and so on. With each explanation, I pressed the corresponding button.

I left out this particularly boring and complicated button. This left her free to ask a question. A question that will live on in legend, myth, and internet publishing:

“Does that one make it transform?”

what a KID sees. i think the winner is clear.

What I wanted to say: Absolutely it does.

What I actually said*: No, it does not. But I wish it did. That would be awesome.

{*Although I do not regret telling this little girl the truth in the strict sense, if I could do it over again, the child in me would probably rephrase. I would tell her it’s best for me not to Transform in public, so as not to cause a scene, or make an unnecessary mess. I’m sure she would have been very obliging in this case.]

Short story long, I don’t have to connect too many dots for you guys on this one. That little girl ruled. She saw difference as something interesting and intriguing at its heart- even if it was admittedly a bit intimidating to begin with.

I do not mind being asked questions; in fact, I find direct questions to be refreshing. Honest inquiry [in the spirit of getting-to-know rather than ‘fixing’, ‘healing’, or ‘diagnosing] is the best way to learn about anyone and the challenges they face. This remains true whether they are similar to you or not.

Many people tread lightly, and I can admire tact. But I appreciate children for their simplicity, their directness, and their ability to re-imagine human difference as what is meant to be: an awe-inspiring glimpse of the supernatural.

Here’s looking at you, kid.


6 thoughts on “is that you, optimus prime?

  1. This has got to be one of my favorite blog posts! It made me smile … a lot (remembering some of those encounters). I just want to know … which transformer are you?


  2. Robby: i probably would give everyone coffee. but only delicious coffee that is locally roasted and fair-traded.
    Mom: i don’t knoow- i will have to consult an internet quiz and get back to you on that.


  3. Wait – you don’t transform? I am crushed! But truly, this was such a lovely blog to read. The imagination and simplicity of a child is something to behold and cherish, isn’t it? Love you loads my lil’ robot!


  4. Pingback: first dibs | In Case of Fire, Use Stairs

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