Again and again I’ve been surprised by what my children don’t see. I once invited a friend who has a disabled child over for lunch. The child was born with only one functioning eye, half an ear missing, and a malformed leg that had been amputated above the knee. Despite these difficulties, she was bright and cheerful. My children were pre-school age and I wondered if I should talk with them about the girl’s disabilities before she arrived. I was alarmed by the prospect of them treating her strangely, or reacting in some way that was hurtful, but I was unsure of how to manage this possibility.
What would I say? “There’s a girl coming. She looks a bit different from you, but try not to make a big deal about it. You don’t want to hurt her feelings.” This kind of sentence sat heavily on the tip of my tongue in the hours before her arrival, inadequate and somewhat patronising. In the end I decided to just see how it went. To let my children make their own deductions.
The friend arrived and the children played. Zalie had a spike like a pirate where her foot should have been, but she was mobile. We had lunch, and the kids rushed around, chatting and squealing and laughing, and there was no mention of the missing eye, ear, or leg. After my friend departed, while sitting quietly in the bath, my five-year-old son said:“You know Mum, Zalie had a broken foot.”That was it.And it got me thinking about how differently the day might have gone if I’d made a point of highlighting Zalie’s difference. Of guiding my children’s perceptions and judgements. It certainly showed me a lot about my own.