Disability: At five-weeks-old, my son was admitted to the hospital for some testing. He was fussy and I was exhausted, in that glassy-eyed new-mom sort of way, but I remember the day was sunny and we had high hopes for a short stay. I checked us in, signed our paperwork, and watched as the receptionist cooed over the wriggling lump of cuteness in my baby carrier. She pulled out one of my son’s tiny legs from beneath the baby blanket and, placing the hospital identification band around his ankle, she said, “What a darling. Look at him keeping his legs so still for me. Most babies kick and thrash around when I try to put these things on! What a good boy…”
Disability And that’s when I decided to make everything get real weird.Without taking a moment to reflect, without stopping to check myself or put the breaks on my mouth, I dropped this juicy little tidbit on the unsuspecting woman:
Cue the record scratch. Cue the crickets.I immediately regretted my words. I swear the poor woman broke out in hives. She lowered her eyes and, after some intense silence, stammered out:
“Oh. Umm… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean… I’m just… so sorry”
Three questions to ask before talking about your child’s medical condition with strangers:
- Will you ever see them again?Disability If the answer is “no” then maybe you can skip the 15 minute neuroscience lecture and just move on to talking about the weather. Does the check out girl really need to know what a shunt is? Or be set straight on how long my kid will be needing to wear diapers? Probably not. If you will be seeing this person again (especially if you’ll be seeing them regularly and forming a relationship with them) then perhaps sharing more is a good idea.
- Did they ask for information?Disability If a stranger starts in with some mom-to-mom small talk but is not actually seeking out information, then it’s probably okay to let any Disability assumptions lie. Thinking that everyone is as interested in learning about gross medical lingo as I am, is probably not the best way to go. Disability If they don’t ask, then I needn’t feel obligated to tell. So what if they think my kid is “tall enough to reach the kitchen counter by now?” Sure! I can go with that…
- Will sharing information be helpful or beneficial to the conversation? Disability This is probably the most important question to ask. Basically– what’s my point? If I share some info about our family’s experience, will it be helpful to this person? Will it benefit them in anyway or is it simply a knee-jerk response to “set the record straight?” If someone is spouting common misconceptions about disability then yes– saying something would be helpful. But if they’re remarking on the cleanliness of my kid’s shoes? Maybe I can let that slide.