My seven-year-old nephew used to mock my walking style. He would either grab my crutch or improvise his “old lady” limping routine and say “Please, help the old broken foot lady”. I used to laugh so hard! He really did a good impersonation, though I was hardly an old lady!When I first started experiencing problems walking and standing, I was concerned as to how my nieces and nephew would respond. I spend alot of times with these kids. It’s not easy for adults to deal with people with disabilities, so I was very worried that the kids would feel awkward in my presence–maybe even afraid. I was determined to do everything I could to avoid that.
It was important that they understood my limitations. There were many things I could not do any more. A game of tag was out of the questions and when we played games I had to be sitting. Still, I was the same person as before with the same sense of humor, though perhaps moodier than usual. They could still mess with me and my disability was not off limits.
The first thing I did was let them see all my new equipment. The items I saw as reminders of my loss of ability were items of wonderment to them. They’d try on my orthotics, braces, and play with my exercise bands. They used the crutches more than I did! To them each item had it’s own special magic. They thought I was lucky to have all this amazing stuff! I thought all of it was a nuisance.
We had many conversations about what was happening in my body. I showed them the x-rays of my feet and the plaster casts for the orthotics. I wanted them to know what it meant for my to have arthritis. I had to answer alot of questions like “will your feet always be like that?”, “why are you carrying your x-rays around with you?”, “would you rather wear two matching shoes if you could?” All of these questions were important and I answered all of them as best I could.
They know that I am their Aunt and they are still big parts of my life. I may not always feel up to a visit or be ready for everything they suggest, but I enjoy their company nonetheless. My illness did not change that.
With adults it’s seems more complicated. They don’t know what to say and they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they say nothing at all. That’s the funny thing about kids. They may feel awkward and not know what to do, but they can be pretty blunt. If they have questions, they ask them. And, if you do a good enough job with the answers, they will accept you all the same.