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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Making Progress Two Kids at a Time

Last weekend I went skiing with my son and seven of his friends. Yikes, eight teenagers are a handful! The boys and girls I was with reminded me of puppies--they had high highs and low lows. The highs were accompanied by loud music, lots of laughter, drinking too much soda, and eating gigantic proportions of food. The lows were hard to wake up kids in the morning and sleeping kids after skiing on the drive back to where we stayed. When skiing I did not see much of my son or his friends. They went one way and I suspect wanted to strike out on their own without adult supervision. I cannot blame them too much as this is exactly what I would have done if I were seventeen and had my girlfriend with me as my son did. We all had a great time and I particularly enjoyed the evenings as I was able to socialize with friends while my son did the same thing with his peers.

The weekend was enhanced by good weather and the snow condition when skiing was excellent. The weekend for me had two highlights.

First, we skied at Sugarbush, Mt. Ellen. I skied with Vermont Adaptive and was lucky to have two great instructors. While all the instructors at Vermont Adaptive are good I happen to have a good rapport with the two people I went skiing with. I am proud to report I continue to make progress and have gotten over much of the fear I once had. I truly trust my equipment to do what it is supposed to do and spent most of the day on intermediate terrain. The best part of the trip though was making it to the top of the mountain. The lower mountain was socked in by clouds. It was pretty foggy and we heard it was clear at the top. Relying on iffy second hand reports we took the lift to the top of the mountain and at the second to last stanchion broke through the clouds. A crystal clear blue sky and trees covered in snow and ice were a sight to behold. I was not the only person to be amazed by the beauty. A group of people stopped near the lift and were looking at the cloud covered valley below. It was truly breath taking and something that I hope to never forget. When I see a sight like that I realize what gift life is and how marvelous nature can be.

Second, at the start of one run we stopped to discuss what direction we were going to go when I noticed two small girls skiing with their father. I was obviously fascinating to them as they were flat out starring at me in wonder and burning with curiosity. I caught their eye, said hello and asked them if they had any questions. Delight spread across their faces and they wanted to know how I skied, got on and off the lift, and if it was fun to sit ski. Their father looked mortified and I hope the broad smile on my face was evidence that his kids questions were welcome. I assure these girls skiing was fun, that with a little help getting and off the lift was no problem and asked them if they would like to watch me go and ski first. This delighted them even more and now the pressure was on! I had better not fall, spend any time traversing, and show them what I could do. I am happy to report that I did well and went about half way down the mountain before stopping and was delighted to see that the two kids had followed me the entire way. When we chatted again I told them that this time I was going to follow them and wanted to see how good they were. This too delighted the girls and off they went.

My experience getting off the lift that revealed a brilliant blue ski and short exchange with the two kids emphasized why skiing is so much fun for me personally and has the potential to change the way people perceive disability. The two kids I met on the slopes thought I was cool. They did not care one iota that I used a wheelchair and could not walk. They saw a person skiing in a different way and wanted to know if it was fun. This was innocent curiosity and open mindedness at is best. I would like to think those two kids will remember my broad smile, willingness to answer questions, and assurance that sit skiing is fun. And for most people the point of skiing is to have fun. So today days after skiing and getting back to work I still have a smile on my face. I changed the world or maybe at least influenced two little kids and saw a magnificent sight that is etched in my mind. I did all this and enabled my son to have an awesome weekend as well. Life is feeling really good right now.


Claire said...

Kids have no problems with disability. When my daughter went back to the Montessori school, she was in the classroom with the 2 to 5 year olds at first. They stared, they asked the helper questions (Sophie was yet unable to really talk)and they were satisfied. They loved her to pieces, thought her chair was cool, loved her helper and constantly brought her stuff to do...most of which was appropriate to her abilities at the time. When she moved up to the senior elementary level...again...questions, answers...and no problem. as a matter of fact, she was a magnet for kids who felt left read to her all the time and she could barely read, but she loved my girl. Boys too...the boys were able to care for a girl that was, essentially "cootie-less". It was marvelous. As for's fear based, and sometimes misplaced politeness. I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to stare and ask...but it's considered rude coming from an adult. There was a woman at the local pool who swam...she had no legs and no arms (Thalidomide likely)she was a gleaming torso swimming in a black bathing suit. I thought she was gorgeous and sooo wanted to talk to her, but I did not because it was not polite. So I watched her from afar behind the glass. Anyways, I think some folks get tired of questions from anyone after a while. I followed a conversation string once on a disability chat site where all but one thought the questions were fine. The single one felt he wasn't on earth to be a spokesperson for disability. What can you say?

william Peace said...

Kids have no inherent bias against people with a disability or anyone else that is different. Bias, bigotry, is taught and learned behavior. Kids are curious by nature and in my experience ask excellent probing questions. Once answered they quickly adjust and move on. Your experience with Sophie at school is a testament to this fact. Personally, I do my level best to answer all questions from children directly and honestly. Adults on the other hand often have an agenda or reason for asking. Based on the person asking and the way the question is framed I will answer most questions. But I have grown tired of answering questions from adults that are based idle curiosity. These are easy to spot such as "what happened to you", a common question. In reply I always say "why do you want to know". Sometimes people have a reason for asking and don't know how to phrase the question they are really asking. But sometimes adults are simply rude and intrusive. This differs dramatically from kids such as those I encountered this weekend. They sincerely wanted to know if sit skiing was fun and wanted to see how well I skied. I have no doubt they thought the way I skied was cool.
Your comment about the woman swimming was fascinating in that human difference can be beautiful. What I find endlessly interesting is the way we humans adapt. Speaking of which have you ever read the work of Kenny Fries? He is a great writer and his latest book is outstanding.

Terena said...

What a wonderful experience for those girls (and you).

william Peace said...

Terena,Yes it was a great experience as are many I enjoy with children. I only wish adults were as open minded and willing to learn. I don't mean to imply adults refuse to change but rather are far more set in their ways. It takes great effort in my experience to radically change adults.

Matthew Smith said...

Kids can be every bit as clueless as adults when dealing with people (including kids) with disabilities. I remember the time my sister and I spotted a girl struggling across the road where my aunt lives (and where my Grandad lived then) on crutches. She was making painfully slow progress and we ran over and asked her mother question after question after question, never asking her a thing. I was eight years old and my sister six or seven (the girl, her mother told me, was nine). The mother said she couldn't feel her legs; I presume she normally used a wheelchair but I didn't ask what the cause of her disability was. The parents could have told us to ask her these things ourselves, but didn't (perhaps they didn't want to distract her), and that is what my mother later told me I should have done. I had no idea how the girl must have been feeling at the time and it only occurred to me much later.

william Peace said...

Matthew, Yes some kids can be as clueless as adults about disability. Some kids can react to disability in odd ways as well. But from my experience these sort of reactions are out of the norm. I have found kids to be open minded and curious. In fact, kids today appear far more open minded than in the past. Perhaps it is because kids with disabilities are less likely to be segregated. Another variable was the fact I was skiing and not using my wheelchair. Adaptive gear such as a sit ski has a cool factor that a wheelchair does not possess.

Nick Dempsey said...

I really dig being round kids and their way of not making judgments about anything, they just have honest curiosity.