I recently spent an afternoon with Sarah, my ten-year-old daughter, at her end-of-year picnic and fourth grade field day activities. I’d love to wax rhapsodic about hanging out with my kid in the sun, munching hamburgers and cheering her on as she won ribbons and had fun with her friends. Unfortunately, fate pitched something more disturbing my way.
The fifth graders ran the field day events, and I must say, those young helpers were marvelous. One relay involved the kids scooping golf balls from a bucket onto plastic spoons at one set of cones and running to another set of cones and back, then dropping the golf balls in the bucket again for other kids to scoop up. The race encouraged teamwork and cooperation as well as speed and coordination. I mingled with the kids, while several parents stood off chatting in a knot by themselves. Pretty typical. I often get along with children better than I do with their parents. Children are usually more accepting of people with differences than adults are.
Anyway, the kids started cheering on their own teams. But as the race got more competitive, the cheering degenerated into insults about how slow some of the runners were and how bad their balance was.
“Come on, don’t be mean,” I said, firmly but amiably. “You can cheer each other on and still be respectful.”
“Mom, don’t tell other kids what to do,” my daughter warned me under her breath. “Two of the moms are giving you mean looks.”
I shrugged that off. I hadn’t done anything wrong. It takes a village, right? At least in my day, if kids needed to be reminded about respect, it was acceptable for any parent to be the messenger. When the race heated up again and my own daughter got out of hand and made a crack about some other kid’s hair rather than cheering on her teammates, I told her to watch her negative comments and stay positive, just the way I would have with any other child.
The race ended. My daughter ran off toward the long jump pit with a couple of her friends. But as I lagged behind with my guide dog, I heard two mothers having a vicious conversation among themselves. I was glad my little girl didn’t overhear it.
“Our government gives blind people like her money every month,” one of the women snapped. “I don’t know why that’s not enough for them, why they can’t stay home and not get in the middle of things.”
“I know, right?” the other one chimed in. “They have to get those dogs of theirs and come out in public like they’re as good as anybody, have kids, strut around the schools and everything …”
I turned my head in their direction, ready to say something, then changed my mind. It would have been inappropriate for me to make a scene at my daughter’s field day event. There’s no point in trying to open small minds anyway. The women must have seen me looking in their direction because their tirade ended as quickly as it had begun.
But I’ll say this much, here and now, to the whole world. We blind people aren’t about to stay home, out of the middle of things. Deal with it. We’ll get our dogs and our white canes and come out in public because we *are* as good as anybody. Deal with it. We’ll strut around the schools, the world, wherever we choose to … deal with it. Hate speech won’t stop us. Negative attitudes won’t stop us. Intimidation won’t stop us. Lack of access won’t stop us. We’ve faced that and more for decades–centuries–and we’re still here, still fighting, and not going away, not staying home, not backing down. Deal with it.
Oh, and my daughter and I had a great time. She won three ribbons–fifth place in the 75-meter dash, fourth place in the standing long jump, and third place in the ball toss. I’m very proud of her.