Living with Cerebral Palsy 🍋🍋

Friday, 31 March 2017

To the family who ignored us at the zoo.....

This isn't meant, in any way, to be some sort of internet-shaming rant against the family who ignored us at the Zoo. I'm sure they are lovely, their children were adorable and they spoke to them with patience and a clear amount of love during the boat ride we all shared. They were interested in what their children had to say, they listened to them and answered their questions. They were, to be honest,  the kind of parents I like to imagine we would had been, if we had made it through those sliding doors on the day Elin was born. They chatted about the animals, encouraged their imaginations, didn't raise their voices when the toddler kept climbing on the boat seats- you could tell (as far as anybody ever can) that they were just a really nice family.
So why did they avoid all eye contact with us and Elin as we sat behind them on the boat ride? Why did they not return our smiles and our attempts to engage with their children?
I'm really not trying to hold them up as pariahs of society because they chose to ignore us that day, but I have to get it off my chest. This particular family, of course, may just be the kind that don't talk to those around them anyway. We've all been there, at the park, the swimming baths..avoiding eye contact because you can't really be bothered to exchange niceties with someone you'll never see again. I get it. But something felt a little different in this situation.  It was Mother's Day, the sun was out..the atmosphere at the zoo was great. Sharing a tiny boat with someone you're not even going to glance at can start to feel a little awkward.  I want to be clear, I don't think this was due to any kind of mean spirited feelings on their behalf. I think they were scared.
That's what has upset me.
They were scared of how to react or what they should and shouldn't say to us in our isolating, unfamiliar situation. Maybe they just figured it's just easier to say nothing at all. Well here is my open letter to them about what would have been a more preferable response to us and why, perhaps by sharing this I can help other's to feel more confident about interacting with families like ours.

To the family at the zoo,
                  We were the family sitting behind you last week on the boat at the zoo. You seemed like a really lovely family and your boys were super cute. I don't want to make you feel bad. I understand why you didn't look at us or talk to us today, I truly do. It's a minefield of political correctness out there and I think you were scared to say something to us in case maybe it was wrong somehow. Perhaps, in another lifetime, I would have done the same.
                 However I want to tell you that when you see families like ours, saying nothing at all is the very worst thing you can do. Way beyond any worries you may have (in the split second you decide not to talk to us) about causing offence by saying the wrong thing. Believe me, you can't say the wrong thing- we've heard it all before and more. Our interactions with strangers about Elin are so well practised we could hold a conversation in our sleep about her with smiles on our faces. I very much doubt there is anything you could do, say, or ask that could cause us even the smallest amount of offence.
                 Please, just smile at us or better yet -say something. Ask what my daughter's name is, or how old she is. Ask us if we've been to the zoo before. Talk about the weather.  Anything you would say to an ordinary family. Ask if Elin likes the animals. (I will tell you she struggles to see very well but the noise of the flamingoes make her laugh and if she gets close enough to the penguins she loves watching their bodies glide through the water). I don't want to swap phone numbers with you and be your best friend honestly,  just please don't ignore us. It breaks my heart a little bit.
                Your boys would have benefitted so much from what you could have taught them by talking to us. That disabled children don't need to be ignored, they are children just the same. That it's nice to find out a little bit about something new. That there is no need to look away, or be worried about a small figure like them with wheels where their feet should be.  Maybe they would have asked you a few questions about Elin after we parted ways, which would have been another wonderful opportunity for you to educate your children on the positivity of differences between us all. You wasted that today and I am sorry, not for us but for you.
              I truly believe Elin is here for many different reasons. One of them is providing this opportunity for us all to learn a little bit more about the world and to appreciate it's beauty in all of the different forms, whether that be alike or very different to what we are used to. Don't waste that opportunity. Do just a little bit to change our world and you might find your own changed just a little bit, too.
Just smile. Say hello. See where the conversation takes you.
You never know what you might learn. There is absolutely nothing to fear when you see a family like ours I promise. We are really just like you, we're just sailing on a different boat down a different river, that's all.
Kind regards
The family at the zoo.
xxxx


"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world"
-Nelson Mandella.
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24 comments

  1. Your blog always makes me feel better. Thanks for sharing and a big hug for Elin.xx

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  2. Looking through your posts and Instagram you're local to me... I hope to bump into you sometime... what a wonderful family and a beautiful little lady you have, Jay xx

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  3. Ah, look at that smile! Great picture. I know what you mean, people are scared to say the wrong thing. That includes me too, often. But I get that saying nothing is worse. Hugs to you all x

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  4. I wish your family all the best .i am a mum who lost her son .he was 19.but if he had survived he would most probablly be in a wheelchair to go out .people forget the love you have for your child is your whole life .they are your whole life .and the hurt like a simple boat ride can ruin your day .i get you so well .xx

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  5. Thank you. I am so sorry for your loss xxxx

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  6. I'm sorry for the family, they could have gained so much by interacting. When my daughter was in a halo brace we had a lot of different responses, but the best ones where the ones where people asked why she was wearing it and what happened. We were happy to talk about it. Lovely post x

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    1. Thanks Anne! I think I would be happy to answer almost any question anyone could come up with rather than have zero interaction at all! Thaks for reading x

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  7. I feel like I am fortunate to have worked in special edu for years so the kids see me comfortable and engaging with all kids and people and they gravitate to everyone. Kids will feed off of adults' awkwardness.

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    1. Absolutely, Kirstin! Thanks for reading xx

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  8. Absolutely beautiful picture, Elin is gorgeous x We were a family just like you (Karen can fill you in), and we just like you have had the 'eyes down, dont make contact' people (maybe embarassment on their behalf altho for what, im not sure), the 'oh no come away from there, get back here' families (maybe frightened their child may cause ours an injury or say something childlike and inappropriate!!!) Weve had "the starers" who i feel are the worst, they just stare at our children without acknowledgment to them or us then eventually look away (maybe thinking 'there by the grace of god...' or maybe even 'that was once us....')

    I completely get your frustration at other's though and loved the mums who grabbed their shy or frightened child by the hand and brought them ovwr and asked her name, how old she was, liked her bobble or dress....

    As much as we all try to be 'regular families' because this is our 'regular life' we are acutely aware of the differences between our child and 'theirs' and also the difference between 'that mum' making her ham sandwiches and dressing up their child and us with our 'ive packed the meds, ive got the suction, sh&t ive forgotten the catheters!!

    Keep on keeping on, Elin and her beautiful smile will have touched, affected and changed so many people's lives that you wont even know how many. Keep being the mum who wants to promote difference and improve the mind of others. Sadly, it took my childs death and funeral to realise the full extent the positive impact my beautiful daughter had. Your doing amazing, much love xxxxx p.s. olivia loved the boat at chester zoo x x

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    1. Thank you so much Jude for your very moving and understanding response. I am so sorry to hear about Olivia, I remember Karen talking about her. I agree with everything you say and I certainly hope to help change some perceptions through sharing Elin's life and how amazing she is. Lots of love to you xxx

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  9. Thank you for sharing this Ruth, many people are afraid to ask questions when they see a disable person, specially when it comes to a child. But as you said, you can always smile if you are afraid to ask anything, smiles make everybody happy and i am sure your beautiful doughter Elin loves smiles, she has a gorgeous one herself :)
    Love, Izzi xx

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    1. Thanks IzzI! Yes absolutely, it doesn't even have to be a conversation at all, just eye contact and a smile would be enough wouldn't it. Thanks for reading z

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  10. This is a brilliant post and I love that quote at the end. I would am not really a lover of small talk but I am always happy to engage with other parents and would never dream of not returning someone's smile. I think you are right and those people were probably just worried about saying the wrong thing, this is a great post to let people know that saying nothing is worse than asking questions. I hope you all had a lovely time at the zoo and that this didn't spoil your day. Thanks for linking up to #BlogCrush xx

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    1. Thank you Wendy! It definitely didn't spoil our day but I felt it was worth talking about to hopefully inspire people with a little more confidence if confronted with families like ours :-) Thanks for reading! x

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  11. I cried more than a few tears reading this. Because you are right, as parents we have a duty to lead the way and teach our children the right thing. I remember having a very similar experience taking a group of children to Blackpool Tower - now many many more years ago than I care to remember. My then 18 year old self, came home heartbroken at the injustice and unkindness in the world. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to go through that as a parent. In the years since, I have often overcompensated. I am the crazy lady that smiles at any child, who looks just a little different, wherever we are. My family think I'm nuts, and I'm sure lots of their parents think I am too. I guess I just think that everyone needs to be recognised. Sending love to you all, I hope beyond words your post reaches the family involved and makes them think a little differently next time. #PostsFromTheHeart

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    1. Love this - I am exactly the same, deffo the crazy lady overcompensating!! Thanks for reading xxx

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  12. I know what you mean about Mothering Sunday being a day for sharing & doing things you might usually not, like talking to strangers. Looks like you had a great day regardless! #postsfromtheheart

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  13. I feel for you, but am also sad that the family missed this opportunity to interact with your family. As a person with multiple disabilities, I am quite often ignored. Sometimes, this is a good thing, for example with otherwise intrusive charity fund-raisers. Sometimes though, it's a bad thing, as you and Elin experienced.

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  14. I got so choked up reading this post, and while it may not affect me personally, the thought of anyone being ignored or made to feel excluded because their circumstances are different... well, it breaks my heart.
    On a positive note, what a beautiful little girl you have! She looks so happy! ❤ #PostsFromTheHeart

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  15. I really liked reading this post, thank you! I have a nearly 5yr old son with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy and can relate to you so well! I honestly can't believe that you have had some negative comments back...when I read the couple that you mentioned in your last blog they really hit me..like they were also saying it to me. I believe these small minded people feel guilty as they have at some point done the same as the family at the zoo. I too like you need to grow a thicker skin as negative comments really get to me. But know that your family is amazing and not everyone are complete assholes �� So glad I've found your blog, looking forward to reading some more! Lots of love Jade Hogan Xx

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