Yesterday, I said that I had three additional blog posts queued up in my brain. I was wrong. All day yesterday, things would come back to me and I would jot them in the "blog ideas" section of my notebook. There aren't three of them. There are ten.
I'd better get to it, then.
We'll start with a relatively light-hearted one, because I have much to do today and don't want to have to think too hard.
The University of Rhode Island campus doesn't have many hills. It pretty much has one. One big hill that the whole place is built on. I found the campus disorienting in general, but as the week wore on, "uphill" and "downhill" became my most useful means of visualizing where things were.
The campus wasn't large, but because of the hill, I ended up using the golf carts quite a bit. Early in the week, I walked everywhere, but after a couple of days I found that my plantar fasciitis was acting up in a very painful way, so I started rationing my walking.
Man, that was two dull paragraphs. I'll try to spice things up.
Anyway, one afternoon my sweet friend Shani and I were taking a golf cart somewhere together--business meeting, maybe? I can't remember. And we were chatting. Being on the golf cart reminded me of a story about a previous golf cart ride I'd taken, and I was about to start telling it when it suddenly occurred to me that our driver might have been the driver of that golf cart, too. Looking at him, it began to seem quite likely, in fact.
Had I told the story then, it would have been a delicious but excruciating irony. As you will understand when you have heard it.
Four years ago, I had injured my knee quite badly and couldn't walk any distance. Somehow, as the gathering grew near, I was able to connect with someone who lent me a scooter for the week. I loved my scooter so much. I could zip around anywhere, I didn't have to wait for golf carts, and with some judicious squeezing (and Baby Tornado in a sling), all three of the kids could ride it with me, which they thought was fun.
I did a lot of FLGBTQC childcare that week. The campus had this wonderful quad with criss-crossing paths that the kids loved to ride their bikes and scooters (the push-with-your-foot kind) around. They were all so enamored of my power scooter that, when I was doing childcare, I also let them drive it around the quad. This was a very popular pastime.
Now, I know that there is a school of thought that mobility tools and accessibility aids are not toys. I get those arguments--they're tools, not playthings. But I also think that they belong to the person who owns them. I've helped my kids understand that it's not OK to touch someone's chair or crutches without permission, for instance. People with disabilities often talk about having their bodily autonomy violated by people who touch them without permission. This is also a thing that happens to children all the time. And so we've worked on making sure that our family knows that curiosity is a fine thing, questions are usually a fine thing, but respect for other people's bodies--and the accessibility aids that they use--is foundational.
I've also noticed that people often give permission when asked--the Tiny Tornado's preschool teacher, for instance, showed the class the lift in her van, and let them try out her daughter's wheelchair, because they were very curious about it. This kind of response to curiosity is healthy, I think. It helps create connections instead of leaving people with disabilities "over there" on the other side of an invisible line.
Four years ago, I crossed over from temporarily able-bodied to temporarily disabled, and I had a power scooter. It was a wonderful tool for me during that gathering, when I was, as usual, there alone with my three kids and also couldn't walk much. But we also played with it.
Now, this playing was accompanied by conversations with every single kid about respecting individuals' choices about their gear. Yes, I'll let you drive my scooter, but that doesn't mean anybody else with a scooter will let you. They may feel that it's inappropriate, and they get to choose. And, by the way, let me remind you that you should never touch anyone's mobility aids without permission--even if they're not using it right then. (All the kids: "Yeah, we get it already." *eyeroll*)
That was a lot of caveats. Perhaps too much Big Dull Buildup. I just wanted folks to know where I was coming from when I let the kids drive around the quad.
One day, though, I took a golf cart. I don't remember why. Maybe the kids had run down the battery and my scooter was charging. Who knows? But I had this conversation with the driver, which started out awkward and only got worse:
As we drove along, we kept passing people I knew, and I would exchange greetings with them. So I said to the driver, "Do you ever feel like you know everybody here?"
Me: Oh. Well, I've been coming for a long time, 12 or 13 years.
Driver: I've been at every gathering since 1984.
Me: Oh. Well, I meet a lot of people through my kids.
Driver: My four adult children have been at the gathering every year of their lives.
At this point, we pass a woman using a power scooter.
Driver: That woman drives me crazy. She has no respect at all. She drives around on her scooter like it's a motorcycle, all these kids hanging off her, and she lets kids drive it around. She has no idea that it's completely inappropriate to do that. It disgusts me.
Me: Actually, that's me you're talking about.
*even more awkward silence until we get to my destination*
I was very amused by this interaction. I know the point of view he ascribes to; I just don't agree with it entirely. "People like that take all the fun out of being disabled," I fumed to David. (Yes, I was joking. Just in case you can't tell. Sometimes people can't.)
I'd never before had someone complain about me, to my face, without realzing it was me they were complaining about. It was a fascinating thing to have happen.
I was also amused by the irony of being lectured on appropriate behavior with regard to the disabled by a person who couldn't tell me and a Black woman with dreadlocks apart. I mean, really: Scooter Woman #2 and I resembled each other not at all. Anyone could tell us apart with the most superficial of glances. There is no excuse for mistaking us for each other except a failure to look past the machine.
So, I was on the golf cart with Shani, and this story came to mind, and then I looked at the driver and realized that he might very well be the same man. In fact, I'm reasonbly sure he was. So I did not tell the story, though it would have been a satisfying conclusion to tell a story about a person not realizing he was talking about me while not realizing I was talking about him.
This man was also, later in the week, the first golf cart driver to question my need for a cart. I have other friends who've had this happen to them, some of them routinely, because they have an invisible disability. But it had never happened to me until this week.
This gentleman was parked outside the dining hall, and the kids and I walked up and asked if he was free to take us somewhere. The kids were excited about riding the golf cart, and he said to me, "The golf carts are not for riding just for fun. I'm not going to take you just because you want to ride and then not be here when someone really needs it."
I said, "It is fun to ride the golf carts. I also need it. But we will wait for another driver."
I was sorry right then that I hadn't taken the time to get a priority rider card--I hadn't done it early in the week because I didn't expect to use the carts, and then I was just too lazy even though I walked past Golf Cart Central every morning on my way to my job at the Info Desk. But I'd have been glad to be able to flash it at him just then.
I hope this man isn't as joyless in general as he has seemed in our interactions. He reminds me of a roommate of mine in grad school who was very involved in several political causes, and she would come home from meetings frothing with anger because people had been having fun. "As if they're at a social event!" She wanted her political activism to be serious, and couldn't see that, for many people, such work is both serious and a social outlet. She disapporoved of chatting and laughter while planning direct action.
If I had a power scooter again--even permanently--I would still let children drive it around. Because I am pro-fun, I am indulgent with children, and I do not believe that my decision to let kids drive my scooter disrespects anyone else, or the decisions they make about their own bodies and their own tools. And I trust children to understand that just because I let them do this doesn't mean they should assume that anyone else will.
That's my choice. I respect that other people make different choices. And I hope that this man has, somewhere in his life, an outlet for frivolity and fun.