The unpredictable and honest nature of a child’s curious mind is a wonderful thing to see in operation. I can’t help but smile and get a sense of guilty pleasure in witnessing the look on a parent’s face when their child starts to ask me questions about my wheelchair. The feeling of dread that sweeps across the adult’s face is in stark contrast to the gentle curiosity that twinkles in the child’s eyes. The bewildered, fascinated expression they exhibit is refreshing as they try to wrap their brains around what they are viewing. Contrary to what their guardians may be expecting I am not remotely offended. I fully understand that for many children a wheelchair may be a very foreign spectacle and perhaps strange to them; something that may not be part of their everyday experiences.
“Why have you a wheelchair and I don’t?” is one of their most innocent, frequently asked queries. In all honesty, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to make this injury make sense to children without overcomplicating it. My very short explanation is “that my legs don’t work like yours”, but this is always followed by the mandatory “BUT WHY??”. To this genuine inquiry I always feel like my explanation is lacking. “Because they are sore!!” Eight years of science and that’s the best I can come up with. It seems so easy and straight-forward to explain if you have a broken leg or a broken arm with an obvious cast on those particular limbs being affected, but attempting to clarify that my legs don’t work because I broke my neck seems to be somewhat more of a difficult challenge to disclose.
My own niece and nephew are immersed in my life so they have a fairly thorough understanding that Aunty Geri and her wheelchair go hand in hand. They have grown up with this fact and quite frankly it is not a problem to them seeing beyond appearances and discovering the person underneath. In fact, it is amazing to witness how observant children are of the adult world around them; with my nephew who was four at the time explaining to me about the wheelchair trolleys available for usage by wheelchair users at Tesco. Their adaptable nature is also apparent with the same little boy placing my sliding board beside my bed when he wants me to get up in the morning or my niece who is only two and willing to push me everywhere(but she hasn’t quite fully grasped the idea of breaks yet!!!)
Since my accident I volunteered for several months in the children’s ward in a local hospital, each week crafting and playing with a group of sick children. I encouraged the children to explore their natural curiosities by asking me questions as this is what helps them learn and explore the world around them. If children understand they grow up with a better idea of what it is like to be different than they are. After all, how can they learn about all the differences that make up the people in our world if they don’t ask questions? The more they understand the less they have to be afraid and unsure of.