Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Like Looking in a Mirror

So, last week, a pretty amazing thing happened:  a friend and her family were in town for Thanksgiving and they stopped by to visit.  I do have friends over from time to time.  That's not the amazing part.  That was the fact that this friend brought her elementary school aged daughter along, who also has CP.

It might sound strange that having lived in accessible housing for most of a decade that I don't have disabled friends over (aside from the people who live in our building.)  The fact is, I don't have many disabled friends - and certainly none that can just pop over whenever they would like to visit from several states away.

The fact that this little girl could easily walk in our front doors, our apartment itself, and all around inside, without being impeded by narrow doorways or steps of any kind was pretty amazing to see.  I regularly appreciate the access my apartment provides, but I rarely get to see it enjoyed by a visiting friend.  One who was able to take her walker inside and not bump it against anything.

Aside from appreciating the accessibility of our apartment, though, there was something so awesome about being able to talk to another family connected to disability.  I had not previously realized just how exhausting social interactions were for me simply because they required a lot of effort.  Trying to think of something relevant to offer to the conversation.  Trying to relate to a friend's story that centers around a lot of physical activity when most of my hobbies center around media.  I read, and write.  I watch a lot of Grey's Anatomy.  Not a lot of my friends desire to talk deeply about a book or a TV show.  But our new friend and her daughter did.  They love Girl Meets World and the movie Elf.  We can give each other book recommendations and analyze the content for as long as we want.

It was also notable because for one of the first times I can recall, my sister and I had something to offer.  Many friendships, for me, seem a bit lopsided, because I am always needing friends to come to me (as it is much easier for me to remain in my own space where I can go everywhere versus trying to navigate somewhere less accessible.)  Friends come to me and I feel like there isn't a lot of give and take.  There is a lot of take (from me) and a lot of give (from them.)  This time, though, we could offer advice and insight for this sweet mother-daughter duo, and it felt great.

One of the coolest things I have found about having CP is that it offers an automatic connection to a community - even down to our physical features.  Look at two people with CP and you will see similarities.  We are cut from the same cloth.  We are connected to each other.  And watching this little girl was honestly like looking in a mirror and seeing myself at her age.  From small things like the way she sat on the couch or perched on the back of her walker, to big things like the fact that she used a walker at that age, like I did.

Not to mention, of course, to be able to really relate to this girl about her experiences specific to disability was pretty monumental.  Growing up, I had no disabled mentors.  My parents didn't have any disabled friends.  (I don't fault them for that.  In fact, it wasn't something I even thought about until a couple of years ago.)  But being able to be that for someone else is great.  Whether she ends up wanting my input or not remains to be seen, but just the fact that the connection has been forged, I think, is a step in the right direction.  I think it's so important for disabled kids to be able to have connections to disabled adults.  To be able to ask us "Did this ever happen to you?" in the same way it's great to be able to offer suggestions to her mother about adaptive equipment around the house.  It's something meaningful, and something that can really make a difference in a family's life.

Meeting this new friend and her daughter in person offered a connection and an ease of interacting that I have rarely known, and I am so grateful for chances like these, to get to know people in my community.  Honestly, connections like these are my dream.  I have wanted so much to create bridges between parents of disabled children and disabled adults.

I think, together, we may have just built our first bridge, and I am thrilled about it.

The hair and the clothes may have changed in the 25 years since I was this little girl's age, but the resemblance between us was so uncanny.  By far, one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed.