YOU WOULD DO THE SAME FOR ME:
Near the end of the episode, Maya finds that JJ and Kenneth have disappeared from where they were waiting outside Principal Sea Slug's office. Maya has been planning to fire Kenneth for letting JJ play hooky from PT. Maya is alarmed, saying that JJ "needs me for that!" and rushes off to the boys' bathroom, where she hears Kenneth assisting JJ inside the accessible stall.
Kenneth reassures JJ: "It's okay, buddy, I got you," and puts him at ease. For a few seconds, we are inside the stall with Kenneth and JJ, and we are privy to a modest view of Kenneth helping JJ transfer from his chair to the toilet. Back outside with Maya, we hear Kenneth telling JJ not to make him guess next time, and not to hold it for too long otherwise there would be trouble because they had already borrowed the last pair of pants in his size from Lost and Found to impress the girls. We hear JJ laugh.
My first reaction, upon seeing a scene like this was, "YES. This is reality. This is LIFE." I thought, finally a show that will show things like transfers. We, in the disability community, are all-too-familiar with media that will not show moments like this for fear of making the able bodied audience "uncomfortable."
While I rarely required this level of assistance in the restroom, in fifth grade I was recovering from a surgery, which made using the restroom quite a bit more difficult. It was never my favorite thing. Especially, in those early days, having to trust someone new. But a calm, competent aide helps a ton.
I was glad to see that not only was Maya present in the restroom and able to hear the interaction between Kenneth and JJ (because what a vulnerable position) and as she has said earlier in the episode, his safety and basic needs are the number one priority. I also loved that the show made it clear through his actions that Kenneth did read JJ's Care Book, learning how to safely transfer him, among other things. While there were a few comical missteps (and while it's entirely unlikely that a school would hire an untrained aide) it was beyond important to show that Kenneth takes the job seriously and respects JJ.
Conversely, I wonder if there was not another way to communicate Maya's change of heart about Kenneth. It's a rather vulnerable situation, and it's not something we ever see on primetime TV. No one goes to the bathroom. We certainly are not in the stall with them while they do. This felt a bit like a combination of the Able Bodied Heroes and People as Props Common Inspiration Porn Themes happening here.
OH NO. THIS IS ALL WRONG:
The other scene I need to talk about is one that takes place earlier in the episode. In this one, JJ has disappeared with Kenneth, while his physical therapist is waiting at the house to charge the DiMeo's for "her time," regardless of if she worked with JJ or not.
So, Maya calls youngest son, Ray, in, and tells the therapist to "go" and "heal him."
Outside, the therapist has placed a single orange cone several paces away from Ray. She tells him it's okay if he can't make it all the way to the cone on the first try. Ray says, "I think I can manage it," and begins to walk.
|[Image is: a single orange cone on pavement, like the one Ray walked to.]|
The therapist stops him, with a worried, "What are you doing??? Just walk how you normally walk."
He says, "This IS how I normally walk."
"Oh no," she says, "This is all wrong."
Then she begins to critique Ray's gait and give him specific instructions that feel (and look) awkward to execute. Upon trying to take her advice, he reaches the cone, and then turns around and screams at her, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME???" Ray is so bothered by this, we see him looking up Walking Videos on YouTube and sharing the therapists assessment with his family. Maya says everyone knows all about Ray's gait already. It's not news. Later, he talks to his crush at school and she invites him to walk her to class. He instantly tries to walk "correctly" remembering the therapists instructions, but instead hears her criticizing him. He tells his crush to go on without him and yells "WHY DID YOU MAKE ME WALK???"
I'm going to be honest and say that my first reaction to this scene was not positive. Why? Because this is our life as people with CP. But instead of letting JJ represent the reality of a scene like this (which would have resonated SO MUCH) we watched an able-bodied child cope with having his gait corrected. It felt like our experience having our natural gait critiqued and corrected did not hold weight or validity when we experience it, but only when someone nondisabled does.
While I understand it as a storytelling device, I don't think it was necessary to portray it this way.
I was just talking to a friend recently about my experience doing a gait lab as a child (after that big surgery in fifth grade.) The doctors put all these sticky things on you, you're not dressed in too much, and you're barefoot, so you're cold, and you have to contend with how the floor feels on the soles of your feet. Plus, you KNOW all these people are watching you and comparing your gait to typical people. They are judging you against impossible standards. So when we hear well-meaning comments like, "You can walk better than that," it felt so jarring.
Because yes, we COULD walk better than that. If we were dressed properly. if we were allowed to wear shoes, if we did not have weird things stuck all over our bodies, if we were not being stared at, judged, and compared to an unreachable standard.
I'm not saying the scene didn't do a great job explaining how awkward it feels to be in that experience, because it does feel just like that. And it does make you just that self-conscious about how you move in the world. But it's an experience I relate SO closely with having CP that seeing it portrayed by someone without it just felt...wrong.
I am trying to give the show the benefit of the doubt. It is one episode (and only the second ever) and we may very well see JJ in therapy one of these weeks. I know I would love to see this aspect explored more. Clearly, there was a reason JJ skipped therapy. Because this was not a one-time experience for him. This was a constant experience, probably from the time he was a toddler. And he needed a break.
I want to see those moments from his perspective. It was the reason that the standing ovation scene in the classroom in the Pilot episode was so effective. We saw JJ dealing with it, knowing it was his reality.
Did you see the show this week? What was your take?
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