This is my daughter.
Lover of flapjack, creator of mischief, wearer of shoes.
She likes to crayon, play with mud and hide before bathtime.
And she can’t walk.
My 22 month old daughter is hypermobile. This means her ligaments are too flexible so she has problems balancing and holding her own weight. Every day she does a little more, takes a few extra steps unaided, stands on her own a few seconds longer, gains that extra piece of confidence to forget about crawling for another minute. We are hopeful that physio and lots of encouragement will work and help us avoid the dreaded stress fractures and casts.
That last paragraph – the part where I just went into lots of detail about my daughter’s “disability” – is something I find myself explaining over and over again every day.
To the lady in the shop who comments, “Ah how lovely she is. What a cutie. She’s very tall for her age isn’t she?” I launch into full hypermobility syndrome rant.
To the other mums at the various toddler groups who ask, “So she’s not walking yet? How old is she again?” Yep, they get the full hypermobility syndrome rant too.
And to the stranger at the park? Uh huh, you guessed it. The rant.
I don’t know why I feel the need to “explain” my daughter’s lack of independent walking. It’s really no one’s business after all. But people are inquisitive. They’re trying to understand. To place my daughter in a box of explanations. Is she a late walker? Or is there something else wrong with her? She doesn’t look like a baby, yet…. yet… she’s still not walking. What’s wrong with her?
Because, unfortunately, the plain old ugly truth is that they don’t see her.
They don’t see her spark and her sass and her wicked sense of humour. They don’t see the flash of intelligence behind her eyes and her dogged determination.
They just see her wonky legs and wonky feet, that don’t work properly.
They see her lack before they see anything else.
Sometimes I want to shout from the rooftops, “There’s nothing wrong with her! She’s just as clever as your child! She knows every part of her body, can count to five and loves to sing Three Blind Mice! Just because her legs don’t work doesn’t mean her mind doesn’t! Just lay off!”
And other times I want to stubbornly refuse to answer the questioning looks. I want to offer something petty and childish instead. Something like, “Oh she’s only 9 months. Incredibly advanced for her age really. A real child genius.”
At least then we’d escape that second look. The one I dread more than the questioning one. The look of pity.
It’s a funny thing prejudice. It comes in many forms. Never in my life have I ever had to experience any form of prejudice. I’m white, heterosexual, from a middle-class family with no huge skeletons in the closet, other than a bit of an unhealthy crush on Take That.
I don’t know how to deal with the questions. I don’t know how to bat away the pity. I don’t know how to brush off the prejudice.
But I know that I’m going to give it a bloody good shot.
So yes, my daughter doesn’t yet walk. Yes, she’s nearly two years old. And yes, she has something “wrong” with her.
But that is not who she is. So you can keep your labels and your boxes. They’re not welcome here.
We’ll just walk all over them.