The first time we went to the skate park on a non- WCMX night, I began to have a few reservations about Ella’s “sport of choice.” The foul-mouthed cigarette smoking punks were not the peer group I would have chosen for my sweet ballerina.
That first time when she was the only kid in a chair, she was stared at and I was ignored. The second time, they watched what she was doing and gave her some space.
The game changed when they saw her drop in on the quarter pipe. (Dropping in is hard enough on a skate board. It’s terrifying to learn in a wheelchair – it’s a blind drop down a steep ramp.) That was the first time we heard the “skater clap” as they banged their boards against the ramps in appreciation, and she learned what it was to have earned their respect. In their eyes, she was no longer just the “kid in the wheelchair,” she had mastered one of their advanced skills and really was one of them.
Trips to the skate park have become a regular part of our lives. Ella in her new daily/skate chair hybrid, and the other kids on scooters, bikes, and skateboards. We try to go early so that we’re gone before the more experienced skaters show up. Not because they don’t want us there, but because the 3 and 5 year-olds can get in their way and we’re trying to be kind. (Okay, it’s also that they don’t want the littlest kids on the ramps, but I’m okay with that.)
I’m no longer ignored as I take pictures and chase the littlest ones. I’m “Mom.” They all call me that (even the ones in their 20s.) I’m hugged and greeted, even at the grocery store, by these rough talking kids. I scold them about their language and nag them about the smoking, and they blush and apologize. They hand me their phones beg me to take photos and videos of their latest stunts. They show off for me and grin when I clap. I’ve lost track of the sighed comments “I wish my mom would come so I could show her what I can do. She just drops me off, and then comes back later to pick me up.”I’ve learned that this motley crew of the “not cool kids” (as they all label themselves) have such incredibly big hearts. I sit on the sidelines and watch them share freely of their talents and skills, teaching and reteaching the less experienced kids not just their insane tricks, but also how to do them as safely as possible. There are other kids at the park with physical limitations who have also been absorbed into this sub-culture that revolves around ramps and wheels.They don’t offer any excuses – which is good because no one would accept them. It’s a come-you-are and do-your-own-thing world, and I get to watch it all go down, very often the only parent in sight.
These kids I was once so unsure of are so incredibly great. They may not look like the Gap-ad clean-cut picture of Americana that I’d hoped for as my kids friends, but I’m learning that appearances really are meaningless. I watch my daughter, who the rest of the world looks at as disabled, rolling along beside them and realize that they stopped seeing her differences weeks ago. They’re more impressed that she’s a girl at the skate park than they are by the wheelchair.
Last week I heard a newcomer say as we rolled through the gate, “Aw man…that’s so cool that that little wheelchair kid is like trying to live a normal life…” only to hear a regular cut him off, “Hey, don’t talk that way about her. It p*sses her off. Admire her awesomeness. She doesn’t want your pity.”
That was when I decided to start bringing cookies.
(Those aren’t my cookies. I don’t usually take pictures of food. I just don’t think of it. Photo By Heather [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)