Friday, January 24, 2014


Christmas time made me think of the holidays of yesteryear. Not only the times when my dad would excuse himself from the table only  to come back dressed as Santa Claus when I was little (although I knew back then that both incarnations wore the same shoes and I've had seen his hat before in our closet) but also the pre-Christmas  events all the "special needs"  children would get invited to. If I remember correctly they were put together by the public rehabilitation facility in the area. Kids with Cerebral Palsy of all ages gathered in a room with a tree and a man dressed in a Santa suit. We were all sent home with a plastic bag filled with candy and exotic fruit, tied with elastic bands. I didn't mind these events so much when I was little, although I did feel uncomfortable. I didn't know any of those other kids and even then it felt strange that we were all put together not because of who we were, but because we shared a condition. My parents didn't see a problem- I went, I saw and I got a goodie bag out of it. Free candy. But these invitations kept coming  as I entered my teens. At that point I felt it was extremely patronizing. They flt they needed to put it together for us because that was all they saw us as. I was being reduced to my disability. My place was with "others like me". My classmates didn't experience things like that, because they were not seen as "special". I went and excelled at a regular school after all. That's the thing- when I went to those events for CP parents and children what I saw everywhere was pity. The thought behind it as I read it was - they don't socialize, let's throw them a party. And it didn't matter that I aged, that I was excelling in high school, the institutions, the government still saw me as "special". Polish term describing kids like me was "dziecko specialnej troski" meaning "a child of special care". To me that label implied a number of things- that I would always be the one people feel sorry for. Who would be the provider of that "special care"? A person? An institution? By mere designation I was different than my fully abled friends. Not someone who's expected to succeed on their own, but a person that the state would at some point perhaps enter and take care of. We were given candy because in their eyes our lives were so darn difficult. They wanted to pat us on the head. Oranges were difficult to get in the late 80's/early 90's. To me the bag was a symbol, a representation if you will of how they evaluated who I was. It might as well have been filled with cards that said "I feel bad for you" and "You're so brave". It wasn't happy candy. In many ways those were insults dipped in chocolate and these are hard to swallow.

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