Chad’s school often plays sport against teams from upcountry. As parents, we are expected to host at least two children from the visiting school for the weekend.
Over the years, I have hosted many boys, resulting in new friendships and valuable life experience for all involved.
So, when I received a text message from Chad’s coach asking if I could host two boys from a private school in Johannesburg for the weekend, I didn’t hesitate to reply: YES.
After all, Chad would be playing. And he is Captain of the first cricket team. I’m a very proud Mommy.
In preparation, I stocked up on more-than-enough food, snacks and drinks because I know, from experience, that teenage boys have a huge hole in their stomachs which mysteriously enlarges when they are active. Sheesh! Who knows how they can eat so much?
My support system jumped into action to help me organize meals, which my care assistant just needed to warm up, for both nights, in case the cricket games went on too late. Dad would play chauffeur, as usual.
We were at the school in time to watch the game on Friday afternoon. I was in my wheelchair inside the Combi (VW van) parked in the disabled parking bay, beneath the shade of Acacia trees, overlooking the cricket field. It was a warm, breezy afternoon. I chose to stay inside the car because the wind literally force-feeds me by pushing my hair into my mouth with the intention of flossing my teeth every time I open it to speak to somebody. It is enough to drive me insane.
The doors and windows were wide open for ventilation and, although I’m almost in my own private box, I can still be sociable with the other parents who were all sitting around on their deck chairs.
Of all the boys from the visiting school, the only two who had their parents accompany the tour happened to be the two boys staying with me. Just my luck!
It was quite amusing to see how those parents appeared visibly panicked when they realized that I was Chad’s mom.
Both sets of parents came over to introduce themselves and nervously expressed their concern as to whether I would cope with their boys. I was dying to be facetious. Hmmm… can your children feed themselves? And wipe their own butts? Yeah, then I’ll be fine.
But, I bit my tongue, smiled and assured them that I was quite able to take good care of their children.
Chad came over and I introduced him to the parents. He shook their hands and greeted them politely.
Mischievously, he pointed at the one mother. Oh! It was your son who just caught me out. He is definitely sleeping with the dogs tonight.
I could have kicked him. Aah, you just gotta love my kid’s sense of humour.
The father replied. Oh that’s okay, my son loves dogs.
The other mother chipped in. Oh no! My son is petrified of dogs. What dogs do you have?
Me. Great Danes.
In response to the sheer horror on her face, I explained that they were gentle giants. I also assured her that I would keep the dogs well away from the boys.
She immediately told me that her son had never been hosted by another family before and they’d decided, since he was starting high school next year, that they should allow him to experience it at least once. But, obviously they had traveled down to keep a very close watch on their boy.
I had absolutely no problem with that. I’m a mother too. I understand that we live in a beautiful world full of evil and parents want to, and should, protect their children. We are constantly bombarded, by the media, with all the things that can go wrong. Rather be safe, than sorry.
She then went on to tell me that her son would only be staying one night, as they had to rush back to Johannesburg on Saturday, after the game, due to other commitments. Although I didn’t show it or say so, I was a little irritated because I had gone to the trouble of being properly prepared for having two extra boys for the weekend. I assumed, then, that the other boy wouldn’t stay a second night on his own. I know that it is school policy that at least two children from a school need to be hosted together for understandable reasons.
Once more, I patiently assured the parents, that I was quite capable of taking very good care of their children, after being asked again whether I would be able to handle so many boys. Hmmm… Yeah! There’re only three.
After the game, the anxious parents stood around and watched as the boys loaded all their cricket bags into the vehicle. Dad introduced himself to them. I think they were so thankful to see an able-body in the mix. Little did they know that Dad doesn’t even live on the same property as I do.
I could hear the parents apprehensively talking to their children just behind the car.
My heart was racing.
What if they refused to allow their children to come home with me?
As parents, that’s their prerogative. I am strong and emotionally mature enough to completely understand their fears even though, I knew, deep down, that it would be their loss.
But, how would Chad feel?
He had been looking so forward to the weekend. I would be left to deal with his disappointment and confusion. My heart aches for my son.
I smiled bravely and confidently as one of the mothers popped her head into the car to say that the children were shy, trying to explain away the delay.
I wanted to speak out loud.
Disability isn’t contagious but, ignorance is.
After all, we weren’t born prejudiced. We were made that way by the lack of knowledge – unawareness of parents, bias of friends, narrow-mindedness of community and the unsophisticated attitudes of our broader society.
I breathed a deep, silent sigh of relief as the boys climbed into the car and I instructed them to buckle-up.
I felt really sorry for the four parents as we drove away. I knew they would probably be worried sick about the children. I could feel their eyes on us but, I didn’t even look in their direction as I fought to keep my composure. There was roller-coaster of emotion surging within me.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to scream.
A part of me wanted to hang my head in shame, in submission to my disability as I felt watched, judged and criticized. Again.
I was annoyed with myself. No, Tracy. You have come too far to allow these people to bring you down.
So, I lifted my head in pride, fully aware of my limitations and having a sleepover with a group of boys certainly is not one of them.
Sometimes things happen in our lives that brings something more precious than an emotional reaction. It brings understanding.
By the time we got to the gate of the school, I’d pulled myself back together and started up a conversation with the boys.
Let me share a little secret…
Both boys are delightful young men who conversed freely and comfortably. I would not class either of them as shy.
And another secret…
The boy who was terrified of dogs loved mine and was not intimidated by their size in the least. He patted, stroked and played with them as though he had been around them forever.
The boys survived the night.
I do think, though, that their parents were very relieved to see them the following day.
The parents of the boy going back to Johannesburg a day early came over to thank me, warmly, for having their son, saying that he had a wonderful time.
I just smiled. Of course, I already knew that.
I was delighted when the remaining boy insisted on spending the second night with Chad and I, despite his parent’s plea for him to rather stay with them in a guesthouse, proving that he was quite comfortable with my paralysis and he felt safe enough to stay on in my home without his friend.
I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and oh-so-triumphant. You just gotta love kids with their natural tolerance and acceptance of people with differences. Adults could learn a lot from these attitudes.
The scary thing is that parents would feel far happier handing over their children to a fully-functioning, able-bodied person just because that person looked physically good. What if that person abused children? What if…
I also think that the school deserves some credit. They would never send children to a home if they felt they were putting them at risk or in any danger.
I got a heartfelt text message from the parents, thanking me for having their boys. From the tone, the change in mindset towards me was clearly evident.
For me, that is the real victory.
I believe that those parents have learned a life lesson from their children and hopefully they will think twice before being so judgmental towards people with disabilities.
I also like to think that those children are privileged to have had an opportunity to experience a weekend with a quadriplegic, something that I wish I had been exposed to when I was young because I, too, carried many stereotypical, discriminatory opinions about people living with disabilities until I had my accident.
There is nothing more limiting than a closed mind. Sadly, I had to break my neck to learn that lesson.
Perhaps, this is my life purpose?
By inviting people into my world I am creating awareness, giving me the power to change mindsets. One. At. A. Time.