As has happened countless times in the past few weeks, Lukas and I passed several groups of people at the Zoo today while in his wheelchair - only to hear them whispering behind us. Most of the time it was obviously about him, not matter how quiet they were trying to be. But we didn't mind. Especially Lukas.
In fact he welcomed it.
Other times, we were actually approached by friendly folks who wanted to chat about our 8 year old's predicament. But it wasn't always that way.
As I mentioned recently in a post here, our son is spending the summer in the aforementioned wheelchair because he suffered a spiral fracture of his femur and had a plate and eight screws surgically installed in a 4 hour procedure. It was a freak skateboard accident, and we all have come to terms with what that means for our summer plans as well as our daily routine.
But Lukas is not one to mope about being confined to a chair with wheels as his primary propulsion device outside the home. In fact, he has gone out of his way to wheel himself over to a pack of friends, or kids who were strangers for that matter and interjected himself into their conversations. He so wants to be a part of all that is going on.
Now, they will most often include him in the conversation, save for a few instances which didn't deter him, but at first it was different.
In the first couple of weeks after his surgery, the reactions of people we passed out in public was very different. It was Lukas who noticed it early on. "Mom, why do all the grown ups look away when we pass?" he asked Mrs. LIAYF. "And the kids stare at me, but don't say anything."
After his Mother had explained to him that people can be a bit uncomfortable seeing someone in a wheelchair and not knowing the reason (he has no cast on his leg, therefore it wasn't obvious what was wrong) that they are often afraid to say anything for fear of saying the wrong thing, it was decided that something needed done to rectify this situation. Maybe people would react differently if they knew what had happened.
And since we were all set for him to wheel through our local 4th of July Kids Parade the next day, Mrs. LIAYF made Lukas a pretty cool sign to hang on back. It says "I broke my leg skateboarding" along with a drawing of a skateboard.
This has made a world of difference in how he is interacted with out in public. As I mentioned, as we pass people we are constantly hearing them whisper to each other. "It say he broke his leg skateboarding." someone will invariably whisper to a companion. They will then chuckle.
As I mentioned, many will now approach us and want to chat about the injury, commiserate by relaying their own broken limb story, or simply compliment him on his sign. "Awesome sign dude. That explains a lot" is a common response his will get.
Interestingly enough, another common statement we will get goes something along the lines of "Is that sign to deflect having to answer all the questions about it?" To which they are often very surprised when we tell them it's for the opposite reason.
I can completely understand where these folks are coming from too. Before this, I would have a similar reaction to someone else's child in a wheelchair. I would feel really terrible for them and probably not know exactly what to say, especially if I didn't know the reason behind the confinement.
Still, I don't know what a person permanently confined to a wheelchair might think of such a sign. Would they think that we are trying to make sure everyone knew that this was a temporary thing, rather than permanent? Would they view that as a slight? I'm not sure, although I hope not.
I think, if anything, this experience has opened our eyes quite a bit to the great experiences that can be had, despite not being able to walk. Lukas has even commented a couple of times that he doesn't mind being in the chair very much. That he can actually still have a lot of fun while in it. In large part, that is likely a product of his well adjusted outlook on life, but it is also a result of realizing that happiness is a combination of many, many factors.
Of course, don't get me wrong, we will all be thrilled once the wheelchair is no longer needed.
But until then, we will all be happy to field questions from anyone reading his sign. After all, it's not just an explanation, it's an invitation to interact. Something we all thrive on.
Especially our very social boy.