Monday, March 02, 2009

Thrown in the Rubbish Heap

I noticed earlier today that I had an anonymous (of course!) comment on one of my past posts saying something like, "Why do optimistic people like you write things like this? You should throw your baby in the rubbish heap."

My first instinct was to just delete this comment (and I did). This is MY blog, so this person doesn't get an equal forum with me. And I thought I should just try to forget it, not dwell on it, certainly not let such a thing take up a moment of my time or be seen on MY blog.

I certainly am trying not to let this comment hurt me. This person does not know me or my child (eg, anyone who knows me would truly get a belly laugh out of my being called optimistic). This person must not be a parent at all or could never dare to think or write something like that about someone else's child. But it is this attitude that I worry about for Jordan when he's out in the world by himself someday. He is just someone's "trash," not a person? Not a valuable part of this world just because he uses a device for walking?

That the person wrote "rubbish heap" makes me think this was probably a British person, so I think back to Gail Landsman's wonderful book Reconstructing Motherhood and Disability in the Age of "Perfect" Babies . She believes that one reason Americans stick with their children with disabilities rather than throwing them away like has been done in so many cultures throughout time is because of Americans' belief in the underdog, in the "against all odds," pull yourself up by your boostraps story. And nowhere is this idea more potent and prevalent than right in the area where I live, right outside of Philadelphia, PA, home of Rocky Balboa.

The reason I bring this up is because I've often struggled with the notion in disability studies that "hero or villain" is a harmful concept. I do agree, of course, that people with disabilities shouldn't be viewed in the villain role, as in the reaction to Dick Cheney's use of a wheelchair at Obama's inauguration. And I do agree that the "inspirational story of the week" wears a bit thin, too. But as a parent of a child with an impairment, I am exceedingly inspired by him every day. Is that okay because it's a "parent thing?" Do all parents feel this way?

Furthermore, is this inspirational thing what has kept us Americans from abandoning our disabled infants, keeping them, helping them to be the best they can be, just like we do for any other child? So is it a good thing to keep these inspirational stories coming?

Landsman also says in her book that mothers of children with disabilities—American women—often try to create a narrative to deal with their children's conditions, creating kind of a linear "movie" of their lives as a progression. I noticed that in myself, too, especially in the short movie I made of Jordan's life when he was 3 years old (see top left of this page for a link to it). Called "Jordan's Life So Far," I essentially plotted out his life as a linear progression from birth with clubfeet, dislocated knee, etc. through surgeries that "fixed" him to normalizing images of him doing everyday things that any kid does—playing the drums, painting, etc. I noticed shortly after I created it that this is what I did—presented his life in an "inspirational" way that is expected in this country. Is this so bad?

What I do think is bad is feeling the need to even do this, to make him not just normal but above normal. Would I idealize him anyway because he is my child? Or do I truly see him doing things I don't think I could do—be happy in the face of surgeries and not being "normal?" It's strange to me, too, as someone who never wanted to be "normal" or "average." I wanted to be different. I wanted to be extraordinary but never was. Now that he is different, am I trying to make him ABOVE everyone else, present him as EXTRAordinary?

But back to my original point about the anonymous comment on my blog. My first thought was that it's people like that who should be thrown in the "rubbish heap," not my beautiful boy. But wouldn't it be better to say that whether we are "normal," "disabled," "extraordiary," "impaired," or even a rude anonymous blog commenter, none of us should be thrown away, that all of us have value?


Terri said...

Sheesh! Some people are just mean! I think being inspired by people who live admirably is excellent, but I think things can turn an ugly corner if we aren't careful. It is when anyone becomes an 'object' of pity or 'object' of admiration/inspiration when things go wrong, I think. The object status becomes a prison and seals that the person is 'not one of us.'

Just my thoughts!

rickismom said...

Great Post!

therextras said...

Nicely said.


LynnEnsMom said...

Good for you! Rise above the impairments of the foolish.... Yes, we believe that every life has value. Some people diminish their value by being foolish, cruel, etc. They allow their value to be diminished.

We cheer on our kids and make movies of their lives because we, in the midst of all the difficulty and struggle, see their value and we want other people to see it as well!

You are not only an excellent mom, you are an excellent human being. Thanks for sharing.

Lynn EnsMom