The well-known phrase says;
‘Sticks and stones,
May break my bones,
But words will never hurt me.’
I am sorry but I beg to differ. Words can hurt, they can hurt bad. They can sometimes hurt more and much deeper than physical pain. Sometimes the words that hurt aren’t meant to be spoken, they are accidental, unintentional, perhaps at cross purposes or said in anger or frustration but they have been said nonetheless. They have been released into the air, heard, absorbed and usually they are hard to forget.
This week a lot of my fellow SWAN Mummies have been made to cry over words that have hurt them. Words that they didn’t want or expect to hear. Sometimes what makes the pain harder to bear is the delivery of the words. The tone in which they are spoken in can often make the pain unbearable.When something is said so cold and matter of factly it can really hurt.
As parents of disabled child very often the words we hear aren’t meant to hurt intentionally. For example Isabella and I go to lots of groups where obviously all her friends are now walking and talking. On a few occasions I have heard sentences like, ‘Now that all our little ones are walking..’ Ouch painful, but by no means deliberate. In fact I don’t want people to have to make reference to what Isabella can’t do as that would be worse.
It has happened with friends and family as well, again by no means intentional but a bit painful nonetheless. Someone with a little girl younger than Isabella said, ‘I can’t wait til she is out of nappies and out of the baby phase.’ Slight stabbing pain, as Isabella may be in nappies for a very, very long time.
Then of course there are the times when people don’t know anything about Isabella’s situation and pass comment and use hurtful words. Here is a for instance. Isabella and I go swimming to our local swimming pool. On a Wednesday we attend the Disability/50+ session. (Personally I think it should be two separate sessions, but that’s another story. ) There is nothing special about the session, just that the only people allowed in the main pool are those that are disabled and 50+. I was warned a member of staff that some of the older people may look at us funny, however the first session passed without a problem.
The following Wednesday we went back. No sooner had Isabella and I stepped into the pool I felt and saw eyes boring into us. It was one lady in particular in a delightful purple floral swim cap. She couldn’t take her eyes off us, but she was too far away from us for me to say anything. So we continued our swimming session trying to ignore her, however it was very difficult. She got out of the pool close to where Isabella and I were swimming. No sooner had she stepped out the pool she collared a Life Guard. She hissed at the Lifeguard, ‘Why is that little girl was in the pool, she should be in the baby pool, she doesn’t belong here!’ I felt my blood boil. I shouted to her, ‘Excuse but my Daughter has every right to be in here she is disabled.’ She heard me, I know she did because she stepped away from the side of the pool and the Life Guard followed her. I could no longer hear what she was saying. I could see she was angry from the way she was waving her arms around frantically. The minute she finished putting her two pence worth in, the Life Guard came over to apologise. It was the same girl who had warned me about how difficult the old people can be. She told me that the lady had said that Isabella should be in the baby pool for her own safety, apparently she wasn’t listening when the Life Guard told her Isabella was disabled. I was seething. What gave her the right to question our being in the pool?
I was cross, but I calmed down so Isabella and I could enjoy the rest of our session, but it plagued me. I said quite loudly to Isabella in the changing room, ‘That old Lady best not be in here or else she will have a piece of Mummy’s mind.’ We got changed and sure enough on the way out I saw her at the mirror. She was no longer wearing her Floral number but I recognised those pursed lips. I said to her ‘Are you the lady who has a problem with my Daughter being in the pool, she is disabled!’ She turned to me, mouth wide open. Crap, Crap I thought it’s not her! Only it was. She went onto tell me how she was only concerned for Isabella’s safety and thought it best that she go in the little pool. I went on to tell her that I am her Mother and responsible for her and can take in her in which ever pool I please. The next thing she said infuriated me further still. ‘Sometimes the older ones come in, oh and they make such a lot of noise and fuss and they writhe and splash around. Terrible it is, so may be then you should take her in the baby pool.’ I could have slapped her. By the older ones, she meant the teenagers who we passed in the changing room. They had obviously swam before us and clearly their enjoyment in the water annoyed Mrs Floral Cap. I told her quite frankly that I didn’t need her advice. She could see I was upset and she tried to touch my arm and stroke Isabella. I pulled away. She asked me if I will see her next week. With a great degree of dignity and firmness, I told her yes she would. Funny thing is I haven’t seen her since.
Then there are the hurtful words that are completely intentional and deliberate. To date I have only had one experience, but no doubt over the years will encounter many more. We were shopping back in the Summer and we passed 3 girls who were at a guess 9/10 years old. They smiled at me and looked at Isabella, as I walked by I heard them laughing. ‘Ha ha look she’s disabled.’ I froze and said nothing. I was shocked I guess I couldn’t believe they had laughed at my little girl. They were only little girls themselves, but old enough to know better. They had laughed at my little girl, used the word ‘disabled’ in a such a way I haven’t forgotten about it. So much so the next person to laugh deliberately at my little girl will know about it. There will be no freezing next time.
I honestly don’t know who wrote ‘sticks and stones’, but they were wrong, very wrong. Words can hurt and their impact can have a lasting effect.