My family moved from Wisconsin to Kewanee, Il when I was eight. I loved change and the excitement of a new place. That excitement increased when I found out that a girl my age lived across the street . Her name was Mary.
My mother informed me that Mary had Cerebral Palsy (http://www.cerebralpalsy.org/about-cerebral-palsy). I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t care–I had someone to play with right across the street!
When I met Mary, I was full of curiosity. I was curious about Cerebral Palsy and how it effected her. I was curious about the braces on her legs. I was curious about the crutches she used to walk. But I was especially curious about her wheelchair. I can’t begin to tell you how many ways I fantasized about using that wheelchair. Just riding it down the hill in front of our house would be a blast.
Once a week Mary’s physical therapist would come to her house and run her through exercises. I had so many questions, “What is that exercise for?” “How many does she have to do?” . . . I must have been distracting because he looked at me one day and said sternly, “I think it would be best for Mary if you waited for her out there!” pointing to the next room.
The more time I spent with Mary the more I tried to help her. I would turn the tv on and off and change the channels (no remotes), get things for her, help her straighten out her clothes. One day her sister, Patti, reminded Mary she needed to get the mail.
Without hesitation, I told Mary I would get it. Her sister turned around instantly, pointed her finger at me and said the meanest thing I have ever heard! She said, “Don’t you dare help her! She needs to do things for herself! Do you understand me?” I didn’t but I wasn’t going to her Patti angrier, either.
Later at home, I was telling my mother how mean Mary’s sister, Patti was. When my mom asked me why, I told her that Patti warned me not to help Mary. Mom smiled, sat down with me and explained that things were difficult for Mary but she needed to learn to do things herself so she could be less dependent on others to do for her.
I didn’t understand at the time but it turns out that making Mary do for herself was a very good thing. Mary went on to graduate high school, earn a Bachelors and Masters Degree and spent her career as a Parent Educator at the Developmental Disabilities Center at University of South Carolina and as a counselor to children in the after-school program at St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Columbia.
I guess Patti really wasn’t being mean!