“Larger Issues at the Park”
I was an unfortunate witness to a nasty Facebook brouhaha earlier today. A mother was talking about how she had to turn back from a much anticipated trip to her local park because no one at the park was wearing masks.
I won’t dignify the responses she got as a ‘discussion.’ She was mocked and piled on. Among the usual tedious claims related to fake science, plus a convenient fantasy of kids actually keeping distanced from one another, I also saw a garbage pile of indifference, which reminded me strongly of how people talk to us as families of autism (I also thought of those with airborne nut allergies).
Namely, I saw people telling her that it was her obligation to cloister her family because the level of precautions she follows, and hopes for from others, is too onerous.
We get this two-part crappiness a lot, and it sounds like:
One: I will make zero or close to no accommodation, and I DGAF if your whole life will be impacted by my indifference. In essence: I do not care if public space is less available to the medically fragile, the disabled, etc. A pandemic won’t shape my behavior either because my family’s physical and mental health is really really important, and we need fresh air and exercise, and my kids miss their friends. As an extension, if I have to change any of my behaviors, I will view any accommodation as a loss of rights, and as a privilege which you usurped.
Two: Just for speaking about how my behavior contributes to your family’s continued sequestration, I shall now pathologize your overwrought notions of what you dared hope for. Know your place. Leave the public sphere to us normal folk. We have problems too, and can recite a litany of them for you.
If my take sounds unsympathetic, well, it is meant to be. I am not here to dignify ableism and cruelty, both of which often have their roots in unexamined trauma, with smiling understanding. Said trauma must not be allowed to be an excuse for discrimination.
As a mom of kids with differences, I have always experienced playgrounds as unequal spaces. From racism to ableism, to the brutal sexism allowed by doting and equally brutish parents—we have seen it all, and stopped partaking. People believe that taking our kids out to play and learn is somehow separate from these Larger Issues, but they are assuredly not. They are just more evident when you do not fit into the comfortable norm. And they crop up repeatedly, solidifying the barriers between us and the colonizers of public space. They are also reinforced by whatever powers that be happen to be operating at the time, whether it is cops, teachers, or even those who decide to grab the reins of power, like the heinous parent cliques at the park.
It is so easy to say that we are the ones making it about Larger Issues too. But if you have never been the only Black or brown parent at the park, treated like the nanny by the white moms who take up the shady seats and pretend they don’t see that you are now stuck with their kids who are longing for adult attention; if you have never been the parent of an intellectually disabled child, and been told off with shrill disrespect by an abled child (while their parent stood by) because your child plays differently, and was building a small castle with a pile of stones, and somehow that was okay to police; if you have never had other parents take note of how attentive you have to be to your child, so they dump their kids on you too because, well, you always stay on top of things, and now their kids feel weirded out by autism behaviors, and you have to fend off the bullying monsters who never seem to grow tired of being monstrous—then you are not just lucky. You are indifferent. Because it is happening all around you all of the time, and, instead of being horrified that it never pinged your radar, you are now defending your right to stigmatize anyone who calls it out rather than making it your duty to study your own complicity.
Because now you know. So what are you going to change? If you do not feel worried that someone might perish because you thought a mask was a conspiracy theory, what will make you grow up? What? We see you all, your noses hanging out even when you do wear a mask, colonizing the very air everyone has to breathe. Nothing, even abnormal times, seems to shake your stolid sense of Me-ness. You should be put in a glass case and studied. And that’s the nicest thing I can think of.
Part of me is incredulous that the formerly privileged didn’t realize no one would change for them. If the pandemic is the first time they had to ask for accommodations from people, and were shamed and rebuffed, well, hi, my house of isolation is your house of isolation. If this pandemic ever quits, traumatized folks will never forget that all around them were community members who refused the call to keep one another alive. I will never forget either. But nothing material will change for my kid. He will still be persona non grata in most public spaces because of the community’s intolerance for making accommodations.
So, in all this longing for a return to a state of normalcy that worked well for you, what are you going to change?