All-Time Top Post!

Since I've surpassed my 50th post I decided to re-post my top post of all-time. If you missed out on all the hoopla from the entry you can read it in its entirety here! 

As Subtle as Snow in April

Snowflakes laughed gleefully down from the sky, it was April. April first. I can assure you that no one else in Boston was amused. I was taking my usual lunch break at the Barnes & Nobles Starbucks down the street from my office. A cup of hot chocolate in one hand and Cutting for Stone in the other, it might as well have been any other snowy afternoon in December. But it was April and everyone was a little thrown by the flurries. I looked up once in awhile to watch nannies chase toddlers around in snow suits as toys fell out of strollers, students were studying for exams, and old people were flipping through retirement advice in magazines. From the corner of my eye I saw a lady slow-munching on a sandwich, her thoughtful chewing was paired with her watchful eyes on me. I sat there for my full hour of a lunch break and felt the cold snap of her eyes on me the whole time. 

We've all done it ourselves and have been the subjects of staring too. Whether it's the full deer-in-headlights gawk, the sly glance from the corner of your eyes, the sidelong analysis, the quick look 'n whip around, or the child's blank stare - we all know what it looks like. But even more so, we all know what it feels like. Sometimes, for me, it's like a brush on my shoulder - someone picking off some lint off my shirt; a quick attempt at checking out what's 'not quite right' with the picture. Other times (and depending upon my mood) it can feel like an affront to my existence, like hello, whatchu starin' at fellow human? 
When I was a kid I never understood why people stared at me. I have two arms, two legs, a head, a face, hands, fingers, toes, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair - and when I looked at the other person I saw similar features. But I recognized that unlike them I was not so curious about their features as they seemed to be about mine. In middle school my parents told me that they were staring because my motorized wheelchair was so neat looking. I had to admit that it WAS pretty sleek. My speed-mobile was silver, fast, and well, fast. But even without being in my wheelchair I was still stared at and this confused me. I remember distinctly that I would be at the YMCA pool with my brothers - swimming around like any other kid and getting splashed. The other kids would look at me curiously, and though I could see the thoughts going through their heads, I didn't understand why they had to stare at me while thinking those thoughts. 'That girl looks like she's 12 but she's SO SMALL! And what is that scar on her leg? And why is her head so much larger than the rest of her body?' These and other thoughts were, and are, about as loud as their eyes were round with curiosity. My brothers would usually be floating around nearby just in case I was accidentally pushed or kicked in the water. A few times they would mouth at me "whatever, just ignore them." 

To be honest, I still don't quite get it. But it doesn't bother me as much these days. I've 'grown used to it' and while some of my friends will tell me "that's wrong Sandy, you shouldn't have to get used to that behavior" I'm honestly not quite sure what else to do. I've worked on my own "response stare" back at people and depending on my mood this look will vary. I can either respond with a "um hi can I help you?" look or a "hey what's up" smile. Most of the time it's the latter and I've been surprised to see how many awkward gawks have broken into an upturned smile in response. When this happens I somehow feel like some kind of ambassador for other disabled wheelchair users. Like, hey we're friendly and are capable of friendly social interactions that won't spread germs to you too. The tilt of the playing field during these moments is precarious because I am never sure how other people respond, these days I just see it as another small risk I am privileged to take every day. 

60min had gone by. Her stare had become such a silently inducing distraction that I found myself re-reading the same sentence over and over again. I looked up from the book every now and again, met her eye contact - smiled, even gave a smile with a nod of my head. Still she was relentless, she chewed, blinked, chewed, blinked, chewed, blinked, the rhythm began to drive me mad. At long last I dog-eared my page, went over to her and said "excuse me but your staring at me is about as subtle as snow in April." And with that I left and returned to my work.

Other ways to counter curious eyes:
  • As with any other topic in my blog, each situation may be different so please use your best judgment to respond appropriately. In some situations it may be a young child who is just awkwardly curious, in other cases it may be a middle-aged adult who should know better.
  • It never hurts, at least in my experience, to give a simple nod and smile. You may find that it actually surprises you what people will do in return!
  • Just say "hello" back 
  • If the silence is thick with snide curiosity, and if you're comfortable with it, meet their eye contact and don't break it until you or they move along.
  • Wave hello
  • Simply ignore it if you can or prefer

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