Dunking PlaySkool

In middle school everything I did had to be "cool." Everything from the clothes I wore, the friends I had, the pop songs I belted out, and even the eye rolls that I perfected had to be cool. Given that I had all the legal rights and power bequeathed to someone between the ages of 11-13, "wanting nothing to do with something" meant I threw it into the dungeon underneath my bed or banished it to the dark corner of my closet. It was one thing for me to beg my parents to buy me the latest Airwalks and Vans sneakers, but when someone else forces an image on you - well, usually it doesn't go over too well. Especially if you try that on a 13 year-old middle school girl...

I had changed into a t-shirt and black and white Adidas shorts, I laced up my size 10 Nike sneaks and rolled into the gymnasium with the rest of my P.E. class. And that's when it smacked me across my face: My adaptive P.E. teacher was standing next to it, actually he was towering over it. There it stood in all of its plastic, white, blue, and orange glory: a 4ft tall PlaySkool basketball hoop. I looked at it in silence and for a few seconds no one else existed as I tried to comprehend what was going on. This is not cool. This is absolutely the opposite of cool. This is for babies. I am not a baby. I am more than this, so much more than this.

My friends and the rest of my class all trooped over to the other P.E. teacher, all of them sitting in a circle learning the basics of basketball and how to dribble. Kneeling down, my P.E. teacher tossed me a plastic basketball a little larger than a softball and instead of catching it I fled.

As I wheeled around I heard the ball bouncing on the shiny gym floor and that was the last time I saw the thing. I gunned my power wheelchair out of the gym, down the hall, around the corner, and into the nurse's office. I was humiliated, embarrassed, distraught, angry, confused... and so many other things that, like many other 13 year old girls who get upset, could not clearly put into words.

Okay, let's do a reality check. Despite being smaller than my classmates, and having an aide that I regularly (purposely) ditched while going through crowded halls, I was treated exactly the same as everyone else. Yes, I had help with some things but the adaptation or accommodation was (for the most part) seamless. The special needs that I needed were as cohesive as possible with whatever else was going on. I thought that this is how my disability should be treated. It was invisible, and that was what I had come to expect, it was what I wanted for my disability.
So on that day, without warning, the sudden blunt change was a bit too abrupt. To me that Playskool basketball hoop said "everyone sees you are different, you are small, you are weak, you will always be childish, we will always see you as a child..." And to have the hoop off to the side from everyone else and next to my adaptive P.E. teacher only, in my mind, underlined that difference for me.

For the rest of that Phys Ed. unit on 'basketball' I was allowed to spend it in the library. It took quite a bit of back-and-forth "communication" between my guidance counselor, my P.E. teacher, my parents, and my doctor. But even to this day I'm not sure if any of the adults actually recognized what it was that bothered me, I don't actually remember if any of those 'in power' bothered to ask me what it was I hated so much about it. After that day I learned that while not having to deal with others' image of me was a possibility, I would probably need to learn how to manage it better, and do so on my own. It wouldn't be until years later that I would be better at navigating the image I have and the image others assume for me.

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