Every morning on our regional public radio affiliate is a dynamic discussion program which has been the backdrop of my kitchen post-breakfast hour for several years. It’s always on and I either listen completely, or partially, depending on the subject that day. The other morning, they were -briefly- discussing this article: Study Finds TV Can Decrease Self-Esteem In Children, Except White Boys. And this is how you know my perspective is different now, how my worldview has shifted enormously: I wanted to shout, “but what about white disabled boys? what about white boys with limb differences? what about boys who will never see another body like theirs, ever ever? what about that, huh?” I do not mean to detract from the real and absolute marginalization of children of color or young women. What I do mean to do is say that if not having positive representation of yourself, of your kind, if you will, in the media leads to poor self-esteem, I worry about my littlest boy. Of course I do. This has been one of those constant roaring questions in my brain for all these last six months. What would it be like to grow up and never see someone who has a body like yours?
I guess the plus, for Ulysses, is that we don’t watch a lot of television. We don’t watch any “television” proper, actually. Our broadcast days died when signals went digital. We were sad to lose PBS, and bought a digital converter box and put an antennae on our roof, but we were still unable to get a signal. Ok, then. We stream stuff online sometimes. We rent movies from our local video store. We are not devoid of media. But we don’t have commercial TV. We are deliberate with our watching. But no matter how carefully I screen the content of the programming my son experiences (uh, eventually. he’s years off from watching anything at all.) I won’t be able to assure that he sees positive reflections of people with similar challenges. As a mother, that’s hard to realize, but how much harder will it be for him?
And, thanks for understanding that these questions are rhetorical. Unless you are a person with a similar experience, you can’t know. I’m muddling through and I know so much more than I did six months ago, but I’m still so clueless.
In other news, summer weather has arrived. For my Phoenix friends, especially, I should clarify that it’s hit in the 80s several times and currently, according to the thermometer on my dresser, it’s 74 degrees in my bedroom. Hey, it feels warm for us, for the first day of June!
And now that it’s warmer I’m faced with the conundrum I was dreading: how to dress the baby when we leave the house. A couple of weeks ago, the husband and the kids and the baby and I, all five of us, walked up to our town’s Saturday market. We timed our walk with the baby’s nap and he fell asleep in the sling shortly after we set out. He was snuggled in fabric, up against my chest, and just his little face, his head framed in this cute bright green pilot cap, stuck out. And not one, not two, but THREE people made sweet, smiling “cute baby” comments to me. I can’t even tell you how meaningful those comments are to me. He IS cute. I adore him all day, each day. And I need other people to acknowledge that. But would he receive the same comments, the same approval from the public, at large, if they had seen his tiny, twisted legs? If they had noticed his hands?
If I take him out in public in bare legs and short sleeves, people with notice. He looks different. Of course they will notice. Noticing is expected, noticing is fine. You can’t help noticing, but you can help choosing kindness. This baby’s favorite toy is his squeaky giraffe! This baby sleeps on his belly and sticks his butt in the air! This baby lights up so brightly when he sees his brother and gleefully grabs his sisters wild hair. This baby loves music and I’ve Been Working On The Railroad is weirdly the magic song. This baby doesn’t look like any other baby you’ve ever seen before. But this baby is loved. It’s my job to make sure he knows that. (but it’s your job, world, to not make my job harder.)