“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken,” Oscar Wilde once said. I heard during a performance of Kinky Boots I recently saw on Broadway. The show was all sorts of memorable, but that quote stood out. Not long before, I’d seen Won’t You Be My Neighbor?—the documentary about Mr. Rogers, and I had individuality on the brain.
Max started wearing his Fireman Max firefighter again. We’re not sure why he’d stopped, but we think he got back into it because he was going to camp and wanted to make a statement. I got this pic of him yesterday and there he was in all his red hat glory, painting.
Max has no qualms about being a 15-year-old who walks around in a plastic firefighter hat that says “Hello, my name is Fireman Max.” It does draw attention to him, although even when he is not wearing it, people stare. Little kids sometimes ask “Why can’t he talk?” and “Why is he drooling”? I usually tell them, “He does talk—he is talking in his own way” and “Because sometimes his mouth doesn’t swallow fast enough.” m
Max’s physical and cognitive differences are a part of who he is, not all of him, although sometimes they are all anyone can see. Max could care less, partially because he is not aware of the stares, and partially because he doesn’t see himself as very different from others. He is content with who he is.
“It’s you I like” is Mr. Rogers’ theme song. The documentary had a clip of him singing it to Jeff Erlanger, a boy in a wheelchair, and I sort of lost it. I wasn’t sad—I just ached. Ached for people to be more welcoming to our children with disabilities and treat them less like wholly other human beings. It starts with parents talking with their children—encouraging them to say hello, discussing their questions, explaining what’s more alike than different (see: How parents can talk to kids about ones with special needs).
Maybe it’s hard for people who don’t have loved ones with disabilities to understand, but I don’t wish for a different Max. I wish for people to respect, embrace and appreciate him for who he is. All of him.
It’s you I like
It’s not the things you wear
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now
The way deep down inside you
Not the things that you
Not your toys—
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like
Every part of you
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like
It’s you yourself
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