The smell of freshly cut grass mixed with the evergreen wafted to his nose. The boy wobbled onto his crutches, looking like a living four-legged table as he pushed his body up into as close to a standing position as possible.
With a slight “S-curve” still remaining from his knee down to his heel, he’d been lying in the grass looking up at the summer blue sky, thinking about being creative. But now his stomach panged, and he knew the bugle would sound in less than an hour, announcing high noon and the lunch hour.
So with his stomach tightly flexed, he moved forward, thinking, “I’m a triceratops moving across the Jurassic plains.” The boy knew that if he was late for lunch, he would have to sit on the porch of the dining hall for a time, and then maybe even have to sit at the Worth’s table, where Mr. and Mrs. Worth, who happened to be his grandparents and the owners of Camp Minnehaha, the summer camp he was attending, sat with visiting parents or dignitaries of some type or another.
He didn’t like sitting there because it removed him from sitting with the other campers. It made him feel separate and odd, and he had always felt separate and odd. Summer camp helped him feel slightly normal from time to time.
You see, he had just been adopted, not two years before. Although he was able to read people even at the age of 11, he felt apart. He felt apart not only because of his cerebral palsy, a neurological condition caused at birth, but also because this condition had caused him to collect other labels like intellectually disabled, and at least slightly emotionally disturbed.
These labels followed him into his adoption and caused him to be typecast into a situation where the focus was so geared toward giving him more physical capability and as many physical independent living skills as possible — brushing teeth, bathing, dressing, eating with his mouth closed, etc. — that an important question was drowned out, a most important question for the mind of a growing youth: What do you want to be when you grow up? He could remember his dad joking with him that he would make a good counselor or bartender, but nothing seemed serious. There was no sense of, “You can do that!” in his voice.
So the boy escaped into a dream world, very much an “Alice in Wonderland.” He fell down the rabbit hole of his imagination. On every walk through the summer camp that his family house sat on the edge of, the 12 year old thought to himself: “I will make my mark. I will do something creative.”
He stubbornly held onto this idea even when the system encouraged him to throw it off the pier of lost dreams. When everyone else told him he needed to be more practical, he literally thought, “I haven’t had an average life. Why start now?” And his inner voice encouraged him, pushed him to dream, to create, and to make his path by walking.
Every weekend, from the time he was adopted and his father trained him to use Lofstrand crutches, he walked a mile and a half. It took the boy four to six hours each Saturday and Sunday to move over the terrain of that camp in winter, spring, summer and fall, and in sun, rain or snow, until he was in his late teens.
While most of the time he walked alone, his little sister would sometimes tag along at least part of the way. He felt like she was his best friend, and on the occasion he had other friends over, they had to do the walk with him. This was the age of the beginning of the “video game culture,” so the boy had a very rough time convincing friends to come over to walk.
That young person is me. I’m still on that walk, even though I don’t take the same path I did when I was 12. I credit those moments in silence with shaping a mind that would go on to graduate school and earn a master’s degree in painting. That mind also would go on to study community organizing and then use that knowledge to pursue liberation for all people.
The entire point of my story is to always ask your child, disabled and non-disabled alike, “What do you want to do with your future walk?”
Parents of children with disabilities, let this story speak to you, and if you feel like you are in survival mode, try stepping outside of it, understanding that you are raising a world-changer in your daughter or son.
And to you, young girl or boy, keep dreaming. The impossible can be made possible through your walk.
Christopher Worth is the Organizing Team Manager at Paraquad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.