15 hours ago
Monday, September 20, 2010
Max's special powers
Ever since I wrote about Sabrina describing her brother as having "special needs," a commenter's words have been on my mind. Cheryl, who has cerebral palsy, wrote that the phrase "was banned in my house and in 25.5 years I have not heard a single family member (extended included) use that word in relation to me. I find it demeaning and degrading."
I use the words "special needs" when I need to, for lack of better ones. But I do think they make Max seem pathetic to people. Saying "He has special needs" tends to invoke The Sympathy Stare, something I know a lot of you are all too familiar with.
So this weekend, I tried new words that other moms have mentioned. We were at a big hot-dog stand down at the Jersey shore that serves franks in dog bowls. (Do we take our kids to the fanciest places or what?!) The woman there was a little brusque; she must have doled out a whole lot of dogs this summer. Then Max trotted over to the counter, with his so-need-a-haircut mop of hair, and her face lit up.
She asked if he'd liked his hot dog.
"ESSSSSSS!" said Max.
"Do you like French fries?" she asked.
Max just stared, not answering.
"Oh, does he have hearing issues?" she asked.
"No," I said. "He has special powers!"
She looked a little surprised, but then she said, "Oh, I see that!"
The tattooed, tough-looking guy working the grill said to Max, "Want to see something cool?" He directed us to the back of the stand, where he put a potato through the shredder and showed Max how French fries are made. Then Max wanted to go behind the counter to serve hot dogs, so I filled him in on child labor laws and said he is more than welcome to make dinner at our house.
"Come back anytime to see the French fries!" the guy said.
"Come back soon!" the formerly grouchy lady told us.
People are going to keep asking about Max; I'm going to keep saying "special powers." Someday, I hope Max will be able to tell people in his own words—or just tell them to mind their own business.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 10:45 PM