By Abbie Cornett
Last week, my daughter and I ran to the store to pick up a couple of items. While we were parking the car, she started criticizing a younger woman for parking in the veterans'-only spot. I was so shocked and angry when I heard her, I bit her head off. Then, I saw the hurt look on her face, and I realized I had never really talked to her about invisible illnesses and judging people on their appearance. While we shopped, I thought about the incident and I wondered what else I hadn't talked to her about.
As a parent, I had fallen into the old trap of assuming my child would pick up important information by just being around me. But, after her comments, it dawned on me that even though I had written several blogs about invisible illnesses, I had never talked to her about what an invisible illness is and how she couldn't judge people based on their appearance. I decided we needed to talk about it sooner than later!
When we finished shopping, we sat in the parking lot. I had her watch several people parking in different designated spots and tell me what she saw. The first couple of people had obvious physical disabilities and needed mobility devices. She thought they should have special parking. I agreed!
The real discussion started when a man in his mid-40s parked in a handicapped spot and appeared to walk into the store with no problems. She asked me why he needed a handicapped spot. Instead of answering her, I asked: "Can you see anything wrong with me?" She looked at me funny and said: "No." I then explained to her that at one point in my life, I had been so sick that walking across a parking lot was exhausting.
She looked surprised. I guess I had never really talked to her about being ill. I explained to her that there are many illnesses and physical disabilities that can't be seen, and she can't judge people by their appearance. As we talked, the conversation came back around to the young woman who had parked in a veterans'-only spot. She explained to me she had always thought the term "veteran" meant an older person. Needless to say, this led to a whole new conversation.
The point is we both learned something that day. She learned not to judge people based on appearance, and I learned you can't assume children know what you know. If parents don't talk to their children about important issues, they are left to draw their own conclusions.