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Image description: head and shoulder shot of someone sitting in a wheelchair wearing a tea shirt that says, “My Mom Is My Pusher”

Yesterday I wrote about speaking with a young disabled boy waiting outside the elevator from which I was disembarking. I made a comment about his mother not rushing forward but allowing the interaction to happen, I also said that I could write a blog about that alone but would not. Well, I changed my mind. I’m going to. When I kept coming back to that moment in my mind, I thought of him and his enormous smile but I also thought, every single time, about his mother. I had no interaction with her, I spoke only with her son, but my respect for her grows every time I tell the story.

I love the independence of my power chair. When I say that, I’m not just talking about getting to where I want to go without depending on the help of another person, I’m talking about the power to stop, the power to wander, the power to indulge my curiosity, the power to change course, the power to go back and check something out. Joe is very good at helping me when I’m in my manual chair and need a push. But Joe and I are different people, I am a shopper. He is not.

When we are out and in a store and he’s pushing me, he typically is aimed at getting where we are going using the quickest possible route. It’s hard to communicate with each other, I’m facing forward and he can’t hear me easily, he’s talking behind me and is difficult to hear. If I want to stop, I often have to grab on to the wheels and give resistance so that he knows to slow and stop. We still, after 8 years, struggle with how to do this well. Please don’t see me as being critical of Joe here, I’m not. He’s wonderful and helps without complaint. But the relationship of pusher and pushee is fraught with all sorts of issues.

For the boy in the wheelchair yesterday, speech didn’t come easily to him, words took time to form and fill with breath. If he wanted to see something, he might be well by it by the time he spoke. For his mother, or anyone, to push him, and do it well, a partnership needs to develop and a clear understanding of expectations need to be laid out. I often run into people waiting to push someone onto an elevator, most often a baby in a minivan sized stroller, sometimes someone in a wheelchair. Almost always, there is the race for the door as soon as it opens and a foot tapping impatience as I get off. Then the rush past me as soon as there was room.

It’s natural.

I do it too.

Elevators come, typically a few minutes after being missed yet people treat it like they’ve missed the flight to Cairo.

But when I first greeted the boy in the chair, everything changed. Mom must have fought the natural urge to get on the elevator and allow her son a moment to chat with another chair user. And the fact that I was another chair user means something too, that she saw me as part of his community, not something to be avoided because ‘you are just like everybody else’ and ‘you should only have friends without disabilities.’

So kudos to good pushers, who know how to give support without taking control. And kudos to Moms who have learned early to see opportunities when they happen.