He he was, slowly, cutting a piece of his pizza. It was clear that while he would be unable to eat it by picking it up with his hands, he would be able to do so by cutting it up into pieces and spearing those pieces with his fork and then taking the food to his mouth. He was with a staff who had turned her back to him to text a message or otherwise use her cell phone, her thumbs flew as she did what she did. She then turned to see that he had started his meal and a look of, this is hard to believe, annoyance crossed her face.
“I told you to just wait a moment.” she said. I couldn’t hear his answer as he spoke very softly. “Well, never mind,” she said and took the knife and fork from him against his small protest, and began to cut up his food. “Don’t fuss,” she said, “This will make it much easier for you to get at the pizza faster.” Then she laughed. He didn’t. He looked deflated.
When a piece of pizza went astray, he picked his napkin up to wipe his mouth. She saw this and took it from him, she didn’t say anything this time, and neither did he, but he hung on to the napkin and it ripped. She grabbed another one and went for his mouth. She had a firm, ‘I’m helping you’ look on her face. Again he looked defeated.
She hovered over him.
She took from him what belonged to him.
A kind of theft of his independence and his self esteem.
We’ve all heard about helicopter parents who hover over their children, who do for them what belongs to them, who try so hard to be there at every moment that initiative and skills are slowly smothered. It doesn’t matter how soft the pillow that takes breath from one’s sense of self, it only matters that it kills.
I have no doubt that the staff was trying her best to do her best. I have no doubt that her intention was to give to him what he needed. The only problem is it was she thought he needed.
In a brief email exchange yesterday with someone we were talking about this and I stated that the goal in service was to “respect the disability while not disrespecting the ability.”
She saw his disability but she did not see his capability, she did not give him room to grow, to use what he had.
I worked very hard to learn how to get out the door of my apartment building without assistance. It takes both strength and skill, I’m proud that I don’t need anyone’s help with this. I also know that I need to keep doing it to be able to keep doing it. When away for a week or two working, I always have to try a couple of times to get it right. It really is a case of practice makes perfect.
My big problem is that people always want to help me. Yesterday when I was waiting for Joe to come with the car the lobby had 4 people in it. I saw Joe pull up and headed for the door, 4 people saw this and they all began to stand up. I said, “The best way to help me is to not help me.” Three sat done and one kept coming. “I need to do this to be able to do this,” I said insistently and the helper reluctantly returned to his seat.
I made my way out.
That young man eating the pizza, he protested her interference with his independence twice. He sill has a spark in him.
I hope she puts the pillow down and realizes her job isn’t to snuff out that spark but to fan it until it bursts into flame.