Last week, I was coming out of the shops and putting my three younger children in the car when an old man walked past and shouted something in my direction.
Not having heard him clearly, I asked him to repeat it.
He was very close to me by now and this farcical conversation ensued:
Him: “Where’s the (unintelligible)?”
Me: “Pardon? The grippa…?”
Him: (gesticulating madly) “The cripple, the cripple! You’re in a wheelie park, where’s the cripple?”
Me: “Oh, the cripple… right… well, I have a disabled child and a wheelchair in the back if that’s what you mean…?”
He walked away then, with one hand in the air in a ‘talk to the hand’ sort of gesture.
(It’s not relevant to my right to park there, but I’ll mention at this point that I was parked in one of ten empty wheelchair bays.)
I shouted to his retreating back, “Thanks for asking though!” – I’m not sure why, and I’m not even sure what I meant by it, but I found myself feeling strangely unsettled by the event.
Here’s the thing: I wasn’t offended (well, not much) by his outburst – I’ve been tempted to do the same when I can’t park in front of my daughter’s school because cars without passes have taken the spaces.
I have a child who is still small enough to carry.
She weighs enough that you wouldn’t want to do it over a distance, but she could still pass for a large toddler in my arms.
She also still (just) fits into a shopping trolley, so I don’t always get her chair out of the car.
Am I taking the proverbial piss when I use the wheelchair bays under these circumstances?
I have a pass, of course, so in theory I have every right to be there, but do I really feel like it’s warranted?
My brain says yes.
Screams it, in fact.
It takes extra time to get her out of the shopping trolley because she doesn’t help you at all, and if I haven’t got a trolley that day I have her chair to fold and put away or a dead arm from trying to lug her across the car park.
I also have other children whose hands I can’t hold, so it makes sense from a safety perspective for me to park close to the door where I can.
I know all of this, and I believe every word, but I still don’t understand the nagging doubter in me that doesn’t have this sense of entitlement.
Something about this old man’s challenge made me feel distinctly guilty – then momentarily angry with him (how was it his business anyway?) – then guilty again (because I’ve felt like doing that very thing too) – then angry with myself for feeling guilty.
Oh, what a tangled web.
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