It’s two years since we went to Junior Parkrun and after the 2km run the organisers refused to give Ben a token because he had been pushed though the finish line, which meant he didn’t officially take part. They later admitted that they should have included him, since being pushed in a wheelchair (or all-terrain buggy) was different to a baby being pushed by their parent, but by then it was too late.
We took all the kids back to Junior Parkrun last weekend where they all ran 2km with some friends (not me – still working on my ankle rehabilitation). Ben got his fastest ever time thanks to his particularly athletic carer, F, pushing him. Molly ran for the first time and pipped Max to the finish line because he was incapacitated by a stitch, apparently.
James and I had agreed beforehand that we wouldn’t talk to anyone about Ben taking part. They would all run, and then push Ben though the finish line and assume they would all be given a token. If it wasn’t offered to Ben, we would ask for it. We did this – actually Ben’s carer pushed him through – and a token was freely given. Ben really enjoyed it, as did Molly and Max once they’d got their breath back and eaten some Mini Cheddars. It was fun! And made us feel like Very Good and Active Parents.
I realised that we have changed our approach to some situations. My instinct used to be to try and let everyone know that we were there, talk them through what Ben would need in an effort to alert them to our situation and smooth the way. Sometimes this worked. But sometimes it created an impression that I was asking for favours and thought what I was asking for was at their discretion. Like I knew what Ben needed was tricky, but since I was asking nicely please could they possibly be able to accommodate us? So sorry, thank you so much.
Now, I wonder if it’s better to go into encounters acting like what Ben requires is going to be offered. With an aura of certainty that someone will give us what we need, because to do otherwise would be unacceptable. Perhaps then the onus is on them to refuse, rather than us to beg. Because what we’re asking for is never too much.
It’s a work in progress for me, but I think it links to a confidence that I try to radiate. Ben deserves his place in the world and for people to accommodate the way he moves and presents. I am not apologetic about his disability, and I think projecting that allows other people to believe it too (or at least might interrupt their instinct to pity or say something completely freaking ridiculous).
I think Parkrun learned from their 2019 mistakes, but to bring it back to chilly mornings in a south London park, if you act like someone should give you the token, are they more likely to give you the token? Let’s try it.