Hot Potato (pt. II)

Ok, so in order for this post to make sense, you’re going to have to jump in the Cincibility Time Machine and travel back to June, 2010 and read this post.

Are you back?  Ok, Good!

I’ve been meaning to follow up on this for a while, but keep forgetting.  I had a friend who read that post last year and was challenged by it.  So she sent me this email, which I’m sharing here because I get this same line of questions at least twice a week:

On Saturday night, I went to a “hootenanny” and played freeze
tag with the kids for a long time.  I loved it.  I was the only
parent who played.  They didn’t need me to play, but I had a great time.

I probably looked ridiculous…But is it really bad to enjoy something that is different from everyone else?  I don’t think…”Hot Potato” [is all that fun], but what if someone asks?   Okay, so if Hot Potato is not appropriate, is Uno or Jenga?

Are we trying to normalize [people with disabilities]?  Is
it [them] or the community that needs to change?

Great questions, right?   Who are we to tell people they can’t play childish games if they want?  Why can’t we all be accepted for who we are and live our lives the way we want?  Where do we draw the line?  What is “normal?” Who gets to decide?

Tough issues, no easy answers, but here is my response:

First of all, thank you for thinking on this with me.  This is exactly the same kinds of thought processes we have had at Starfire for the past few months, and the same things I’ve been wrestling with for the past two years.  It’s good to chew on this, and it’s good to have your thoughts.

let me start with a story:

Today, [a young man] who is a Junior at Starfire U, played dodgeball with a group of kids.  Most people would consider dodgeball a kid’s game and compare it to Hot Potato.  The difference, though, is the context in which he played that game of Dodgeball and the role he occupied while playing it.  The Juniors are spending a week with teens and young adults from the Mayerson Student Project volunteering all over the city.  Today, they were at a summer camp for kids, and our members and the students from Mayerson were acting as Counselors.  So he was in the respected role of summer camp counselor, and in the valued role as volunteer.  He was in charge of making sure all the kids followed the rules and no one got hurt.  He also got to play dodgeball!

If his (or anyone’s) passion or interest was to play Hot Potato, I hope that we…would be willing to take the extra step of thinking of ways they could do so in an adult, valued way.  This is what our staff do everyday:  “Where can an adult play Hot Potato?”  Well, you pointed one out:  a birthday party for children!  There’s nothing wrong with being silly with kids, is there?  Lots of people do that.  What about volunteering at a daycare or preschool?  What about telling stories at the library?

There are lots of ways that adults can play Hot Potato that we just need to think about…“OK, now where in the community is that valued?”…..Where do other adults who like party games go?  Is it just Hot Potato, is it other party games , like Catch Phrase, which is essentially Hot Potato for adults (We actually played that two nights in Louisville with about 10 of our staff and 3 members, and we all loved it!)

Another difference between your instance of playing freeze tag and our members playing Hot Potato is that you’ve got “status to spare.”  People with disabilities, whether we like it or not, are discriminated against and judged everyday.

They are looked at as an eternal child (if you’re like me, you get asked “How are the kids at Starfire?” all the time, even though no one here is under 13 and most are over 20!).

So we have to think of ways to fight that stereotype, by bending over backward and avoiding things that may reinforce that image in people’s minds.  If you play freeze tag, people think you’re a cool, free-spirited mom who is acting silly for a minute, but then you step back into the role of valued adult.  It’s endearing.

If a group of adults with disabilities play freeze tag, everyone who sees it walks away thinking that adults with disabilities enjoy childish games and end up treating them as such.

We know that it’s true that in some cases, adults with disabilities like to play Hot Potato, right?  But if that stereotype is holding people back from getting jobs, getting married, ordering their own beer, being asked what they think about decisions in their lives, and living wonderful adult lives, do we have to help perpetuate it?

And where do we draw the line?  Is Hot Potato too childish?  Freeze Tag?  Hide n Seek?  What about “Ring Around the Rosie” or “Duck Duck Goose”?

It’s about saying:  “OK, that’s good….What could be better?”

Essentially it boils down to:  Honor the person, find valued ways to help support their interests, understand that being seen as a childish adult can hurt their image and lead to other problems.  It took me a while to understand this.  My questions were hers as well.

This is tough stuff to think about, but good questions and good thinking always lead to good results.

And lest anyone think I’m “all uppity” or “holier than thou”… contraire, mon frere:  Here’s a picture of me in a Santa suit at a big dance for adults with disabilities!

Yikes!  So you can see that these lessons are hard won.  I’ve earned the right to reconsider my past poor decisions.  They are my mistakes and they are precious to me.


katie bachmeyer