I can completely sympathize with the mom in this story. These days, I don’t have to tell anybody that I have triplets. If I mention it, it’s because I am at that moment prepared to discuss them, to answer questions and generally engage in conversation about them. When they were babies, though, it was never optional.
I took them everywhere, three babies all lined up in their triple stroller. You couldn’t miss them. They were obviously the same age. A neon sign could not be more obvious.
Having the triplets was not the first time I was in the presence of a neon sign like that. I am well aware that a blind person walking with a mobility cane attracts the same amount of attention, the ogling and the stares and the heads turning to follow us as we pass. Nor was it the last; Kender and A’Kos attract just as much attention.
The difference comes in how people treated us. With disabilities, people stare, but they generally don’t approach. It’s rude to talk about somebody’s blindness, their cane. People stare and then try to pretend they weren’t, and unless they are interacting with us for another reason, they leave us alone.
Not so when you have multiples. People will come up and admire them, touch them, and ask all kinds of questions. They get into personal issues that would never otherwise come up in conversation with a stranger, details about my health and sex life. They don’t ask if I want to talk about these things. My very existence in public was assumed to be permission enough.
Most of the time, I handled this okay. I broke down in tears once when a woman commented on how I must have so much help, because in reality I had none, and she actually enrolled me in her own church’s program for new mothers, bringing us food and cleaning my house for a while. (I still want to pay that forward someday!) But mostly, I smiled and answered questions.
Until one day at the mall. I was having a hard time that week, and I decided to go walk around the mall, to just do nothing and window shop for a while. A woman in a wheelchair came up to me and started asking those personal questions, when I was in no condition emotionally to interact with people, and I just snapped. I starting throwing the questions back at her: Why are you in a wheelchair? How do you manage it? Does it even bother you?
Rude as hell. And she was very offended.
What was the difference, really? And I said I was upset, and I was not in the mood to talk. What did I need to do, hang a sign on the stroller? Like the giant “Don’t pet me!” patches people put on their service dogs. She still was offended.
For some reason today I was thinking about that day in the mall, and then the story about the twin mom and her signs and the backlash she got showed up in my news feed.
I get it. I understand. I sympathize. I was there.