September 17, 2013
Objects of Pity
The first time a total stranger handed me something “to give to your son” was at the Disney on Ice Show/Finding Nemo in 2004. Our son, Danny, was around 10 years old, and although small for his age, he probably looked too old for the stroller he was using at the time due to his motor disabilities.
This ice show was one of the first live shows he had seen, and he was smiling at seeing all his favorite fish friends skating around the rink. We had arranged for disabled seats, so he could stay in his stroller and have a great view of the action below. Right after the intermission, a middle-aged man wearing a well-worn Hawaiian shirt walked up to me and shoved the garish plastic clownfish wand at my hand, mumbling something about “your son” and quickly walked away before I could protest or even say thank you.
I didn’t know what to think. Did we look that poor? Was Danny looking off at another kid waving around the Nemo fish wand and that gentlemen had caught the eye glance? Then I realized it was given to us out of sympathy, wanting to do something, anything to make the moment better. I was too embarrassed to take it home, and left it behind in the arena.
Then, the older and taller Danny got, the more unwanted gifts came our way. Most often they were plush stuffed animals or candy, neither, which held any appeal to Danny. His big sister took the stuffed animals and I threw away most of the candy. Sometimes people gave us storybooks, which we kept around.
After a while, I came to call this the “Tiny Tim” syndrome from the Charles Dickens story and laughed it off.
On our way to tashlich at the Santa Monica beach a few weeks ago, we were slowly walking Danny out onto the sand, when a stranger shoved a glittery, girl’s T-shirt with a Harley-Davidson decal on it. We tried to say no thanks, but the woman was insistent. So we took and added it to the discard pile at home.
For all those anonymous strangers out there who are moved to hand us a toy or other item, please keep objects of pity to yourself and instead, just give us a smile.