The BendyBus is a magical small child magnet - especially to little boys. They get this look in their eyes, a look that in decades to come will be all grown up and mean something entirely different, but for now is an innocent excitement, beautiful to witness. The cut off point seems to be around 12, when they become all 'cool' and aware, but any younger than that and you can watch them gazing fascinatedly at my mobility scooter, little hands unconsciously outstretched in their desire to touch and understand how it all works. Even the policeman who's feet I nearly ran over yesterday was far too amused by the scooter to be upset. Or demand to know if I had insurance.
Something about the BendyBus breaks down barriers and lets children approach and ask questions. How does it work, how fast will it go, why have you got it, can I have a go please? I always answer their questions, curiosity sated with the answer 'my legs don't work as well as yours' they move on to the far more important stuff about the scooter. Sometimes parents literally drag their children away, their embarrassment and shame palpable as they mutter about it being rude to stare and refuse to meet my eye. That always makes me sad as their children are seeing and accepting difference and disability as completely normal parts of life, and even a way of getting amazing toys they'd really rather like to have. Those kids would grow up into non judgemental adults if given the chance.
I met Max yesterday in the supermarket. A proper little cutie of five or six he was edging towards the scooter in that way kids do when they are enchanted by what they see and can't seem to help themselves get closer. Max didn't have a great deal of speech, he had words but his little sister still in a pushchair was putting together her words into sentences in a way that Max is yet to master. He knew what he liked though, and he LOVED my scooter, little hands reaching out to touch it through the distance as he shuffled closer and closer.
Max's mum apologised for him bothering me, but when I offered to let him have a go on the scooter her eyes lit up too. I explained he'd have to sit on the seat with me, it's close contact, particularly for a stranger. Max was halfway on the scooter before his mum had said yes, so incredibly focused on the excitement he couldn't look at me. Actually, Max couldn't really look anyone in the eye but his little face shone with joy as he climbed on to the scooter. So did his mum's.
Off we went, Max as good as gold, hands under mine on the handle bars, completely transfixed by the scooter, the speed and the wonder of it all. We went round a few aisles then straight back to mum, who looked even happier than her boy. Max didn't say much, he got off the scooter obediently when told to by his mum but remained utterly transfixed and so, so happy looking.
Later I went to see BendyBabyNiece. She's another scooter fan, getting stopped by the police just seems to have added to the thrill. The hoist is a big draw for BBN. She's allowed to help push the buttons and watch the hoist take the scooter in and out of the car. She also knows exactly where the horn is and how to sneak her little hands under mine and fiddle with the speed dial. It's a big deal. Her only disappointment is that I won't get off the scooter and leave it to her to operate as she believes herself competent to do. Well, she is 2 now. That's all growned up.
These are children who are seeing disability as normal. As a different way of getting around, way more exciting than legs could ever be, of fun and interest and very, very easy to accept. Legs that don't work so well are more than compensated for by having a full sized toy 'car' and attitudes laid down in early childhood are carried through to adulthood.
Oh, and mobility scooters are fun. How could they not be. So disability is fun too. I hope they remember that bit most of all when they grow up.