I have long noticed that Christians, or, if you prefer Andrew Sullivan's term, "Christianists", have a weird attitude toward disabled children.
What is the best word to describe it? Fetish? Zeal? Unhealthy attachment?
I also have noticed that since I "fit the bill" of what they seem to feel is a good Christian lifestyle-heterosexually married, three kids, housewife, white (it's hilarious when they realize that my husband is full-blooded Mexican American, they suddenly become flustered)-they seem to assume that I'm one of them, when I am not.
So what to do when the sweetest 87-year-old Christian lady you've ever seen basically assaults your autistic daughter on the street in a small town in Texas?
We brought an old friend from New England to get good bar-b-que. Afterwards we were strolling around the charming square, stopping in at antique stores and window shopping on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
My daughter didn't care to go into the store, so I was waiting at the front entrance with her when a kindly-looking elderly lady walked up and struck up a polite conversation about the store. She introduced herself. Her name was Corky and she was 87 years old. She was a WAVE during World War II.
Then she asked my daughter's name. My daughter didn't answer, of course.
"She doesn't actually talk much," I said, to explain her rudeness.
Corky's eyes went wide. "Why not? What's wrong?" She looked strangely excited, like she was about to win a prize.
"Well," I continued, "She has autis---..."
The end of the word was obscured by Corky's joyful exclamation as she lunged at my daughter. She pulled my daughter, who probably outweighed her two to one, into a bear hug and began kissing her. Thank Corky's God that my daughter was in a good mood and didn't punch Corky right in the kisser.
I was shocked and stunned. I looked around me to see if there was anyone watching or standing nearby who might intervene. I hoped there was a son or daughter who was going to approach and pull Corky off my kid. Alas, there was no one there but a gentle afternoon breeze.
Then Jesus came into this already bizarre altercation. Corky cupped my daughter's face in her hands. "Jesus loves you, darling. Do you know Jesus? I know you do. I know you love Jesus as much as He loves you."
My daughter does not know Jesus. I'm pretty sure that a guy that's been dead for 2,000 years doesn't know my daughter or love her, because he's dead and gone. As far as I'm concerned Jesus was a man who moved some people with his good deeds and words, but then he died as we all do and that was then end of it, except for some people who got over-excited about it and made it into this whole thing.
I don't share my thoughts with Corky. I don't think she'd understand. But what bothers me is, why does she feel so free to share all these thoughts with me?
More kisses for Ellie. My daughter is in a snuggly mood and starts to lean into Corky, who is a frail thing.
"Watch out, Corky. She's going to push you over."
"Oh, no, she wouldn't do that."
At that moment my family comes out of the store. Glances are exchanged. Introductions are made, but all the while Corky has a death grip on my kid.
"Oh, here's Daddy!" exclaims Corky. "Hold me up, Daddy!"
My husband looks at me and Corky and wonders what the hell is going on here. He doesn't move to suppport her.
"No, no! Come on, right behind me, you hold me up!"
Jesus must have been supporting her because somehow she doesn't get pushed over onto the pavement.
I finally manage to extricate my daughter from old lady caresses and my family starts to move away, all the while Corky is telling us about her entire life story. Childhood, Great Depression, the war (she trained a WAVE who shared my name).
I'm kind of charmed and yet horrified by this woman, and I have a hard time being rude to old people, even when they have passed all boundaries of propriety as this woman has. How dare she paw at my daughter like that? How dare she proselytize to a disabled child? What gives her the right?
This kind of thing happens to us all the time. They seem to feel that somehow they have rights to my child because she is disabled. I never know what to say.
What should I say?