Being Different by Alice Peterson
We don’t want to be different when we’re young and at school. We want to be exactly the same as everyone else, blend into the crowd, fit in and be cool. We only want to stand out for being pretty or sporty. We certainly don’t want to stand out for being the maths or science nerd – that could be a path to being unpopular. And we definitely do not want to stand out for any kind of facial scar, train track braces or a disability…
In my latest novel, ‘The Things We Do For Love,’ one of the themes is a single mother who has a child with Cerebral Palsy, an eleven-year-old daughter called Isla. If you’ve read my novels before you will know I often write about people with disability – not in a worthy kind of way, but just in a way that disability is all around us. I don’t make my characters angels. They are just normal characters who happen to have ‘x’ and in this case, little Isla is born with Cerebral Palsy.
Cerebral Palsy or CP is caused by brain damage at birth and affects body movement, muscle control and coordination, posture and balance. Every case is individual. In Isla’s she is able to go to a mainstream school, she has friends and she has dreams like any other girl. But unlike many of her friends, she doesn’t have the coordination to play sport so is often picked last in team games. Her balance is poor so she can’t walk in a straight line. Often she trips over, which is embarrassing when she is carrying her textbooks to class or falls flat on her face in the playground.
When I was at school the first thing I was picked on for was being ‘posh’. Luckily I was good at tennis so my class soon got bored of teasing me. But I do remember one girl, who was badly singled out for being different. She was small, blonde, bespectacled and her name was Emma. She was the only girl in our class who struggled during games because her joints would dislocate. I remember one time, during netball, when her knee popped out at a terrifying angle, but rather than sympathise our class thought it was hilarious, laughing and pointing at her knee and making ‘ugh’ faces. I guess we were being normal eleven year olds who emotionally hadn’t yet developed enough to understand things like that, and the impact our reaction might have, but often I wish I could turn back time and not have laughed. I would have liked to go up to Emma, rest a hand on her shoulder and say, ‘I’m sorry. This must be horrible for you. Let me be your friend.’ I bet you she felt lonely and often scared to come into school. Isla has the same problem. She stands out for being different, something she’s not yet ready to ‘own’. Later on in life she will realise her CP is what makes her the person she is, but until that moment, it’s horrible going to school and being laughed at.
What I try and do in my writing is define a condition but not let it define a character. What Isla can’t see quite yet is she is funny, a talented photographer who sees the world in an interesting way, she loves baking, she loves her dog Spud, and oh yes, minor detail but she just happens to have CP…
Extract from The Things We Do For Love – about being different
‘You’re Isla and if we were all the same that would be very boring. Your CP makes you the girl you are and that is a brave and kind one who makes her old Mum so happy.’
Lizzie joins me. ‘Godmum Lizzie thinks the same. Your legs are wobbly, Isla, that’s all. My ears are far too big and flappy.’ She wiggles them, but Isla still doesn’t smile.
‘Gemma laughs at me, she says I can’t walk in a straight line.’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘you tell her it doesn’t matter because you’re never going to be a tightrope artist, ha ha.’
A small smile creeps on to her face.
‘You might not walk in a straight line, but in my eyes bravery counts for more.’ I kiss her cheek.
Lizzie kisses her cheek too. ‘Your mum’s right. You are different. I’m different too. That’s what makes the world go round.’
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