Tonight I am bitter and frustrated, at a lower point than at any time I arrived in New Zealand. Which is a pity, because the letter, this morning, filled me with such joy. My application had been approved for a Disabled Parking Badge for the children: countersigned by the GP. Only it wasn't enclosed with the letter, because I'd written down the wrong digit on my credit card number, and they needed me to telephone and give me that first. So I didn't have a badge when I arrived at our swimming class, but I did have the news that I was entitled to one. The car park was crowded and my children were tired, so that I was primed to expect one or other of them would do a runner, meltdown etc. So I followed the practice I have done for years, when I've needed to: I checked with the reception staff that they were happy for me to use one of the two disabled parking spaces directly outside the door. (It is private property, so the spaces are for use at the discretion of management). Of course they were. They knew about us, or at least one of us: they said yes immediately, even before I had explained that actually, my other two children had issues too. Even before I'd told them that the badge was in the post and would be with us in a few days. "Someone might ask you," I pointed out, "I don't have the badge." "Oh, no, no one will mind," they said. And I was sure they were right, because no one ever does.
But when I came outside, there was something new, something that has never happened to me before. I hope it never happens to me again. There was a handwritten note stuck to my windscreen. It was written in capitals, almost like a child's version of what an anonymous letter should look like. But it was clearly an adult's hand. "YOU ARROGANT A***HOLE," it read. "THIS SPACE IS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE." The note was written on incongruously girlish paper, a small notepad with flowers and patterns around it. With the boys safely strapped in, I took it inside and gave it to reception. "This was on my windscreen," I said blankly. And I saw the receptionist's eyes widen as she read it, and she took a step back as if in shock.
I felt sorry that it was her I had to show the note to, because it was this receptionist who had won my heart the previous week by asking about whether my son would be thrown by a change of teacher, and who had suggested we use the disabled area when it became obvious that he couldn't cope with the age-appropriate single-sex changing rooms on his own. She'd helped me when he'd frozen, after the lesson, standing by the pool whilst his younger classmates flooded towards the changingrooms, bemused by a changing environment and unable to work out what to do. The receptionist who had confided to me, today, that her now adult-son had had sensory dysfunctional issues, and had had years of OT as a result. "But people don't understand that," she'd said, and I'd sighed sympathetically. "Oh God," she said now, looking at the piece of paper. "I can't imagine who would DO that to you. Please - " by now she was screwing up the piece of paper "please just ignore it." But I was already walking out of the door, head turned away. I hope she didn't think that I was angry with her. I wasn't, I was just embarrassed by the fact I was in tears.
For some reason, ill-informed people think that they have the right to pontificate about disability, invisible disability, and make judgements about who "really" needs help and who doesn't. England has a very angry attitude to disability benefits at the moment. You shouldn't be receiving disability benefits, said one person. You don't need them. Another exclaimed in disgust when they heard - from England - that we were getting personal carers' hours. "What for? Can't you do it yourself?" In Yorkshire, a good friend's husband told me at the school gates that he was disgusted with the help that Social Services were offering us with our overcrowded living accommodation. These things sting. You try to forget them, but they fester, like weeds in the garden. A day like today rocks you emotionally. It brings back all of the other times that you have been badly treated on the same issue. Some people think they own the concept of disability, that they have a right to say who is deserving and who is not.
I won't feel bad for long, of course. I will pick myself up and get over it. I feel somewhat better even writing it down. But it grinds you down. And the saddest, most frustrating thing about it is that it's quite likely that the abusive note left on my windscreen was by someone rather like me, who was fed up of her personal experience of disability or caring for the disabled, who saw someone who seemed to be taking advantage, and who was too tired or hacked off with life to do the obvious and decent thing, to pop their head around the corner to Reception, and ask them if they knew why this car was parked in the wrong space. It may of course have been nothing more than an interfering do-gooder with a taste for anonymous bullying.
So this is a pretty miserable post. I have, however, had some fun - assuming that my badge does arrive as promised this week - on imagining the face of the person there next week, when they see precisely the same car, in the same spot, with a badge. I have even toyed with the idea of putting a note beside it "Dear writer of last week's abusive note: You may indeed be right that I am an arrogant A***hole. However, as the badge on this car should clarify, that does not mean I am not entitled to use this space when accompanying my three disabled children. You are welcome to put a note of apology on my car windscreen for the distress you caused me. If you wish to show your contrition by making a donation to Autism NZ or another children's disability charity, that's fine too."