Game of Thrones, Disability, and Hodor.

There is a big spoiler in here. There is a big spoiler in here. There is a big SPOILER in here!

Ok, now that’s out of the way, let’s continue.

Hodor. I’ve always liked his character, mostly because the writers at Game of Thrones didn’t seem to be trying to make him into the next Lennie Small. But after seeing the last episode, I liked his story arc even more.

Short breakdown: White walkers show up. Wise tree root dude, the “children”, Bran, Meera, and Hodor are screwed. Bran just happens to be traveling through the past via the magical tree. All kinds of death, fire and ice. Bran is still in warg mode sifting through the past, Meera and Hodor drag Bran towards a door to the outside through which to escape. Once through, Meera yells at Hodor to hold the door closed so that the white walkers can’t follow. Hodor holds the door and sacrifices his life for Bran and Meera.

At the same time, Bran witnesses Hodor, witnessing Hodor’s own death. Turns out that back when Hodor was a young Wylis, he had a seizure. Bran sees this: Hodor’s eyes go milky (like Bran’s when he is exploring the past) and he starts yelling “hold the door” over and over again. Hold the door. Hold door. Hodor. Did Bran’s presence in the past cause Wylis/Hodor to have the seizure, I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure that this clever little paradox that GoT has set up was meant to be a statement on disability (or at least not solely), but it is such a statement on disability. Given how passive Hodor’s character has been I wondered if Hodor’s final end wouldn’t come while Bran was controlling his body, but Hodor’s last and most important sacrifice is done fully aware—his eyes are clear. And there it is. Hodor’s greatest deed leads to his disability, and his disability leads him to his greatest deed. His intellectual disability is a means to his heroicism. He’s not a hero despite his disability and he doesn’t overcome his disability. His heroicism and his disability are both essential parts of his whole. Yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, left and right! Ok I don’t want to overwhelm you with deep metaphors, I’ll stop.

Cheers to Game of Thrones for managing (again) for representing disability without resorting to pity and inspiration tropes. Except I’m still grieving over Hodor actually dying. That sucked.



Dear Mouse: Flight and Grace

Dear Mouse,

You don’t remember your first moments of life, but I do. I used to think it was because of the pregnancy-labor-holy-cow-I-made-a-human progression that primed me for such technicolor memories, but now I’m not sure. Adoptive parents describe that first moment with the same kind of detail and intensity, so maybe it is simply that we parents all experience a similar kind of intense imprinting.

I can still feel your inky black hair under my hand, wet and sticky. I remember the extravagant softness and frailty of your skin under my fingers as I traced along the base of your skull and down to your neck. The rhythmic swell of your rib cage was what I imagined a butterfly must feel the first time it opens its wings, alive but not quite ready to take flight.


Image: A black and white photo of newborn Mouse, wrapped in a blanket. Her arms are curled up to her face and she is sleeping.

I believe there must have been some spark of recognition that passed between our bodies after connecting for the first time as two fully distinct beings.

And after that, a constant haze of us. Comforting, diapering, feeding, playing. So much holding. You gave me a singular sense of purpose that I’d never felt before. That’s how it has been, for you and all your siblings. Until now.

Now, you’re peeking out from beneath the veil of childhood. Let me have my moment of honesty here: I don’t know whether I’m more concerned for you or for me. Part of me wants to be a selfless mother who is emotional simply out of love. I’m privileged to watch you step out, scared that you’ll get hurt, and excited to see you take flight. Of course, I do feel all those things.

As much as I want to leave it there, here is the other reality: I’m scared for you to pull the veil back and see me. Until now I’ve been just your Mother—infallible source of comfort and understanding. Even when I wasn’t doing it right, I was doing it right, you see?

You keep using all your new maturity to confront me about some legitimately flawed choices and attitudes of mine, and holy parenting-win-that-feels-like-a-loss, is it hard to hear. I feel this completely irrational urge to engage in a tit for tat argument with you, whereby I list out all the ways I’ve been a generous and empathetic and progressive parent, and therefore am completely unworthy of your criticism. But. They tell me I’m not supposed to do that with my seven year old.

You’re leaving me, daughter. We might still be breaking bread together every day and laying down under the same roof, but you’re still leaving me. You’re carefully stepping away from me, and I know that every time you look back, you’ll see me less as Mother, but as mother, the flawed human being who also happened to raise you. I know you’re still young and I know we have a lot of time left, yet I am still left with the feeling of not enough air in the room. I want to breath you in all over again like that first time, go back to that constant haze of us.


Image: A black and white photo of 7yo Mouse. She is looking off to the side with a smile, her hair is braided and tied with a flower hairband.

Why am I writing this? Maybe so that when you are grown, you can have proof that yes, I knew what was happening. And yes, it was just as awful and miraculous as you could imagine. And yes, I’m screwing up and I know I’m screwing up, but I’m doing my best.

Most of all, I vow now to listen to you without agenda, without judgement, forever. Except when that is really hard for me, and then I ask for grace. I’ve known you for longer than you have memory, before your butterfly heart fluttered and took off on its own. I cannot forget the time before you flew away.



#ReModelMinority: Considering Disability

50 years ago, New York Times writer William Petersen wrote an article titled “Success Story: Japanese Style” and in it, coined the term “model minority.” Today most of us know what this term means, but in case you don’t, here is a fairly good history of the term and its social and political impact for the last half century.

What I don’t think many people pause to consider is that the model minority myth did not flourish because it was true, or that Asian Americans fully embraced it, but rather because it was beneficial to the racist status quo. Who was writing about the model minority? In 1966, not Asian folks.

More importantly, for whom are we modelling?

I think there are valuable lessons here when we consider how disability fits into the mainstream narrative. What does it mean to “overcome” one’s disability? Or to proclaim that we are only disabled in attitude? Or to applaud examples of average daily tasks as inspirational or against all odds?

50 years since its birth, the model minority myth is not exclusive to the AAPI community. This kind of narrowly elevated yet not equal status is a tool used against the disability community as well. In the Down syndrome parenting world, this manifests as pressure for us to “catch more flies with honey” (i.e. Don’t sound too angry or the discrimination your child faces is your fault) or to be thankful that our children are labeled with positive rather than negative stereotypes.

It is true that yelling and screaming at an IEP meeting will likely not get ideal results. Yet, is the frustration invalid? Why does a parent “breaking nice” relegate a child to fewer educational rights? A bigger question: What does it mean to have IEP proceedings (and its required assessments) for only some children and not all? It is also true that cursing the person at the grocery store who used the r-word is unlikely to make them engage in a meaningful discussion of word choice and ableism. Yet, again, is the frustration invalid? A bigger question: Whose responsibility is it to maintain kind and just behavior?

Regarding positive stereotypes,yes, I suppose I would rather my son be approached with a smile under the mistaken belief that he is “always happy” than he be actively shunned. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Because by definition, a stereotype is not something any human being can fulfill, all positive stereotypes lead to failure.

In failure, we see the racism or the ableism for what it is, because the penalties for failure are steeper for the model minority than for his other peers. Growing up I learned to be very wary of men who were romantically interested in me for being Korean. On more than one occasion I have feared for my safety after disappointing a man by not being a submissive “good girl.” Ethan Saylor suffered the fatal consequence of not living up to this model minority phenomenon; three years ago, Saylor died at the hands of the police after failing to be docile or sweet after a miscommunication in a movie theater.

These two examples seem wholly unrelated, but I believe the commonality is powerful. Both are examples of how physically and emotionally dangerous it can be for the majority to dictate the attitudes and behavior of a disenfranchised minority, however “positive” those expectations can seem.

As we strive for a more inclusive society, I think there are valuable lessons in the model minority myth for parents in the disability community. Whose standards are we raising our children to fulfill? What is good for us, the parents, and what is good for our children? What do we do when our interests as parents seem to conflict with our children’s? How could our narrative today impact our children tomorrow?

Let’s have the conversation.