“Mommy, I sit in that?”
He was in his wheelchair, pointing towards the neighbor’s yard where a Little Tykes car– the kind you push forward with your feet like a toddler-sized Fred Flintstone– sat tilting in the uneven yard. I sighed. This wasn’t even our house, not our street even. We were in Nashville at my mother’s for Spring Break and today I’d taken the kids to meet up with some girlfriends and their kids.
I looked around the cul-de-sac. We’d pulled lawn chairs onto the asphalt and were sitting, legs crossed in the sun, while the kids played.
“Mommy? I sit in that?”
His sister was toddling through the grass while another little boy ran from lawn to curb to driveway. I scanned the street for diversions and saw a pickup truck parked across the way. “Wow!” I feigned shock. “Do you see that big truck over there? Wanna wheel over and check out the tires?” I smiled, hopefully.
But my offer was a pathetic alternative. He knew it. I knew it. His eyes narrowed.
“MOMMY. I wanna sit in THAT.”
He was yelling now and pointing forcefully. He waved his index finger towards that plastic car like a chubby little magic wand. My friend jumped in. “I’m sure the neighbors won’t care if he tries it out.” I knew she was right. Who’s going to say no to a bespectacled three-year-old who’s using a wheelchair? (I mean seriously, who?). But permission wasn’t the real issue.
The real issue was that I didn’t want to get up.
I know that sounds selfish but it’s the truth so there you have it. I wanted to sit. I wanted to catch up with my friends and stretch my legs out on the pavement and talk about people we used to know and shout things across the yard like “Please stay where I can see you!”
I wanted to watch my kid play– not help my kid play.
And anyway, this was about more than just getting up. It was about all the things that would happen after I got up. I didn’t want to get up because getting up would set in motion a chain of events that played out in my head like some movie trailer with a painfully obvious ending. It went like this:
I’d get up and he’d want me to put him in that car.
And getting him into that car meant lifting him.
And lifting him meant figuring out how to thread his braced legs through the little plastic door and onto the ground.
And then he’d want me to push him around.
And pushing him meant his feet would drag across the pavement so I’d have to say no.
And saying no meant him crying.
And him crying meant he’d want to get out and into his wheelchair.
And that meant lifting.
And lifting meant his feet getting caught and tangled in the floorboard.
And once he was back in his wheelchair he’d want to do it all over again with the toy fire truck or the wheelbarrow or something else…
And I didn’t want to get up.
If you give a mouse an inaccessible environment, he’s going to need his mother to facilitate all aspects of his play.
He doesn’t like it any more than I do. Mobility issues combined with a less-than accessible environment throw us into this dependent relationship that neither one of us prefer. He feels frustrated (and mad and disappointed). I feel claustrophobic (and stressed and physically exhausted). It’s not exactly ideal and it can turn a relaxing afternoon into an all out mother-son whining competition.
I don’t expect everyone’s home to be free of stairs or carpets and I certainly don’t expect everyone in our life to own a hand-propelled tricycle. This is just another aspect of life on wheels. Other people’s houses are hard. Grass is hard (grass is the actual worst). Playgrounds surrounded by mulch (which is nothing but wheelchair-hating debris that serves the same purpose as a moat full of ableist crocodiles carrying signs that read “no wheelie kids allowed“) are hard. We learn to get creative. We adapt. But sometimes, we whine and feel a bit sorry for ourselves too.
So there we were, in the midst of a Little-Tykes-induced standoff. I’d learned ages ago that a three-year-old will always whine louder and longer and more publicly than a grown up so, even though I knew where this was headed, I got up. I unbuckled him from his wheelchair and worked my way through the steps outlined above. It played out just like I knew it would, right down to the crying.
If you give a mom an inaccessible environment, she’s going to need a long nap and a disabilitini to go with it.
None of this is to say that we didn’t have fun (we did) and the discovery of an enticing pile of dirt, perfect for little boys who like to dig, saved the day. Life went on and we headed home.
A few days later we had plans to meet some friends at the park. I steeled myself for another afternoon navigating the world of play structures designed for kids who are not like mine. My hopes weren’t exactly high as we parked the car and headed down the sidewalk.
Then I saw it, right on the front of the playground– a ramp.
And then another ramp.
These ramps didn’t lead to nothing (parents of wheelie kids, you know what I’m talking about– we’ve all see those “accessible” playgrounds with a single ramp that leads to a tiny platform where there’s nothing to do but watch other kids play). These ramps led to built in games and an accessible boat with a steering wheel and to other ramps that took you to the tip top of the playground. It was like the heavens had parted. Like I’d found the end of the rainbow and this was the pot of gold.
I was so busy taking it all in that I didn’t even notice my son was halfway down the path, wheeling away from me like mad. I grinned the biggest grin saying, “Please stay where I can see you…“
And with that, he disappeared up the ramp behind a cluster of kids.
If you give a mouse an accessible playground, he’s going to
ignore his mother
find his independence
have the best day ever.
Any parents who have been there? If your child has a disability, what environments are most difficult for them to be independent in? How do you deal? How do you help your kid play without exhausting yourself? What environments work best for your kid to explore and play independently?