Sunday, May 29, 2016

$350 Fine For People Like Me

Dear Gentleman in the Dollar General parking lot,

I’m sorry that I made you angry today.  You parked a couple of parking spaces down from me and because of me you were unable to use a handicapped parking space.  As you walked into the store with your cane you saw me unload my purchases, return my cart to the store and jog back to my car that was in the store’s only handicapped spot. As I jogged past you I heard you shout “there are $350 fines for people like you!” I knew exactly what you were saying and I want you to know that I understand.

To you it appeared that I was perfectly able bodied person who parked in a spot reserved for those with disabilities.  You are correct.  I am in excellent health.  I am strong and active. I can walk and even run long distances. I do not take these things for granted.  I know that they are priceless gifts and I am so very thankful them. I am also fully aware of the penalty for such an offense.  I did not need that handicapped spot, but there’s something you don’t know about me.  I would never, ever use a handicapped parking space unless I absolutely needed it because I know, from experience, that there aren’t enough spaces for the number of disabled people. I know also that many people do not abide by the law on this matter. If you had pulled into the parking lot just a few moments earlier you would have seen me rolling a wheelchair up the ramp of our accessible van.  My 15 year old son was in that wheelchair. You would have seen me secure his wheelchair in place with straps and retractors.  You see, my son has cerebral palsy and has never walked independently.  For the past two and a half years he has been completely wheelchair bound. I do not need handicapped parking at all, but my son does and his wheelchair van leaves me no choice but to take the large, van accessible spots.

I didn’t respond to you when you shouted at me.  Anger emanated from you and, I confess, that I felt angry too. I was angry for having been falsely accused.  I have learned that when I’m angry it is often best to say nothing lest I regret the things I might say, so I just got in the van and drove away as you scowled at me. My anger continued until I remembered that I don’t know your story.  I don’t know why you need to use a cane.  Perhaps you are a war veteran and were injured defending my freedom.  If that is the case, sir, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Or maybe you have a disease, like MS or Parkinson’s or something else that causes great pain to your body.  It may be that you’ve only recently required the use of the cane and are struggling to accept what you cannot change.  Today may not have been a good day for you and you were smarting from the injustices of life only to have me, a perfectly healthy young woman, take the parking spot that you thought was rightfully yours. I understand your frustration.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to me and it probably won’t be the last.  Maybe it would be better if I didn’t return my shopping cart to the designated spot so that others wouldn’t have to see me, a very fit woman, walking easily to my van.  However, my parents taught me to be respectful and to always return things to their rightful place.  I would prefer not sacrifice respect for the sake of appearances. 

I understand hardships. I have hardships too.  Mine are different than yours but they are hardships, nonetheless, and they make me feel irritable and grumpy.  Just this week I had to take two of my children to the doctor’s office.  The entrance was not wheelchair friendly and I had a mighty struggle getting my son in the door.  By the time I got them inside I was hot and sweaty and felt like crying.  If, at that moment, someone did something that I felt was unjust, I may have acted just like you did to me.
I don’t know whether or not you believe in prayer, but I do.  Prayer helps me accept the things that I wish were different. It helps me find joy in the hard times.  Prayer helps me love people who sometimes seem unlovable and forgive those who are never sorry.  I want you to know, sir, that when I got home today I prayed for you.  I forgive you for falsely accusing me because I don’t know your story, just as you do not know mine.

People Like Me

P.S. I wish you could meet my two sons in the picture below.  They bring so much joy to hearts that hurt.

God is good, all the time.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Let’s Talk About Restrooms

I’m not typically one to get caught up in social or political issue and I’ve no intention of sharing my views here or on any other public social media.  I try to keep somewhat abreast of what’s going on in our country simply because it’s my right and responsibility as an American citizen.  But there is one issue that I’ve heard ad nauseam and, quite frankly, I’m sick of it. 

Public Restrooms and Transgender people. I just don’t want to hear it anymore.

I reiterate, this post is not about whether or not I think transgender people should be allowed to use a the restroom of their choice.  But boy oh boy am I tired of hearing all the whining about this topic.  I’m tired of hearing of how it’s uncomfortable for people to use a certain restroom.  I’m going way out on a limb here in saying that, regardless of whether a person walks into a men’s room or a women’s room, they can take care of business pretty quickly and quietly and be on their merry way. 

Can I talk, for just a moment, about a less than ideal restroom situation?

Imagine being in a store or restaurant or park or any other public place and your 15 year old, 130+ pound son needs to be taken to the restroom or, worse yet, needs a diaper change.  He’s not going to be taking himself. He can’t.  He can’t walk into the bathroom or wheel his chair in.  Actually, he can’t even see where the men’s or women’s room is.  So he’s going into the women’s room with you. No biggie. If it’s a bathroom that you’ve never used before, you’re praying that whoever designed it has a clue about what wheelchair accessible really means.  If there are other people in the bathroom, they may or may not look at you a little strangely. It there are children, the strange look is a guarantee but you don’t take offence because children are naturally curious.  They’re taking in their world, learning new things. They can look, you’re okay with that.  They may even ask questions, you’re okay with that too.   The strange look could possibly be because there’s a boy in the girl’s bathroom but most likely it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the fact that he’s a 15 year old, 130+ pound boy sitting slumped over in a wheelchair and making deep guttural sounds or perhaps, on this particular day, he’s looking up at the ceiling and laughing hysterically at something only he and God can understand.  When you get into the bathroom, holding the door open with one foot while you wheel him in with your hands, you instantly notice that the one handicap accessible stall is occupied by someone who isn’t in any way handicapped, they just like it because it has a little more room.  So you stand and wait, praying they hurry because your son doesn’t know how to “hold it” and if he has an accident this bathroom trip is going to get a whole lot more interesting than it already is.  But, at last, the stall door opens, hitting your son in the wheelchair because there’s not enough room for the door to swing open. Said non handicapped person in the handicapped stall looks at you as if she can’t imagine why you’re waiting for her when there are two other empty stalls.  You’ve really inconvenienced her by waiting.You push the wheelchair into the stall and your heart plummets as you realize that it’s a narrow stall.  There’s not enough room for the wheelchair and you and there’s no way your son is getting on that toilet without you. But you know what? You’re strong. You’re creative.  You will find a way to get him on that toilet or die trying because you know full well what will happen if you don’t and…….well……you just don’t want to go there. And you do.  You do find a way and you do get him on that toilet, the stall door probably never closed because the wheelchair was blocking it open but that’s okay.   Once he does his business, you do it all over again in reverse.  You get him off the toilet and into the chair and out of the stall. You don’t know how you do it but you do because that’s just what you do. You’re dripping with sweat and your clothes are frumpled and you look affright but his bladder’s empty. Mission accomplished.

If you think I’m exaggerating you’re invited to come to McDonald’s with me the next time I take my son to his favorite fast food joint.

When’s the last time you’ve heard disabled people ranting and raving about not having adequate bathroom facilities?  They don’t. They don’t because life is hard for them at every turn and they know, they’ve learned,  that life isn’t always fair.  They don’t because they have real problems, like “how am I going to provide for my family without the use of my legs?” and “who’s going to help me get out of bed in the morning?” and “is there an elevator in this building?” and “did someone block my accessible van so that the lift won’t come down and I can’t get in?”

There are many public bathrooms that truly are accomodating to disabled individuals and those are very greatly appreciated.  They are large and roomy enough for the person in the wheelchair and the caregiver.  More and more public places are installing “family” bathrooms and those are fabulous but the problem of them being used by people who really don’t need them remains.  Then there is the matter of diaper changing.  It happens often.  I am grateful that if this happens Moise has enough arm strength to hold himself in a semi standing position long enough to be changed.  But have you ever wondered what a caregiver does when they need to change and adult diaper in public?  Think on that a moment.

I know bathrooms. I can tell you that Culver’s and Subway in our area have fully accessible bathrooms.  McDonald’s does not, therefore my son rarely gets to go to his favorite place. Potbelly’s has a horribly unaccomodating set up.  Eli’s Coffee Shop in Tremont has very accessible bathrooms and that would be because I designed them. The Shoppe’s at Grand Prairie has fabulous family restrooms. Our pediatrician has terrible bathrooms but those at our eye doctor are great.  Bathrooms are a big deal in the world of disablities.  They have the ability to add trials to an already difficult life.  But these problems are my problems, not everyone else’s. I don’t expect the whole country to change to make my life a little more comfortable.

And for the love of all that is good, don’t even get me started on handicapped parking spaces!!!

God is good, all the time.