Getting a wheelchair is somewhat of a major step to take. It is saying to the public, “Yes, my child is handicapped. Yes, my child is different.” It also feels like you might be saying, “I am giving up on the hope that my child will walk.” It is a hard hard step to take, and a hard hard choice to make.
We had hopes that Cayden would be able to walk. His leg strength seemed to be there, but his body was so floppy the hopes began to fade away the older he got. And the sitting challenges became harder the taller he grew, so it became necessary to take that final difficult step. Yes, we needed a wheelchair.
Because we had originally gotten the activity chair when Cayden was 2, we were ‘supposed’ to wait until he was around 5 for the wheelchair. (Insurance usually won’t buy a second seating device within 3 years). But by age 3, we saw that it was not going to be possible to wait that long. The double stroller wasn’t working anymore because his legs were just too long. The sit & stand wasn’t a good option for him because he didn’t fit. I needed something that he was secure in and was tall enough for his long legs.
I have said before that surfing the special needs websites like vendor sites and, http://www.adaptivemall.com became a bit of a habit for me. I would just spend time looking around, familiarizing myself with the different devices and equipment, and think about ways to try to make it myself or to make it work for us. If I found things I liked, I was known to spend some quality time on ebay, looking for a used version or similar product, saving searches & trying to find a bargain.
That is where Cayden’s first wheelchair came from. I admit, this is an unconventional way to get a child’s wheelchair, but we were feeling desperate. A good deal came up, it seemed to be a good size, and it was under $100. We grabbed it up.
The day the wheelchair came was so exciting. Cayden couldn’t wait for us to put it together & try to figure out how to make it fit him. Joey is very mechanically inclined so we didn’t really have a problem setting it up. And thankfully, it fit Cayden perfectly. You can see from the pictures, he was so excited! He was just laughing and giggling. All over a used wheelchair.
His giddy response made us realize that the issue we had as adults with the wheelchair and what it symbolized to the world was not an issue for Cayden. He didn’t care what it meant or what it said to the world. He felt secure. He felt safe. He was comfortable and sitting properly for the first time in a long while.
People often make quick judgements based on appearance, or what things seem to be. Not just adults, but kids easily do it as well. We could see how people looked at Cayden and would feel pity, or sorrow or maybe disgust, but what Cayden always gave back was joy, peace and love. He was an open book, a mostly happy, smart, interactive kid, who was a joy to be around.
I never minded when strangers or friends would ask me “What’s wrong with him?” or “Why is he in a wheelchair?” at least they were brave enough to ask and learn a little about him. What drove me nuts was when people would just look & stare and wonder, but not ask, and not say hi to him. Just obviously look & talk about him, three tables over. I urge you to remember (and to teach your children) that many kids in wheelchairs can think and talk just like you and I. They can say hi and respond back in their way, and to greet them with a smile and a “How are you?” will make their day (rather than stare, a point and a whisper). They thrive on interaction and want to be acknowledged as much as you would.
Matthew 7: 1-2 (NIV)
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover is the common phrase we use today.
Judging others without knowledge can cause undeniable pain. It brings misunderstanding, pain and possibly ruined relationships. Jesus warned us to not judge, or jump to conclusions, because it will most likely come back to haunt us later. It’s so hard to make the choice to put your child in a wheelchair, not only because it can feel like there is a lack of hope, but because you don’t want your child to face the inevitable judgement our society so freely hands out.
I still feel judged sometimes. I feel like people look at our ‘perfect’ one boy, one girl family and think “Oh, how nice. 2 cute kids, a mini van, and a yellow lab. What a perfect family.” But what they don’t see from the outside is the hole in my heart from missing and grieving my first born child. They don’t see how some days I think what our family would be like if Cayden had been typical. We’d be doing soccer and scouts with him, he’d be going into 6th grade, and I’d have my 3 stairstep blond kids all around me. Or even better, if he were just him, broken and beautiful and driving all over in his fabulous power chair, talking like crazy to his siblings on his ECO-13.
Instead, I have a partially broken heart, a few hundred pictures, and slowly fading memories of a boy born with a malformed brain, a fighting spirit, and a disabled body that needed a whole lot of equipment just to be safe.
Everyone has a hidden burden. Don’t judge. Some burdens are more obvious than others. But the burden of missing a handicapped child is far worse than the blessing it is to love and to raise them.