I was recently having a conversation about how often, in the daily course of raising a disabled child, I encounter people, behaviours or situations that make me shake my head.
It is tough out there and it can become extremely disheartening.
Constant stares, whispers, people watching us struggle to hold open doors, pushing a wheelchair while also pushing a shopping cart, trying to find parking, worrying about accessibility – the list goes on. Some days, it feels like all I do is educate the public and raise awareness for people living with disabilities.
It is amazing how quickly a person’s attitude can put a damper on our day. Some people can be intentionally mean, but I believe most are completely unaware of their surroundings and unsure how to respond in situations where they encounter someone with a disability.
Negativity is very discouraging at times, but it’s the experiences where complete strangers go out of their way to be kind and make our outings special that I recall the most. Anytime we are on the receiving end of a thoughtful gesture, my faith in humanity is restored.
Most recently, on Family Day, we made a last-minute trip to Niagara Falls for lunch and to hit the arcade. As you can imagine, half the population of Ontario seemed to be in Niagara Falls at the same time. I started to feel the sense of panic and dread as we made our way to the restaurant. I could feel my stomach tightening and my jaw clenching thinking about all the people we would have to navigate.
True to my fear, the scene was more than chaotic. Maclain got bumped, run into, people blocking his view of the games, cutting him off in lines to get in front of him, not making room for him to get close enough to the action. I was starting to worry we made a mistake coming out on such a busy day.
This was one of those arcades where you collect tickets from the games and then cash them in for items at the end of your play. Maclain was carefully watching his tickets add up, knowing he wanted to get something from the toy counter at the end of the day. I was looking at his bucket and the lack of tickets and wondering how we were going to find something for the small amount of tickets he had.
As we headed towards the counter to get his tickets added up – not one, not two, but three families approached us. Each of them walked up to us and handed Maclain their overflowing bucket of ticket and asked if he would like them? It was as if each step we took there was a family waiting for us to get close enough to them so they could offer us their tickets.
I was speechless. It seemed so unreal. Maclain didn’t know what to do, but after looking at my reaction he burst into a huge smile as I thanked these strangers profusely for their kindness. It was unbelievable to me that these families with kids who had also played the games in the hopes of winning tickets were just handing them over to Maclain. They all smiled genuinely as they said they hoped he would be able to use them to get something he really wanted from the prize counter.
My heart skipped a beat and tears welled in my eyes. I looked over at my husband Graham, who was also emotional, then back at Maclain and Chase as they raced to the counter. Chase made an immediate decision to also pool his tickets with Maclain and then let his little brother pick out a Lego Batman Kit.
I don’t know who was happier. Maclain, because he got this amazing prize, Chase, because he had such a fun afternoon playing arcade games or me and Graham, overwhelmed with the kindness of strangers.
When we were recapping our day to some friends a few weeks after our Family Day outing, the one memory that quickly resurfaced was the strangers who had treated our family with a random act of kindness. I shared how much that gesture had impacted our day.
I can’t tell you what a difference it makes when you have warm and friendly experiences in a world that can be cold and unfriendly.
These encounters make our journey as special needs parents a little bit easier to navigate. Knowing there are kind and caring people out there, around every corner, selflessly giving up their arcade tickets to a boy in a wheelchair.