Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The kindness of strangers to kids with special needs
Seven years into having a child with special needs, I am still amazed by the kindness of strangers—those little courtesies and sweet gestures people extend to Max when they realize he is disabled.
It took time for me to reach a point of gratitude. Back in the early years with Max, I'd get unnerved when people did nice things for us. This mostly had to do with the fact that I hadn't yet accepted that I had a kid with challenges, and so it was always a shock to the system when other people noticed:
Oh. I have a child who looks like he needs help.
Oh. I have a child who really does need help.
Oh. I am a mom of a kid with special needs. How did this happen?
But all last week, during our vacation at the beach, I was deeply grateful for the kindness of strangers.
Grateful to the head of the day camp who took extra-special care of Max.
Grateful to the woman on the boardwalk operating the car ride who let Max go around again and again (and again and again).
Grateful to the woman at the zoo operating the popular kiddie train ride who let Max go around twice.
Grateful to the woman at Six Flags Great Adventure who was manning a bus ride. Max was too afraid to get on it; all he wanted to do was help open and shut the doors after people had gotten inside. And she let him, thanking him profusely for helping.
Grateful to the waitress at the restaurant who pureed meatballs for Max and then twice took back his milkshake to thicken it up so he'd have an easier time drinking it.
Grateful to the woman at the miniature golf course who let Max play for free.
Grateful to the maintenance guy at the resort where we were staying who was walking through the lobby carrying a box of pizza; Max ran up to him and gestured at the box. And damn if the guy didn't open it up and hand Max a slice on a plate (and then Sabrina, too, after she charmingly wailed "I WAAAAAAAANT SOME!!!!").
Grateful to the security guy at the resort who let Dave drive Max around in his golf cart in the underground garage (I think Max is experiencing severe ride withdrawal this week).
Sometimes, these gestures give me pause. I don't want Max to feel spoiled or entitled, and I don't want other kids to resent him. There was another little boy riding that train at the zoo who wanted to stay on it as well, only his mother made him get off. He glared at Max, though Max didn't notice.
Still, at this point in Max's life, I am OK with letting him get the kid-glove treatment (within reason). These gestures make Max happier. They improve the quality of his life and make mine easier as well. They also make me feel supported in this tremendous responsibility I have of raising a child with special needs. Whereas before the recognition from strangers was bittersweet, I have grown to appreciate it. I feel less alone.
It doesn't take a village to raise a child with special needs—it takes a world.