The Lucky Ones

When you have a child with special needs, normally simple events can become major outings. Even a trip to Target requires planning, packing, and the foresight to deal with any sudden situation. If my son is too tired, hungry, awake, or full, the experience could be a disaster.

The events we attend are full of other families who might not relate to our situation. They don’t stress about their kid darting away without warning or having to hoist their non-verbal child up when he decides he no longer wants to walk, sometimes even while crossing the street. It’s just not part of their day. They can seem lucky.

lucky1It’s easy to get caught up in that envy and the perceived “luck” of others. I’ll look over at the next booth to another family with their children. There’s no oversized bags with baby wipes, iPads, and juice boxes. They’re just out and sitting at dinner. I picture them at home making whimsical decisions. “Want to go eat? Get in the car.” It must be so nice. Easy. Simple. Happy.

Then, I’ll see the father snap at the mother or hear the mother tell the kids that they’re going straight to bed when they get home. In some cases, I’ll watch entire families sit in silence for the whole meal while their children, who don’t appear to require all the extra accessories my child does, randomly spin in their chairs desperately trying to make eye contact with any other patrons who might glance their way.

And, in those moments, I feel like the lucky one.

We don’t have times like that when our family goes out. Getting Lucas out of his blanketsleeper and wedged into his car seat can be such an ordeal sometimes that, by the time we’re at our location, we’re too relieved to be miserable. I don’t focus on the bad moments, but try to amplify the good ones. Maybe the lines were long or the couple at the next table was loud, but that doesn’t become the lead memory in my mind. My goal, especially when we’re out, is to have as much fun as possible. No one’s table at Friendly’s is more fun than ours.

My favorite example of this happened at Disney World, where all that I’ve written so far can be seen in abundance. Just the act of getting there from New York to Florida is enough to make us congratulate ourselves. Transporting both kids, including my son’s gigantic stroller, through security, onto a plane, and past every other uncomfortable setting causes anxiety for weeks prior. Once it’s over, though, and we’re in “The Happiest Place On Earth”, we make sure to squeeze all the ever-loving happy we can out of it.

On this December trip, we had spent the day dashing through the Magic Kingdom and had finally settled onto the curb of Main Street USA to watch a parade that my wife had been hyping like a circus promoter. The day was long and both kids had begun to communicate through a series of sophisticated whines. We all were tired, but the Holiday parade would be our final stop. Tired as we were, the free hot chocolate and cookies helped to lift our spirits.

Next to us was a family without a giant stroller or diaper bag. It was just a father, mother, and three kids. They obviously didn’t have a lot of the same travel stress that I sometimes feel is exclusive to our family. It must be so much easier for them to be out and enjoying a theme park like this. They get to be happy all the time. Luckies.

The only small thing that made you question their unquestionable happiness was the fact that the father was going nuts on all of them.

He wasn’t just shouting, but standing in front of them as if he was giving the main sales pitch at a pyramid scheme seminar. With his arms outstretched, he was just ranting on and on. It wasn’t loud enough to cause a scene, but loud enough that we and others sitting near them were able to watch like an episode of Jerry Springer.

That’s it! Never again. All I hear is this and that. Get me this! Get me that! Watch this parade! Sit down. Sit! You want hot chocolate?! Now?! Now you want hot chocolate?! Fine! I’ll get it! I’ll get the hot chocolate!

I had never seen anyone lose it over hot chocolate, but this guy wasn’t playing around. I don’t know if he was always like this or had just reached his breaking point at the sight of mouse ears. All I know was that his family was sitting on the side of a cartoon-inspired street at a place that has “Magic” in the name and waiting for a literal parade with Mickey Mouse yet he couldn’t stop himself from losing it.

My wife turned to me after a few minutes and said what we were both thinking.

I really hope this guy stops yelling at his family by the time the parade starts.

lucky2Thankfully, he did, but that moment really made me think. I suppose it would be easy to take family outings for granted if they could happen immediately and whenever we wanted. Without all of that buildup and preparation, it could just be another part of your day.

Don’t get me wrong. Not every trip we take is a wonderful and we’re not always the happiest people at the mall. Life is full of good moments and not so good moments and one person in the family – on or off the spectrum – doesn’t dictate which it will be. We all play a part in that.

Like so much in life, the negatives that are always so bright in our faces can usually overpower the positives that they create. Whether your memory is good or bad depends on what you focus on. If a terrible waiter brings you amazing pasta, which part of the story will you lead with when telling others about it later on? For me, it used to be the waiter. Now it’s the pasta. That’s the difference.

“Lucky” is a subjective term. Carrying extra stuff or taking longer to get there might seem like a major chore, but learning to appreciate the destination once you arrive is a lesson in life that I never thought about. Now I live it and if it wasn’t for all the extra stuff and longer preparations, I never would have seen things as I do today. Maybe I would be the dad yelling about hot chocolate during a parade. But, I’m not.

And for that, I’m lucky.