I am fortunate to have an incredibly understanding, flexible, patient employer. They have allowed me to cut my hours down to almost nil; I am secure in the knowledge that I can increase those hours again when my caring commitments allow; I am kept abreast of developments in the workplace; and I am welcomed with open arms every time I – and one or more of my offspring – deign to make an appearance in the office.
So when I was asked – I’m not sure if it was ironically or strategically – to take part in a committee focusing on gender equality in the work place, I was very happy to contribute. The first test of equality I proposed was that the only way I could make committee meetings was to bring Benjamin with me…
So, we toddled off into work. People held doors open for us and offered to carry the buggy up stairs. I parked Benjamin in his buggy in one corner of the board room. We received just the right amount of cooing to make me feel special but not enough to disrupt the meeting. Everyone politely ignored Benjamin as he snorted, coughed and grunted his way through the hour (fortunately he didn’t cry). I was enabled to contribute to the meeting and to care for my child.
Afterwards I popped in for a quick chat with my line manager. Benjamin threw up banana milk all over her office: she didn’t bat an eyelid and even asked if she could give him a cuddle afterwards.
There are three rail companies running on the line between my home and my office. I was unfortunate enough to catch a train home on the least accessible one. I struggled up the high step into the train with the buggy. I parked it in the wheelchair space because – although it’s an ordinary buggy not a wheelchair or an official special-needs buggy – it has been specially adapted for Benjamin by a wonderful engineer called Derek at Wheelchair Services. He (Benjamin, not Derek) is safer and more comfortable in it than on a rail seat or on my lap, and it is the only place I can safely sit him if I need my hands free to tube-feed him.
So, I argued with the guard who insisted that my “buggy” should be folded and moved to a different coach. I blushed in front of the other passengers witnessing this argument but probably not hearing the ins and outs of it and thinking I was just an obstinate mother. And then I stood, wedged against the back of the seat in front, to administer his tube feed, because train-designers clearly do not think that disabled people deserve to sit next to or talk to anyone else while on a train, but position them on their own, with only the luggage rack for company.