Well that was a first! I – the eternal pessimist – have been caught being overoptimistic about something. (Don’t tell my husband, I’ll never live it down).
Today, at long last, we took delivery of Benjamin’s first official Special Needs Buggy. It’s great for him, really supportive, really comfy, adapted with extra straps to hold him in in all the right places (I know I could do with some of those…). We were even fortunate enough to get a hood, rain-cover and shopping-basket with it (please don’t hate me, other mums). It pushes smoothly, manoeuvres nicely but…
…it hasn’t changed my life. I know some people dread the day when they move from a ‘normal’ buggy to an SN one. When it becomes more obvious to the passer-by that there is something ‘different’ about their child. When they can no longer kid themselves that he is “just going to catch up”. Not me, I was desperate for recognition for Benjamin. Mainly because I use a lot of public transport. I was fed up of being left behind by buses, sat in doorways on trains, blushing in front of other passengers as I moved out of the way of a ‘real’ wheelchair, blushing in front of other mums as I asked them to move their buggies for my, er, buggy. “Can’t you see he’s disabled,” I inwardly screamed.
So I proudly walked up to the station and approached the train, head held high. Now they’ll understand. First problem: this buggy has a shorter wheel-base than our old one. So short, in fact, that I could not get it up the step into the train. I had to stop a passing student and ask him for help. So much for independence.
I get this train at least once a week and usually it is half empty and the wheelchair space is free. Today it was heaving. Packed with passengers trying to find their seats and not one, but two, buggies already occupying the wheelchair space. Trying to stay strong, knowing my rights, I asked them politely to move. And then I watched and waited and turned slowly beetroot while they patiently folded down their buggies, picked up their babies and their children, and carried buggies, babies, children, luggage, shopping, through the passengers all trying to move the other way, to sit in the doorway. I felt terrible. I couldn’t bear meet their eyes. And of course they were both from my town. I had to wait until they had got off the train before approaching the doorway myself, and then I nearly missed my chance to find someone to help me off. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in Newcastle (not that I’ve anything against Newcastle…).
I know this should be all about Benjamin, and it is brilliant for him. And I am really grateful that we have, yet again, been supplied with the best the health service can provide. But for the first time I caught a glimpse of how disability might limit us. If I can’t even get this buggy on or off the train on my own, I can’t reliably get into the city for his appointments, let alone just for a fun day out. Will I have to pre-book a man with a ramp every time I want to pop to Primark?
It’s early days I know. Next week I’ll try the bus. In a year’s time we’ll have a car. I’ll get better at manoeuvring. Who knows I might even get better at not blushing. Maybe there’s a lot more than a buggy that needs to change.