A visit to the amusement park with my child with special needs

Lately my notions of what is possible for Esmé are changing.

I don’t mean the distant ones that I do my best to keep an open mind about: Will Esmé speak? Will Esmé walk? Will she fall in love? Will she find a way to share her talents with the world through some kind of work? 

Rather, I am referring to my concepts of what the five-and-a-half-year-old girl in front of me can do…these are changing. Since our trip to camp, since a new daytime caregiver, Katie, has entered our world with tons of ideas (YIPPPPPEEEEEE!!), since I’ve been thinking about the least restrictive Kindergarten environment–my thoughts on what, on any given day, this little girl can do are shifting.

In general I have very little patience for people who see life in terms of what is impossible, or who settle for status quo, rather than those who think: “Ok, how do I make this [new, exciting, dream] thing happen?” and then get down to the business of making a plan. However, when it comes to Esmé, that part of me fights against the fiercely protective mama bear part. I have seen too many things go too wrong with Ez to be naïve about new and exciting things. I have an all too clear understanding that what I wish I could do with Esmé might not sync with a safe and comfortable reality for her. Parenting Esmé is certainly not an act where things “just fall into place”–where you can look the other way and cross your fingers and ask “I mean how wrong could this go?”

So, last week as Katie and I discussed summertime activities for Esmé, and the idea of Esmé going on rides at the small amusement park near us, Huck Finn’s Playland, came up it was hard for me not to dismiss the idea off hand. My brain immediately chastised me for even considering it: Oh sure Hillary, you’re going to take your fragile, non-verbal daughter with a movement disorder on some retro rides without five-point harnesses. And spin her around high in the air. Brilliant. Just brilliant. This is how people end up on the news, Hillary.

But I then told my brain the following: Settle down, friend. People take infants on these rides. This how kids have fun. Esmé deserves some excitement…and you’ll figure out a way to make it work. Or we will walk away.

So we went.


Katie had been on most of the rides before, and she points out the three or four options that Ez could ride on with an adult (or two) holding her.

I eye the rides suspiciously…looking for every single possible safety threat.

Brain: Walk away! Walk away!

Hillary: Hmm, the balloon ride looks the least death-trap-esque. Fun!
I sit down and place Esmé in the molded plastic seat next to me, tightening the lap belt until it bites into my thighs. Glancing at the low seat sides, I use my right arm to lock Esmé’s wiggly body against me. 
As soon as the ride starts I am a bit shocked by how much faster it moves than I’d expected. I am also pleasantly surprised that Esmé’s body calms its motion. She squeezes in, looking up at me, a slight silly smile stretching across her face as I say, “Oh, Ez! We are going so fast!! Yipppeeee!”
A visit to the amusement park with my child with special needs
After the balloons we ride on the carrousel–which Esmé clearly feels is acceptable, but less interesting than riding a real horse.
As we discuss what to do next, Katie suggests getting out Esmé’s Yes and No cards–to see what Ez wants. We ask, “Esmé, do you want to go on another ride?”
We walk over to a ride with planes that spin around…kids are lining up behind the gate to get on. We explain, “Ez, this one is like the balloons, but it is planes instead. And they go up and down. Do you want to try this one?”
Esmé looks at the Yes and No cards…and then over her shoulder at the children starting to climb into the planes.
“Esmé, do you want to ride in the planes?”
Again she looks from card to card and back at the kids, thinking.
“It’s ok if you want to wait, Ez…”
Suddenly she sits up straight, smiles, and snatches the Yes card out of my hand.
I lift her up and rush to get in line before the gate closes.
And the next thing I know, we are off…flying!


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