Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Handicapped


 Our cross-country expedition was really a trip.

And I don’t mean that in a good way.

My youngest daughter and I traveled alone with Katherine and James. It was the first time I’d done it without a man. (My niece and Katherine’s friend Sarah accomplished the feat from west to east, but they didn’t complain about it.  Guess whether or not I’m getting ready to.)

On a good day, traveling solo, airports are not a picnic anymore. Gone are the glamour days of being treated like a queen on royal expedition.  (Here goes Granny: Oh, the good old Wonder Years when aviation was new and exciting! ) When I was a child, we would dress up in our Sunday best for an airplane ride. I remember going to New York for the World’s Fair in about ’65. I wore a church dress with a starchy petticoat and white gloves. We were treated to a gourmet meal, delivered by a stewardess (no such thing as a “flight attendant” then) who looked like Barbie. They all looked like Barbie. It was a prerequisite for the job. The Barbies met our every need before we realized we needed anything. We were given little gifts of eye masks, refreshing towelettes,  and airplane socks…pillows and blankets…every thing imaginable for a comfortable flight. My sister and I received pilot’s wings for being such good little flyers. And a brilliant smile and a hug as we got off the plane.

Flash forward to now: Checking in, the man behind the counter says that one of our bags isn’t flat enough. It’s under fifty pounds, the limit, but he thinks it’s too puffy. Katherine tries to direct things from her wheelchair, while James runs away. I chase him and strap him, screaming, into his stroller. Grace is on the ground taking things out of the suitcase to make it appear skinnier. Finally Counter Man is satisfied. After an $85 baggage fee and some generous palm greasing to make sure everything gets there when we do, we’re off and running.

Thankfully, we have requested an airport employee to push the wheelchair. We are quite the entourage going through security. Our man from Ethiopia has to take Katherine a different way to be bodily searched in case she’s carrying explosives. James starts screaming like we’re in a concentration camp: kids this way, parents that way. Grace and I are stripping down, getting laptops and Ipads into their own separate bins, putting the plastic Ziploc with eyedrops on top of our purses. We are fast. We are frequent flyers. We know the drill. In spite of this, the man behind me is shoving my bins over so that he crushes my fingers between them. I pause and give him a look. He is undeterred. I am forced back into the frenzy as the security agent tells me I have to take off James’ sandals and fold up his stroller. Hmmm…you have to kick the hard metal lever a certain way to get it to fold up. I’ve already taken off my shoes. Everyone behind me is groaning and complaining as I bruise my foot trying to get the darn thing closed so that it can go on the conveyor belt. James loses it completely when I take his sandals off. I have to carry him sobbing through the metal detector. The crazy mean man behind me is even less generous on the other side. He’s messing with my bins again. I feel my heart rate elevating rapidly. I want to scream at him: “Can’t you see that I’m traveling with a two-year-old and a handicapped person, you idiot?? Give me a break!”

And with that angry thought comes a wave of sickening realization.

Oh. Dear. God.

My child is handicapped.

This acknowledgement, this ugly epiphany, this ripping away of the scabs of denial… leaves me physically weak with emotion. I feel as if someone has kicked me hard in the gut.

I try to gather myself together as I gather up our strewn belongings from the bins.

Studiously ignoring the stares of fellow travelers, I follow the entourage to the handicapped elevator.

Where we wait, as a rushing stream of humanity flows down the escalator beside us.


(To be continued…)

6 comments:

Cheri said...

I know.

from my front porch... said...

Funny how "Humanity" shows itself at the worst times, isn't it?!

misha

wannabeabelle said...

In the past I never used this word, did not let my children use it...thought very poorly of those who did use it. However in the past few years, I have found there are times when nothing makes quite the same statement REALITY SUCKS!

Lisa said...

Your vivid writing makes me feel as though I were there with you sharing the experience.

I'm looking forward to the next installment for the rest of the story.

Kim said...

Couldn't agree more with the flying fiasco routine. People are so single-minded and lacking in human kindness these days.

Thank you for sharing your world with us; it is real and very influential on many.

Anonymous said...

Traveling in a wheelchair with a two year old in tow is no easy task. I have done it. I know. I hate that you had to have this experience. BUT, "handicappedness" (is that a word??)does have its privileges sometimes, like getting to board Southwest airlines first, before anyone and getting to go to the front of the line in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. And occasionally, the kindness of strangers rears its beautiful face. And a two year old grows up to be a very good traveler at a still young age, who assists her mother when flying without dad. Even expertly pushing her mom through the airport. Sadly, both my girls have had to grow up too quickly, in order to help me, but they have learned to be sweet, compassionate and kind to all, unlike that grumpy businessman.