It’s Monday morning, girls walk together down the hallway talking about the weekend they just spent with one another. Friday night at the mall, hanging out on Saturday at home watching movies and baking cookies together. They all huddle around their phones and laughter breaks out as they show each other the pictures they took. Behind them I quietly wheel Elizabeth towards her classroom and wonder if she is thinking the same thing I am …
Elizabeth is my social butterfly of the four kids. She loves school, loves the kids that fills the hallways with her. Over the years as Elizabeth has gotten older things have changed since her innocent days in elementary school. Teenage girls have a social calendar that even I can’t keep up with; their life is centered around text messaging and social media, selfies and cell phones. It’s hard to include a girl in a wheelchair who can not walk or talk or even feed herself. How do you accept a girl who needs a tube to feed her, who still wears diapers and requires someone to physically move her? There are no sleepovers; she requires a special hospital bed. There are no Saturday movie marathons; she can no long see the television. There is no cell phone; I’m not even sure she understands what a phone even is.
I loved the relationship that Elizabeth and Natalie had during their days in grade school. It was so easy for Natalie to visit Elizabeth in her classroom or take her on the playground. Getting together outside of school even had its ease about it and Elizabeth was so happy just to have Natalie sit by her, hold her hand and talk to her. When it was time for the girls to move into middle school there was a loss that we all felt. The girls were at separate schools and as much as I did not want to let go of their little girls days, they were both growing up and while Elizabeth would continue to grow physically, she would not blossom socially as Natalie would.
As I was getting Elizabeth dressed for school one morning I realized that I was still dressing her as if she was 6 years old and not 12. Cute stripped leggings and a dress that matched. Just as I had dressed she and Caroline when they were younger. Pony tails and bigger than life hair bows were her standard look. Maybe I did this because I wasn’t ready to let her grow up, or maybe I did this because I was protecting her from the hurt I was so afraid she was going to feel should she ever realize her life is so very different from that of Natalie and the girls she goes to school with. So this is where Elizabeth should pick up her phone, call her best friend and ask if she would like to go shopping but instead it was me who called Natalie’s mom and threw out the idea of Natalie taking Elizabeth to a few of her favorite local boutiques and help Elizabeth pick out some new and age appropriate clothes. We picked a date, Natalie narrowed down her favorite few and I prepared myself for what I knew was going to be a very emotional day as I allowed Elizabeth to become the young lady she was turning into. I found that I was also grieving the reality that there was so much she was missing out on by not having that close group of girlfriends to experience this with.
I worried about this day. I wasn’t sure how the boutique would accept Elizabeth, if they would simply not understand why I was bringing a little girl in a wheelchair into their store to shop. Would there be room to move her chair around, would she feel their stares and anxiety of having her there? Elizabeth was still getting acclimated to her blindness and I had found that sometimes outings were stressful for her. My thoughts were that Natalie would pick out the clothes and I would pay for them and we would be done; funny how things are never quite what we expect!
Natalie had chosen The Rustic Mule; a very quaint and chic boutique with all the latest styles that all the girls were wearing. When we walked in we were greeted by several college girls that I know must have been wondering how to approach us. We said hello and I explained that we were looking for some clothes for Elizabeth and that because she was blind we brought along her best friend to help pick things out for us. The girls were amazing. They immediately started walking around the store picking things up and showing them to Natalie. Natalie jumped right in and before I knew it we had hangers and hangers of clothes draped over the arms of the girls. I made my way to the desk to pay and I realized that Natalie had stopped in front of Elizabeth and was holding the different things she had picked out in front of her, telling her the colors they were, what they looked like and asking Elizabeth which she liked better.
Natalie is very involved in Elizabeth’s disabilities, we have never hid things from her. She has taken the time to educate herself about Cerebral Palsy and the different diagnoses that Elizabeth has been labeled with so when I started to say Natalie, she can’t see what you are holding up; just go ahead and pick out your favorite I realized that this friendship had no limitations, no boundaries and that Elizabeth wasn’t Natalie’s special friend in a wheelchair, she was simply her friend, Elizabeth. Natalie knew that Elizabeth could not see the clothes she was holding up and knew she couldn’t tell her which one she liked better and it didn’t matter. To Natalie this was a friend who she had decided to go shopping with and together they were going to shop!
We spent the afternoon visiting a few more stores, Natalie picking things out and holding them up for Elizabeth and describing what they were. She would push Elizabeth around the stores talking to her and taking pictures.
…. as I continued pushing Elizabeth down the hallway, the girls in front of us giggling and huddled around their cell phones already making their plans for the weekend to come I knew that Elizabeth was not thinking the same things I was. As I longed for Elizabeth to be a part of that group, to have this circle of girlfriends to grow up with; I know that Elizabeth was thinking how lucky she was to have a friend that accepted her just as she was and that was the best kind of friendship a girl could ask for.