I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but life keeps getting in the way.
A couple weeks ago I got a text from my friend, Gayle, who works as an Educational Assistant in a special education class at a local high school. More power to her; I sure couldn’t do it. She told me her class was going on a trip to the Norfolk County Fair, and could I see if I could be the driver. I asked, Sharps said yes, so I drove her class and one other down to the fair.
It was “Special Education Day” at the fair, when spec ed classes get a discounted admission rate, so the place was lively! Now, I’m not trying to be politically incorrect or anything, but I can never keep up with the currently “acceptable” term for kids with mental disabilities. It used to be ok to call them “retarded”, but now you’d go down in flames for that one. I guess the term I’d be comfortable with is “mentally disabled”, so I hope no one is offended by my use of it. I have no idea what disorders the kids in Gayle’s group had, but most of them seemed pretty functional with limited guidance. One group of girls was even allowed to go off on their own, which I thought was cool.
So there we were at the fair with all manner of disabled kids around us, wheelchairs, helmets, the whole gamut. And yes, I opted to spend the day wandering around with Gayle’s class instead of hanging out with the other bus drivers. I don’t do rides, so I became the purse/backpack/camera holder while the teachers and EA’s took the kids on the rides, which was fine by me.
There are two things that stand out in my mind about the day. The first was the utter delight shown by all the kids throughout the day. Most high school kids are a bit jaded about rides – they have to be fast, spinny and really scary to evoke any reaction from them. These kids were thrilled to bits with the tamer rides. I watched a boy – no clue who he was – on a ride that had airplanes that went up and down while going in circles. He was waving his arms in the air, literally crowing with delight, a massive smile splitting his face in half. Seeing him so thrilled and excited kind of squeezed my heart a bit, and I started watching the other kids more closely. They all exhibited the same child-like wonder and amazement at things other kids their age might scoff at. It’s kind of sad that so many “normal” kids lose that connection with their inner child, and a blessing that these kids retain it. It was truly lovely and heartwarming to watch them having so much fun.
The second thing that impressed the hell out of me was the carnies. When the average person thinks about a carny, we think of a slimy, dirty, scruffy guy, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth as he starts and stops the rides, only too ready and willing to bang any of the skanky teenage groupies hovering around hoping for just that. That’s not what I saw that day. I saw good men who opened a little part of their hearts to give these kids a special day, who went to extra lengths to make sure their needs were accommodated, and who deserve special recognition for this.
There was one child in a wheelchair who appeared to be a quadriplegic. I say ‘appeared’ because I truly do not know. The child had three attendants, and it took two of them to lift him on and off each of the rides. We kept encountering them, so I was able to observe them on multiple rides. The carnies bent over backwards to accommodate the wheelchair, opening gates to allow the aides to move the chair as close to the ride as possible. On one ride, they made a point of stopping the ride so that this child’s car was directly in line with the exit, again to make it easier. They missed lining it up perfectly, so they actually backed the ride up slightly!
I also saw one of them exchanging ‘high fives’ with a boy who was just getting off the ride. Nicely done.
These rough, tough carnies seemed to have had their hearts squeezed by all these kids just as I had, and it showed. Thanks to them for helping to make that day special, and remembered by all those special kids. And thanks to those special kids for making me more aware and appreciative of just how special and wonderful they are, disabilities and all.