Stashed in a plastic tub on the top shelf of my closet is a pile of old journals. If you were to stumble upon them hoping for something salacious, you’d be sorely disappointed: they’re travel journals, the only kind I’ve ever kept (i.e. pages of me complaining about being too hot and the details of all our meals).
I stopped keeping journals after we started traveling with Luella, not because our trips are any less worthy of documenting, but because the time I would normally write I’m now, you know, taking care of my kid.
And so, on our trip last month to Boston/Providence/NYC I took hundreds of pictures, but didn’t even attempt a journal. Instead, I came back with a single list of hastily typed entries in my phone, titled:
Nice Things I Heard and Saw People do in NYC*
(*In the spirit of honesty, that’s not actually the title. The actual title is a decidedly less sweet “the guy passing out gentlemen’s club flyers just looked at Luella and lovingly said ‘God bless her’” because iPhone automatically titled my list after the first sentence I wrote)
I had not planned to write a “nice” list. Planning a trip with a kid who uses a wheelchair has been a source of frustration and resentment. Airports, subways, hotels, Airbnbs…they’re just generally ill-equipped for someone traveling with a chair.
By the time we left for this vacation, I’d already been in several AirBnb spats and a heated email exchange with Disney’s Lion King (please, do allow me to destroy all the fun!). I was preemptively irritated by NYC’s criminal lack of accessible subway stations–literally, they’re being sued over it–and was prepared to ruin vacation with heavy sighs and heavy wheelchair lifting.
No surprise, we didn’t find state-of-the-art, or even run-of-the-mill, accessibility. Having to only use wheelchair-friendly subway stops was sort of a pain, as was relying on the station’s elevators. While they were mostly working, the elevators were sometimes hard to locate and smelled almost universally of urine (although sometimes we were pleasantly surprised to find they instead smelled of a freshly-smoked cigarette).
But we DID find people. Really, really good people.
In fact, better than good. People who were proactively, unceremoniously so kind and helpful, they moved me to start a list about them.
People regularly jumped up to offer me their seat on the subway and let us pass the restroom line to get to the accessible stall (I know it’s well within my right to do that, but my dad instilled in me such a strong sense of line-respecting morality that it really helps to have someone just shove us ahead). A security guard who saw Luella and I struggling to get through a crowd stopped everyone and waved us through, yelling, “LET THE LADY GET BY, JEEZ LOUISE!”.
It was magic: anytime we came close to a set of stairs, someone nearby would stop and ask if we wanted help carrying Luella up. And almost even better, when we said “no”, they left us alone (none of this, “I wasn’t sure if you needed help! Do you? Oh, you don’t? Are you sure? Can I grab that for you? Are you sure? PLEASE LET ME HELP YOU!!”)
On one occasion, I carried Luella in my arms up a long flight of stairs while Mike lugged the wheelchair by himself. As Luella and I watched from the top, a man sprinted up behind Mike, grabbed the other end of Luella’s wheelchair and helped heave it up the steps, without so much as a single word or taking out his headphones.
But it wasn’t just us.
My sappy list ballooned to include other people’s kind interactions, not least of which was a slickly-dressed man who interrupted his own conversation to gently ask a person who was homeless, “How are you doing today?” and then ACTUALLY WAITED FOR AN ANSWER, like a real, decent person.
Yes, it’s easy to be a pollyanna on vacation, because…VACATION. I’m also aware that I’m traveling with lowest common denominator in terms of garnering help and politeness; I’m sure there are awful people who aren’t very nice to small children using wheelchairs, but I’ve yet to meet them. And yeah, NYC still needs to fix its terribly inaccessible subway system.
It’s really, really easy to make a list of things that suck. And I’ll continue having to make lists of things that suck, and then try to fix those things, because that’s what it means to be Luella’s parent (and also a worthwhile human being).
But I’m not going to pretend that nothing good ever happens. It does. People are periodically lovely, and I want to remember that.
I’ve kept journals of useless travel details, as though I’ll ever need to recall that one time I ate ice cream, at that one place, on that one day when it was too hot.
The NYC museums were great, the food was fabulous, it was actually a little cold, whatever. The single, smuttily-titled list on my phone is what will be this trip’s lasting memory: complete strangers, doing nothing spectacular, but being just plain nice.
Luella Health Update: Luella is finishing her first year of preschool, which has been amazing! She’s more social and aware, and has had been having fun with friends coming over to play. Her seizures seem to be lengthening a bit so we’ll be working with her neurologist on medications and adopting her new ketogenic diet. Nothing too outside the norm. For anyone who is wondering about our insurance issues, we’re now on Molina (thank you to Washington State for expanding Medicaid to include kids like Luella regardless of income) and it is AWESOME.