At the risk of sounding like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, I like trains. In fact I like them an awful lot, but probably not for the same reasons he does. Unlike Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) I can’t name them model, and if there is a way to get somewhere that is much faster I’ll choose that option rather than make my friends add hours to their journey just so I can ride on a choo-choo, but they are one of my more favoured modes of public transport.
For a long time I was just as afraid of them as I am of the bus. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories from people about them being left on board and ending up in all sorts of places they’d never intended to be, but given that I knew you could book ramp assistance and seats to help with disabled access I knew it was one thing that I would have to conquer in the end. I started out small at first when I found myself an internship at a company that was based a half-an-hour ride away from my home. Mum came with me the first day to make sure that everything went smoothly – and it did- so for the rest of the time I was on my own. Although this short journey was a massive victory for me, the real turning point came for me a few months later when I decided to travel back home from university by myself to surprise my dad for his birthday.
This was an even bigger challenge than the one I had faced getting to my placement and back. I had chosen to go to a university that was about 70 miles away from where I lived and would take me two trains – yes two – to get there. I’d had the idea for weeks, as soon as I realised that I had the afternoon of his special day – a Tuesday- off and I didn’t have another lecture until Thursday afternoon, but it took me about a week to pluck up the courage to book the tickets. I paid for them instantly and made arrangements for assisted travel before I could change my mind. I hardly slept the night before with nerves. I’d never got more than one train per trip before and all I could think about was all the things that could go wrong. Every time I had a thought like that I tried to push it away and think only of how it would all be worth it to see the look on Dad’s face. This wasn’t about me, it was about him.
Thankfully on the day things all went according to plan. Members of station staff even walked me from one platform to another which was more than I had been expecting (in a good way) and when I saw my mum and her new partner waiting for me as I got off the last train so that she could take me to my Dad’s flat I thought that I might fall to my knees in relief.
When the three of us wondered into his kitchen together he just looked between us all and saw that my Mum and her partner were both in their work uniforms. For a second he looked confused and then he realised what I had done to get there, smiled and looked as if he were about to cry.
I learned an important life lesson that day, two actually. I learned that I could manage the train by myself (with a little help, but there’s no shame in that) and I learned that it is important to push ourselves sometimes, if not for ourselves but for the sake of those around us.
That was almost two years ago now. It is my Dad’s birthday again on Friday and I really have no idea what to get him this year. I’m not sure if I can ever top my surprise, but I’m always willing to try.
In all honesty I was actually planning on blogging today something happened that I feel the need to tell you all about. Martha and I made some strangers smile. That is always a good thing if you ask me.
When I woke up this morning I had no plans to leave the house, but when I saw how sunny it was there was no way I could pass up my mum’s invitation to go and visit a local art gallery. We’d probably been there less than five minutes when I heard a voice ask “Can I have my car painted that colour?”
Being the nosey person that I am I turned around to see which of the paintings he was looking at and was pleasantly surprised when I saw a man by the side of me admiring my blue walking frame Martha,
“I wonder if I could have my car painted that colour?” he grinned “It’s lovely.” I nodded back at him and was just about to launch into my why-I-love-Martha so much speech when his family came and joined us and started chatting about how great they thought she was and listed all the things they like about her: the blue paint (of course), the fact that she still looks like new (give it another two weeks and I’ll have scratched all the paintwork off) and the fact that she has a seat. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself, they’d come out to see all the brilliant work of real artists and here they were stood looking at Martha and praising her as if she were a prize winning picture. After a couple of minutes of smiling and chatting they waved us goodbye and went on to look at other things, but I was still left feeling all warm and humbled inside that I’d managed to make someone else smile. I love that.
When I was a teenager I once had a man stop me in the supermarket when I was on holiday and tell me that he “hoped his granddaughter ended up like me” because they’d just found out she was disabled and they didn’t know if she’d ever be able to walk. At the time I felt really awkward and mumbled something about the doctors telling my parents I might be able to walk around the supermarket at best so never to give up. At the time I felt guilty because I felt like I should have been able to do or say something more. It is only now I’m older that I see I probably did far more than I had realised. If this happened to me tomorrow I’d handle it better. I’d feel proud that I managed to give someone I’d never met before some hope, even if it was just for a moment. I’d feel happy that he’d had the courage to pay me the compliment. I’d like to think that he went home and gave his family hope too. It is moments like this that make me feel very humble and very grateful. That day I made a stranger smile. That day, the same stranger made me smile too.
Do you remember how I said in my first post that some days were better than others and that I sometimes need to use a wheelchair? I think if I had left the house yesterday I would have taken that with me and given Martha a day off. I knew before I even got out of bed in the morning that it was going to be one of my more awkward days when the Cerebral Palsy likes to remind me that I’m not Super Woman, but still, it wasn’t the worst.
Getting up on a Monday is always tough for anyone, but the first thing I noticed yesterday when I made the leap of faith out from under the duvet other than my usual urge to answer a call of nature was the knot of pain behind my left knee. I could tell as soon as I started walking on it that this knot was settling itself in for day so I popped the heating on (I seize up when cold) and took myself back to bed (any old excuse will do). I hoped that warming myself back up would make it go away. I was wrong. My back then decided to join in with the protest and starting aching like it usually does when I spend too long lying down and demanded that I move around. My leg, and by this point, my hip objected to this greatly. In the end I decided to give up, get up and heat myself up and wheat bag while the lot of them battled it out to see which one of them could irritate me most. I’m still not sure who won.
Although I’ve had my walking frame for as long as I can remember, I didn’t get my first wheelchair until I was 11. I refused up until that point. I can remember being in nursery school and vowing that I would never let myself have one. I even used to try sneak out into the playground without my walking frame sometimes. I never managed it obviously but excitement I got from knowing that I could try and be outside without it made the thought of a telling off afterwards worthwhile. Yes, I am the first to admit I was a very mischievous little madam with no sense of danger back then. If I had managed it, in truth I would have probably burst into tears when the teacher and caught me, but I still like to think it would have been worth it. I used to get up to these kinds of antics at home too when I’d launch missions to get upstairs without anyone noticing. We didn’t have handrails then so I wasn’t allowed. I’d usually only make it halfway up before I got stopped but one time I made it all the way to the top and managed to get into my Mum and Dad’s room. I was delighted and started started to look for a place to hide and surprise them later, only to be scooped up and carried back to the living room by Mum much to my disappointment.
Despite all my protests I knew deep down that when I started high school it probably wouldn’t be acceptable to take my major buggy with me anymore.
I was surprised to find that I didn’t regret my choice as much as I thought I would at the time. The chair (otherwise known as Louise) and I have had some fun times too. I still get the giggles when I think about the time one of her wheels came off while my boyfriend was pushing me down a hill (It’s okay – I wasn’t hurt so you can laugh if you want) and I decorate her in tinsel at Christmas time. It took me a long time for me to realise that getting her wasn’t a sign of deterioration like I thought it was, but a practical decision and I am proud that I managed to stop being stubborn long enough to see that.