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Different, Not Less

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Two weeks before heading from Pennsylvania to California for Nephrotic Syndrome Camp, and what was to be an epic month-long trip up the west coast, my middle son ended up in the hospital. This isn’t as uncommon as I’d like it to be, but it was clear from the start that this was going to be a long-term stay. I’d promised his brother that we would get him to camp, no matter what. So, for the first time in six years, we went on a trip without my disabled son.

Traveling solo with two children was easy. Alarmingly easy. Without the hassle of medical liquids and a wheelchair, we zipped through airport security. We shortened our trip so that we could get back to my son and husband, but the last minute search for hotels and home exchanges was simple when we didn’t have to plan for accessibility. When my kids saw a roadside attraction or trail on the side of the road they wanted to try, we stopped and did it. We ate where we wanted to eat without any advance reconnaissance, and we never once had to turn around because we hit an accessibility limit.

While there was some joy in his, it was also heartbreaking for two reasons:

  1. Travel should be this accessible for everyone. Shame on the modern travel industry for allowing so many barriers to remain.
  2. I know I can never go back and share these same experiences with my middle son.

I’m standing by that first thought, but the second one is the start of a slippery slope that disability parents need to avoid. It’s not wrong to mourn the loss of the things we wanted for our children. In fact, it’s wise to acknowledge that loss so that we know how to move on. But we cannot get stuck in an ugly trap of comparisons.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That quote has become a constant reminder for me.

Thinking about the trip we can’t have often ends up keeping us home and not exploring at all. What a waste!

We can’t ramble the narrow paths of Venice, climbing the countless bridges with stairs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do Venice and do it well! We can travel by water, roam the plazas, tour the churches and museums, shop along the outdoor markets, and dine al fresco. In fact, it may not even be a lesser itinerary… it’s just a different itinerary.

When I look at our past trips, I see the same truth holds everywhere. When we visited Yosemite, I moaned that out of the endless miles of trails there were only a handful that we could do. In reality, we were only going to do a few trails, anyway. This just decided which trails we were going to do. They were beautiful trails, by the way. The same was true for accommodations. We couldn’t book the rustic lodge, but the accessible lodge that we found just outside of the park (Tenaya, for anyone traveling that way!) was perfect for our family, and nicer than where we would’ve stayed if we didn’t have extra needs to consider.

We’ve made several trips to places that may not be considered accessible destinations (really, no destination has proven wholly accessible). From the mountains of West Virginia and the Adirondacks to the ancient streets of Croatia, we’ve had accessible adventures that vary from what we would’ve planned before, but they’ve never actually sacrificed on fun or adventure. We don’t skip on fun – we have different fun. We need to go a step beyond focusing on what we can do, instead of what we can’t, to realizing that those two are equal in value! Every trip has been full of marvelous discoveries, fun adventures, and beautiful family moments.

Our lives are beautiful. No comparison needed.

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