Where We Belong

Jodi Shenal by Jodi Shenal Additional Needs

Jodi Shenal

Jodi Shenal

I'm a stay-at-home mom with two amazing children. My son is on the Autism spectrum and my daughter has a rare genetic disorder and multiple disabil...

Where We Belong

In most rooms that I find myself in, I always feel like I don’t quite belong.

When the conversation is steered towards parenting, no matter the company I’m in, I am always a bit out of place. Anytime I’m surrounded by other parents discussing all the “typical” childhood things, I can imagine what an alien who crash-landed on our planet would feel like. Everything is foreign and I’m lost.

Even when attending support groups with other parents of children with disabilities, I’m not entirely at home; I can’t completely relate. I realize that no matter the degree of a child’s disability, whether it be mild, or more severe like my daughter’s, all parents lose sleep and worry immensely about their child’s future.

We’re all akin in that way.

On the flip side, the medical diagnoses and host of disabilities that I know well are rare and uncommon, even in gatherings of support.

There is one place where I never feel unfamiliar; a place where I feel like my family truly belongs. At our incredible outpatient therapy center, Kidnetics, we are always amongst kindred spirits and people who just “get it.”

Once a week, for three hours, my daughter, Ryleigh, and I spend time enveloped in this joyful world where we genuinely fit in.

Things happen there that I never experience anywhere else.

Last week, as I was pulling into a van accessible parking spot, I noticed a familiar mom pulling into an adjacent one. Knowing that both of our children use wheelchairs, we instantly worried about each other’s convenience.

We simultaneously jumped out of our vehicles to make sure that neither of us had taken the parking spot that the other needed. I wanted to ensure there was room for her son’s wheelchair ramp, as she was concerned at the amount of room for my daughter’s. We both had the intention of exchanging parking spots if needed. Having both experienced the feeling of being in a “tight spot” before, neither of us wanted that for each other.

Mutual compassion was shared, and it was such a warm reception.

As I walk through the welcoming doors at Kidnetics, pushing my daughter, carrying a bulky swim bag, backpack, lunchbox, portable oxygen tank and communication device, I am completely weighted down. Someone always offers help; grabbing the door for us, and I do the very same for any caregiver that I see, trudging in my shoes.

When I haven’t had enough sleep (or coffee!) and I know the bags under my eyes are particularly evident, and I show up dressed in old leggings, no one cares. I glance around and see the equivalent in some of the other parents; we kindly meet each other’s glances in solidarity.

Conversations develop effortlessly there with other moms about adaptive equipment and assistive technology. Autism, Epilepsy, and genetic disorders – all topics of discussion that I’m well-versed in.

This is a place where I can share and reciprocate. The lobby isn’t filled with stares or whispers; it’s filled with acceptance and comradery. No one’s life is strange or weird there.

Children watch each other and it’s obvious that they possess a beautiful trait that most human beings lack.

They don’t see “different” or “less than.”

They only see each other as friends. They only know LOVE. Ryleigh smiles elatedly at every child she encounters. She gets handshakes and she gives high-fives.

They are free to be themselves, completely, and they are recognized and loved for who they are.

Our therapists there work together as a cohesive team to treat Ryleigh. They are an integral part of our village; they are an essential part of our tribe. They understand the highs and lows; they lend support and encouragement through our struggles and our wins. Our group of dedicated professionals puts forth great effort to know my daughter, and they are her cheerleaders.

They see me too.

Generously bestowing knowledge and sharing necessary tools with me to help her achieve success and gain independence.

Every family deserves a place where they can feel at home, like we do at Kidnetics. A comforting place where our children are not only accepted as the wonderful, unique individuals they are, but also CELEBRATED. All families need that special place, where we belong.

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