Before Namine was born, I thought of the handicap bathroom stall as nothing more than a luxury upgrade to the regular stalls. Now, I have the firsthand experience to know better.
On Sunday, we went to see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at First Stage. We had a great time, but I’m not going to talk about the show. This is just to provide the scene, so to speak.
Namine is five, and she still wears diapers. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just a fact. We still don’t know – and neither do the doctors – whether or not Namine will ever have total control over her bladder, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying. She isn’t to the point during the day where she can forego the diapers completely, but she’s close. She tells us when she needs to go, but she still has a long road ahead of her.
So anyway, during the intermission of the show, Namine told me she needed to use the potty. At age five, it’s still “the potty.” Our language reflects hers, and that’s okay.
Sometimes public bathrooms have changing stations, sometimes they don’t – Namine is used to being changed on the floor. It’s just a fact of life. When they do, sometimes they’re out in the open, and sometimes they’re located inside the handicap stall. This bathroom had none – we discovered that the first time we arrived and Namine used the handicap stall. But during the intermission, the handicapped stall was in use.
I asked Namine if she could wait for the handicap stall, knowing that it would be interesting, for lack of a better word, in the regular stall. She said she couldn’t. She needed to go now, so in we went.
It was a good thing I had just carried Namine into the bathroom, or we would have had to leave the wheelchair outside the stall. As it was, the bathroom itself was fairly small, which would have made for difficult steering anyway.
Changing Namine out of her diaper and sitting her on the toilet was challenging. When she was done, it was even harder. Thankfully, she has strong arms and can hold onto me, which helps. It’s easier when there’s room, which of course is the entire point of the handicap stall being larger to begin with. You really don’t appreciate these things until you no longer have them. I know that’s cliche, but it’s true.
I, like many of my friends, have often thought of the handicap stall as just another stall. One, in fact, that I preferred to use over the regular one because it was larger. But since having Namine, I have begun to appreciate life on the other side of things. And I notice things. A longer path to an elevator when the stairs are more easily available, for example. Cramped bathroom stalls, for example.
Whenever I am out, I never use a handicap stall unless it’s the only option left. My experiences as parent and caregiver of a disabled child have changed my perspective. I can’t tell you how to act, nor would I presume to. But I ask of you a simple thing: look at it through another’s eyes. The next time the handicap stall is open for use, think of Namine. Think of those for whom the handicap option exists in the first place.