By Cori Mielke

Today, I have so many things on my mind. As a parent of children who experience disability I often think about what community means to our family. This afternoon, we decided to go have a little fun. For some families, there is not much prepping before heading to a movie, arcade, or dinner. For our family it isn’t always that simple. Scarlet is not a fan of public restrooms, loud games, or robots (or animatronic type toys). Lola can get a little heavy with anxiety, and Aidan has his own set of needs. In the past community has looked very different for us. Fear that we will be judged, that we won’t be accepted, or that our child(ren) won’t handle it well lead us to self isolation and we limit our access to community.

Today, before we headed for the arcade, we practiced our skills, grabbed our tools (Scarlet’s headphones & and Lola’s calming slime), and watched a video to introduce us to the building. When we got there, we found the perfect table away from the game room. I then took each kid individually and we walked around the building while our pizza was being cooked. We touched the games, we practiced flushing the toilet, and we familiarized ourselves with our environment. I went in a little nervous (more so when I saw the packed parking lot!) and left with more than full heart!

While we there, Aidan connected with another boy and played two rounds of air hockey. He was a teenager playing an aggressive game with his peer! He went 3-0 today after kicking my butt! Lola, during a frustrating experience used her tools, talked it out, and found a different option she could be equally excited about! Scarlet said hello to the storm trooper (costume that could be close to robot like). She also used the restroom and ran into a little girl from her school who ran over and hugged her.

So why am I sharing this with you? I am sharing because it is not always easy, most of the time we go out, we’ve done some practice runs, visuals, and social stories before leaving. I try to prepare the best I can in hopes that the kids will feel safe, supported, and have fun.

Most of the time though, we are still stepping out of our comfort zone and trusting in humanity. Trusting that our community wants us. That we belong to our community and that our family enhances and contributes to it. So does your family! This is dignity of risk. Without risk we don’t gain.

We all deserve to be loved and accepted. We all want friendship and compassion. We ALL want to belong. So how does that happen? How do we create a community? We dream big, we make a plan, and we set forth. We accept the fear and we acknowledge the risk. We step out the front door. Parents, sometimes our fear holds our children back. As challenging as it feels in a world that is sometimes aggressive, overwhelming, and difficult to understand, we must continue to believe in others. To trust the community around us. To try again.

Today, I wasn’t a mom of a child sitting at the IEP table, talking to a PSW about skill building, or doing a needs assessment at DD Services.

Today, I was a mom with three kids eating pizza and playing in the arcade. Today, I saw my kids in their community. Community matters.