Why Play Dates Require Planning as a Mom With a Disability

My daughter is 5 and has quite the social life! She’s made many friends from various facets of her life and my life combined – school, church, sports and recovery meetings. She’s the type of child who writes an invite list to her birthday party that’s longer than her Christmas wish list. Needless to say, she is asked to join friends for play dates on a pretty regular basis.

This is where Mommy becomes more of a detective than a parent. This is when I bust out with my list of questions for the parent whose house I’ve never been to. I have to consider everything about the structure of their home and its accessibility to me before I can decide if we’re able to go or not. Are there stairs leading into their home? If so, are there hand rails? Is the house all on one level? Are there carpets? Rugs? Toys or clutter of any kind in the middle of the floors that I’d need to try to navigate around? Is there an animal who might jump on me, causing me to lose balance? Or could the animal be so small and fidgety that I trip over them or can’t process all their movements in order to walk around? What’s the bathroom like? Is there something I can hold onto while in the restroom?

If you think this list of questions is long, think of how I feel asking all of them. For starters, I never truly trust the answers I’m given. I may trust the person completely in every other way, but able-bodied people do not have to think like I do. I myself never thought this way until I became disabled, so I surely can’t expect others around me to understand my needs immediately. I get nervous that something’s being left out: a small step up into the foyer; those two tiny stairs up the sidewalk that the person forgot to mention, and oh, there’s no railing there either; the fact that the bathroom is on the second floor.

I become concerned my daughter will be so excited the day of her play date, yet when we arrive at her friend’s house, there will be some barrier preventing me from entering the home and we’ll have to either move to our house (which is way less exciting because other kids’ toys are always the most fun to play with!) or reschedule for another time and decide where to meet that’s accessible for me. And, there have been those instances where we’ve not made it into the house, even though I asked the litany of questions.

I feel guilty and can’t even pinpoint why – some of it is because I wish we could just go like other families do. I wish I could be a “normal” mom for my little girl. I have guilt when we must meet at our house, knowing my daughter enjoys playing with toys that aren’t hers. Yes, kids often bring toys from home to share, but it would be nice if my child could get out of our home more.

I feel like I’m interrogating the other parent; as if I’m making sure they have the “right” kind of home. I worry they’ll be insulted by all my questions – here they are, treating me like any other mother (as I deserve to be) but I’m asking them tons of structural questions and focusing on my differences. I feel like it may seem I’m making a big deal out of a simple play date. “Wanna come over and play?” For most families it’s a “yes” or “no” question, not an opportunity to ask for the blueprints of the person’s house. But it’s what I must do in order to know what my answer will be.

There’s a small part of me inside that whispers quietly, “This is OK. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t stress out. God didn’t make a mistake in making you, nor making you a mom.” That wee small part of me also insists that it’s just a play date. The important part isn’t where the playing occurs but how (with enjoyment and happiness), why (because my daughter is a wonderful, funny, compassionate friend) and that it is happening. When she’s 20, I’ll ask her if she remembers having play dates with friends – I bet her answer will be along the lines of “Oh, yes! I had lots!” instead of “Yeah, but they were always at my house.” She’s got the best attitude about everything… even though her mom’s attitude can be saturated with worry, anxiety and guilt. Guess that’s just another thing that proves I’m like any other mama!

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